Podcast 337 – See Maine and See the World

In Lynchville, Maine, there’s a road sign pointing to: Norway, Paris, Denmark, Naples, Sweden, Poland, Mexico, Peru, and China – all of them just a few miles away in Maine.

In Episode 337 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger take a drive to the intersection of Routes 35 and 5 in Lynchville, Maine, to see a unique road sign giving directions to places like: Norway, Paris, Denmark, Naples, Sweden, Poland, Mexico, Peru, and China – all of them just a few miles away – in Maine. How did that happen?

Read the episode transcript.


Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Guest Voice Talent: Marv Anderson
Theme Music by: John Judd

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Postcard of Maine's World Traveler Signpost in Lynchville off of Route 35.

Postcard of Maine’s World Traveler Signpost in Lynchville off of Route 35.

*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.

JEFF: Okay, I think we’re getting close.
RAY: This is a pretty remote section of Western, Maine, Jeff. There’s not much up here at all.
JEFF: That’s true. There’s not much population.
RAY: We’ve only passed a few houses here on Route 35. And they’re pretty spread out.
JEFF: And yet, we’re close to our destination. A spot that will arguably put us within reach of the world.
RAY: I don’t understand.
JEFF: Oooo pull over here by this fence here at the intersection of Routes 35 and Route 5.
RAY: Okayyy…
JEFF: See that sign over there by the side of the road?
RAY: Yeah…. Wow! Look at that! Wait… we’re not 25 miles from Sweden… are we?!
JEFF: I hope you brought your passport, Ray. Because we’ve come to Lynchville, Maine, to visit not just Sweden, but Paris, Denmark, Peru, China, and more!
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to Episode 337 of the New England Legends podcast.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every weird legend in New England. From roadside oddities, to haunts, aliens, monsters, and the just plain weird. We love it all. And we get most of our story leads from you! We appreciate being part of this strange community with you. So reach out to us anytime through our Web site if you’ve got a story you think we should check out.
JEFF: We’ll explore Maine’s oddest roadside sign right after this word from our sponsor.
RAY: Okay, Jeff. We’re standing in Lynchville, Maine at the intersection where Route 35 splits to the north and becomes Route 5 to the west.
JEFF: Right. Lynchville is an unorganized territory in Maine. You won’t find a town hall here. Sometimes the sign is listed as residing in Bethel, Maine. No matter which town claims this land, it’s located right here at the intersection of Routes 35 and 5.
RAY: So I’m staring at this road sign in front of us. It’s maybe 15 feet tall. And there’s a bunch of arrows pointing in either direction. But come onnn… the sign can’t be right.
JEFF: It actually IS correct. Go ahead and give it a read.
RAY: Okay, starting at the top it says: Norway, 14 miles to the right, which is south. Then Paris, 15 miles to our south, next is Denmark, 23 miles to the south, Naples 23 miles south, then there’s Sweden 25 miles south, then Poland 27 miles to the south. Below Poland is Mexico, 37 miles to our left, which is north, then Peru 46 miles to the north, and last is China which is 94 miles to the north.
JEFF: Crazy, right?
RAY: I’ve seen signs like this before with major international cities listed on them, but those signs give the real mileage. Like London is 3,185 miles away, and things like that.
JEFF: Sure, I’ve seen those too.
RAY: Paris, France is NOT 15 miles away.
JEFF: You’re correct. Paris, France not even close to 15 miles away. But Paris, Maine, IS 15 miles away.
RAY: So Maine has towns named after all of these places?
JEFF: It does. This sign went up in the 1930s and become a popular roadside oddity almost right away. It’s been the subject of many postcards, and of course it’s been stolen a few times. After it was stolen in August of 1957, the Maine Highway Department replaced it. Making all right in the world again.
RAY: So Maine has towns named after all of these international places.
JEFF: They do. Let’s take them one by one. The town of Norway, Maine was originally known as Rustfield, named for Salem, Massachusetts, sea captain Henry Rust. Back in 1795 when this land was still Massachusetts, locals tried to incorporate Rustfield, but according to the Norway Historical Society, the legislature chartered the town in 1797 as Norway due to some kind of clerical error, and that’s how it remained. Maine became the state as we know it today in 1820. So Norway, Massachusetts, became Norway, Maine.
RAY: Next down on the list is Paris. This town was first settled in 1779 by Lemuel Jackson, John Willis, and their respective families. It was originally called Number Four Plantation.
