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Kennebec River

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kennebec River
Wyman Lake on the Kennebec River in Somerset County, Maine
CountryUnited States
Physical characteristics
 • locationMoosehead Lake
 • coordinates45°35′10″N 69°42′48″W / 45.5861558°N 69.7133907°W / 45.5861558; -69.7133907
 • elevation1,024 feet (312 m)
 • location
Gulf of Maine, North Atlantic Ocean
 • coordinates
43°44′06″N 69°46′26″W / 43.7350850°N 69.7739341°W / 43.7350850; -69.7739341 (Kennebec River)
Length170 miles (270 km)
Basin size5,869 sq mi (15,200 km2)
 • average9,111 cu ft/s (258.0 m3/s)
at its entrance to Merrymeeting Bay
The course of the Kennebec River

The Kennebec River (Abenaki: Kinəpékʷihtəkʷ) is a 170-mile-long (270 km)[1] river within the U.S. state of Maine. It rises in Moosehead Lake in west-central Maine. The East and West Outlets join at Indian Pond and the river flows southward. Harris Station Dam, the largest hydroelectric dam in the state, was constructed near that confluence. The river is joined at The Forks by its tributary the Dead River, also called the West Branch.[2]

It continues south past the towns of Madison, Skowhegan, the city of Waterville, and the state capital Augusta. At Richmond, it flows into Merrymeeting Bay, a 16-mile-long (26 km) freshwater tidal bay into which also flow the Androscoggin River and five smaller rivers.

The Kennebec runs past the shipbuilding center of Bath, and has its mouth at the Gulf of Maine in the Atlantic Ocean. The Southern Kennebec flows below the fall line and does not have rapids. As a consequence, ocean tides and saltwater fish species, such as the endangered Atlantic Sturgeon, can go upriver affecting the ecology as far north as Waterville, a small city located more than 35 miles inland. Tributaries of the Kennebec include the Carrabassett River, Sandy River, and Sebasticook River.

Segments of the East Coast Greenway run along the Kennebec.


The name "Kennebec" comes from the Eastern Abenaki /kínipekʷ/, meaning "large body of still water, large bay".[3]


Discovery by Europeans

Champlain's 1607 chart of the Kennebec

In 1605, French explorer Samuel de Champlain navigated the coast of what is now Maine, charting the land and rivers of what was then called New France, L'Acadie, including the Kennebec as far upriver as present-day Bath, as well as the St. Croix, and Penobscot rivers.[4] In the 1600s the Abenaki village of Norridgewock was located along the Kennebec.


The English founded the Popham Colony along the Kennebec in 1607. The settlers built the Virginia of Sagadahoc, the first oceangoing vessel built in the New World by English-speaking shipwrights. An English trading post, Cushnoc, was established on the Kennebec in 1628.

Bath and other cities along the Kennebec were developed, and artisans founded shipyards that produced hundreds of wooden and steel vessels. Bath became known as the "City of Ships". The Wyoming, one of the largest wooden schooners ever built, was constructed here.

For parts of the 17th century, the Kennebec was the western boundary of Cornwall County, Province of New York.

Following the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain, the US enjoyed a lengthy period of expansion of international trade, which increased the demand for shipbuilding and stimulated the growth of maritime fleets. Many of those ships were built in Bath. In 1854, at the peak of this boom period, at least nineteen major firms were building ships in Bath.[5] Changes in the industry since the mid-20th century have resulted in the decline in US shipbuilding, as jobs moved offshore. The sole remaining shipyard in Bath is the Bath Iron Works, owned by General Dynamics; this is one of the few yards still building warships for the United States Navy. The USCGC Kennebec was named after this river.


With waterways the most accessible travel routes, the Kennebec River served as an early trade corridor to interior Maine from the Atlantic coast. Ocean ships could navigate upstream as far as Augusta. The cities of Bath, Gardiner, Hallowell and Augusta, and the towns of Woolwich, Richmond and Randolph, all developed along this transportation corridor.

