A little village called Washington...
Quietly nestled at the crossroads of...'somewhere'.
I'm going to talk about Washington from the perspective of an outsider -- because that's what I am. I may be the loving caretaker and owner of this vacation rental (or...'house') in Maine that I want very much for others to enjoy, but I have no background in Washington or Maine prior to 2001, and as I understand it from Mainers themselves -- if your great-grandparents weren't from here, you're not from here. Fine. I am at peace with that. I am an Outlander, a low-lander, worse-yet -- a 'Californian', with all that that conveys. What's funny is how suspicious people are of Californians the country-over -- from Oregon to Texas and yes, up to Maine. So be it. Part of what defines the spirit of a real Californian is in many ways the antithesis of what defines folk from most other places. Californians are intentional nomads. We have wandered. We have found ourselves in a great many places in life -- just as I have found myself touched and imprinted by Maine's austere beauty and steadfastness. As a Californian, I believe that because I have encountered Maine and come to know it in some brief way, I can make room to include it in my identity. I am not, and will never be, from Washington, Maine. But I am changed because of my encounter with Washington, Maine. This, to me, is the greatness of a Californian perspective, and it is this lens with which I write a brief overview on a tiny town at the crossroads of Routes 220 and 105.
Let me start with my most controversial reflection. Washington is one of those towns that is perhaps easily forgotten. It is not much more than an intersection of two roads, with worn buildings, closed shops, and a cheerful school with eager signage to greet you as you arrive. Hidden from first glance is the Town Hall -- which you will need to visit for fishing licenses, refuse bags, and which also has a nice library attached to it. The structure is newer, which hints at some recent investment in the town that is sorely needed in places more front and center on arrival.
But that is not to say that Washington should be overlooked. It is, perhaps, much like countless other Maine towns that find themselves at too great a distance from any real center of commerce and industry. And like many American towns, you are forced to wonder what future awaits the children who grow up here other than to one day leave the region and not return until they are older -- towns like these *work*, for now, because the local population is meaningfully interconnected and supportive of each other. But this begins to point to the towns real, quiet strength. This is one of those bedrock American towns with real heart and soul. Stay here long enough, or visit here often enough, and you will recognize the town's pillars at the local restaurant. You will run into them in line at the Town Hall and discuss problems with the way the local authority restocks the lake. You'll be in touch with the lake's preservation board and discover how committed the town residents are to its natural beauty. You'll go to a spaghetti dinner at the Grange and discover how much joy this town takes in each other's company. You'll attend an art show at a local school and encounter the incredible visual and sculptural talents quietly hidden away across the region. The commitment to the region and the talent that is settled here is considerable, but in their quiet, Maine way, they just get on with it and wait for you to slowly 'discover' as you prove you have more than just a passing interest in a weekend away from the city.
You can read all about Washington's history, and I won't retell it here. Formerly known as Putnam, both this town and many others in Maine renamed themselves during the Civil War to support the effort and honor the contributions and sacrifices of the young men they sent to fight. There is something of that history that is still palpable -- you could almost guess that the renaming of the town by their great-great-great-grandparents continues to live in the memory of the town today -- not the least of which because the fact of it continues to be proudly proclaimed on a sign at the center of town. These histories are fascinating and they should be known better before any trip here; this is not just a town of trees and lakefronts and canoe rides and autumn leaves. For all that it is tucked away, it is a town rich with history and contribution to America's story. Washington may be small, but it is part of something much bigger -- and when you stand at the lakefront and take in the quiet scene that has been unfolding in much the same way for countless decades and centuries, you can't help but feel that you've arrived somewhere. Somewhere important. And that sitting by the lake as the sun rises and sets again has something to teach you about dignity, commitment, and loyalty. Maine will reach you in ways you least expect, and I find that every encounter begins with the lake. Come to Washington. Become part of that story.