Churchill Depot

Churchill Dam and Deopt in the 1920s

From 1926 through 1938 Edouard "King" Lacroix's Madawaska Company operated out of its headquarters at Churchill Depot, a small village situated around the Heron Lake Dam (later Churchill Dam) at the northern end of Churchill Lake. To establish the new base of operations, Lacroix built a road from Lac Frontiere, forty-five miles west on the U.S.-Canadian border. Seeking a way for this road to span the St. John River, Lacroix learned that Canadian authorities were replacing with a bridge over the Chaudierre River with a larger structure, so he bought the old bridge and moved it overland to the St. John. This bridge came to be known as "Ninemile Bridge" and though the structure is now gone, the area around it and part of the old road still bears the same name.

In addition to the road, Lacroix built a dam at the outlet of Heron Lake in order to raise the water level of Heron, Churchill, and Eagle Lakes as well as Round Pond so that he could float logs south to near the Tramway where they could be carried to Umbazooksus Lake by rail cars. This rail system was known as the Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad and it allowed Lacroix to send pulp from as far north as the new dam down through Penobscot waters to the Great Northern Mill in Millinocket where it was used in paper making.

Among the structures at Churchill Depot was a large storehouse where goods brought to the depot could be stored before being sent out to the lumber camps. By building it close to the lake, Lacroix's employees could load the supplies into boats for easy transportation. Another key structure was the large garage built to house and maintain as many as fourteen Lombard Log Haulers with all of the tools and equipment to do so.

By the early 1930s, approximately twenty families lived permanently at the depot, including those of the superintendent, paymaster, master mechanic, truck drivers, Lombard operators, boat operators, scalers, camp superintendents, and many more. At the height of its operation, thousands of people were processed through the depot annually. This meant that additional structures were needed for a school, houses, offices, a power house, gas tanks and others.

The most significant remaining structure at the depot is a large boarding house that was capable of handling many people at one time, some of whom were transients going to or from lumbering camps, and others who were more or less permanent residents employed by LaCroix to keep his huge lumbering operation functioning.

This large structure, standing on the shores of the Allagash River adjacent to Churchill Dam, has been identified as a potential site for a small museum/exhibit area about the Allagash's pre-history and history. For many years, the boarding house has been in a state of disrepair, requiring substantial structural and cosmetic work. A volunteer project, organized in 1996 by the Allagash Alliance, led to the replacement of foundation piers and sills. Work planned for the future includes replacement of exterior siding and windows, repainting, roof replacement, and interior refurbishment.

Aerial photos taken in 1966 at the time the state acquired the site, indicate that sixteen structures and the 1964 dam were still in place. The appraisal report done in 1968, however, lists only seven structures including the storehouse, boarding house, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, equipment shed, and two portable camps. It also identified a scaler's shack and three buildings of "no contributory value." Of these existing structures only the storehouse was considered viable. By 2002, only the storehouse and boarding house had survived deterioration, vandalism, and collapse or removal. Since acquiring the site, the Bureau of Parks and Lands has built a Park Manager's residence (1984), a ranger cabin and maintenance building (1997) at the site along with campsites, a canoe landing, and a privy. The Heron Lake Dam was reconstructed in 1967 and then replaced with a new dam, called Churchill Dam, in 1999.

In September 1982 an arsonist burned the Waterway Supervisor's headquarters that had previously been a prominent International Paper Company executive retreat lodge on Umsaskis Lake. Subsequently. a new supervisor's residence/headquarters was constructed at Churchill Depot. This central location was chosen because it was logistically superior to Umsaskis Lake for managing the entire Waterway, consistent with the focus and history of activity in this area, more secure due to the presence of a ranger, and capable of being screened from the view of Waterway users and visitors, thereby allowing the former site on the Umsaskis shoreline to revert to a more natural condition.

The privately-owned road approaching the dam on the west side of the river was relocated away from the boarding house and straightened in 1993. At that time the former road was discontinued and two vault privies were installed adjacent to the campsite on the west shore. The Bureau of Parks and Lands is working on a mitigation plan that will include plantings, grading, a new parking area out of sight of the watercourse, and a gravel path.

Vigue, Alcée, "Churchill Lake Depot, Madawaska Company. Unpublished MS, May, 1986. (BPL)

Giguere, Joseph, "Memoirs of Joseph Giguere: Resident of Churchill Depot and Tramway, 1926-46." Unpublished MS, n.d. (BPL)

Hutchins, Leonard W., "Edouard 'King' Lacroix: Paul Bunyan of the North Woods." (BPL)

"Buildings and Their Occupants or Usage." Site Plan, n.d. (BPL)

"Initial Site Development for Supervisor's Residence." Kleinschmidt, 1984 (4 drawings) (BPL)

"Churchill Dam Rebuild: Maintenance Building Plan and Details." Kleinschmidt, 1997 (BPL)

"Churchill Dam Rebuild: Ranger Station Relocation Details." Kleinschmidt, 1997 (BPL)

"Boarding House Rehabilitation." DOC/BPL, 1993 (BPL)