Upstream of Augusta, the timber industry used the river for log driving, to transport wooden logs and pulpwood from interior forests to sawmills and paper mills built along the river to use its water power. The city of Waterville and the towns of Winslow, Skowhegan, Norridgewock, Madison, Anson, and Bingham were all related to the lumber trade. The Maine Central Railroad and U.S. Route 201 were later constructed to make use of the flatlands along the river through these towns and cities.[6]

Father Rale's War

England's 1710 conquest of Acadia brought mainland Nova Scotia under English control, but New France still claimed present-day New Brunswick and present-day Maine east of the Kennebec River. (The Kennebec River was also a border for the indigenous Native Americans and First Nations.[7]) To secure its claim, New France established Catholic missions in the three largest native villages in the region: one on the Kennebec River (Norridgewock); one further north on the Penobscot River (Penobscot), and one on the Saint John River (Medoctec).[8][9]

Abenaki warriors along the Kennebec resisted English encroachment by armed confrontations, in what American historians sometimes refer to as Father Rale's War (1722–1725). A Yankee militia raid on the Abenaki Indian mission village at Norridgewock in August 1724 crippled the Abenaki resistance, as they killed as many as 40 inhabitants, including women and children. They also killed and scalped Fr. Sebastien Rasle, the 67-year old Jesuit priest, and scalped 26 of the dead Abenaki. Having plundered and torched the tribal village, the Yankee raiders destroyed the surrounding corn fields; they were paid bounties for the scalps. Some Abenaki survivors returned to the Upper Kennebec, but others took refuge with Penobscot allies or in Abenaki mission villages in French Canada.[10]

Revolutionary War

Some 1,110 American Revolutionary War soldiers followed the route of the Kennebec during Benedict Arnold's expedition to Quebec in 1775.

War of 1812

During the War of 1812, United States and British Canadian forces fought at the Battle of Hampden in Maine.

Ice industry

In 1814, Frederic Tudor began to establish markets in the West Indies and the southern United States for ice. In 1826, Rufus Page built the first large ice house near Gardiner, in order to supply Tudor. The ice was harvested during the winter from the river by farmers and others who were otherwise relatively inactive. They cut it by hand, floated the huge chunks to an ice house on the bank, and stored it until spring. Then, packed in sawdust, the ice was loaded aboard ships and sent to the South.[11]

Flood of 1987

On April 1, 1987, a combination of more than 6 feet (1.8 m) of melting snow and 4 to 6 inches (100 to 150 mm) of rain in the mountains forced the river to flood its banks. By April 2, 1987, the river had crested at the North Sidney, Maine USGS gage at 39.31 ft (11.98 m), 13.3 ft (4.1 m) higher than the previous record flood stage. At the flood's peak, the flow topped out at an estimated 232,000 cubic feet per second (6,600 m3/s).[12] It caused damage of about $100,000,000 (equivalent to about $268,000,000 in 2023),[13] flooding 2,100 homes, destroying 215, and damaging 240 others. Signs of the flood can still be found in the towns and cities that line the river.

Whitewater rafting

In 1976 Suzanne and Wayne Hockmeyer, of Kennebec Whitewater Expeditions (now Northern Outdoors), pioneered whitewater rafting through the Kennebec gorge just below Harris Station Dam.[14] Acknowledging the desire of young people for a space solely dedicated to kids, absent of adult gatherings and limiting constraints, in 1998 Northern Outdoors opened Adventure Bound - Maine's only youth focused whitewater rafting company for kids and families. [15]

In the early 21st century, Northern Outdoors and 22 other rafting companies in The Forks conduct rafting on the river daily from May through October. Four times per rafting season, Brookfield Power tests their generating turbines by releasing the maximum amount of water possible from Harris Station Dam. At 8000 cubic feet per second, these Kennebec River Turbine Tests are the biggest whitewater releases in Maine.[16]

Natural resources

Prior to the industrial era, the river contained many anadromous fish, in particular the Atlantic salmon. The exploiting of hydroelectric power in the region reduced the runs of such fish. The removal of dams on the river has been a controversial local issue in recent years. The removal of the Edwards Dam in 1999 has led to increased anadromous activity on the river.[citation needed]



The following is a list of hydroelectric power stations on the Kennebec River.[17]

