11-21-2020 Parsons-Sawyer Mountain

View from Sawyer Mountain, Limerick, Maine. (ED PARSONS PHOTO)

The 2018 edition of the “AMC Maine Mountain Guide” was almost twice as thick as the older ones, with many hikes around the state added by editor Carey Kish. Upon doing a newspaper review of the guide, I was interested in a couple relatively nearby hikes maintained by the Francis Small Heritage Trust: Bald Ledge in Porter, Maine, and Sawyer Mountain in Limerick, Maine.

We went to Bald Ledge but didn’t have time that day to reach the summit of Sawyer Mountain. On a chilly Thursday this week, I went back on my own and hiked Sawyer Mountain (1,213 feet).

In the mid-1800s, a whale oil lamp was lit on the bare summit of Sawyer Mountain to help guide ships into Portland Harbor. A local would ride up the mountain on horseback to refill and light the lamp. Another lamp was on the ocean shoreline, and was lined up with the one on the summit to guide the ships to dock.

This in itself was enough to piqued my curiosity about this mountain. Today, the summit is not bare and many tall pines and oaks block views, but there is still a good view southwest over York County, and a couple views from spur trails.

Still, there is a lot of interest on the hike, and one feels the presence of history in that part of Maine.

The all-volunteer Francis Small Heritage Trust was founded in 1996, and that year they purchased the summit of Sawyer Mountain. Today, they own 1,400 acres in the Sawyer Mountain Highlands, and to make sure nothing happens to it, 1,100 of those acres are in a Forever Wild easement with the Green Mountain Conservation Group. The Francis Small Heritage Trust also owns five other properties in surrounding towns, and hold several easements.

A cool thing about the trust’s trails are the unique blazes spaced a distance apart on trees. They are blocks of wood painted scarlet with a yellow outline of a turtle carved on them.

In 1668, Francis Small traded goods with the Newichewannock Indians of the area. Chief Wesumbe was his friend. The turtle was the chief’s personal symbol.

An attempt on Small’s life was made by a faction of Indians who didn’t want to pay for his goods with furs. The chief warned him and Small was able to escape, though he watched his house burn. The chief made up for his loss by selling him all the lands bounded by the Great and Little Ossipee Rivers, the Saco River and the New Hampshire border. Today, this includes the towns of Limington, Maine, Limerick, Maine, Cornish, Maine, Newfield, Maine, and Parsonsfield, Maine. Today, these are the towns that the Francis Small Heritage Trust concentrates its efforts in.

This week, getting to the trailhead for the Smith Trail on Sawyer Mountain required keeping the AMC Maine Mountain Guide next to me and a couple stops to reread it. Suffice to say I took Route 16 south; Route 25 to Porter; south on Route 160 to Limerick; left on Route 11 for 0.9 miles and left on Emery Corner Road and finally left on Sawyer Mountain Road which turned to dirt. Trail parking was on the right. That is a compressed version. I don’t know if a GPS will get you there, but I highly recommend you buy the AMC Maine Mountain Guide for not only this mountain but scores more.

It was cold. Putting on hunter orange, I enjoyed walking up the oak-leaf carpeted Smith Trail. It wound up past interesting ledges, crossed old stone walls and reached the junction with the old Sawyer Mountain Road, which once crossed over a ridge of the mountain and down to Limington. Bearing right on the road I immediately passed the substantial Sawyer homestead foundation on my left.

The house and barn were built in 1794, and generations lived there. Technically in Limington, the Sawyers lived on the Limerick side of the mountain and eventually convinced town officials to change their residence to Limerick.

Walking up the old road a while, I bore right on the summit spur trail. Nearing the summit I noticed the name “Lulu” carved in handsome script on a ledge. Autien Sawyer, grandson of William, had a daughter named Lulu. She carved her name on the ledge in the early 1900s.

I arrived at the partially wooded summit and approached a sign on a pile of rocks. In 1884, Autien Sawyer had built a 15-foot rock tower on the summit for the United States Geological Survey. A few years later it was hit by lightning and the rocks scattered. The sign also mentioned that in mid-19th century a whale oil lamp was regularly lit on the summit to guide ships to harbor.

From the summit was an expansive view southwest, slowly being encroached from below by small trees. Further along, an unofficial sign pointed to a trail down the ridge to a view toward Limerick. I followed it to land owned by the town. There were a couple partial viewpoints, one emphasizing the flat plains towards the ocean south of Portland.

Returning to the summit, I relaxed and soaked in the vast southwest view in mid-afternoon light before heading down. It had been a fun exploration through place and time. I greatly enjoyed the walk down.

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