The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

On the Boundary, Part 1: Maine


MAINE IS THE STATE with the most complex border with Canada. The line begins in the Atlantic Ocean and follows rivers, streams, mountain ridges, and straight lines, for 611 miles and through 24 manned border crossings, more than any other state. A dozen rail bridges and dams cross the line, and even paper plants span the border, in a state so dominated by wood-products industries.

3761The easternmost manifestation of the USA/Canada boundary line is a plaque (with the change in paint color), in the middle of the Lubec/Campobello bridge. CLUI photoMaine’s Eastern Watery Boundary
From the east, the international boundary comes towards the shore, passes by West Quoddy Head, the easternmost point of land in the USA, and enters the interior waters of the continent at Lubec Channel and Passamaquoddy Bay.

The first physical structure encountered by the boundary is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge, which connects the town of Lubec, Maine, and Campobello Island, part of New Brunswick, Canada. Campobello is a kind of an exclave of Canada, an island connected by land only to the USA, by this bridge. There is a customs and immigration port of entry building on either side of the bridge, the easternmost of the 24 official border crossing points in the state, and the 115 crossings along the line between the east and west coasts.

Campobello Island has a visitor center for the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, one of the few parks in the world administered jointly by two national governments. Inside is a gift shop and a small bilingual display about the openness of the border. The park exists because Franklin Roosevelt had a summer home here, which he came to mostly as a child. He only stayed overnight here once as president. Originally built by the Kuhn family of Boston, the 34-room cottage  was later owned by Armand Hammer, the head of Occidental Petroleum, who continued to allow Eleanor Roosevelt to visit until 1963, when it became a park.

At the other end of the bridge is the small community of Lubec, Maine, the easternmost town in the United States. There is a small downtown, a hotel, and a boat ramp at a small fishing harbor. The boundary runs past town through Lubec Narrows, where range markers on shore, and located on nautical charts, can be lined up to help boaters know where they are in relation to the border. Boats can cross the watery boundary without getting into trouble, so long as they check in with customs and immigration if they land in the other country. But fishermen and lobstermen need to know where the boundary is, so they don’t catch fish from the other side of the line.

North of Lubec, the zig-zagging water boundary enters the Friar Roads portion of Passamaquoddy Bay, and approaches Moose Island, home of the city of Eastport, Maine, the easternmost city in the USA (because Lubec, though slightly further east, is officially a town, not a city). After the war of 1812, the island was claimed by the British, who believed it to be on their side of the water boundary. They returned it to the United States in 1818, making this “the last place in the country occupied by a foreign nation” (besides two islands in Alaska occupied by the Japanese in World War II).

In 1833, Eastport was the second largest trading port in the USA, after New York City. Today it is a small and run-down village with old brick storefronts that are slowly being restored, by organizations such as the Tides Institute which operates a residence program and a gallery downtown.

Eastport’s Moose Island is connected now to the mainland by causeways that travel through the Point Pleasant Passamaquoddy Indian Reservation. The Jay Treaty of 1794 allowed natives to freely travel between their territory on either side of the newly established international boundary. But because the tribe is not recognized by Canada, the local Indians here are not permitted to land on the other side of the bay without reporting to customs.

North of Point Pleasant, the international boundary heads north northwest through Passamaquoddy Bay and into the channel of the St. Croix River. Along the way it crosses the 45th Parallel, the half way point between the Equator and the North Pole.
This first, watery portion of the border, Passamaquoddy Bay and up the St. Croix River, was defined by the Treaty of Paris, in 1783, the treaty that ended the war with Great Britain. It describes the northern border of the USA from the Atlantic to Prairies as from the “mouth of the St. Croix River to the northwesternmost point of the Lake of the Woods,” which is now in western Minnesota.
Soon afterwards, the Jay Treaty of 1794 was convened to establish just what the “St. Croix River” was, as the name was drawn from a vague 17th-century map, and nobody really referred to any specific river around there by that name. This was settled by locating the remains of French colonialist Samuel Champlain’s camp, built on the river when he first visited in 1604.
The remains of that camp are still there on St. Croix Island, in the middle of the channel. This was the earliest European settlement in what is now the USA, north of Florida (where the village of St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish in 1565).
Champlain went on to establish Quebec in 1608, and is considered one of the founders of what would become Canada. Since this was where he first arrived in the new world, many think of it as the birthplace of Canada, even though now it is in the United States.

