There were 190 households out of which 32.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.7% were married couples living together, 14.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.3% were non-families. 26.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.42 and the average family size was 2.89.
In the town the population was spread out with 24.6% under the age of 18, 8.3% from 18 to 24, 34.4% from 25 to 44, 23.1% from 45 to 64, and 9.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 97.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.5 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $28,125, and the median income for a family was $31,818. Males had a median income of $28,750 versus $22,000 for females. The per capita income for the town was $14,537. About 18.3% of families and 21.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 35.5% of those under age 18 and 17.4% of those age 65 or over.
Many of the major events of Columbia’s past have been summarized in this section from local texts, newspaper accounts, and from the recollections of residents.
In the 1790s, “Lottery Townships” (including Twp 12) sold for 20 cents an acre. Alexander Baring refers to a settlement of about 30 Quaker families located near the center of Township 12. Families supported themselves with sawmills and shipbuilding. The first sawmill in Columbia was in Epping, near the present Fish and Game Club, built by Moses Worcester. It later burned giving Burnt Mill Rips its name. Others were as follows: Little River, Saco Falls, Branch Brook, Georgetown, Webb District and on the Eastern Branch of Great Marsh Stream. Ship building also took place along Branch Brook.
Blueberries are one of only three fruits native to this area, the others were cranberries and grapes. Native Americans knew that burning the fields in spring helped the crop and they dried blueberries for pemmican, as well. During the Civil War, berries were hand-picked and hand canned & soldered for shipping to the Union Army. Berries were also hand picked (for 2 cents a quart) and shipped by schooner in one quart wooden firkins to Boston (the trip took 2½ days). Until 1876, the barrens were held as "common land" with different families managing different parcels. By the 1880s, there were canning factories in Harrington and Columbia Falls and a blueberry rake was designed by Abijah Tabbutt in 1883. In 1882 it was voted to “tax blueberry lands based on its value and income”.
The west end of Town is mostly the headwaters of the Harrington River while the East end is the Pleasant. Development and roads have been established along the higher ground as there are many wetlands throughout. In the 1890’s most of the arable lands were in pasture and fields. The blueberry and forestry industries, including Christmas trees and wreath brush, still remain seasonal sources of income for many residents. Some liquidation forestry has taken place, however attempts at subdivision have been largely unsuccessful so far due to lack of jobs in the area. There has been a recent resurgence in small agriculture that should be encouraged if we want to retain the rural nature of the Town.
The first survey of Columbia (Township 12) was conducted in 1785. In 1857 the Base Line was completed. The Base Line is depicted on Map 2 and refers to a 5.4 mile perfectly straight surveyed line, which was one of seven used by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey for triangulation to establish positions for mapping the North Atlantic. The Eastern Monument was badly vandalized and is now stored at the Cherryfield Historical Society.
In 1940 the dike bridge was built that crosses the West branch of the Pleasant River in Addison. Clappers were installed to prevent tides from coming up river so that the West Branch would become fresh water only.
In 1963 Pine Island was subdivided. Elio Carerj purchased the Columbia portion of Pine Island (which is in the middle of the Great Heath) from Maurice Worcester for $1,000 on August 17, 1963. Doing business as Atlantic Real Estate, he subdivided his land into 673 individual ½ acre lots on 40 blocks. He sold about half of them for between $40 and $160 per lot, mostly to citizens of Germany, Switzerland & Italy. At that time, there was a bridge across the Pleasant River from El Meadow.
In 1898 the Washington County Railroad came to the area. The station in Columbia was on Station Road on the north side of the tracks. The use of the rail lines diminished substantially in the 1950’s and 60’s and the rail line was declared exempt in 1986. This was a result of more inexpensive trucking costs on the interstate highway system. Route 1 is now the mail arterial route in Columbia and the southern part of Washington County. It was completed in 1953.
A History of Columbia and Columbia Falls in 1976 by Nancy Greene and Clarence Drisko.
The Maine Historic Preservation Commission maintains an inventory of important sites including buildings or sites on the National Registry of Historic Places (NRHP). They record one listing for the town: Columbia Union Church on Epping Rd.