JEFF: That doesn’t have much of a ring to it, does it?
RAY: No, it doesn’t. The town incorporated as Paris in 1793 and like Norway, became part of Maine after Maine became its own state.
JEFF: That brings us to Denmark. This town was incorporated in 1807. They decided to name it Denmark in solidarity with the country of Denmark. The British Royal Navy had attacked Copenhagen in 1801 and 1807. The taste of the American Revolutionary War was still fresh in everyone’s mouths around here, so calling the town Denmark was also a bit of protest against the British.
RAY: That brings us to Naples. The town was first settled in 1774 and then officially incorporated in 1834. It’s located just north of Sebago Lake. It was named after Naples, Italy. Maybe because the coast of Sebago Lake reminded someone of the coast of Naples?
JEFF: Could be. Sweden, Maine, is next. Originally called New Suncook Plantation, the land was granted by Massachusetts in 1774. In 1800 the town was incorporated as Lovell after Captain Lovewell, a hero of Drummer’s War. In 1813, the southeast portion of town was incorporated as Sweden, named after the country. By now, naming these towns after cities and countries in Europe was getting to be a trend.
RAY: Poland, Maine, was first settled in 1768 as Bakerstown Plantation. Moses Emery was one of the town’s earliest settlers and a representative to the general court. He procured the incorporation of the town in 1795 and was given the honor of naming it. He could have named it for himself, but instead he chose “Poland” because he knew an old song of the same name. We all know how an earworm doesn’t leave us alone sometime. So Poland, Maine it is. This is also the town where the famous Poland Spring water comes from.
JEFF: That brings us to Mexico, Maine. Back in 1789, Colonel Jonathan Holman was granted this land called Holmanstown Plantation. In 1803, part of this plantation became the town of Dixfield. Then in 1818, the rest of the town was incorporated as Mexico as a sign of solidarity with Mexicans fighting for independence from Spain. That war was waged from 1810 to 1821 so this town was named during the middle of the war.
RAY: Speaking of Independence from Spain, that brings us to Peru. This town was first settled in 1793, and in 1812 it organized as Plantation Number 1. But it was officially incorporated in 1821 as the 240th town in Maine. The named it Peru as a sign of solidarity with people from Peru who declared their independence from Spain in 1821.
JEFF: Last but not least is China, Maine. In 1774, the Jones Plantation was established. In 1796 the town was incorporated as Harlem, but in 1818 the small towns of Harlem, Fairfax, and Winslow were combined. Massachusetts legislator Japheth Washburn named the town China after one of his favorite hymns written by Timothy Swan of Northfield, Massachusetts.
RAY: So we have two towns named after songs, three named in solidarity with countries fighting to throw out a king, one was a clerical error, and the rest were trying to be trendy.
JEFF: That kind of sums it up. And most of these were incorporated as Massachusetts towns before Maine became its own state. So we’ll have to blame the trend and weirdness on Massachusetts.
RAY: Still, I love this international flair way out here in the middle of nowhere, Maine. America is such a melting pot. So many of our cities are named after cities in Europe. Why not name towns too. It’s a great reminder that all of our ancestors came from somewhere else. It’s inspiring!
JEFF: Speaking of inspiring, back on January 3, 1942, the Bangor Daily News published a poem. An ode to the sign. We’ll leave you with it.
Should you wish to take a journey ‘round the world and still remain;
Far away from bombs and cannon, find that little town in Maine.
Where it’s 14 miles to Norway and to Paris one mile more.
Or, you may add another dozen miles and be at Poland’s door.
37 down to Mexico or, scarce an hour’s drive,
But if Sweden is your preference, it’s only 25.
Then, it’s 23 to Denmark and the same to Naples, too.
And a little spin of 46, will land you in Peru.
Or, perhaps you like the Orient, well, that’s just a little chore
For the sign post where you’ll find all this says, China 94.
-D.R. Brown. Woodland, Maine
RAY: And that brings us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and sometimes veer off course.
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To see some pictures of this unique Maine sign, click on the link in our episode description, or head to our Web site and click on episode 337.

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We’d like to thank Marv Anderson for lending his voice acting talents this week. Thank you to our sponsors and to our patreon patrons, and our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.

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