Name County Coordinates Owner Date of FERC license issuance Date of FERC license expiration Total Capacity (MW) Avg Annual Generation (MWh) Year First Generator Online
Indian Pond Project (Harris Station Dam) Somerset 45°27′37″N 69°51′58″W / 45.4603°N 69.8662°W / 45.4603; -69.8662 Brookfield White Pine Hydro, LLC. 1/13/2004 10/30/2036 76.4 228,241 1954
Shawmut Kennebec 44°37′51″N 69°35′01″W / 44.6309°N 69.5835°W / 44.6309; -69.5835 Brookfield White Pine Hydro, LLC. 1/4/1981 1/30/2021 8.8 49,498 1913
Weston Somerset 44°45′49″N 69°43′07″W / 44.7636°N 69.7185°W / 44.7636; -69.7185 Brookfield White Pine Hydro, LLC. 11/24/1997 10/30/2036 12 80,341 1920
Wyman Somerset 45°04′11″N 69°54′24″W / 45.0697°N 69.9068°W / 45.0697; -69.9068 Brookfield White Pine Hydro, LLC. 11/24/1997 10/30/2036 72 389,210 1930
Williams Somerset 44°57′33″N 69°52′14″W / 44.9592°N 69.8705°W / 44.9592; -69.8705 Brookfield White Pine Hydro, LLC. 11/2/2017 4/29/2054 13 93,734 1939
Abenaki Somerset 44°47′32″N 69°53′12″W / 44.7921°N 69.8867°W / 44.7921; -69.8867 Eagle Creek Madison Hydro, LLC 7/24/2003 4/29/2054 20 96,767 1950
Anson Somerset 44°47′54″N 69°53′20″W / 44.7984°N 69.889°W / 44.7984; -69.889 Eagle Creek Madison Hydro, LLC 7/24/2003 4/29/2054 9 43,545 1950
Lockwood Kennebec 44°32′54″N 69°37′37″W / 44.5484°N 69.6269°W / 44.5484; -69.6269 Merimil Ltd Partnership 3/3/2005 10/30/2036 2.4 11,048 1985
Hydro Kennebec Project Kennebec 44°33′50″N 69°37′15″W / 44.5639°N 69.6207°W / 44.5639; -69.6207 Hydro Kennebec LLC 10/14/1986 9/29/2036 15.4 80,882 1989

Removal of Edwards Dam

The Kennebec River before the construction of Edwards Dam was extremely important as a spawning ground for Atlantic fish. In 1837, the Edwards Dam was built across the Kennebec River, just shy of the limit of tidal influence. Made of timber and concrete, it extended 917 feet (280 m) across the river and 25 feet (7.6 m) high. Its reservoir stretched 17 miles (27 km) upstream, and covered 1,143 acres (4.63 km2).

In 1999, the dam was removed, after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) determined that the ecological benefits of removing it outweighed the value of the electricity it produced, and refused the renewal of the dam license.[18]

Despite several negative visual and environmental factors at first, the ecosystem is healing itself.[19][20] Initially after the removal of the dam, barren riverbanks and muddy water were evident along the lower 17 miles (27 km) of the Kennebec. Introduced smallmouth bass will suffer from the re-introduced striped bass, which tend to feed on young smallmouth bass. An increase in raptor populations, such as ospreys, bald eagles, herons, cormorants, and kingfishers, is evident.[21]

Human activities also benefited from the dam removal. The exposure of rapids and the return of native fish species allows many recreational activities, including canoeing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, and fishing.[21]


The river drains 5,869 square miles (15,200 km2), and on average discharges 5.893 billion US gallons (22,310,000 m3) per day into Merrymeeting Bay at a rate of 9,111 cubic feet per second (258.0 m3/s). The United States government maintains three river flow gauges on the Kennebec river. The first is at Indian Pond (45°30′40″N 69°48′39″W / 45.51114°N 69.81080°W / 45.51114; -69.81080 (Indian Pond, Maine)) where the rivershed is 1,590 square miles (4,100 km2). Flow here has ranged from 161 to 32,900 cubic feet per second (4.6 to 931.6 m3/s). The second is at Bingham (45°3′6″N 69°53′12″W / 45.05167°N 69.88667°W / 45.05167; -69.88667 (Bingham, Maine)) where the rivershed is 2,715 square miles (7,030 km2). Flow here has ranged from 110 to 65,200 cu ft/s (3.1 to 1,846.3 m3/s). The third is at North Sidney (44°28′21″N 69°41′09″W / 44.47250°N 69.68583°W / 44.47250; -69.68583 (Bingham, Maine)) where the rivershed is 5,403 square miles (13,990 km2). Flow here has ranged from 1,160 to 232,000 cu ft/s (33 to 6,570 m3/s). Two additional river stage gauges (no flow data) are in Augusta (44°19′06″N 69°46′17″W / 44.31833°N 69.77139°W / 44.31833; -69.77139 (Augusta, Maine)) and Gardiner (44°13′50″N 69°46′16″W / 44.23056°N 69.77111°W / 44.23056; -69.77111 (Gardiner, Maine)); both of these gauge heights are affected by ocean tides.[22]

