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The Bowdoinham area is one of our favorite places to explore by bicycle. From the center of town, sparsely traveled roads lead in all directions. This month we are riding from Bowdoinham up to Richmond and Dresden to visit the historic 1761 Pownalborough Courthouse.
Bowdoinham is easy to reach via Exit 37 on Interstate 295, or via Route 24 out of Topsham. Consult the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (Maps 6 and 12) for help in getting there. We parked at the boat launch on the Cathance River and headed out for a 25-mile loop over a four-hour period. Be sure to stop at the Bowdoinham grocery store to check out the pulse of the community represented on the posters and ads adorning a large bulletin board. Various signs caught our fancy: “Toy and Baby Stuff Sale,” “5K Chicken Run,” “Free Pine Wood.”
We turned left after the store and started on a series of moderate hills up the aptly named Ridge Road. The pavement was perfectly smooth and the pastoral scenery interesting. Despite the hills we flew along, blessed by the fabulous road surface. Two deer bounded across the road just ahead of us, hooves clicking on the pavement. A mile further on a small group of turkeys probed for morsels on someone’s front lawn. A few miles to the east we looked down over a canopy of early morning fog created by the warm waters of the Kennebec River meeting the chilly pre-autumn air. The pale yellow ball of sun rose slowly out of the vapors.
Folks who live in the country have their own unique sense of humor, both intended and unintended. We passed by a tractor-trailer sitting in a field on the left. A green meadow was painted on the side of it, with three large brown camels contentedly sitting within the scene. Later we would see a sign at the end of a driveway promoting bloodworms and eggs, an interesting merchandise combination.
For those in need of a jolt of coffee, you may rub your eyes in disbelief as you approach Route 197 just east of the I-295 exit. Yes, that is a drive-through Dunkin Donuts on the left. But don’t completely quell your appetite here, however tempting it might be.
Turn right onto Route 197 and cycle 3.5 miles to Fort Richmond Park on the shores of the Kennebec River. Adjacent to this beautiful riverside park is a small cafe and bakery called The Garden of Eatin’. With a name like that you have to give them some business. For an investment of $1.87 we enjoyed one of the best blueberry muffins we have ever eaten. Warm out of the oven, bursting with berries, moist, large, and heavy – you just may need assistance to get it across the street to the picnic tables looking out over Swan Island.
A note about Route 197: there is no bike lane on this road and it has more traffic than other roads in the area. We biked on a Sunday morning, the best day of the week to minimize traffic, and had no problems.
Just before heading down a steep hill to the park you will see a beautiful white house with gray trim on the left opposite Pleasant Street. The Southard House Museum, featuring a distinctive Mansard style roof, is one of many beautiful homes in the downtown district. The Richmond economy boomed in the pre-Civil War decades resulting in a prosperity that produced many Grecian temple-styled homes. As you explore down Pleasant Street you will pass by many large homes with white pillars, giving the street a bit of a Southern feel.
Cycle north on Front Street (Route 24) for a mile and take the right onto Route 197. Cross the narrow swing bridge over the Kennebec using caution. The iron grate surface is difficult to ride on. We walked our bikes over the quarter-mile span, keeping eyes peeled for any overtaking traffic. There is no pedestrian lane, so move quickly.
Go up the hill from the river and turn left onto Cedar Grove Road (Route 128). Go north for 1.3 miles to the Pownalborough Courthouse entrance on the left. Even if you are not a bicycling enthusiast, it is worth the drive in your car to see this beautiful spot beside the river. It provides a secluded expanse of lawn for a picnic, and a half-mile loop trail down a shaded woods lane and pathway leading down along the river. You’ll pass by a small cemetery in the woods with burials dating back to 1813.
The path meanders down the slope to a bluff overlooking a 20-foot drop down to the river. The woods are deep and dark with magnificent stands of hemlock and white pine.
The courthouse is an impressive white, wooden building facing the river. It is the only pre-Revolutionary War courthouse still standing in Maine. Future President John Adams tried a case here in 1765. Benedict Arnold also paid a visit. It is open for tours until Columbus Day: Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays noon to 4 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, and free for those 18 and under.
All too quickly it was time to head back to Bowdoinham. You’ll have a choice of routes. We selected the busier Route 24 for the nine-mile ride back, and while the pavement was a bit rough in spots we enjoyed sparse traffic and a pleasant ride.