3762Samuel Champlain greets visitors along the walking trail at a park on the USA side of the St. Croix River, adjacent to the island where he landed in 1604, which is off limits to the public. CLUI photoThe settlement built there was burned down by English raiders on their way to Nova Scotia, in 1613. The seven-acre island became a National Monument in 1949, and is administered by the US National Park Service. Though there are public interpretive facilities on shore, the island itself remains off-limits to the public, to protect the historic remains buried there, and eroding into the river.
North of St. Croix Island, the river channel narrows and turns westward towards the community of Calais, Maine. With the city of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, on the other side of the river, Calais is a true border town, a community of nearly 10,000 people, divided by the international boundary, which follows the middle of the river.

There are three road crossings connecting the two cities, each with customs and immigration ports of entry on either side of the bridge. The Ferry Point Bridge connects the two downtowns. Nearby, a park on the USA side has interpretive plaques that describe the importance of the community as a logging industry shipping center, using the river, throughout the 19th century, and into the 20th. Upstream the river has a few rapids, which is why the town developed here. Dams were built on the rapids, spanning the international boundary, to capture energy for the mills, and to flatten the water to float logs.

The Milltown Bridge is the second road crossing the river and the boundary in town. It is a very small crossing, used by locals, and no commercial traffic. The third and busiest crossing is the International Avenue Bridge, on the west end of town, where, on the Canadian side, a divided highway has been built connecting St. Stephen to the big New Brunswick city of St. John and to the Trans-Canada Highway. This commercial crossing opened in 2009, and was the first new crossing between the two countries to be built in more than 35 years.

Upstream of Calais, the river and the border bend southwest, then northwest. The boundary was originally described as the middle of the channel, but by 1909, was changed to the line following the deepest point of the main channel, known as the thalweg.

Whether following land or water, the border is made up of thousands of straight lines, with official turning points at either end. On water these points are referenced by survey markers on shore, set by the International Boundary Commission.

The next physical crossing of the river/international boundary is a dam that provides power and water for the adjacent pulp and paper plant at the town of Woodland, which opened in 1906, providing paper for the Boston Globe.

North of the plant a major utility right of way crosses the river and the international boundary, where gas and electric lines come in from the Canadian side. This part of Maine is remote and off the ISO New England grid, so most of eastern Maine gets its electricity from Canadian sources, such as New Brunswick Power, and Hydro Quebec, or from small hydro plants built along the rivers.

3763The international boundary passes through the middle of Grand Falls Dam. CLUI photoA little further upstream is the Grand Falls Dam and a power plant built by the Woodland paper company in 1915, on top of a former waterfall. Hydro stations like this provide energy primarily for their builders, the local paper plants. Paper company dams throughout the state make flooded valleys of artificial lakes and widened rivers called flowage, used for floating logs, and providing power. Most of the lakes in Maine are artificial byproducts of the paper industry.

The international boundary continues north through the flowage, following the now flooded St. Croix River through remote logging country, until the next border crossing, the old rail bridge at Vanceboro, Maine.

The rail bridge was on an important line connecting the northeastern USA and the Maritimes from 1871 to the early 20th century.  In 1915 the bridge was bombed by a German spy, who was attempting to limit routes for troops that he suspected might be coming through Canada to fight the Germans (as the USA was still neutral in World War I, at that time). The spy was caught, convicted, and after serving six years in prison, was considered insane, and sent back to Germany. The bridge, though quickly repaired after the bombing, fell into disuse over the following years, with more expedient shipping methods and routes, roads and rail, developed through the region.

North of the bridge, the river boundary heads through the small remote town of Vanceboro, passing under a road bridge, with a port of entry on either side, known as the Vanceboro/Ste. Croix crossing.

Upstream of Vanceboro the boundary line passes through the middle of the Vanceboro Dam, and into the lake on the other side. The boundary zigs and zags invisibly over the open water of the lake, following the original river channel, now flooded by the flowage, known as the Chiputneticook Lakes.

The lakes extend northward for 25 miles until the small remote community of Forest City, and the next official border crossing, on a road over the river. In 2010, Homeland Security proposed upgrading their current port of entry here with a new $15 million facility, with detention cells and an impound lot. All for a port that averages less than seven cars per day, and is open from 8am to 4pm. Media attention, including coverage by John Stossel’s “Gimme a Break!” TV program, caused a rethink. Instead, after some delay, a new $5.4 million facility opened in 2012.

The international boundary follows the river past the new port of entry, through the Grand Lake Dam at the west end of town, and through the middle of the lake to its northern end, where there is another bridge and border crossing. This, the Orient/Fosterville crossing, on Boundary Road, between Orient, Maine, and Fosterville, New Brunswick, open 8am-midnight, is the last border crossing over the St. Croix River.

