July 3, 1847: Cannons boom and bells ring in Augusta as President James K. Polk (1795-1849) pays a call in the city at the invitation of the Legislature, which had learned Polk was planning a New England tour.

The president and several officials traveling with him – including Secretary of State and future President James Buchanan (1791-1868) and U.S. Attorney General Nathan Clifford, who is from Maine – ride to Augusta after arriving around 1 a.m. in Hallowell aboard the steamer Huntress.

The State House, the hotels and most other buildings on State Street are ablaze with light for the occasion and remain so after Polk and his party proceed to the home of former U.S. Sen. Reuel Williams, like Polk a Democrat, on the city’s east side.

Bird’s eye view of the city of Augusta, Maine, 1878 Map courtesy of the Library of Congress

Late the next morning, the president joins a procession that forms at the west end of the Kennebec Bridge – the location of today’s Calumet Bridge at Old Fort Western – and moves through Augusta’s principal streets to the State House, greeting well-wishers from a barouche, which is an open carriage. At the State House, Gov. John Dana introduces him to legislators, who have gathered in the House of Representatives. Polk addresses them at length, emphasizing the importance of the Union in those pre-Civil War days, and calls for adherence to what he calls the compromises of the Constitution.

The House and the Senate adjourn. The president speaks to a crowd of spectators outside briefly, is introduced to a dizzying variety of people, then proceeds two blocks north to the Augusta House hotel, where he eats dinner among a torrent of local, state and national dignitaries.

One of the diners is an Army captain named Stein who was wounded four and a half months earlier at the Battle of Buena Vista, in Mexico. The Mexican War, which began the previous year, still is underway and will continue until the following February.


After the meal, the president leaves for Gardiner, where he visits civic leaders, then boards the Huntress again to continue his journey, this time heading for Portland to spend Sunday there.

July 3, 1933: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) enters just four words in her diary for this and the following day – “Ragged Island / Garnet Rocks,” apparently implying that she and her husband, Eugen Boissevain, have just traveled to the island, the outermost one in Casco Bay, 4 miles out to sea.

Edna St. Vincent Millay and Eugen Jan Boissevain photographed between 1920 and 1930. Photo courtesy of the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, The New York Public Library

Two weeks later, their purchase of the island is complete, enabling St. Millay, a Rockland native, to reconnect with Maine in a substantive way by using the island’s lone house as their summer home.

She later concludes her poem “Ragged Island” this way: “Oh, to be there, under the silent spruces, / Where the wide, quiet evening darkens without haste / Over a sea with death acquainted, yet forever chaste.”

Presented by:

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

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