MAINE TALES. ‘POPULATION EXPLOSION.’ Township D, Range 2. Circa 2001.
“Figures will not lie, but liars will figure.”
This phrase has been attributed to a Maine politician, James G. Blaine who, after the Civil War served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and then later as a U.S. Senator. Senator Blaine made no claim of original authorship and one variation on the theme has been long attributed to Samuel Clemons, aka Mark Twain. Essentially, preventing a liar from figuring signifies an effort to prevent a perversion of truth.
Our founders, after the American Revolution, had figured out that representative democracy requires honest and accurate numbers. In June 1788, the proposed United States Constitution became ratified by the States, and contained therein was the new Constitutional requirement that there be a regular head-count of all inhabitants. So, beginning in 1790, the first Census was conducted, and this Constitutionally-mandated procedure has been followed every decade ever since.
As documented by the Census, our little Potato farming town of Bridgewater saw its population rise to around 1200 in 1890, just after the railroad line first came through. The population stabilized around that 1200 figure for six decades until the 1950s when the year-round automobile era accelerated mobility and the ability to get out of Dodge. So began in this area a steady slide in the number of residents. Bridgewater’s population then stabilized for the two decades counted and reported in the Census of 2000 and 2010, settling at just over 600. The most recent Census in 2020 indicated that we had dropped once again, this time down to 532 souls. That leaves Bridgewater with its smallest population since the Civil War era. Our perennially challenged Northern Maine Potato and Woods-based economy has left its mark in the form of a limited ability to hold onto our young people, a tale sadly often told in rural America.
Of all the fifty States, Maine has been recognized as having the oldest median population in the country. Among Maine’s 483 organized Townships, and primarily because of that youth out-migration, the Bridgewater citizenry represents one of the oldest median age populations in the entire State of Maine. Late to the party, Northern Maine decades ago began joining most rural areas up and down the Eastern seaboard which have experienced a pattern of dwindling population since the close of the Civil War. Maine’s overall very modest statewide population growth over past decades should be attributed to Portland and the Coast which have grown in population at a rate faster than the out-migration from Maine’s rural hinterlands.
Now, in addition to the 483 Organized Townships in Maine, there are another 429 townships which are so sparsely or completely unpopulated that they have been lumped together administratively by the State as Maine’s “Unorganized Territory (UT).” The UT represents slightly over half of Maine’s land area and currently has about 9,000 year-round residents. Because our Wood Prairie Family Farm homes and farm buildings are located in the UT adjacent to the Township of Bridgewater, and despite the fact that we own and farm nearby land in the Township of Bridgewater, as far as the State of Maine is concerned, our family is considered to be residents of Township D Range 2. TDR2 is a part of the UT which makes up the massive, lonesome North Maine woods. There is no local organized government.
The US Census of 1990 correctly captured the fact that TDR2 at that time had just four residents: Wood Prairie’s Megan & Jim, and another couple with a camp on a woodlot south of us. Then jump ahead ten years. Population changes which had occurred over those next ten years were counted and then released as 2000 Census figures by the Census Bureau in 2001. The state’s largest newspaper, the Bangor Daily News, made a quite a hoopla of the 2000 Census and in June ran a big story about Maine population trends. Accompanying this article was a giant, full-page, detailed color map of the State of Maine divided into its many hundreds of Townships. Townships were painstakingly color coded to indicate percentage population change over the previous ten years. Pinks were splattered down around Portland, Bangor and the Coast, indicative of their population growth.
However, virtually all of Western, Northern and Eastern Maine were solemnly etched in various shades of greens, soberly documenting the continuing exodus from rural Maine. Yet, there amidst the map’s massive forest of depopulating green was this single, unmistakable, square-sided outlier beacon of red. It was a Township way up north in Aroostook County, in the second range of Townships westward from Canada. The use of a magnifying glass illuminated the Township’s four clear characters: TDR2. Yes, that would be us.
Amazingly enough, amid all the complication and paper shuffling involved in Census-taking, the Census Bureau had got it right in their tally. The first three of our four children – Peter, Caleb and Sarah – had all been born during that single decade following the 1990 Census. Reminiscent of Klondike boom towns, the population of TDR2 had statistically exploded, rocketing from four to seven, or a gain of 75%! It was enough growth to earn our Township the rare-as-hen’s-teeth coded color ‘red.’
Miraculously, our 35-square-mile TDR2 was able to handle that historic population surge. Turns out, having five-square-miles per resident is just about the right population density, and still gives us the elbow room we like to have.