From here the boundary follows Monument Brook, considered the headwaters of the St. Croix, with its increasingly minute meanders through remote forest, towards its origin in a wooded swamp.

In the middle of the swamp is a tall stone obelisk, known as Monument 1, installed in 1843 to mark the source of the St. Croix. From east to west, Monument 1 is the first dry land monument, marking the border exactly on the ground. Up to this point, the boundary has been over water, and though the turning points of the boundary are referenced by survey monuments on shore, the only markers on the line itself have been plaques on bridges.

Though it is a functional survey point, Monument 1 is an ornamental monument, larger than most boundary monuments, because of its significance as the first land monument on the east end of the border. It is one of only five such monumental monuments on the line. There is another at the west end of the boundary, on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, 3,500 miles down the line.

3764The view up the cut line from Monument 1. CLUI photoThe North Line
Monument 1 marks both the source of the St. Croix, and the southern end of the North Line portion of the boundary, a straight line running north from the monument, over hill and dale, until it hits the middle of the St. John River, 78 miles away.

The North Line has around 230 monuments along its path, each marked by one or more nearby and less prominent reference markers. To maintain visibility along the border as it travels over land, a swath is cut through the trees and brush, for a distance of ten feet on either side of the boundary. This results in a 20 foot wide clearing known as a cut line.

The line is also known as the vista line, as its function is to make the boundary visible, so people don’t accidentally cross it. The vista line is maintained by the International Boundary Commission, and its upkeep and condition depends on the priorities and limited resources of the commission. The IBC, with a USA and Canadian Commissioner, also maintains the border monuments, of which there are more than 8,000 across the line.

A few miles north of Monument 1, a road from the USA side curves southward and travels directly on the boundary for nearly a mile, next to a field in Canada. There are a couple of steel monuments marking the line on the side of the road, but the road and the field serve as the vista line. As is typical, and usually the case, the open space is monitored by powerful cameras mounted on poles, along with movement sensors that alert the Border Patrol, who watch the system from a regional field station. Once triggered, the cameras begin recording, and can be zoomed in on suspects to see if anyone crosses the line, or moves any goods over it. If so, they have documentation, and they can dispatch the nearest agent to the scene.

There are more than a thousand of these pole-mounted cameras along the border, and dozens of regional Border Patrol field stations. The Canadian RCMP also operate cameras on the line and share information with their USA counterparts.

Along the road is a former USA port of entry building. This once was the East Hodgdon/Union Corners crossing, one of half a dozen manned crossings that have been permanently closed along the North Line since the late 1950s. The port of entry building was sold off and became a private home that has since been abandoned.

3765The old port of entry at Houlton, Maine. CLUI photoThe first official and open crossing on the North Line is a few miles further north, at Houlton, Maine. This is the north end of Interstate 95, the principal interstate of the East Coast, extending south to Florida.  When the Interstate was opened in the 1970s, they abandoned the old port of entry building and closed the two-lane highway next to it, diverting traffic onto the interstate, with its new and larger port of entry. The road surface at the old crossing has a mound of dirt piled on the actual borderline. The building itself has peeling paint and old furniture still inside, forty years later. A time capsule of the old style of border crossings.

Nearby is another relic in Houlton, the former Army airport, where German POWs were kept in World War II. The ruins of the camp is in the woods against the border, next to a police shooting range and a fire department training area. It is common to find these kinds of land uses pushed out of the way, to the margins.

A few miles further up the North Line is another closed crossing, Starkey’s Corners, on Foxcroft Road east of Littleton. The paved road is blocked at the borderline, and the port of entry is now a private home.

The Monitcello/Bloomfield crossing is a few miles north of  Starkey’s Corner, and is still open, though it has limited hours, is closed on Sundays, and the gates are shut when no one is there.  A few miles further north is the Bridgewater/Centreville crossing, which is open around the clock, every day.

After that the North Line continues north, passing behind Mars Hill, a prominent landmark, and a ski area topped by a wind farm. This is potato farming country, where several large processing plants bag, cut, and freeze the product for nationwide distribution.

A few miles west of the boundary, near Spragueville, is where the Double Eagle II hot air balloon took off for its historic flight in 1978, when it became the first hot air balloon to cross the Atlantic. The northeastern edge of the nation, closer to Europe and Russia, is a strategic location for military aviation as well. In the 1960s, nearby Presque Isle Airport was a Strategic Air Command base, with Snark nuclear missiles pointed at the Soviet Union.

