Winn: Tannery Row
Welcome to Tannery Row, the PRPT’s campsite in Winn,
Maine. This campsite is on the shoreland of Versant Electric, the
railroad track, and neighbors Christine and Delbert Twist. We thank
them for their generosity.
This area was initially called the Five Islands Plantation, after the cluster
of islands upstream you have just paddled past. This campsite is called
Tannery Row because the Winn tannery, begun in 1863, and burned
down in 1892, was in its day the largest tannery in the United States
and the second largest in the world. As you walk north on the trail you
will see some of its one hundred and sixty year old earthworks on your
The following photo of the tannery was taken from across the river. In
the photo, note the length of the tannery along the shoreline, the
treeless landscape, and the ferry from across the river, which is about
In those days, commercial leather tanning used hemlock bark, and that,
plus the presence of clean flowing water, is why the tannery was sited
in Winn. After the 1880s, a less expensive approach to tanning which
used chromium compounds instead of hemlock bark, allowed new
tanneries to be sited away from forests.
By 1870, the railroad, which is just uphill from the campsite, was
extended to Mattawamkeag. Presumably the railroad carried in dried
hides and carried them out after tanning, to be used in shoes, especially
soles, and other leather goods. Hemlock forests, clean water, and
tanneries seem to account for the subsequent location of a significant
shoe industry in Maine.
No specific information is available concerning the sources of the hides
at Winn. But in general, Maine tanneries used local hides and imported
hides which came from as far as South America and the American west,
including hides from the wanton slaughter of buffalo.
In several respects the Winn tannery can be understood as part of the
land grab from the Penobscot Nation, battles with Indigenous tribes in
the west, including Custer’s defeat at the Little Big Horn in 1876, and
widespread environmental and cultural injustice towards our native
The site is also lush with poison ivy as well as poison ivy look-alikes (see
photos), so watch out! If your skin contacts poison ivy, wash it off as
soon as you can. In May this site is lush with blooming trout lilies.
You may notice beaver chewed trees, but no beaver dams or beaver
lodges. The beavers here are bank beavers which live in holes that they
excavate rather than lodges they construct. Perhaps the hole that
disappears under Turtle Rock, where you landed, is theirs.
There is a small grocery store in town, about a 1/2 mile walk, if you
need supplies. Walk north to the road, walk east one block and it is
North Howland: Mohawk
Welcome to Mohawk campsite in North Howland
The campsite is named “Mohawk” because it is just
downstream of Mohawk Island and Mohawk Rapids.
Henry David Thoreau wrote about the Mohawks on
the Penobscot in his book The Maine Woods. In chapter
16, “The Penobscot Indians,” Thoreau recounts his
Penobscot guide, Joe Polis, telling him about the
“When passing the Mohawk Rips, … four or five
miles below Lincoln, he told us at length the story of a
fight between his tribe and the Mohawks there,
anciently,—how the latter were overcome by stratagem,
the Penobscots using concealed knives,—but they could
not for a long time kill the Mohawk chief, who was a
very large and strong man, though he was attacked by
several canoes at once, when swimming alone in the
The Mohawks were a fierce, formidable foe of the
Penobscots when they ventured into Penobscot
territory. The rapids were named for this successful
engagement against them.
In The Maine Woods, Thoreau chronicles his three
excursions into Maine, each time guided by a Penobscot