Part of an occasional series answering readers’ questions about Maine.

Q: As far as I know, why does Brunswick, Maine, have the only “Maine Street”? Has it always been that way, and why don’t all towns change theirs from Main to Maine? – Submitted by Brian Favreau

There are other “Maine Streets” (and even some Maine Avenues) scattered around the state. A stretch of Route 5 in the Oxford County town of Stoneham and a section of Route 26 in Poland are both named Maine Street. So is a small side street in Augusta. There are Maine Avenues in Portland and Farmingdale and possibly elsewhere.

But Brunswick is far better known for having a traditional downtown boulevard that’s spelled Maine Street, like the state, rather than the more traditional way, Main.

The history of Brunswick’s unusual spelling choice is a little fuzzy, however.

The road’s origins date to the early 18th century, according to Catherine Cyr with the Pejepscot History Center, which is located on Park Row, just off Maine Street in downtown Brunswick. Although the town was incorporated in 1739, it took 20 years to build a road from the former Fort George to Maquoit Bay.

When completed, the road was the widest main street in the state and was named “12 Rod Road,” in reference to the unit of measurement that’s equal to about 16.5 feet. Twelve rods is the equivalent of 198 feet. Portland’s Commercial Street, by comparison, is about 100 feet wide as it passes through the heart of the Old Port.

Maine state historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr., in a 2013 presentation titled “The Evolution of Brunswick’s Maine Street,” said that while most town roads were developed in haphazard fashion in the 1700s, Brunswick needed a wide road to accommodate Fort Pejepscot, which also is known as Fort Andross. Shettleworth explained that the street’s width meant travelers were always about 100 feet from the woods on each side, which gave them some “protection from ambush.”

A “Postcard History Series” book on Brunswick and Bowdoin College describes Maine Street as being built along an early route of the Indians and “laid out in a grand scale.” Before automobiles, there were trolley tracks along the route. When cars did arrive, the wide road accommodated parking in the middle. Now, public works crews use the middle for snow collection during winter.

“Historians have long debated when Brunswick switched from referring to the 12-rod road as ‘Main’ to ‘Maine’ Street,” Cyr said. “Some records indicate the switch dates to 1821, as a way of celebrating the new state. Other documents indicate that the change may have taken place – or been revived – following the Civil War, again as a way of showing state pride. Formal adoption of the spelling may have been later still, as maps and photographs in the latter part of the 19th century still used “Main.”

Maine Street, Brunswick, pictured on July 31, 1978. Press Herald file photo

Indeed, several early-20th century postcards still labeled the street as Main Street.

Even a well-known Brunswick resident and amateur historian, U.S. Sen. Angus King, was stumped about the origin when his staff passed along our question.

Today, Maine Street runs from the Frank J. Wood Bridge, the green bridge that is either an eyesore or a piece of history worth preserving, depending on whom you ask, past Bowdoin College and the former Parkview Hospital until the road forks into two separate roads, Maquoit Road and Mere Point Road.

Maine Street is home to most of Brunswick’s signature local shops and restaurants and has supplanted the Cook’s Corner retail district for visitors.

Although other towns could conceivably change a street name to Maine, for now Brunswick’s stands out.

Some businesses in town even use the unusual spelling in their name, including the new Maine St. Steak & Oyster restaurant.

“Overall, it seems like people don’t find the spelling confusing but rather are interested in learning why the spelling is different,” Cyr said.

Even if they can’t get a definitive answer.


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