The sparsely populated Maine North Woods, roughly defined as the headwaters of the Saint John, Penobscot and Kennebec Rivers, was populated through the colonial era by refugees fleeing unfriendly governments. Native Americans retreating from hostile European colonists, and smugglers trading with these Native Americans and between English Massachusetts and French Acadia lived in small communities along the Atlantic coast on the disputed border between those colonies. As England dominated the Gulf of Maine following the French and Indian Wars, these occupants of the border region retreated up the large rivers into the interior joined by Acadians escaping the Acadian Expulsion. Although the survivors might have preferred to remain independent, surrounding governments dividing their refuge perceived Aroostook County as the west bank of the Saint John River drainage upstream of Canada. Under United States control, the area was initially dominated by lumber manufacturing interests, although agriculture became important as population increased. Transportation along the Saint John River and early rail connections into New Brunswick caused strong business links with Canada until the county was connected to the United States rail network by the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad in 1894. Aroostook County residents retain an independent cultural identity established during their history of isolation on the border frontier.
Aroostook County was formed in 1839 from parts of Penobscot and Washington counties. In 1843, Aroostook gained land from Penobscot County; in 1844, Aroostook again gained land from Penobscot, plus it exchanged land with Piscataquis County. In 1889, Aroostook gained slightly from Penobscot, but gave back the land in 1903 when Aroostook County gained its final form. Some of the territory in this county was part of the land dispute that led to the "Aroostook War" that would be settled by the Webster–Ashburton Treaty.Children gathering potatoes on a large farm in Aroostook County, 1940. Schools did not open until the potatoes were harvested. Photo by Jack Delano.
The county was also part of a route on the Underground Railroad, and was one of the last stops before entering Canada. Slaves would meet and hide just outside Aroostook or in deserted areas. Friends Quaker Church near Fort Fairfield was often a final stop.
Much of Aroostook County's economy was dominated by military spending through the Cold War. Limestone Army Air Field was built in Limestone, Maine in 1947. It was renamed Loring Air Force Base (AFB) in 1953 as the home of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) 42d Bombardment Wing operating Convair B-36 Peacemaker bombers. Aroostook County was chosen due to its strategic location as the closest point in the Continental United States to the Middle East and Europe including the Soviet Union west of the Ural Mountains. Loring AFB could accommodate one hundred of these large bombers; and had both the largest fuel storage capacity, at 9,200,000 US gallons (35,000,000 L), and the largest weapons storage capacity, at 4700 tonnes NEW, of any SAC base. The 42d Bombardment Wing at Loring operated Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers until the 1991 Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended closure and the base closed in 1994.
The 2014 Acadian World Congress was held along the Canada–United States border, co-hosted by Aroostook County and a number of neighboring counties in Canada (Témiscouata in Quebec, and Victoria, Madawaska and Restigouche in New Brunswick). Organizers planned a Tintamarre that was held in the town of Madawaska, Maine, as well as a giant tug of war across the Saint John River.Geography
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 6,828 square miles (17,680 km2), of which 6,671 square miles (17,280 km2) is land and 156 square miles (400 km2) (2.3%) is water. Aroostook County is Maine's largest county by area, about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.
Government and politics
Although the county is more socially conservative than Maine's southern and coastal counties, it was won by the Democratic Presidential candidate in the six elections from 1992 – 2012 before going for the Republican candidate Donald Trump in 2016. In the Maine Legislature, the county's delegation in 2013 included three Democrats and seven Republicans. In 2009 it voted 73% in favor of a referendum rejecting same-sex marriage and 54% against the Maine Medical Marijuana Act. In 2012, it voted 67% against a measure to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine, the highest opposition percentage of any county in the state.
Due to the remoteness from the rest of Maine and a perceived lack of connection with the Maine government, as well as a strong connection with neighboring Canada, politicians of Aroostook County, Maine, have proposed making Aroostook part of New Brunswick or spinning off the county as its own state, probably named Aroostook, since the 1990s. As recently as 2005 the question has been brought up before the state legislature.