TOWNSHIP 39, Maine (NEWS CENTER)-- While most of us associate ghost towns with the Old West, there are a few right here in Maine. The site of one is located near present day Township 39, on the border of Penobscot and Hancock counties. In the late 1870's, leather making giant, F. Shaw and Brother's Company, built a tannery there along Buffalo Stream. A small town sprang up around the tannery, and years later the town's sole business came into the ownership of a man named James Rice-- prompting the unincorporated tannery town to become known as Riceville.
Hiking through the woods between Milford and Township 39, you probably wouldn't know the area was once the site of a bustling little town known for making leather shoes. Mike Marino knows there is more than meets the eye. A former member of the the one-time Bangor Ghost Hunters, Marino has been out here in the past- searching through what remains of a village site- the ghost town of Riceville.
"There were reports of strange activity out here. We had to come out and investigate," Marino said.
Marino says his group came across the ghost town in the late 1990's, but it wasn't until 2008 when they contacted Oklahoma-based Lost Treasures Magazine, which investigates stories of old treasure and gold around the country.
"Only Maine guides and hunters knew about it and they claimed they were finding five dollar gold pieces on the ground," said the magazine's New England bureau writer, Patricia Hughes.
The Bangor Ghost Hunters enlisted Hughes's help to uncover Riceville's mysterious history. In her search, Hughes found that in 1900, census records showed only about 75 residents occupied Riceville. But the population was completely gone by 1910.
"We tried to find out as much as we could about it, but all we could find were the legends," said Marino.
According to legend, a small group of people came to town one day to do business, and that's when they found the townspeople... all dead.
"Supposedly they dug a mass grave, buried everyone in it, covered it up and just left it to be," Hughes said.
So, what did happen to the people of Riceville? Hughes and Marino say records are scarce and hard to find, but each blame tainted drinking water.
Hughes said, "They all died of cholera, which was a huge epidemic in 1908."
Marino found similar answers in his research, "It did indeed have to do with cholera and a leak at the tannery."
But other records offer a different conclusion. In a 2011 field report on the mercury level in Brandy Pond near Township 39, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mentions a leather tannery called Thirty-Nine Tannery on Buffalo Stream that burned down in 1906. Similar reports go on to say it was never rebuilt.
So was it sickness that killed the people of Riceville... or did the fall of the town's sole industry force the residents to pack up and leave? No one alive today can answer that for sure...and that's what makes it a Maine Mystery.
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