Stone marking Cumberland-Falmouth-Windham boundary reveals 19th century anomaly

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CUMBERLAND — A stone that more than 100 years ago marked the point where Cumberland, Falmouth and Windham met is back where it belongs.

Research into the boundary marker revealed a geographical anomaly in the way 19th-century maps depicted the location.

Sometime in the 1920s, the stone – with the letters C, F and W on its sides – ended up in a West Cumberland family’s garden wall. North Yarmouth resident Joel Fuller, a descendant of that family, felt the stone should be returned to its original location and approached Thomas Bennett, director of Prince Memorial Library, to determine exactly where that would have been.

A record from a 1919 Cumberland Town Meeting of a perambulation – a walk around a site to identify a boundary – puts that spot “in a swamp near a birch” between the dead ends of what are now Poplar Ridge Drive and Old Colony Lane, southwest of Forest Lake.

But upon further study, Bennett found that maps from 1857, 1871 and 1898 showed a trapezoid-shaped property at the northeastern edge of Windham was then considered part of Falmouth. The piece of land measures less than half a square mile.

According to those maps, there was no meeting point between the three towns, and Windham had no access to Forest Lake, known at the time as Goose Pond.

Legislation from 1912 changing Goose Pond to Forest Lake mentions the body of water being in Windham, Bennett noted in an interview Oct. 11. Still, “Windham does not touch Cumberland in this map,” he said, pointing at the 1898 image.

A 1944 map, however, shows the boundaries as they’re known today, and as indicated in the 1919 perambulation.

Bennett reached out to the towns and the state Legislature library, to learn whether there’d been a land transfer between Falmouth and Windham between the time of the 1898 and 1944 maps.

“No evidence of it whatsoever,” he said. “So that means that the (1898) map is wrong.

“Our theory is that whoever was doing the map (in 1857, 1871 and 1898), they messed it up,” Bennett added. “All three have that same oddly shaped piece of land given over to Falmouth, instead of Windham as it should have been.”

Bennett doesn’t have an earlier map of Maine, so he doesn’t know if the error occurred before 1857.

With hopes that the stone was in the correct location as identified in 1919, Bennett, Fuller, and others – including Cumberland Town Councilor Ron Copp, a relative of Fuller’s – trudged into the forest.

“We went, found a swamp, found a birch, and with our GPS we said this is where it should be,” Bennett said. “And lo and behold, we found a replacement stone,” also etched with the letters C, F and W.”

It is unknown when the replacement was placed, Bennett said. It had tipped over, and a hole nearby revealed a foundation stone on which the original marker likely sat.

The stone should have been placed in 1821, the year Cumberland seceded from North Yarmouth to become its own town, Bennett said. Falmouth had been incorporated in 1718, followed by Windham in 1762.

After replanting the original stone in the hole Sept. 20, the crew left the replacement sitting alongside – a nod to the initial marking effort, and the attempt years later to ensure another boundary indicator stood in its place.

When mapmakers were unsure of a town boundary, they marked the area as a “gore,” Bennett said. The 1857 map, which he rolled out at the library, shows several of these.

“You end up with typically a triangular piece of land that doesn’t really fit into the map maker’s understanding of how the geography really is,” he said.

None of the 19th-century maps indicate a gore at the three-town border. But the state has one that predicted the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections.

“There’s actually a Clinton gore up in northern Maine,” Bennett noted with a smile. “That came up when they were running in ’92, and I always remembered that.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Thomas Bennett, executive director of Prince Memorial Library in Cumberland, surveys an 1857 Cumberland County map Oct. 11. Research showed that the map inaccurately depicts the borders between Cumberland, Falmouth and Windham.The stone marking the point at which Cumberland, Falmouth and Windham meet was restored to its rightful place last month. At left, it shows the letter “F,” meaning that the viewer is standing in Falmouth. The stone at right, intended years ago as a replacement to the original rock, will remain beside its predecessor.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.