1972: The Year That Changed Maine

From our special issue, looking back on a transformational moment between old Maine and new.

From our April 2022 issue

A pivotal year in Maine’s history, 1972 saw a changing of the guard among the state’s leaders and powerbrokers, the rapid ascendancy of Maine’s modern conservation ethic, a host of old industries facing dramatic new challenges, and glimmers of new economic opportunities — all as the push to preserve the state’s natural and historic heritage took on fresh urgency. Fifty years later, we look back at a watershed year in the Pine Tree State.

Look for the highlighted items to read the full stories from our special issue.


South Bristol’s Darling Marine Center reports a successful experimental program cultivating European and American oysters at 10 sites along the coast, kicking off contemporary shellfish aquaculture in Maine.

Chief Warrant Officer Kenneth Black becomes curator of Rockland’s First District Coast Guard Museum, comprising his own assemblage of lighthouse and maritime-rescue equipment. Black’s collection evolves into the Maine Lighthouse Museum, today the country’s most significant depository of lighthouse artifacts.

Thirty-three naval vessels deploy 900 Marines in tactical gear, via amphibious carriers and helicopters, onto the beach at Reid State Park, where they camp and test equipment during a training exercise dubbed “Operation Snowy Beach.” Dozens of protestors are arrested.



The USDA destroys a million chickens fed PCB-contaminated feed in Maine poultry plants. The industry — increasingly industrialized since the pre-WWII era of small farms — begins to collapse in the 1970s.

Republican state rep Marion Fuller Brown, of York, chairs the National Highway Beautification Conference, in DC, and continues to champion its theme, “Less Signs, More View,” after leaving office, becoming a prime mover behind Maine’s 1978 billboard ban.

A New York Times article, “Quiet Decay Erodes Downtown Areas of Small Cities,” describes downtown Portland’s dwindling retail scene, laying some blame on South Portland’s newly opened Maine Mall.

Ed Muskie’s presidential campaign implodes — while birthing a new generation of Maine leaders. READ MORE.



From a popular almanac evolves the first issue of the Maine Sportsman, today an institution for the state’s hunters and anglers.

A new state law redefines a minor in Maine as a person under 18 years old, rather than under 20.

Mount Bigelow, seen here from Eustis Ridge on an early-1972 postcard

A series of newspaper stories reveals Maine’s “lost” public lands, leading to the protection of iconic landscapes like Mount Bigelow, the Mahoosucs, and more. READ MORE.

On the national parks system’s centennial, the Bangor Daily News calls for visitor quotas to address overcrowding at Acadia National Park. Acadia had welcomed 2.1 million visitors in 1971. In 2021, the park saw 4 million.



State officials cancel plans to spray herbicide in Baxter State Park, to keep foliage from crowding the roadside, after conservationists object.

Twenty-eight-year-old James Mundy becomes the first director of the brand-new Maine Historic Preservation Commission. The state agency has since placed more than 1,500 sites and properties on the National Register of Historic Places.

Folk-art sculptor Bernard Langlais, of Cushing, is awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship — even though, as the Bangor Daily News notes, “the largest and most startling display of his work is in the artist’s own dooryard.” Today, hundreds of the late sculptor’s works are scattered across more than 40 Maine towns on
the Langlais Art Trail.



Members of the U.S. House and Senate go into conference to reconcile two versions of the Clean Water Act, introduced by Maine senator Ed Muskie, who was motivated by pollution of Maine’s rivers. A now-storied bipartisan effort, the committee meets 40 times before agreeing on the legislation, and both houses override President Nixon’s veto in October.

The University of Maine completes its first semester offering tuition waivers for Native American students, a program that continues today.

In Portland, a $2.5 million, 10-story Brutalist parking garage, the city’s largest, opens alongside Maine Medical Center. It becomes “a local icon marking the end of the suburbs and the start of downtown,” wrote the Bangor Daily News on the occasion of its 2020 demolition.



Around the same time President Nixon signs Title IX, Cape Elizabeth teenager Joan Benoit becomes a standout in high-school track, receiving All-American honors in her first year, after joining to rehab a ski injury.

Tribal members rally outside the Maine State House during the long negotiation period between Judge Gignoux’s ruling and the signing of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act.

In a moon-shot lawsuit, Wabanaki tribes make convincing claims to almost two-thirds of the state’s land. READ MORE.

The Bath Marine Museum (now the Maine Maritime Museum) opens The Apprenticeshop boatbuilding school, the vanguard of a wooden-boatbuilding revival that, in the years to come, will see the opening of Brooklin’s WoodenBoat School, Arundel’s The Landing School, Bristol’s Carpenter’s Boat Shop, and other programs.

The Old Port Tavern opens in Portland’s still-gritty waterfront industrial district, the tip of the nightlife spear in a neighborhood that, by decade’s end, will be known for its restaurants, bars, and clubs. It’s still open today.



The Maine Department of Transportation is established, one of 16 departments that replace more than 150 independent agencies in Democratic governor Kenneth Curtis’s massive effort to reorganize state government.

The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission issues its Final Environmental Statement for the Maine Yankee nuclear-power plant, clearing the way for the country’s 13th nuclear facility to come online by year’s end. The plant operates until 1996 and still houses spent nuclear fuel.

The Norwegian tanker Tamano spills 40,000 gallons of oil in Casco Bay, furthering debate over whether Maine should permit the construction of oil refineries at deepwater ports along its coast.

Divers from Maine Maritime Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discover the remains of the American brigantine Defence, scuttled off Stockton Springs in 1779. It is the first Revolutionary War ship to be scientifically excavated.

