In this 1904 file photo, Theodore Roosevelt campaigns for the presidency in 1904. Credit: AP File Photo

ISLAND FALLS, Maine — It was once a booming logging and trapping community, then a prominent producer of starch, but one of Island Falls’ most famous pieces of history is its connection with Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States.

Island Falls is a rural community approximately 25 miles south of Houlton in Aroostook County. The population was 758 as of the 2020 census, but that number doubles with summer seasonal residents. The primary village of Island Falls is situated at a falls in the West Branch of the Mattawamkeag River, and the town is on Interstate 95, which makes access easy for  recreationists year round.

The 13-square-mile town, incorporated in 1872, plans to dip heavily into its history when it recognizes its 150th anniversary with a 10-day celebration from Friday, July 29, to Sunday, Aug. 7. Island Falls is one of many small, rural Maine towns that have rich histories of boom and bust, and still lure well-known people to its woods and waters for hunting, fishing and other recreation.

“We have so much to offer,” said James Lord, a member of the sesquicentennial committee. “We have our beautiful lakes and have seen a significant increase in ATV and snowmobile traffic in recent years.”

As the home of two pristine lakes — Mattawamkeag and Pleasant — as well as the Mattawamkeag River, Island Falls offers some of the best fishing, hiking, boating and kayaking in the state. The town is connected to the Maine International Trail System (ITS) for ATV and snowmobiling and the trails extend to Millinocket, Houlton and Patten. The Canadian border is also just 35 miles away.

Young Theodore Roosevelt first visited Island Falls in September 1878 with a cousin and two friends who previously had vacationed in the Mattawamkeag Lake region with W.W. “Bill” Sewall as guide, according to “The History of Island Falls.” The foursome took a train to  Mattawamkeag Station, the nearest point reached by the railroad, and traveled the remaining 36 miles by buckboard — an open, four-wheeled, horse-drawn carriage. They slept that night in a field-bed on the third floor of the William Sewall residence.

One of Roosevelt’s favorite spots in Island Falls became known as Bible Point, where he visited to quietly read his Bible. The site can be found by taking the Merriman Road to its end, then following the hiking trail along the western shore of the West Branch of the Mattawamkeag River approximately a mile.

“Some friends brought Teddy up here because he was asthmatic and they thought the fresh air would do him some good,” said Becky Drew, the unofficial town historian for Island Falls. “He developed quite a friendship with Bill Sewall over their shared love of the outdoors.”

The Roosevelt Memorial Association placed a plaque in 1921, and in 1970 Bible Point was named to the State Register of Historic Places, according to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. This 27.4 acre point was donated to the state in December 1971 to be preserved as a natural area.

The longtime home of William Wingate Sewall, a second generation resident who had an enduring friendship with Roosevelt, was built in 1865 and can be found at 1027 Crystal Road. Roosevelt was a regular guest there until 1878. The William Sewall House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and remains in the Sewall family. It is operated as a yoga retreat center.

To tap into Roosevelt’s history during the 150th celebration, the town is bringing in Joe Wiegand, a Theodore Roosevelt impersonator, on Friday, Aug. 5, at the Island Falls Municipal Building.

Historian Rolf Steller will give a presentation on the lives of Willam Sewall and Wilmot Dow, the two men most often associated with Roosevelt’s connection to Island Falls, at  2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, at the municipal building.

The festivities round out on Sunday, Aug. 7, with the Summerfest Celebration parade at 1 p.m. Organizers are hoping for a large number of entries in this year’s parade and are offering large cash prizes to encourage people to sign up.

Island Falls Town Manager Juetta Beyer said she has been impressed with how the local community has embraced the celebration plans by cleaning up around their homes.

“The town seems to be excited,” she said. “We are seeing a lot of cleanup going on, with painting and taking care of their lawns. It’s nice to see. The temperature of this town is certainly the best it has been in a long time”


In the early days of the town, logging, trapping and lumber were the prominent industries. As commercial potato farming grew in the late 1950s-early 1960s, industry shifted to starch and chemical processing with the opening of the National Starch and Chemical facility.

That factory closed in 1984, leaving Island Falls without a significant industrial base for the first time in its history.

Another historic building — Island Falls Opera House — is a historic multipurpose building at the junction of Old Patten Road, Sewall Street and Bog Brook Road. Built in 1894, the structure included retail, performance and residential spaces, and is a type of building that was once common but now rare in rural Maine. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Since the sale of the building in December 2020, the Opera House has seen much cleanup and repair activity.

Other historical attractions in Island Falls includeTingley House Museum and a historic jailhouse, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

For information on the Island Falls Summerfest celebration, visit the town’s 150th anniversary Facebook page.