There are plenty of towns in Maine with rather odd namesakes. The tiny Oxford County town of Byron, for instance, is named for Lord Byron, a 19th century Romantic poet who died nine years before the town’s founding in 1833.
The towns of Brooks, in Waldo County, and Dexter, in Penobscot County, were named for opposing candidates in the 1816 race for governor of Massachusetts — John Brooks and Samuel Dexter. Brooks won, and during his tenure, Maine seceded from Massachusetts. Both towns kept their names, despite it being a relic of the pre-statehood era.
And then there are two pairs of towns both named for two prominent New England families: Searsport and Searsmont, and Dixfield and Dixmont. Neither of those families fully lived up to their end of the bargain in regards to their helping the towns named for them — but the stories behind them live on.
Searsport and Searsmont, both in Waldo County, are both named for members of the Sears family, a wealthy Boston clan of merchants and property developers, descended from founding families in both the Plymouth Colony and Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Searsmont, a few miles west of Belfast, was named for David Sears, a Bostonian who made big money in the shipping trade in the 1700s, and who owned the land that would soon become Searsmont. Sears was an investor in the Waldo Patent, a huge land grant issued in the 1600s that encompassed all of Knox County and most of Waldo County. Sears’ share of the grant included what is now Searsmont, which he named after himself in 1814.
Sears’ son, David Sears II, took after his father. After inheriting his father’s vast wealth and property holdings when he died in 1816, the younger Sears built a large summer home on Brigadier’s Island — today known as Sears Island, in what is now Searsport. He spent many summers on the island, and the remains of his house can still be seen today.
In the 1840s, people living in what was then East Belfast and West Prospect decided to create their own town to support the area’s growing shipbuilding industry. Though some wanted to name the new town Maineport, residents voted to name the town after David Sears, in an effort to curry favor with the semi-local rich guy,
Sears, flattered, sent the new town $1,000 — approximately $40,000 in 2023 dollars — to construct a town hall. After construction was finished, Sears visited the building and proclaimed that it, quite frankly, was terrible, reportedly saying it looked like a powder house, a place to store gunpowder. He never gave another cent to the town.
The building was used as a town hall until 1905, and today is part of the Penobscot Marine Museum campus. The town retained its name, despite it never managing to get its namesake to cough up any more cash to help it grow.
In the case of Dixmont, in Penobscot County, and Dixfield, in Oxford County, both are named for Elijah Dix, a prominent late 18th century doctor in Massachusetts and supporter of the American Revolution. He was also a savvy land speculator, and bought up land in Maine throughout the 1780s and 1790s.
By 1803, Dix owned enough land in what is now Dixfield — then a township called Holmantown Plantation — that he had a great deal of sway in local politics. Dix said he would donate the money to build a library if the town would incorporate and change its name to Dixfield. Townsfolk agreed, the name was changed, the town was organized, and they awaited the money to start building.
The money never came. According to town lore, all they ever received were some dusty old boxes of medical texts printed in German. The town finally built a library in 1966, the Ludden Memorial Library, some 163 years later.
Meanwhile, in Penobscot County, the town of Dixmont was also taking shape in the early 1800s. It was originally known as Collegetown, with most of its land granted to Bowdoin College by the state of Massachusetts, which then sold it to individuals, including Dix. By 1807, Dix owned more than half of the town, and when it incorporated that year, townsfolk chose to name it after their largest landowner.
Dix never lived in Dixmont — or Dixfield — although he did visit a few times. On one of those visits, in 1809, just two years after the town was founded, Dix died in Dixmont. He’s buried there, in the Dixmont Corner Cemetery.
His son, Joseph, lived in nearby Hampden, and had a daughter who grew up to be an advocate for the poor and mentally ill — Dorothea Dix, who helped transform the treatment of mental illness worldwide, and established nursing as a respected field in medicine. Elijah Dix may not have done much for the towns he helped found, but his descendants ended up helping to change the world.