Castine has several wooden signs around that highlight its historic sites. The one for the British Canal is believed to have been stolen twice in the past two years. This sign for Battle Avenue shows the signs' hallmark hand-painted style. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

A pair of historic markers near a canal in Castine have increasingly become the target of vandalism and thievery, according to town officials.

The markers near the British Canal, a waterway believed to be constructed by the British army during the War of 1812, have been stolen or vandalized four times in the past two years.

The most recent theft of the small wooden “British Canal” sign is believed to have occurred around Sept. 3. It’s the second time it’s gone missing in as many years. Castine doesn’t have high hopes for its return and expects it will have to order a new sign, costing between $250 and $500.

The sign was also vandalized just before the town’s big Bastille Day celebration in July. Vandals removed the crucial first letter in the word “canal.” Another historic metal plaque near the sign was also stolen recently, said Shawn Blodgett, the Castine town manager. 

One of many wooden signs that note historic places throughout Castine, it harkens back to the town’s history as a pivotal port that was occupied by the British, French, Dutch and Americans

The stolen sign normally sits at the site of the canal and marks the dividing line between the “on-neck” area of Castine, a peninsula that juts into Penobscot Bay, and the “off-neck” portion of town. The metal plaque denoted the town’s historic district. 

Why the markers have become a target as of late, Blodgett didn’t want to speculate. No other historic markers in town have been bothered.

Castine normally refurbishes about five to seven of the historic wooden signs a year and the old English scrawl that is their hallmark is done by a local painter in Penobscot. That’s what makes replacing them costly.

“It’s not the cost of materials,” he said. “But they are hand-painted in old English to look historical.” 

The two posts that normally hold Castine’s British Canal sign off Route 166 stand empty handed on Sept. 12, 2022. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

The historic marker signs are also something of a piece of history themselves. They have been standing around Castine for more than 100 years. The first was installed by the local village improvement society in 1908.

Though they may be long-standing, a local historian suggests taking some of the signs with a grain of salt.

Some have claimed that the canal, which is more of a moat than a full-fledged canal for ship passage, was dug by the British in the American Revolution and past iterations of the signs have read “British Canal 1779.”

But, Lisa Simpson Lutts, the head of the Castine Historical Society, believed it was built much later because the canal didn’t start showing on maps of Castine until after the War of 1812.

Castine’s British Canal is believed to have been built by the British Army during the War of 1812. A pair of historical markers near the canal have been stolen or vandalized several times in the past two years. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

Why and exactly when it was built is unclear but there is speculation that it was constructed to be an impediment, either for Americans trying to get on the neck or British soldiers trying to defect.  

The British Canal sign was also stolen last year, but it was later recovered when a dog walker found it discarded in the Castine woods.