The Pine Tree State: A History of Lumber in Maine

Maine Pine TreeThe towering Eastern White Pines of Maine, stretching up to two hundred feet into the sky, were an incredible sight for Europeans arriving for the first time in what would later become New England. Maine is now known as the Pine Tree State, and has taken the Eastern White Pine as its state tree (and even the White Pine Cone and Tassel as its flower, even though it’s not technically a flower.) This tree has played a major role in Maine history, from the very first days of colonization to the modern era.

Those tall trees were in such great demand, they played a role in sparking the Revolutionary War. Their trunks were ideal for use as masts in large seafaring vessels, and while Colonists depended on them to build their own ships and architecture, Great Britain began to claim the largest and strongest for its own ships. The conflict led to an incident known as ‘The Pine Tree Riot,’ one of the first real acts of rebellion against British rule.

Before it was settled, Maine was covered in forests, but colonists quickly began clearing large tracts of land for homes and farms, and to use the wood. The first sawmills of Maine were reportedly established in the early 1630s, and the lumber industry was in full swing by mid-century. By 1682, there were 24 sawmills operating in what is now Kittery, Wells and Portland.

By the 19th century, Bangor was the lumber capital of the world, home to over 300 sawmills. The Penobscot River played a large role in the industry, allowing loggers to send large logs from the northern Maine woods to Bangor, where they were processed. Today, the North Woods are a beautiful 10.4-million-acre undeveloped forest offering recreational opportunities for Mainers as well as visitors from all over the world.

It may seem, with all of this logging in the state’s history, that Maine would be in danger of exhausting its supply of trees. Yet today, almost 89% of the state is forested. In fact, it’s the most forested state in the nation. Timber continues to be a large part of the state’s economy, and Maine has been on the forefront of sustainable forestry.

Photos: Ohio State

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