Hard Telling Not Knowing each week tries to answer your burning questions about why things are the way they are in Maine — specifically about Maine culture and history, both long ago and recent, large and small, important and silly. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For close to 100 years, there were two towns in Maine with the same name: Woodland in Aroostook County and Woodland in Washington County.
Today, Woodland in The County is still Woodland. Woodland Down East is Baileyville, which technically was always its real name, despite intense local outcry in the 1990s supporting its longtime adopted nickname.
How Baileyville became Woodland and then Baileyville again is an odd Maine story — the kind that Mainers love to tell when explaining where they’re from and why it is the way it is.
Let’s get two things straight before we go any further. Baileyville was incorporated in Washington County under that specific name in 1831, named in honor of one of the founding families of the town. Woodland was incorporated in 1880 in Aroostook County under that name. Those are undisputed facts.
And technically, it’s not against federal law for a state to have two incorporated towns with the same name. There are lots of them in New Jersey, which has multiple places both named Washington and Franklin, and there are several in New York and Pennsylvania as well.
But it is against the rules of a number of agencies, like the U.S. Postal Service and emergency and fire departments, to have two towns with the same name in the same state. With two towns having the same name, you run the risk of EMTs arriving at the wrong address, or mail shipments being sent to the incorrect town.
So how did Baileyville end up being called Woodland, too? According to a 1977 article in the Bangor Daily News, Baileyville didn’t get the name Woodland until the turn of the 20th century, when the St. Croix River dam was erected and the paper mill was built in 1903.
The village that grew up around the mill, originally called Sprague’s Falls, was renamed Woodland because of the dense forest that surrounded it.
An earlier BDN article in 1975 tells the somewhat apocryphal story that a local postal worker just “didn’t like” the name Baileyville, and somehow got the town to use the name Woodland instead — a prettier name, perhaps? The original Bailey family, who was among the town’s first white settlers, might disagree.
Regardless of why, people began calling the town Woodland instead of Baileyville in the first decade of the 1900s, despite the original name predating the newer name by more than 70 years.
The post office, schools, police departments and other town offices were under the name Woodland. Signposts read Woodland. Short of looking up official government records, you’d hardly have known the town was actually named Baileyville.
In the 1990s, that would change. In February 1998, the U.S. Postal Service informed the Washington County Woodland that it would have to rename its post office for Baileyville, and that all incoming mail would have to be addressed to Baileyville — not Woodland.
Furthermore, with the rollout in the late 1990s of the Enhanced 911 system across the country, location accuracy was required for wireless and landline phones — meaning that two towns with the same name would not jibe with FCC requirements.
Woodland — er, Baileyville — residents were not happy. They wondered why they had to change, when Woodland in The County didn’t even have its own post office.
The high school sports teams were the Woodland Dragons, and townsfolk didn’t like the idea that cheerleaders would have to spell out a much longer name during cheers. The DeLorme Maine Gazetteer listed the town as Woodland (with Baileyville in parentheses). Would all maps across the country now have to change?
The Aroostook County town responded, accurately, that they were Woodland first. The Washington County town wouldn’t even technically be changing, because its town’s real name is and always was Baileyville. It might be inconvenient, and it might not be much fun, but that’s the way it is.
Eventually, Baileyville residents accepted their fate that, on the record, their town’s name was not Woodland. In 1998, they changed the post office name, and in 1999, the state erected new town boundary signs, and this time, the signs read Baileyville — though townspeople later erected their own sign that read “Welcome to Baileyville, village of Woodland.”
Today, the signposts read Baileyville, the post office is called Baileyville, and if you punch in an address on Google Maps heading for that town, you’ll be looking up a Baileyville destination.
And yet, there’s still Woodland Elementary School and Woodland Junior-Senior High School, and the paper mill is called Woodland Pulp. The more densely populated center part of town still has the village name of Woodland, even if its mailing address reads Baileyville.
Ask people who live there what the town’s name is, and they may very well say Woodland, although then they’ll begrudgingly tell you that it’s “technically” Baileyville. And then they’ll get to tell another odd Maine story — an opportunity most Mainers relish.