Columbia Streets and Public Facilities, are of historic importance to the town’s residents and might be worth consideration for listing on the National Register of Historic Places for Columbia:
1. Geodetic Survey East Base Line Marker (1857, east end of Base Line Road)
2. Ichabod White House (c. 1858) The front half of the house was purchased in 1900 from Sears and Roebuck.
3. House at 515 Station Road (1790)
Cemeteries are a cultural resource providing insight into the history of the community.
These 4 are in current use, and the Town holds monies for their maintenance. Our older cemeteries contain tombstones dating back to the early 1800s. They are as follows:
There is one old family cemetery (Furren) whose gravestones could not be found, north of Route 1 behind the new Faith United Methodist Church. There are a few new family plots on private property.
There is one known prehistoric archaeological site located within Columbia, according to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission (MHPC). This site (60.10) is located on the edge of the blueberry barrens. The shoreline of the Pleasant River, Schoodic Lake, kettle hole ponds and the south margin of the blueberry barrens have been determined by MHPC to be archeologically sensitive areas that are worth professionally surveying. There are no known historical archeological sites within Columbia, as recorded by the MHPC however some sites have been identified by residents including the silica mines, various mill sites, the baseline and the bean factory.
Information on natural resources is necessary to protect environmentally sensitive areas, and to identify opportunities and constraints for development. The natural resources of our town contribute greatly to our quality of life. They provide open space, habitat, and recreational opportunities such as fishing, boating, snowmobiling, hunting, canoeing, hiking, and crosscountry skiing, as well as other activities.
To optimize forestland use, forests should be effectively managed and harvested. Soils rated with a woodland productivity of medium or above are qualified as prime forestland soils. This designation does not preclude the use of these lands but only identifies the most productive forestland. These soils are rated only for productivity and exclude management problems such as erosion hazard, equipment limitations or seedling mortality.
A watershed is the land area in which runoff from precipitation drains into a body of water. The boundaries of watersheds, also know as drainage divides. Within its boundaries, the Town of Columbia has one great pond, Schoodic Lake (also in Cherryfield and T18 MD BPP). The water resources of Columbia are characterized primarily by the Pleasant River and several other watersheds.
The headwaters of the Harrington River rise in the western part of Columbia that comprises three sub-watersheds of Trout Brook, Great Marsh Stream and several smaller tributaries leading directly to the Harrington River. The northwestern part of this watershed contains Pineo Ridge and a large sand and gravel aquifer with potential yields of than 50 gallons per minute. The southern part of this watershed is primarily forested but is an area where significant clear cuts have occurred recently as timberland is converted to wreath brush production.
The other watersheds in Columbia contain the main stem of the Pleasant River in the northern part of town including the Great Heath described below. The west branch of the Pleasant River rises in two sub-watersheds in the south-eastern part of Columbia and drain south toward Addison.
The portion of the watershed that has the greatest potential to affect a body of water is its direct watershed, or that part which does not first drain through upstream areas. Anything that can be transported by water will eventually reach and impact the quality of a water body. Development activities, such as house and road construction and timber harvesting, may disturb the land that drains to a lake by streams and groundwater and contribute pollutants and other substances to waterbodies, degrading water quality. Activity anywhere in the watershed, even several miles away, has the potential to impact the water quality of our streams, rivers, ponds and lakes.
Threats to water quality come from point and non-point discharges. Point source pollution is discharged directly from a specific site such as a municipal sewage treatment plant or an industrial outfall pipe. There are no point source discharges within the Town of Columbia.
Non-point source pollution poses the greatest threat to water quality in Maine communities and Columbia is no exception. The most significant contributing source comes from erosion and sedimentation as well as excessive run-off of nutrients, particularly phosphorus. In excessive quantities phosphorus acts as a fertilizer and causes algae to flourish or “bloom”. Additional contributing factors include animal wastes, fertilizers, sand and salt storage, waste lagoons, faulty septic systems, roadside erosion, leaking underground storage tanks, and hazardous substances.
Identification and regulation of these sites is important to safeguard both surface and ground waters. The non-point source pollution in Columbia caused by failing septic systems, run-off from surrounding agricultural land, and aerial spraying of herbicides threatens Schoodic Lake and other kettle holes ponds, the Pleasant River and the headwaters of the Harrington River (Great Marsh Stream and Dorr and Trout Brooks). A small area along the western edge of the town drains to the Narraguagus River via Schoodic Lake. Camp development and blueberry agriculture could pose a serious threat to the water quality of this cold water lake.