North of Mars Hill is another formerly manned border crossing, on East Ridge Road. The USA port of entry operated out of a trailer before it closed in 1976. The Canadian port of entry is still there, now a private home. The road is blocked with a barricade.

The next open crossing on the North Line is the Easton/River de Chute crossing, on Smugglers Road, which is open every day, but has limited hours. Gates block the road when it is closed. It has about 4,000 crossings a year, an average of less than 11 per day.

A few miles further up the North Line is the busier Fort Fairfield/Perth-Andover crossing, which is open continuously, and is a rare example of a crossing where the Canadian port of entry building is larger than the USA one.

On the USA side there is a road that heads south between the ports of entry, with some homes on the Canadian side which are only accessible by the road on the USA side of the line. Leaving the driveway or coming home is thus an international trip. Since they have to pass through either of the ports of entry to get anywhere else,  though, they are not too inconvenienced (unless there is a line at the port). And since the access road is between the ports, they don’t have to pass the port of entry when returning home, from either direction, even though, technically, they might have goods to declare, such as groceries. This condition occurs at a number of places along the border, and though it can be very inconvenient for the residents (sometimes referred to as “’tweenies” by border officials, as they live between the ports of entry), generally they are known to the officials, their car is recognized, and in some cases they are trusted enough not to have to stop if they are just making a quick trip to town.

North of Fairfield the boundary line passes through the Aroostook River. On the southern shore is the former Aroostook Falls crossing. It was barricaded and permanently closed in 1994 after the river flooded and killed two Canadian customs agents who were trapped in their car.

On the north side of the river is the Aroostook Valley Country Club, with a golf course on the New Brunswick side, mostly–a truly international “country club.” The parking lot for the club is in the USA, but most of the buildings are in Canada, including the clubhouse. The golf course was built in the late 1920s, during Prohibition, which is likely why the clubhouse was placed in Canada.

3766At the Aroostook Valley Country Club the parking lot is in the USA, but the clubhouse and the golf course are in Canada. CLUI photoThe pro shop, however, sits, just barely, on the USA side of the line, easing transactions, both wholesale and retail, at least for the American suppliers and members of the club. Most of the course itself is in Canada, only part of the tee area for the par four ninth hole is in the USA, and part of a sand trap on the first hole, perhaps the world’s only international sand trap. The Boundary Commission has asked that a row of trees on the edge of the course be replaced, as they block the vista line. The club may remove them when a new row, planted outside the 20 foot-wide boundary zone, matures sufficiently.

In the old days, visitors to the club from either country came and went on back roads without reporting to Customs and Immigration. After 9/11, things along the border tightened up. Visitors to the club coming from Canada must now travel through manned ports of entry, several miles away, and follow normal procedures.

Since access to the club is through roads on the USA side, American visitors do not have to report, even though they may spend the day golfing and drinking in Canada. The golf club is one of the gray zones on the border, where, in a sense, USA territory extends into Canada.

Russell Road, the road heading north on the border from the club, curves east into Canada, and used to be the most direct route for Canadian visitors to the club. But the road has no port of entry on the USA side (it closed in the 1960s), effectively, but not physically closing the road to USA-bound traffic. Strong warning signs, with threats of arrest, try to keep people away, though by the time you are close enough to read the signs, you have already transgressed.

A trailer serves as a temporary Canadian port of entry, known as Four Falls, open mostly during the summer season to make it easier for Canadian golfers to go home.  For anybody who approaches the trailer from the USA side, to discover that it is closed, or who decide they don’t want to enter Canada after all, turning around seems like a good option. However, since you have already crossed the line to get to the trailer, even though only by a 100 yards or so, technically you have to drive to the nearest manned USA port of entry and report your re-entry into the nation. Either way, your visit will have been recorded by the video cameras trained on the road, so your actions can be verified. But mostly people just turn around and head back to the USA, without incident.

The international imbalance of boundary enforcement along Russell Road has been especially hard on the Pedersen family, who have lived on the road since 1950, and whose driveway is in the USA, but whose house is in Canada. For half a century this wasn’t a problem, and officials let them come and go, as if they lived in the USA.

In 2003, the elderly owners were threatened with arrest by the US Border Patrol, simply for pulling out of their driveway. Some say acrimony developed because the owners were opposing a road that the country club and border officials wanted to build through their back field, to provide access through Canada to the country club. Either way, although some concessions were eventually made, visitors and family members had a hard time negotiating the newly enforced rules, and having to drive up to 15 miles out of their way to go through the port of entry. The house has recently been abandoned, and its future is uncertain.

