Give Camden Residents A Dam Vote

Camden Falls, Featured, Human Interest

By Tom Rothwell, Camden Maine Resident

Camden votersnot the Camden Select Board, should be deciding the fate of Camden’s Montgomery Dam and Camden Harbor Falls.

The dam has a rich history that predates the establishment of our nation. We are discussing the fate of a site of historic importance. A Camden Herald article dated August of 1930 makes clear the desire of Mrs. Bok and the Olmsted Brothers to make the falls an integral part of the design of Harbor Park. Based on this article the falls are also of significance in their original design. Harbor Park is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Contributing Resource to the High Street District. In August of 1932, Mrs. Bok deeded the shorefront to Camden as a park under control of the Camden Public Library Board of Trustees stating, “This seems the surest way of keeping control of the properties out of politics”. Not protecting this shorefront flies in the face of stewardship of such an important local landmark. 

Olmstead Brothers crew working during construction, in the winter of 1930-31, on raising and extending the Camden Falls and rebuilding the sluiceway as part of Mrs. Bok’s Camden Harbor Park. Photo from Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site and the Camden Public Library.

Some Select Board members, and indeed the Camden Town Manager will assert that it is necessary to sacrifice this history for the sake of the environment.  The Interfluve report they commissioned for the sole intent of dam removal (and the acquisition of grant money to do so) shows that the dam presents no significant flooding issues. Construction and maintenance of fish ladders along the Megunticook is estimated at an expense of $12 million, not fully funded by any grant. Furthermore, removal of the dam is NOT necessary for installation of fish ladders.

Town officials have pursued this project with an end goal in mind without considering what voters may want.  Town officials have been largely mum on the details of dam removal. Camden voters have questions and deserve concrete answers. Do we fully understand just how dramatic the changes will be to the landscape if this project proceeds? Removal of the dam will flood the lower portion of Harbor Park, which is a historic site. The mill pond will become a mud hole. Buildings that have been over water will now look unsightly with their underpinnings in full view. Why do we need to remove a dam for rising water levels when engineers say it’s not a contributing factor?  

Camden is consistently voted one of the prettiest small towns in America. A simple Google images search of Camden will yield numerous pictures of Harbor Park and Montgomery Dam. Many of us were blessed to be born and raised in this area, and those who didn’t were drawn here by Camden’s unparalleled beauty. Let’s not destroy it. Town residents must decide the future of the dam.

Frederick Law Olmsted (April 26, 1822 – August 28, 1903) was an American landscape architect, journalist, social critic, and public administrator. He is considered to be the father of landscape architecture. Olmsted was famous for co-designing many well-known urban parks with his partner Calvert Vaux. Olmsted and Vaux’s first project was Central Park, which resulted in many other urban park designs, including Prospect Park in what was then the City of Brooklyn (now the Borough of Brooklyn in New York City) and Cadwalader Park in Trenton. He headed the pre-eminent landscape architecture and planning consultancy of late nineteenth-century America, which was carried on and expanded by his sons, Frederick Olmsted Jr and John C. Olmsted, under the name Olmsted Brothers.

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