This small (3” x 5”) leather-bound journal documents a canoe trip taken by five men in two birch bark canoes in the Moosehead Lake region of Maine during the Civil War. The diary, titled “Moosehead Lake, ME. Trip in Canoes,” was kept by L. G. Barrett of Newton, Massachusetts from August 22 – September 13, 1864.
All entries are in pencil so luckily have not faded and are readable—albeit with the help of a magnifying glass to interpret the small, cursive handwriting. There are 77 pages of writing, plus the author’s name, hometown, and date on the flyleaf, and trip expense tallies on the endpapers.
There are also 9 charming small sketches.
Barrett’s chronicles provide descriptions of traveling to and within Maine during the time period, as well as insights into the personalities and adventures of the canoe trippers. Rich historical details are packed into the journal’s pages.
The Region and Canoe Trip Itinerary
Moosehead Lake is the largest lake in Maine (40 miles long x 10 miles wide), with 400 miles of shoreline, a maximum depth of 230’, 40 islands, and a famous geological feature called Mount Kineo whose cliffs rise 700’ straight up from the lake shore.
By 1864, Moosehead Lake and Greenville, Maine, the town on its southern shore, were already bustling with lumbermen passing through on their way to northern forests, and well-to-do rusticators and sportsmen visiting the elegant Kineo House hotel.
The first steamboats had begun providing ferry service along the length of the lake in 1835, providing access to hunting camps, farms, and villages before railroads were built. By 1900, 25 steamboats were actively transporting people, livestock, mail and supplies up the lake on regular schedules.
Barrett and his canoe tripping party planned to paddle up Moosehead Lake from Greenville, portage across the Northeast Carry to the West Branch of the Penobscot River, and then go downriver to Chesuncook Lake, and thus into the true wilderness of Maine.
It is plausible that their trip itinerary was influenced by the writings of fellow Massachusetts adventurer Henry David Thoreau who had lived in Concord, just 15 miles northwest of Barrett’s hometown of Newton. Thoreau’s book, The Maine Woods, published posthumously in 1864, documented a canoe trip up Moosehead Lake, over to Chesuncook Lake and beyond. One can imagine the men from Newton being inspired to visit this area that Thoreau so eloquently described.
Chronology of the Trip with Journal Excerpts
The following provides some daily highlights of the trip, along with photographs gleaned from the internet that provide images of what the men were experiencing (although most of the photos are from a slightly later time period, taken after the 1888 introduction of the first roll film camera which made it easier for travelers to take photos).