3767The Pedersen home is in Canada, but the driveway meets the road in the USA. CLUI photoThe North Line continues northward from the Pedersen’s house, cutting its swath across farmland, woods, and streams for another eight miles, to the next official crossing, Limestone/Gillespie-Portage, a small crossing on Highway 229. South of the small crossing is a former Nike Missile launch site a hundred yards from the border. The facility has been turned into a home and car repair business, with old vehicles and equipment covering the former launch pad.

This was one of four Nike Missile stations protecting Loring Air Force Base, located nearby in Limestone. Loring was a major Strategic Air Command base, with heavy bombers based out of there in continuous flight, ready to bomb Russia at a moment’s notice. The base ceased usual operations in 1994, but some reserve and military operations continue there. The rest of the base is mostly unused and is in disrepair. Empty buildings include hangars capable of holding six B-52s at once. The nuclear weapons assembly and storage area, known as the North River Depot, was emptied, but remains off limits to the public. Loring is another example of how defensive (and offensive) installations developed along the northern edges of the country, to be that much closer to the rest of the world.

The North Line continues north for another ten miles to the Hamlin/Grand Falls crossing on Boundary Road, next to the St. John River. After passing through the crossing and Monument 117 on the shore, the North Line hits the water, and ends, midstream. From here, it heads west along the center of the channel of the St. John River. The boundary is, again, a water boundary, at least for the next 100 miles.

3768The Hamlin/Grand Falls crossing at the north end of the North Line. CLUI photoThe St. John to the Top of Maine
Westward, the water boundary along the St. John meets its first physical crossing ten miles upstream: the international bridge connecting the adjacent communities of Van Buren, Maine, and St. Leonard, New Brunswick. The USA port of entry was upgraded in 2013, like many others, taking advantage of federal stimulus funds.

After Van Buren, its another 25 miles to the next crossing of the line, at Madawaska. This part of Maine is rich in Acadian culture. French-speaking Acadians arrived in the New World in the 17th century, distinct from the French colonists who established Quebec.

Acadians spread out in a region extending from present-day Nova Scotia to northern Maine. Some of them left the region to settle in Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns. The present day Acadians of northern Maine are proudly independent, and assert their border-spanning cultural heritage at places like the Acadian Village Historic Site, west of Van Buren.

Further up river is Thibodeau Island, an unoccupied evolving sand bar which now has portions in each country. There are dozens of such internationally dynamic islands in rivers and lakes that are split by the boundary. In flowing water the border remains fixed while the land moves around it.

The next large settlement on the river, and the next road bridge crossing it, is at Madawaska, Maine, where the Madawaska River enters the St. John from the New Brunswick side. Two bridges span the boundary here, one a road bridge, and the other carrying pipelines that connect two paper plants, on either side of the line. The Twin Rivers Paper Plant is really one facility, split by the boundary.

Pulp is made on the Canadian side and pumped to the USA side to be turned into paper, a system that avoided the tariff for importing paper into the USA. Steam is also generated on the Canadian side, where fuel costs used to be lower, and pumped to the USA plant. A total of seven pipelines connect the plants in lines running over and under the river.

The bridge is hemmed in by the plant on the USA side and is limited to one lane each side, coming and going. Traffic is bad, and studies are underway to expand the crossing, somehow, likely with a new bridge nearby.

3769Four Corners Park in Madawaska. CLUI photoAs the most northeasterly town in the nation, Madawaska considers itself one of the Four Corners of the USA. This fact is promoted especially at Four Corners Park. The park opened in 2007, primarily to celebrate motorcyclists who do a four corners trip, visiting each corner of the USA in as little as 21 days. (The other corners of course are Key West, Florida; San Ysidro, California; and Blaine, Washington, at the other end of the US/Canada border).

The river boundary continues westward another 21 miles to its next crossing, at Fort Kent. The Fort Kent/Clair crossing is open around the clock, with around 2,000 cars passing through every day. In 2014, a new bridge opened next to the old one, which had grown rickety, and a new USA port of entry opened. Highway 1 originates here, a two-lane highway that goes all the way to the bottom of Florida.  A small park makes note of this fact.

3770The Fort Kent bridge and USA port of entry next to the northern terminus of US Highway 1. CLUI photoThe St. John River at Fort Kent was the site for a few pioneering art projects about the international boundary done by the artist Dennis Oppenheim in 1968. He came to this northern boundary town to make the conceptual borderline visible in different ways. One work drew a three-mile long line on the river with a snow mobile. Of course that was in the winter, when the river was covered in ice and snow.

