Dresden: It's not in Lake Auburn

Marc Bouyea, a water operator for the Auburn Water District, surveys what Google Maps says is the town of Dresden. Bouyea said he's never had anyone ask him for directions to Dresden. — Illustration by Susan Broadbent, Sun Journal Staff

DRESDEN (NO ... AUBURN. NO ... DRESDEN MILLS. WAIT, WHAT?) — One day, Dresden Town Clerk Kim Rzasa tried to get directions out of town.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Dresden Relief Postmaster Al Michelis laughs about the fact that Google Maps has placed the town in Lake Auburn.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Janet Stewart, owner of the Meetinghouse Market in Dresden, breaks into laughter when told Google Maps had placed the town in Lake Auburn.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Dresden Town Clerk Kim Rzasa thinks it's funny that Google Maps placed the town in Lake Auburn.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Dresden resident Kirt James finds it amusing that Google Maps placed the town in the middle of Lake Auburn.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

A view of Lake Auburn from the site of the water pumping station. Google Maps  currently places the town of Dresden in Lake Auburn.

She went to Google Maps. Typed in "Dresden." And waited the millisecond for the right answer to pop up, because the right answer always does with Google.

Always.

But the directions didn't look right. Not this time.

Google had placed the little Lincoln County town firmly inside Lake Auburn.

"There's nothing wrong with Lake Auburn, but . . ." Rzasa said, letting her voice trail off.

But . . . Dresden is not in the lake.

It's unclear how long Google has misplaced the tiny town, locating it more than 30 miles away, in another town and county, in a body of water. But the search engine has been doing it long enough for at least a few townspeople to stumble upon it.

"Oh, I've noticed it," said Dresden Relief Postmaster Al Michelis, who, at the mere mention of the Google flub, put his head down on the post office counter and shook with laughter. "'Where do you want to go?' Not where you want to send me!"  

It's also unclear how Google — renowned for its accuracy — messed up Dresden's location so badly. The official line:

"We've built our map from a combination of authoritative sources, ranging from the U.S. Census Bureau to commercial data providers, and have used satellite, aerial and Street View imagery to help complete the map," Google spokeswoman Deanna Yick wrote in an email. "Overall, this provides a very comprehensive map of the U.S., but we recognize that there may be occasional inaccuracies that could arise from any of those sources. We encourage users to let us know when something is incorrect by using our 'Report a Problem' button, found at the bottom right corner of the map."

She declined to say how often Google is notified of mistakes.

"But we know that the world is constantly changing and that's why we continuously update the map based on our authoritative data sources, imagery and input from users," she wrote.
 
No matter how much the world has changed, it's safe to say Dresden hasn't moved to Lake Auburn.
 
Incorporated in 1794, Dresden is an Augusta-area bedroom community known mostly for its farms and, among some, its historical re-enactments. The town center is called Dresden Mills, and it features a pair of old church buildings, a gas station, Ship's Chow Hall (open for breakfast and lunch), the post office and a renovated, one-room schoolhouse that serves as the town hall. Nearby is the Bridge Academy Library, also in a renovated schoolhouse, where the latest town newsletter trumpeted the addition of two Lego children's books. Up the street is Meetinghouse Market, an all-around shop where townspeople can get game inspected and have some Hershey's ice cream.
 
Rzasa pegs Dresden's population at "about 1,672."
 
Kirt James, 47, lives on Middle Road, a couple of miles from town center. He characterizes Dresden this way: "Blink and you'll miss it. Blink twice and you've come back around."
 
James' family has lived in the area for generations. Although people often stop and look to him for directions to town, he hadn't heard of Google's blooper.
 
"So, we're in the middle of a lake, huh?" he said, pausing his yardwork. "Damn."
 
Although the Google error is mostly the stuff of jokes, it did a have a serious side a couple of weeks ago when 12-year-old Micah Thomas of Dresden went missing. At least one news outlet used Google's maps and showed the town — Micah's last known location — in the middle of the lake. 
 
Still, Google's mistake doesn't anger or offend James and others in town. It generally amuses them.
 
"We're lucky then that we aren't paying lakefront property taxes," James said.
 
Google Maps doesn't just show Dresden in the middle of Lake Auburn; it directs people there. Need Google Map directions to Dresden from neighboring Richmond? The directions take travelers from Richmond, through Sabattus, to Lewiston and Auburn, and end at Pumping Station Road, where the Auburn Water District is building a new water facility overlooking Lake Auburn.
 
Marc Bouyea is a water operator and has worked for the water district for 22 years. He hadn't heard that Google placed Dresden in the middle of his lake, but he wasn't all that surprised.
 
"It's like with any other technology," he said. "It's never going to be an exact science."
 
Bouyea gazed out at the water.
 
"That little island. Maybe that's Dresden," he said with a smile.
 
Those who know about the Google error have found a way around it. If they look for directions based on a specific location, like their home address in Dresden, Google seems to get it right. Or they can zoom in on the larger Maine map to the area one town east of Richmond. They can also go through Mapquest, a competing site, or a regular old map. Both place Dresden exactly where it should be.
 
Townspeople have no idea how Google could have gone so wrong. Perhaps it was bribed by neighboring Richmond as a prank?
 
"They might have. It's something they'd pull," Rzasa joked.
 
But no matter how it happened, residents wouldn't mind if Google fixed it sometime soon.
 
"Then people could find me," said Janet Stewart, owner of the Meetinghouse Market.

Google's spokeswoman said the company was working on it.

ltice@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

"Official line"

This is a delightful story. No wonder that Google should blow it now and then, as the saying goes, "To err is human; to foul up completely takes a computer!" What saddens me, however, is the pointless and irrelevant string of words spouted by the "Google spokeswoman," Deanna Yick, who shows no trace of a sense of humor or any understanding that she is not addressing a mere "inaccuracy," or that it isn't relevant (in this case) whether "the world is constantly changing." She is saying what she has been programmed to say. Let computers say what they are programmed to say: human beings should say something human, and organizations should stop programming their employees with "official lines." I run into this every day, and many cases of official-line-spouting are not as harmless as this one.

 's picture

Good APRIL FOOLS joke!!

Good APRIL FOOLS joke!!

MEREDITH KENDALL's picture

Wet Chow

Well that explains why I keep driving into Lake Auburn. Thank you, SJ. I've heard the food is excellent at Ship's Chow Hall (tofu stuffed portobello not to be missed)and have been trying to find it, using Google. Kept getting wet. Will use alternate mapping service.

 's picture

Google mistake

Mapmakers often make tiny intentional mistakes (nonexistent towns, misspellings, etc.) to spot any copyright-violating copying by other mapmakers. Perhaps this was one of those and Google is just blowing smoke.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Its close

That little arrow on the map is awful close to the little island. Maybe we should start calling it Dresden Island.

DAVE GUDAS's picture

Less than Headline worthy

Glad to see the SJ made this (already corrected) glitch such notable news. What with their own high percentages of fact accuracy, Google could learn much from them. :)

DAVE GUDAS's picture

Less than Headline worthy

Glad to see the SJ made this (already corrected) glitch such notable news. What with their own high percentages of fact accuracy, Google could learn much from them. :)

 's picture

Looks Like

They have made the corrections.

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