From lookouts amid the parklike woods on 1,213-foot Sawyer Mountain, hikers can enjoy views south and west over the hills and lowlands of York County, east to Casco Bay and Portland and northeast to Sebago Lake – ample reward for the 1.5-mile effort to reach the top.
The Francis Small Heritage Trust owns 1,472 acres on Sawyer Mountain in Limerick and Limington, a contiguous parcel of land known as the Sawyer Mountain Highlands and part of the largest unfragmented block of undeveloped land in York and Cumberland counties.
The Highlands was assembled from 17 parcels purchased between 1996 and 2011. More than 5 miles of trails thread through the hilly terrain, which is home to stands of old-growth red oak, hemlock, sugar maple and beech.
The Smith Trail leaves the trailhead on Emery Corner Road in Limerick and crosses a series of stone walls before joining the old Sawyer Mountain Road. The trail is marked by small blocks of wood displaying the carved outline of a yellow turtle. This is the mark of Captain Sandy, also known as Chief Wesumbe, of the Newichewannock Abenaki tribe.
At the junction are the foundations, cellar holes and well of the old Sawyer family farmstead, first settled by Deacon William Sawyer and his son, John, in 1794. Poke around the impressive extent of the structures as evidenced by the many stone outlines, including the walls of what were the livestock pens. A few rusted barrel staves still remain among the leaves.
Ahead, the old road reaches the height-of-land and a spur trail leading to the mountaintop. En route to the peak, look for the name “LULU” carved in a trailside rock. Lulu was the daughter of Autien Sawyer, the last of the family to farm on the mountain in the early 1900s.
Sawyer Mountain, being visible from the ocean, was once the site of a whale oil light that was used in the 18th century by ships navigating into Portland Harbor. Sailors would use this and other such lights to guide their vessels safely into port.
In 1884, the U.S. Geological Survey erected a 15-foot stone monument on the summit that was later destroyed by a lightning strike. Scattered stones from the tower still remain.
Francis Small, the namesake of the trust, was a fur trader and landowner who lived from 1625 to 1714. Small is said to have owned the largest amount of land of any person who has ever lived in Maine.
In 1668, Small operated a trading post a few miles northwest of Sawyer Mountain, at the confluence of the Ossipee and Saco rivers and the crossroads of three major Native American travel routes, the Sokokis Trail (now Route 5), the Ossipee Trail (now Route 25) and the Pequawket Trail (now Route 113).
Newichewannock Abenaki tribesmen who owed debts to Small plotted to kill him to avoid payment. Their chief, Wesumbe, warned Small in time to foil the plan, but not before Small’s home was burned to the ground.
To compensate for the loss, Chief Wesumbe sold Small 20 square miles of land for two large Indian blankets, two gallons of rum, two pounds of powder, four pounds of musket balls and 20 strings of beads.
Small’s Ossipee Tract was bounded by the Saco, Great and Little Ossipee, and Newichewannock (later Salmon Falls) rivers, and included today’s towns of Limerick, Limington, Cornish, Newfield and Parsonsfield, the area where Francis Small Heritage Trust works to conserve land.
Hikers itching for more can tramp the length of the old Sawyer Mountain Road north to Norton Road in Limington. From the Smith trailhead, short side trips can be made to a gorge and cascading waterfall. The trust’s Jagolinzer Preserve in Limington and Bald Ledge in Porter also have trails worth exploring. For more info go to www.fsht.org or call 221-0853.