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The last lake in the Belgrade Lakes chain of lakes is 3691-acre Messalonskee Lake. Located in the Kennebec and Moose River Valleys Region, Messalonskee Lake was originally called Snow Pond after one of the first Europeans to settle there. Because the lake lies along Messalonskee Stream, the name was changed around 1900 to correspond with it. It is thought the Abenaki name means 'white clay'. Also known occasionally as Nine-Mile Pond, the lake is well-known among visitors, locals and environmentalists. No matter what its called, Messalonskee Lake has played a vital part in the development of inland Maine.
Early settlers arrived around the middle of the 1700s, likely by following Messalonskee Stream up from its mouth at the Kennebec River. Farming was not very profitable due to the rocky ground but the fast-moving stream provided ideal water-power for early industry. By 1790, a dam had been built across the outlet from Messalonskee Lake to power grist and saw mills. Within a few years, there were four dams built across the stream between the small village then known as West Waterville and Waterville on the Kennebec. Besides enlarging the lake, the dams took advantage of the 120 ft drop along the stream to power a booming business in axe and scythe production. Over the years, other businesses began here, including tanneries, furniture and carriage shops, iron foundries, machine shops, boat and casket makers, shingle mills, tool handles, edge tool manufacturers and woolen mills. A small company formed in the town to produce electrical power from water power. That company became Central Maine Power Company, largest electrical utility in Maine. Cascade Woolen Mill, the last large business to use the water power of the Messalonskee, closed in the 1990s. West Waterville, renamed Oakland in 1883, no longer saw itself as an industrial town and instead concentrated its efforts on the tourism industry and services to summer lake residents.
By 1870, the area around Messalonskee Lake had begun to attract visitors who came to enjoy not only Messalonskee Lake but the other lakes in the Belgrade Lakes region. At one time, a streetcar line ran from Waterville to the lake bringing businessmen and visitors to the area. The Sunset Railroad came through town on its way to the resorts on Moosehead Lake. Amusements such as dance pavilions and a steamboat, and lodgings called 'camps' quickly grew up in the area to take advantage of new opportunities for business. A thriving 'summer colony' grew up along the shore of Messalonskee Lake. With the coming of the automobile, more 'summer people' began to build private cottages along the shores. By the time Oakland's industrial age ended, it had already begun transforming itself into a service economy to serve its lake residents.
Fishing is good at Messalonskee Lake. Summer and winter both bring anglers to the lake who try to outwit black crappie, chain pickerel, largemouth bass, northern pike, pumpkinseed, smallmouth bass, walleye, white and yellow perch. But the most popular fish the lake has to offer are brown trout, brook trout, landlocked salmon, lake trout and splake - all stocked regularly. The weed beds along undeveloped portions of the shore are particularly productive. Several boat ramps are provided for smaller boats and canoe fishing is popular. In winter, ice fishing brings the winter residents out to try their hand at the same game fish.
Summer residents and their guests along the shore of Messalonskee Lake find ample opportunities for swimming, boating, windsurfing, picnicking, wildlife viewing, camping, hiking and geocaching. There are numerous trails around the entire Belgrade Lakes area for hiking, bicycling snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and other outdoor activities. A full schedule of local festivals occurs all year round. Such annual events as the annual antique boat parade and regular 'bean-hole' dinners aren't to be missed for true Maine lakes atmosphere. For those unfamiliar with the term, bean-holes are a method of baking beans in a cast-iron pot buried in hot coals overnight in a hole in the ground. A mainstay of lumbermen, the method of cooking beans was reportedly learned from the Penobscot Native Americans. A great many Maine lake people wouldn't consider a get-together complete without a pot of bean-hole beans.
There is relatively little development along Messalonskee Lake's shoreline. Extensive wetlands and bogs provide prime wildlife habitat. For this reason, canoeing and kayaking are favored activities here. Although power boating is allowed, more visitors engage in pontooning and floating the lake, binoculars in hand. A favored area for birding and wildlife watching is the bog area at the south-west end of the lake. Home to warblers, bald eagles, turtles, bullfrogs, and a variety of other wildlife, the area is famed as a home to the rare, carnivorous pitcher plant. A rare colony of nesting black terns lives here, one of the few in Maine. The inlet Messalonskee Stream is float-able all the way to Long Pond. Along the way, red wing blackbirds lay claim to the cattails and small shrubs. Blue herons and snapping turtles fish the shallows or sun themselves along the shore. The the Messalonskee Lake Association works actively to preserve the natural flora and fauna by protecting it's habitat. The proximity of the lake to Colby College in Waterville means that there is much interest in studying the environment of the lake and its water quality with an eye toward improvements.
Lost in nature's solitude, the silent paddler can't be blamed for thinking they are imagining the sounds of a string quartet or flute solo wafting on the breeze. More likely, it's the students at the New England Music Camp practicing along the south shore. The camp, established in 1937, provides specialized instruction for gifted musicians ages 12 to 18 in a camp setting. Several times a year, the camp performs public concerts to the delight of natives and visitors alike.
Should the visitor somehow feel the need to head back toward busy metro areas, Augusta is only 18 miles from Oakland. A great history tour in Augusta is Old Fort Western: the oldest surviving wooden fort in America. For the shoppers, LL Bean and the Freeport Outlets (excellent shopping) are only an hour away. The seacoast is just an hour's drive to the east. And even smaller Waterville provides a variety of special treasures such as Perkins Arboretum at Colby College.
Vacation rentals can be found in nearly any configuration around Messalonskee Lake. There are still resort 'camps' in existence, and private cottage rentals can be found year round. Picturesque New England Inns and bed-and-breakfast rooms are plentiful in the area. Lakefront and lake view real estate is sometimes found in the area. Who knows? After a visit, you may decide you, too want to become a Maine Laker. Come to Messalonskee Lake and find out if it's for you.
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