There is an old blockhouse at Fort Kent, an historic landmark, left from the Aroostook War, which raged locally for decades. The conflict reached its peak in 1839, when militia were mobilized by both sides, and the blockhouse was built as a fortification by the Americans seeking to maintain this territory, with its rich reserves of timber, and the river to float it on. Federal officials on both sides negotiated a truce before any shots were fired, and a compromised boundary was agreed upon. The restored blockhouse contains relics from the period, but mostly displays images of itself, in various media, and from various points of view.

The bridge at Fort Kent is the last border crossing on the St. John River. The border continues on the river westward for another 16 miles, then transitions to the smaller St. Francis River, heading north.

The St. John River, meanwhile, continues through northern Maine for another 90 miles, flowing from the southwest. It becomes the boundary again on the west side of the state. But before that, the boundary heads north, up the St. Francis River, towards the very top of the state. The boundary follows the twisting St. Francis for 43 miles, with 485 official turning points and 122 reference monuments, until its terminus at Pohenegamook Lake.

This territory, at the top of Maine, is known as the North Maine Woods. Though it is heavily logged, in other ways it is one of the least developed regions of the continental United States. Extending north from Moosehead Lake and Baxter State Park to the Canadian border, the 3.5 million acre tract has no towns or paved roads. Access to the North Woods is controlled, with manned and unmanned gates at its dozen or so entry points. The roads within it are considered private, built by and for logging companies, and a fee is charged for access. The land is mostly owned by a few companies, including the Irving Company, the New Brunswick-based oil and paper company, and the Seven Islands Land Company, which manages a million acres owned by the Pingree family.

The international boundary follows the St. Francis River around the extreme northeast corner of Maine, and around the North Maine Woods. It is a tight meandering stream, with occasional lakes, and there are no roads, railways, or even dams that cross it.

The stream terminates a few yards shy of Pohenegamook Lake, in Canada, next to the communities of Sully and St. Eleuthere, also in Canada, and a small community just barely inside the USA, called Estcourt. Though it is in the USA, Estcourt is only accessible by roads from the Canadian side, or via the private logging roads of the North Maine Woods.

There is a USA port of entry at the southern end of town, just before the road from the North Maine Woods meets the pavement on the Canadian side. It is meant for people coming from Canada, southbound into the North Woods, something that happens only occasionally, and mostly when logging trucks go back and forth, hauling logs from the Woods into Quebec (there is a log yard across from the station on the Canadian side).

However, the USA port of entry is very busy with another function: attending to a nearly continuous stream of cars coming to the USA side of Estcourt to buy cheap American gasoline. After checking in at the USA point of entry, Canadian gas buyers drive back up the same road they came in on, Rue de la Frontiere, which is entirely in Canada, towards the gas bar, as such places are called by Canadians.

3771Sign and boundary monument at the gas bar. CLUI photoTurning south off the main road to get to gas bar, you re-enter the USA through an open gate and approach the gas pumps. After filling up, the cars drive out the gate, back into Canada, and go northeast on Rue de la Frontiere, and stop to report at the Canadian port of entry, before heading back under the railway bridge into the rest of Canada.

The gas bar is the only business on the USA side of the line in Estcourt, and might be the only gas station in the USA that displays its rate in Canadian dollars per liter. A sign, in French, says “Before entering the United States all vehicles crossing the border have to register at American customs before filling up. Thanks!”

Rue de la Frontiere, known to Americans as Estcourt Road, runs along the northwest side of the boundary, separated from the rest of the Canadian community of Pohenegamook by a raised railroad roadbed with only one tunnel under it. In addition to the gas bar, this isolated part of town has several homes on the Quebec side, and several homes, barns and sheds on the Maine side. It also has several homesteads right on the line.

3772The front of a small house at 1183 Estcourt Road, in Pohenegamook, Quebec, is in Canada, but the back bit, including the porch and the vegetable garden, is in Estcourt, Maine. The International Boundary Commission has placed a plaque on the house, at the precise point where the line hits the house. CLUI photoThe international boundary passes directly through five houses in town, and through more than a dozen backyards, sheds, and porches. There are several IBC monuments in this stretch, making it quite clear where the line falls. People who own these line homes are well aware of where the line is on their property, as they pay taxes proportionally to each government, though there appears to be no physical manifestation of the line on their interiors or exteriors, other than one IBC plaque on one of them. Nearly everyone in town, no matter how much of their house is in the USA, is distinctly Francophone.