According to the ME-DEP Lake Water Quality Monitoring Report for Schoodic Lake provided by the PEARL spatial database, water quality monitoring data for Schoodic Lake has been collected since 1977.
During this period, 5 years of basic chemical information was collected, in addition to 8 years of Secchi Disk Transparencies (SDT). In summary, the water quality of Schoodic Lake is considered to be average, based on measures of SDT, total phosphorus (TP), and Chlorophyll-a (Chla). The potential for nuisance algal blooms on Schoodic Lake is low.
Schoodic Lake is a non-colored lake (average color 8 SPU) with an average SDT of 5.5 m (18 ft). The range of water column TP for Schoodic Lake is 4–15 parts per billion (ppb) with an average of 9 ppb, while Chla ranges from 2.1 to 4.5 ppb with an average of 3 ppb. Recent dissolved oxygen (DO) profiles show moderate DO depletion in deep areas of the lake. The potential for TP to leave the bottom sediments and become available to algae in the water column (internal loading) is low to moderate.
Schoodic Lake is managed by the Maine Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife as both a warm water and cold-water fishery. Oxygen levels below 5 parts per million stress certain cold water fish, and a persistent loss of oxygen may eliminate or reduce habitat for sensitive cold water species. The outlet of Schoodic Brook hosts a run of rainbow smelts that are dipped by locals and provide forage for Landlocked Salmon.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service in Machias is administering federal USDA funds in a small watersheds program known as PL566. The program focus is the Pleasant and Narraguagus River Watersheds and they are in Phase one of a three phase process that conducts an assessment of issues and concerns in the watershed (Phase I), involves stakeholders in the creation of a management plan and response to the issues (Phase II), and seeks implementation resources (Phase III) to address watershed concerns. It is a flexible program that allows funds to be directed to municipalities and not just landowners or individual producers. Columbia should participate in this process and ensure that all available resources can be tapped in support of town goals.
Water withdrawals for irrigation of agricultural crops are of concern to some residents and there is discussion of the town regulating water withdrawals from surface waters. There are commercial production wells in the northwestern part of Columbia and surface water withdrawals also occur from Schoodic Lake, Duck Pond and Myers Pond. Surface water withdrawals in Cherryfield from Crane Pond are also of concern as these are the headwaters of the Harrington River tributaries that flow through Columbia. Concerns include the long term impact of withdrawals of low water on Atlantic Salmon and other aquatic species such as native brook trout. The state legislature resolved in 2001, by Public Law 619 not to regulate water withdrawals in organized townships. Instead they chose to study the amounts and uses of existing water withdrawals and to develop a reporting system to gather this information. Columbia would like such studies to include the rivers within their boundaries.
As defined by Maine's Natural Resources Protection Act, a river, stream, or brook is a channel that has defined banks (including a floodway and associated flood plain wetlands) created by the action of the surface water. Columbia’s rivers, streams and brooks, include:
1. Pleasant River, main stem (Pleasant River Watershed) 2. Pleasant River, west branch (Pleasant River Watershed) 3. Western Little River (Pleasant River Watershed) 4. Trout Brook (Harrington River Watershed) 5. Dorr Brook (Harrington River Watershed) 6. Great Marsh Stream (Harrington River Watershed) 7. Barney Brook (Harrington River Watershed) 8. Bells Brook (West Branch Pleasant River Watershed) 9. Branch Brook (West Branch Pleasant River Watershed)
As in other towns in Washington County, large parcels of timberland are changing hands and undergoing intensive harvest. These lands are being converted from timber stands to wreath brush production. To date this conversion is in compliance with the Forest Practices Act. There is very little large scale subdivision activity in Columbia with only one large subdivision, Pine Island in the Great Heath, and a 5 lot subdivision for affordable house lots on Webb District Road, and a 7 lot subdivision on Carberry Road, which is off Sacarap Road.
There are no schools in Columbia and overall enrollment is declining. Because of the town’s geography and population distribution, resident children attend two elementary schools, each in neighboring towns.