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Skowhegan ( ) is a town in and the county seat of Somerset Countymarker, Mainemarker, United Statesmarker. As of the 2000 census, the town population was 8,824. Every August, Skowhegan hosts the annual Skowhegan State Fair, the oldest continuous state fair in the United States. The Skowhegan School of Art is an internationally known residency program for visual artists, though it is technically located in neighboring East Madisonmarker.

History

North Channel Falls in 1908
The Skowhegan Falls (which have since been replaced by the Weston Dam) descended 28 feet over a half mile on the Kennebec River. This was once territory of the Norridgewockmarker tribe of Abenaki Indians, whose village was located in Madisonmarker until 1724, when it was sacked during Dummer's War. From spring until fall the tribe fished here, where abundant salmon and other species could be caught by wading. Consequently, they named the area Skowhegan, meaning "watching place [for fish]."

The land was settled in 1773 as a part of Canaanmarker. Colonel Benedict Arnold and his troops passed through the village in 1775 on their way to the ill-fated Battle of Quebecmarker. It would be set off from Canaan and incorporated on February 5, 1823 under the name Milburn. But inhabitants preferred the old name of Skowhegan, as it would be renamed in 1836. In 1861, the town annexed Bloomfield across the river. Skowhegan became county seat in 1871.

Farms produced hay, potatoes, wheat and wool. In 1818, the Skowhegan Fair was organized, with the first fair held in 1819. The Somerset and Kennebec Railroad (later part of the Maine Central Railroad) reached the town in 1856. Skowhegan Falls provided water power for industry, and Skowhegan developed into a mill town. Numerous mills were built on Skowhegan Island, which separates the river into north and south channels. In the 19th-century, the town had a paper mill, sawmill, 2 sash and blind factories, 2 flour mills, a wood pulp mill, 3 planing mills, a woolen mill, an oil cloth factory, 2 axe factories, a scythe factory, 2 harness and saddlery factories, a shoe factory and a foundry. In 1986, the S. D. Warren Company, a division of Scott Paper Company, opened a plant in Skowhegan. In 1997, the S. D. Warren mill was sold to Sappi Fine Paper. The New Balance Athletic Shoe Company operates a factory in the community.

Among the town's features is the Swinging Bridge, a suspension footbridge first constructed in 1883 to connect Skowhegan Island with the south side of the Kennebec River. Another landmark is the Beaux-Arts style Municipal Building and Opera House, designed by noted Portlandmarker architect John Calvin Stevens, and built in 1907-1909. On the north side of the municipal parking lot stands a 62 foot tall sculpture depicting an Abenaki Indian, carved by Bernard Langlais. In 2003, Skowhegan was a major filming location for an HBO movie based on the 2001 book, Empire Falls, by Richard Russo. Skowhegan is the home of the annual KNEADING Conference established in 2007 where topics including local wheat production, milling, baking and wood fired oven building are highlighted. Skowhegan is one of nine designated Main Street Maine communities utilizing a strategic four point approach to downtown revitalization, a program endorsed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Notable residents

Swinging Bridge c.
1908


Geography

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 60.6 square miles (156.9 km²), of which, 59.0 square miles (152.8 km²) of it is land and 1.6 square miles (4.1 km²) of it (2.64%) is water. Skowhegan is drained by the Wesserunsett Stream and Kennebec River. Loomis Hill, elevation 870 feet (265 meters) above sea level, is the highest point in town.

Demographics

Shoe factory in 1907


As of the census of 2000, there were 8,824 people, 3,716 households, and 2,363 families residing in the town. The population density was 149.6 people per square mile (57.8/km²). There were 4,165 housing units at an average density of 70.6/sq mi (27.3/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 97.56% White, 0.25% Black or African American, 0.43% Native American, 0.54% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.12% from other races, and 1.08% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.73% of the population.

There were 3,716 households out of which 29.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.3% were married couples living together, 13.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.4% were non-families. 29.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.31 and the average family size was 2.81.

American Woolen Co. c.
1910
In the town the population was spread out with 23.5% under the age of 18, 8.2% from 18 to 24, 28.3% from 25 to 44, 23.7% from 45 to 64, and 16.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.9 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $28,390, and the median income for a family was $35,880. Males had a median income of $27,982 versus $21,011 for females. The per capita income for the town was $15,543. About 13.0% of families and 16.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.0% of those under age 18 and 13.4% of those age 65 or over.

References



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