At the end of Rue de la Frontiere/Estcourt Road is a small park, Parc de la Frontiere/Border Park, which is the very top of the northern tip of Maine. The boundary following the St. Francis River, coming up from the southeast, makes a turn in the river, next to the park, where it meets the top of the Southwest Line, which heads, as expected, southwestward. The intersection is between two bridges, a footbridge that spans the border over the St. Francis, and a rail bridge that is entirely in Canada. Beyond the rail bridge is Pohenegamook Lake, the source of the St. Francis River, defined in the treaty as the northern turning point for the boundary. The fact that the turning point occurs a hundred yards before the lake is the result of later landfilling on the Canadian side to build roadbeds for the train and highway.

The footbridge leaves the park from the USA side and travels over the river into Canada.  The bridge was washed away in a flood years ago, and there was some uncertainty about rebuilding it, as it enables people to cross the border at a place where there is no port of entry. However, it was rebuilt, for pedestrians only, and enables people from the cut-off part of Estcourt to get to church and other places in the main part of town more directly, even if they are doing so by entering the USA, briefly.

3773The international boundary makes a turn from northbound to southwestbound in the water a few yards in front of this bridge. CLUI photoThe Western Side of Maine
A prominent boundary marker in the park is the first one on the Southwest Line, a straight line heading southwest through Estcourt and onward for 85 miles. After Estcourt, the only official border crossing on the Southwest Line is 45 miles away at a logging yard in St. Pamphile, Quebec. It is on a dirt road, and is used by logging trucks bringing logs out of the North Maine Woods. After the USA port of entry at the boundary is the company check station for the Woods, where permits are issued to enter.

3774The St. Pamphile crossing, the only crossing on the Southwest Line. CLUI photoThe boundary line here, on the northwest edge of Maine, reflects one of the fundamental paradoxes of this border. On one hand, this region is a remote logging wilderness and the cold northern edge of the USA. On the other hand it is the warm southern edge of Canada, and some of the best farm country in that nation, along the fertile St. Lawrence basin. On the USA side are the woods, accessible from below only by dirt roads. On the Canadian side, the land is divided into long narrow farms within a dense network of evenly spaced public roads.

20 miles further down the line is a settlement on the Canadian side and a lake, both called Lac Frontiere. The Northwest Branch of the St. John River comes out of this lake, and crosses the boundary. This was the point where, according to the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, the Southwest Line ends and becomes a more southerly line, known as the South Line.

Concerning this point, the specific and convoluted language of the treaty reads: “[from the] outlet of the Lake Pohenagamook; thence, southwesterly, in a straight line to a point on the northwest branch of the river St. John, which point shall be ten miles distant from the mainbranch of the St. John, in a straight line, and in the nearest direction; but if the said point shall be found to be less than seven miles from the nearest point of the summit or crest of the highlands that divide those rivers which empty themselves into the river St. Lawrence from those which fall into the river St. John, then the said point shall be made to recede down the said northwest branch of the river St. John, to a point seven miles in a straight line from the said summit or crest; thence, in a straight line, in a course about south eight degrees west, to the point where the parallel of latitude of 46°25' north, intersects the southwest branch of the St. John; thence, southerly, by the said branch…”

The result is that that, from here, the South Line extends for 20 miles until the boundary joins the channel of the Southwest Branch of the St. John River. Along the way is the Daaquam border crossing into the North Maine Woods, closed in 2004, though its port of entry buildings remain. The road is gated and blocked with concrete barriers on the USA side.

A few miles further south is the St. Juste Crossing, which absorbed the limited traffic from Daaquam, open to serve the logging industry, with two log yards on the Canadian side. Like the four other official crossings on this remote western side of northern Maine, the crossing is open during business hours only, and there is a checkpoint for entering the North Maine Woods beyond the USA port of entry.

Once the South Line intersects the Southwest Branch of the St. John River, the international boundary becomes watery again and follows the river for 35 meandering miles. This is the upstream reaches of the same St. John which serves as the boundary in northeastern Maine, through Fort Kent, Madawaska, and Van Buren.

This upper Southwestern Branch of the St. John is a much smaller river, becoming a stream with considerable meanders. Much of it is narrow and shallow enough to walk across, which, no doubt, some people do.

The straight cut lines along the hundred miles of the Southwest and South Lines are studded with camera stations (some of which are mounted on moose hunting platforms), which enable border patrols to monitor that part of the boundary nearly completely, in theory, if not in practice (details about coverage is kept secret). The meanders of the upper St. John and the Highlands make remote monitoring very difficult. Here border patrols rely more on motion sensors and agents in the field, on foot and in ATVs.

