The Kennebec River is a river, 150 mi (240 km) long, in the state of Maine in the northeastern United States. It rises in Moosehead Lake in west central Maine. The East and West Outlets join at Indian Pond and the river then flows southward where it is joined, at the The Forks by the Dead River, also called the West Branch then continues southward past the cities of Madison, Skowhegan, Waterville, and the state capital Augusta. At Richmond, it flows into Merrymeeting Bay, a 16 mi (26 km) long freshwater, tidal bay into which also flow the Androscoggin River and five other smaller rivers. The Kennebec then runs past the shipbuilding center of Bath, thence to the Gulf of Maine in the Atlantic Ocean. Ocean tides affect the river height as far north as Augusta. Tributaries of the Kennebec River include the Carrabassett River, Sandy River, and Sebasticook River.
The river was explored by Samuel de Champlain
in 1604 and 1605. In 1607, the Popham Colony
, the first English
colony in New England
, was founded near its mouth. The river, then known as the Sagadahoc River
, also marked the northern border of the 1622 land patent
of the Province of Maine
granted to Ferdinando Gorges
and John Mason
The Virginia of Sagadahoc
, the first oceangoing vessel built in the New World by English-speaking shipwrights, was launched into the river.
Hundreds of wooden and steel vessels have since been launched on the Kennebec, particularly in Bath
, the so-called City of Ships
, including the Wyoming
, one of the largest wooden schooners ever built. The sole remaining shipyard is the Bath Iron Works
, one of the few yards still building warships for the United States Navy
. The USCGC Kennebec was named after this river.
In 1814 Frederic Tudor
began to establish markets in the West Indies and the southern United States for Ice. In 1826 Rufus Page built the first large ice house near Gardiner to supply Tudor. The ice was harvested by farmers and other who were inactive due to the winter weather. The ice was cut by hand, floated to an ice house on the bank, and stored until spring. Then, packed in sawdust it was loaded aboard ships and sent south.
Prior to the industrial era, the river contained many anadromous fish
, in particular the Atlantic Salmon
. The exploiting of hydroelectric power
in the region reduced the runs of such fish. The removal of dams on the river has been a controversial local issue in recent years. The removal of the Edwards Dam
in 1999 has led to increased anadromous activity on the river.
The river drains a total area of 5,870 square miles (15,200 km²), and on average discharges 5.893 billion U.S. gallons per day into Merrymeeting Bay
at a rate of 9,111 cubic feet per second (258 m³/s). The United States government maintains three river flow gauges on the Kennebec river. The first is at Indian Pond, Maine
where the rivershed is . Flow here has ranged from 32,900 to 161 cubic feet per second
. The second is at Bingham, Maine
where the rivershed is . Flow here has ranged from 65,200 to 110 cubic feet per second. The third is at North Sidney, Maine
where the rivershed is . Flow here has ranged from 232,000 to 1,160 cubic feet per second. Two additional river stage gauges (no flow data) are in Augusta, Maine
and Gardiner, Maine
(); both of these gauge heights are affected by ocean tides.
Before the river was dammed, it was navigable as far as Augusta. The founder of Colby College sailed his sloop, Hero, up to Augusta and a longboat to Waterville where he founded the college.
On April 1, 1987, melting snow and 4 to of rain in the mountains forced the river to flood her banks. By the next day, the peak of the flooding was at above flood stage. It caused about $100 million in damage (171 million in 2008 dollars), flooding 2,100 homes, destroying 215, and damaging 240 others. Signs of the flood can still be found around the towns and cities that line the river.