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Cobbosseecontee Lake: Storied Shores

By Mimi Bigelow Steadman

A short dirt lane led through the woods to a yellow cottage, its windows framed with green shutters. Inside, a stone fireplace, slouchy furniture, a wall of yellowing maps, and a corner full of fishing gear radiated the old-shoe welcome of a traditional Maine camp. Jeff Hamilton’s great grandfather built this one, half way down the eastern shore of Cobbosseecontee Lake in 1912. Six generations later, the retreat in Central Maine is still treasured by his family.

Charlie and Stephanie Hippler take an afternoon ride in their 1954 Chris-Craft Racing Runabout. Photo by Kent O. Smith Jr.

A mutual friend had connected us with Jeff, who’d offered to take us out in the 16-foot Tracker he and his family use to troll for bass. Nine miles long and two miles across at its widest point, Cobbosseecontee—Cobbossee to its friends—is the Kennebec Lakes Region’s largest body of water. It offers some of the country’s best largemouth bass fishing, while brook and brown trout, rainbow smelt, white perch, yellow perch, and other desirable species also lurk in its depths, which plunge to 100 feet. 

Cobbosseecontee means “Plenty of sturgeon” in Abenaki. There are none in the lake now, but they’ve made a comeback just downstream in the Kennebec River. 

After we helped Hamilton launch the boat, he steered us toward the top of the lake. Puttering at sightseeing speed, we passed more vintage cottages like Hamilton’s, pontoon boats bobbing at small docks, and shoreline notches just right for swimming or a raft-up. I recalled a blurb I’d read from an 1881 issue of the Kennebec Journal: “Dotted with evergreen islets like floating emeralds, indented by coves, veritable fairy grottoes of green, intersected by bold promontories and slender tapering points, it is indeed almost a glimpse of paradise.” 

Such florid descriptions must have worked, as affluent, citified families were soon drawn to Cobbossee. In the early 1900s, many stayed at waterside inns, while others built their own elegant summer abodes. These days, a Chris-Craft parade on summer Sunday mornings recalls those golden times. As the classic motorboats do laps around the lake, more brightwork-and-brass beauties join in. 

Near the lake’s northern terminus, we came to the Ladies Delight Island Light, Maine’s only active inland lighthouse. Marking the tip of an underwater reef running down the middle of the lake, the 25-foot tall, white-brick beacon was built in 1908 to enhance the safety of power vessels making nighttime trips to and from Island Park, an early 20th-century amusement resort located nearby. Some say the island’s name references its role as a “comfort” stop for ladies on board. 

Hosting big bands and summer-stock productions, the eight-acre Island Park is linked to the mainland by a bridge. In its heyday, the island’s pavilion drew weekend crowds of more than 1,000. Many arrived on the Augusta, Winthrop and Gardiner trolley line, while others paid 25 cents to drive across the bridge to the island, which also had a hotel and restaurant. I couldn’t help but imagine couples in their rental canoes drifting beneath the stars while strains of “On Moonlight Bay,” said to have been composed nearby, floated over the water.

The lake has long been home to summer camps for boys and girls, too. At Camp Cobbossee, Camp Kippewa, and the YMCA Camp of Maine, kids have been tumbling out of their bunkhouses to enjoy its waters since the early 1900s. 

In more recent years, expansive new houses have sprung up along the shoreline. “That one has its own zip code,” joked Hamilton as he pointed to an especially impressive property. He noted that the number of year-round residents has escalated over the past decade. “It used to be around 90 percent seasonal,” he said. “Now it’s about 60 percent seasonal.”

The burgeoning population intensifies the need to keep the lake healthy. Friends of Cobbossee Watershed works hard to raise awareness of the threats of erosion and toxic runoff, and helps property owners stem their increase. Through education and removal efforts, the organization is also mitigating the spread of invasive milfoil and frogbit, aggressive vegetation that can clog the lake and compromise the water quality.

Back at the cottage, Hamilton gestured to a green rocker on the porch overlooking the water. “That’s my thinking chair,” he said. It was a perfect place to sit while contemplating Cobbossee’s history—and the importance of preserving its green shores and clear water for generations to come.

Contributing Editor Mimi Bigelow Steadman lives on the Damariscotta River in Edgecomb.

If you go to Cobbosseecontee Lake

On the Water

The lake has two public launch ramps, one in East Winthrop and one at the Whittier Woods preserve in Monmouth. The Lakeside Lodge and Marina, in East Winthrop, also has a launching ramp (fee charged). At all locations, you will likely meet a courtesy inspector checking for invasive vegetation that may have hitched a ride on your boat. You are urged to follow Clean-Dry-Drain guidelines before launching: Clean and dry your boat and drain the live well and bilge. Note that all motorized vessels operating in freshwater in Maine must display an annual “Preserve Maine Waters” sticker, which can be purchased online. Boat slips may be rented by the day, week, or season at Birches Lakeside Campground in Litchfield. Pontoon boats and fishing boats are available for half-day, full-day, and weekly rentals at Lakeside Lodge and Marina in East Winthrop; there’s a bait and tackle shop, too. Lodging is available at both properties, and both marinas sell fuel. 


Hike and paddle

Canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, and SUPs are also offered for hourly, daily, and weekly rental at Lakeside Lodge and Marina. At the opposite end of the lake, Birches Lakeside Campground rents canoes, kayaks, clear kayaks, and jet skis on an hourly, daily, and weekly basis. At Whittier Woods Preserve in East Monmouth, two hiking trails circle the public launching ramp. There are nature ID signs along the route, and the local library sometimes creates story-walk signs based on children’s books. In East Winthrop, Kennebec Land Trust’s 55-acre Weston Woods and Oatway Preserves is adjacent to Little Cobbosseecontee Lake, which lies just north of Cobbosseecontee Lake. Its network of easy, short trails passes through shoreline, forest, and wetlands.


Eat and Drink

Beside the lake in East Winthrop, the White Duck Brew Pub is a casual, welcoming eatery with an appealing menu of elevated pub food and a good selection of Maine craft brews. Close by at Lakeside Lodge and Marina, the North End Café offers take-out salads, sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, and pizza. In a 150-year-old barn in Winthrop, Absolem Cider Company serves a delicious selection of its ciders, plus wines, beers, cocktails, and snacks. On weekends, a food truck supplements the edible offerings.



Learn more about the work being done by the Friends of Cobbossee Watershed at The organization focuses on mitigating and removing aquatic invasive species that interfere with boating and swimming and lower the lake’s water quality. The group also works at preventing and reversing erosion and the accompanying runoff that can carry toxins from fertilizers, pet waste, and other pollutants into the lake. 


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