Recently, it appears Androscoggin County has adopted a county flag featuring a variant of the county seal in gold on a green field.

Photo by Michael Lord

Unfortunately, this flag perpetuates a myth regarding the county seal by depicting a “cougar” on the seal.

The seal design itself is based on a seal that appears on a bronze tablet dated 1922 that commemorates improvements made in that year to the county buildings. On July 20, 1925, The Lewiston Evening Journal commented, “How many know that the insignia on this seal is an animal, a feline regular whip-snorter with a lashing tail. Whether a panther or a lioness we leave it to the natural historians. Some prefer to believe that it is a panther, some believe that it is a sister to the laughing lion that did not adorn the entrance to the new wing of the county buildings.”

“At any rate it is noble. On the tablet, it attains rather a more life-like appearance than on the seal itself — cherished amid the properties of the county in the original now more than 70 years old.”

Photo by Michael Lord

In the 1980s, a series of news articles criticized the county seal, although by then the image given had devolved into an extremely crude version.

On Oct. 13, 1981, The Lewiston Journal published an editorial stating bluntly “Androscoggin County needs a new seal. The one in use has no application whatsoever to the county’s history or current major interests.” It went on to ask, “… why should our county feature a bobcat on its official seal? Our county by no means is a major ‘seat’ for Maine’s bobcat population.”

 

Lewiston Daily Sun 10/12/1985, page 1

On Oct. 12, 1985, The Lewiston Daily Sun published a front page article by George Manlove entitled “Cat in the Plaque” (likely referencing the bronze tablet erected in 1922) that began by asking “Is it a cat, rat, weasel, puma, cougar, mountain lion, or just some non-specific drawing that resembles one of those animals?” referring to “the curious catamount on the county government seal.” This article detailed the efforts by local historians Gridley Barrows and Geneva Kirk of Lewiston and Gordon V. Windle and Leon Norris of Auburn, all of whom came up empty in their research about the seal design.

Following up, The Lewiston Daily Sun published two editorials, May 8, 1986 “Changing Seals,” and Sept. 9, 1986 “The Androscoggin County Seal.” The first stated, “The current county seal features an animal the like of which never has been seen in the county …” and “… is completely out of line with any wild animal known to this region.”

The second editorial suggested “If Androscoggn County wants an animal on its seal, let it be a moose, a raccoon or a fox. If it insists on a cat, then the bobcat or Canadian lynx will do nicely.” Both editorials urged the county to adopt a new seal with clarifying remarks about what the design would represent.

In 2010, I went to the Androscoggin County Court House and met with the County Clerk, Patricia Fournier. After researching the seal as much as I could, and not finding anything more than the historians did in 1985, I asked to see the original seal. Ms. Fournier graciously gave me an image of it.

Image supplied by Patricia Fournier

As a trained vexillologist (one who studies flags) and heraldist (one who studies coats-of-arms), I agreed to study the seal image and consult with other experts in the field to try and decipher the image.

As an important note, particularly in the 19th century, important designs such as used for seals were not created based on whimsy. They were designed to make a statement regarding the entity they were being used for, its important aspects, traits or future goals. These types of designs were often reflective of the local condition, culture, or life of the citizens involved. Therefore the importance of such criteria in 1854 when Androscoggin County was created would have been on the minds of the seal’s designers.

Reflecting on the criticism of the “cat” image, one thing stood out immediately. Although the seal was somewhat crudely executed, there are two important elements of the design, the animal and the river below the animal on the original seal. For a county named after a major river, a symbol of that river is almost required. This element has been completely dropped in the interpretations of the seal since 1922.

The animal itself has two obvious features also dropped in the interpretations since 1922. It has a mane and hooves.

When the County of Androscoggin was erected in 1854, news accounts across the United States and even in Canada and Europe all made the same statements about the most important aspects of this new entity. Androscoggin County contained some of the finest agricultural lands in the state of Maine and its waterpower provided for some of the biggest industry in the state.

After conferring with well-known heraldists around the world, it is totally clear to me that the animal depicted on the original seal of Androscoggin County, albeit rather crudely, is a draft horse standing on the bank of the Androscoggin River. This made a perfect symbol of the new county in 1854.

Original design by David Martucci

Shortly after my research a decade ago, I provided a report of my findings to the clerk and the county commissioners and proposed a flag for Androscoggin County. It depicts the elements of the seal, a draft horse standing on the bank of the Androscoggin River.

Apparently neither the commissioners nor the clerk in 2010 preserved this report or made it available to the present designer of the new county flag. I understand the county seal was changed at that time to depict the county court house, like many other Maine county seals.

 

David Martucci of Washington, Maine, has studied flags, banners, seals and arms since 1966 and is a past-president of the North American Vexillological Association, the world’s largest flag-study organization. His specialty is American and Maine flags.


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