3775The St. Aurelie crossing is the only crossing on the southeast branch of the St. John River. CLUI photoThere is only one open crossing on the 35 miles of the Southwest Branch of the St. John portion of the boundary, at St. Aurelie, another entrance into the North Maine Woods, used for logging. There is also a closed crossing at Gilbert Road with an unmaintained bridge over the river boundary.

A few miles further south is Little St. John Lake, considered to be the source of the Southwest Branch of the St. John River. From this point, according to the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, the international boundary leaves the river, and follows the Highlands.

The Highlands is the divide between watersheds, where on one side water flows to the St. Lawrence River through Quebec, and on the other side to the Gulf of Maine and Atlantic Ocean.

Traveling over the top of the ridge line for more than 120 meandering miles, this section of boundary is among the most remote and unmonitored on the whole continental line. Because it meanders, like a river, but is on dry land, it has more monuments than any other section of the boundary.

3776The St. Zacharie crossing is the last of the logging company crossings on the boundary. CLUI photoThere are four official crossings along the Highlands. The first, the St. Zacharie border crossing, just two miles south of Little St. John Lake, is the last of the dirt road logging industry ports of entry into and out of the North Maine Woods. From there the boundary meanders for 35 miles before the next crossing, the Jackman/Armstrong Border Crossing on Highway 201. This, the first paved crossing over the border since Fort Kent, is the busiest crossing on the western side of Maine.

Just north of the station is a hunting camp on the Canadian side, where the line goes through one of the cabins. This is the sixth inhabited structure with the international boundary running through it, so far.

From the Jackman/Armstrong Border Crossing its another nearly 50 miles of remote Highlands terrain until the border meets another official road crossing, the Coburn Gore/Woburn crossing, the second of two paved road crossing points on the western side of Maine. As at many of the remote ports of entry along the boundary, there is a small row of government housing for customs officers.

After this last crossing in Maine, the border meanders through the Highlands for another 25 miles, where it meets the state line for New Hampshire. The international boundary at the top of New Hampshire is 58 miles of meandering, mostly following the drainage divide between the St. Lawrence River and the Connecticut River. Along the way is just one official border crossing point, the Pittsburg/Chartierville crossing on Route 3. Despite the fact that it is the only crossing in New Hampshire, only around 10,000 vehicles pass through here a year.

The Highlands boundary continues along the ridge past the crossing, dividing the rugged wooded mountains of northern New Hampshire, from the flat arable plains of Quebec’s Eastern Townships, for another 20 miles, where it ends at its westernmost point, at the upper reaches of Halls Stream, considered to be the northwestern-most headwaters of the Connecticut River. The boundary becomes a watery one again, following the stream for the next 25 miles.

3777There is an unusual double monument on the border at New Hampshire’s only crossing, with two obelisks, 18 inches apart, emerging from a single concrete base. The explanation is an often told tale where two 19th century boundary surveying teams, coming from either direction, one Canadian and one American, met here, and found their lines differed by 18 inches. Rather than split the difference, two monuments were installed, #483 and #484. Eventually the bases of the monuments were cemented together, forming one official marker, surrounded by a fence, which further unites them. This story of precision and international camaraderie turns out to be apocryphal. The more accurate version, according to an IBC Commissioner, is that they had an extra monument, and thought it would make a nice story. CLUI photoMarking the border along this tiny meandering stream is another challenge for the International Boundary Commission. The 1842 treaty identifies “the middle of Halls Stream” as the boundary. By the time it was resurveyed in 1908, the river had shifted more than 600 feet in some places. By 1979, more than half of the 467 turning points logged and marked with shoreline reference points along the stream were now on land.

Along Halls Stream, the border is a double set of meanders. One is the boundary as a recording of the stream made in the 1909 survey, the other is the stream as it is now. The recorded boundary meanders through what are now fields and meadows, often unmarked, and possibly even unknown to landowners, who assume that the boundary is the stream, not in the middle of their lawn.

3778Halls Stream, nearing its widest point, at its meeting with the Connecticut River. CLUI photoThe stream finally meets its end as the international boundary when it intersects the 45th Parallel near Beecher Falls, Vermont. This point was established by the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which declared that the boundary will be located where the “northwesternmost head of the Connecticut River meets the 45th Parallel.” The boundary westward from here continues along the 45th Parallel along the top of Vermont, which begins on the west bank of Halls Stream, next to the first Ethan Allen furniture factory. ♦

3779The first Ethan Allen furniture factory anchors the eastern end of the 45th Parallel portion of the international boundary, along the top of Vermont. CLUI photo