Great Northern Paper’s “Golden Road” welcomes auto traffic to Maine’s vast north woods. READ MORE.

Mining operations cease at Callahan Mining Corporation’s open-pit copper/zinc mine in Brooksville, and the mine is closed and flooded. Thirty years later, contamination with arsenic, lead, thallium, and PCBs leads the EPA to designate the former mine a Superfund site.



The state building authority completes foreclosure on Easton’s sugar-beet refinery, built five years before with government-backed loans. The project was a headline-making boondoggle that polluted local waters, produced little sugar, and cost taxpayers millions.

Protestors outside the Lewiston headquarters of the Farmers’ Almanac decry the publication’s tradition of weaving warmed-over sexist jokes among the weather forecasts and gardening tips.

The 140-acre Ken-Ro Farm, in Plymouth, is the first farm to be certified organic by the nascent Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. MOFGA certifies 26 more organic farms by year’s end. More than 500 Maine farms are certified organic today.



Maine’s new Land Use Regulation Commission establishes the first-ever zoning regulations for Maine’s unorganized lands, limiting use and development on 10.5 million acres where landowners previously had, as one public-hearing attendee put it, “a license to do what they damn well pleased.”

A clammer on the Medomak River in the ’60s or ’70s.

The Gulf of Maine’s first massive red tide wreaks havoc on fisheries and confounds ocean observers. READ MORE.

College of the Atlantic, in Bar Harbor, holds its first classes, with 32 students wading into the school’s now-lauded human-ecology curriculum.

L.L.Bean mails its 60th-anniversary catalog just as the company, which had always managed inventory without product codes, acquires its first computer. “To many, the computer was going to be the downfall of L.L.Bean. We would surely lose L.L.’s personal touch,” then-president Leon Gorman wrote. “In 1972, we put stock numbers in our catalog . . . and disclosed to the world that L.L.Bean had finally succumbed to computerization. It proved not to be fatal.”

The nonprofit Maine Citizens for Historic Preservation, today called Maine Preservation, incorporates as opposition builds to demolition-heavy urban-renewal programs launched in the ’60s.



Rockport’s 1889 Samoset Hotel, a faded Victorian symbol of Maine’s Gilded Age allure, burns to the ground. It’s later rebuilt and reopened as a modern resort.

Congress passes the Marine Mammal Protection Act, today credited with the rebound of the Gulf of Maine’s once nearly extinct seal population.

Dominic Reali, a seven-year employee of the mom-and-pop Amato’s Sandwich Shop, on Portland’s India Street, buys out his boss and sees potential for expansion. Amato’s today has more than 40 locations across New England.

Frank Perham hands muddy crystals up from the floor of a pocket.

Maine miners unearth two tons of tourmaline in Newry, kicking off a decades-long mineral blitz. READ MORE.



The Piscataqua River Bridge opens, joining the Maine and New Hampshire turnpikes for the first time. Four workers were killed building the landmark arch, which today carries ​​74,000 vehicles daily.

After 32 years on Capitol Hill, Republican senator Margaret Chase Smith loses her race for a fifth term in an upset, even as Maine goes to Nixon in a landslide.

Bangor’s Republican mayor William Cohen wins Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat after walking some 600 miles across the district to meet voters. Thereafter known as “The Walk,” the feat is attempted by many subsequent Maine candidates. Cohen serves in the U.S. House and Senate before President Bill Clinton names him Secretary of Defense in 1997.

Gerald E. Talbot, of Portland, is elected as a Democrat to the first of three terms in Maine’s House of Representatives, becoming the state’s first Black legislator.

Stephen King, when not teaching English at Hampden Academy, begins writing Carrie. It becomes his first published novel after his wife, Tabitha, pulls an early draft from the trash and encourages him to keep working.



Maine has New England’s last remaining nesting population of bald eagles when the Environmental Protection Agency’s ban on DDT takes effect. The raptors’ rebound in Maine in the ensuing decades is a textbook conservation success story.

Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court rules the state can withhold liquor licenses from Elks lodges because of a whites-only clause in the fraternal organization’s bylaws. The ruling helps motivate the national Order of Elks to strike the clause 10 months later.

Conservation groups sue to prevent the Baxter State Park Authority from renewing Great Northern Paper’s grandfather rights to log inside the park, which had been set to expire. “Ten years ago,” a Great Northern executive lamented, “this arrangement
would never have stimulated
any controversy.”


Photo credits: Mark Fleming (oyster); Stephen B. Nichols (Reid soldiers); courtesy of Bangor Daily News archive (Acadia); Benjamin Williamson (Langlais sculpture); Dr. Henry Pollard, courtesy of the Pollard family (parking tower); courtesy of the Maine Turnpike Authority (bridge, highway sign); Boston Globe | Getty (Benoit Samuelson); Rick Thackeray (nuclear plant); courtesy of Donna Miller Damon (Captain Warren Doughty during Tamano cleanup); courtesy of the Maine Geological Survey (mine); Luis Carlos Jiménez Del Río (sugar beet); courtesy of College of the Atlantic (classroom); courtesy of Ken and Roberta Horn (MOFGA farm); courtesy of the Courier-Gazette (hotel fire); courtesy of the Margaret Chase Smith Library (Chase Smith); courtesy Gerald E. Talbot Collection, African American Collection of Maine, Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, University of Southern Maine Libraries. Creative Commons; (Talbot — this image has been cropped); Shutterstock (chicken, Nixon, seal, eagle, Italian sandwich); Michael D. Wilson (chainsaw).

From our special feature, “1972: The Year That Changed Maine.”


Down East Magazine, April 2022