Before the river was dammed, it was navigable as far as Augusta.

See also


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map Archived 2012-03-29 at the Wayback Machine, accessed June 30, 2011
  2. ^ John F. Hall, The Upper Kennebec Valley, p. 7. The main stem from Indian Pond was sometimes called the East Branch.
  3. ^ Bright, William (2004). Native American placenames of the United States. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-8061-3598-4. Archived from the original on 13 May 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
  4. ^ Seymour I. Schwartz (October 2008). The Mismapping of America. University Rochester Press. p. 177. ISBN 978-1-58046-302-7.
  5. ^ "Bath's Historic Downtown - History Overview". Archived from the original on 2017-08-03. Retrieved 2017-08-02.
  6. ^ Delorme Mapping Company, The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (13th edition) (1988) ISBN 0-89933-035-5 maps 6,12,13,20,21&30
  7. ^ Bourque, Bruce (1 July 2004). Twelve Thousand Years: American Indians in Maine. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803262310. Archived from the original on 6 August 2017. Retrieved 12 October 2016 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ "Meductic Indian Village / Fort Meductic National Historic Site of Canada". Parks Canada. Archived from the original on June 27, 2012. Retrieved December 20, 2011.
  9. ^ John Grenier, The Far Reaches of Empire. University of Oklahoma Press, 2008, p. 51, p. 54.
  10. ^ Prins, Harald E.L. 1984 "Foul Play on the Kennebec: The Historical Background of Fort Western and the Demise of the Abenaki Nation", The Kennebec Proprietor, Vol. 1 (3), pp.4-14.
  11. ^ "Maine's Ice Industry" by Richard Judd, in Maine The Pine Tree State from Prehistory to the Present
  12. ^ "Flood of April 1987 in Maine: United States Geological Survey- Water-Supply Paper 2424" (PDF).
  13. ^ "MEMA News: The Flood of 1987: Remember". Archived from the original on 2014-04-29. Retrieved 2014-01-07.
  14. ^ "About Northern Outdoors, Maine Rafting Resort Pioneer". Northern Outdoors. Archived from the original on 2018-10-13. Retrieved 2017-06-15.
  15. ^ "Why choose Adventure Bound?". Adventure Bound. Retrieved 2024-03-09.
  16. ^ "Kennebec River Turbine Test Releases - Maine White Water Rafting". Northern Outdoors. Archived from the original on 2018-10-13. Retrieved 2017-06-15.
  17. ^ "Existing Hydropower Assets FY2019". HydroSource. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN. Archived from the original on 14 October 2019. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  18. ^ "Kennebec Dam Removal — Freeing Maine's Kennebec River". BioBulletin. Archived from the original on April 9, 2008. Retrieved 2009-09-13.
  19. ^ Sharon, Susan (2 July 2019). "20 Years Later, Conservationists Celebrate Edwards Dam Removal". Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  20. ^ Wippelhauser, Gail; Resources, Maine Department of Marine; Revolution, referencing accounts of local rivers from before the Industrial. "'One Of The Best Nature Shows': A River Transformed After Dams Come Down". Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  21. ^ a b "Edwards Dam and Kennebec River Restoration". Natural Resources Council of Maine. 2013-09-25. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  22. ^ G.J. Stewart; J.P. Nielsen; J.M. Caldwell; A.R. Cloutier (2002). "Water Resources Data - Maine, Water Year 2001" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 May 2009. Retrieved 7 June 2009.

External links

This page was last edited on 9 March 2024, at 15:11
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