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Prince Memorial Library


The town of Cumberland, Maine, seceded from the town of North Yarmouth on March 19, 1821. The town’s population increased until 1860, after which it registered declines through 1920. During the 1920s, Cumberland added residents, and by the 1930 census the town had nearly as many inhabitants as it had at its founding more than a century before.

In 1916, Leonard O. Packard wrote that population loss could be explained through exhaustion of natural resources, or an adjustment in a society’s needs that made those resources less necessary than previous. Shipbuilding, the carrying trade, fishing, quarrying, lumbering, and farming were responsible for the growth of settlements along the Maine coast. The irreversible decline of those industries, beginning in coastal Maine in 1860, and “changes in character of response” to that decline, are cited as the reason for coastal population loss after 1860. Cumberland’s economy in the early nineteenth century included all of the industries Packard named, and the town’s experience can be used as a test case study for his theory.

Applying Packard’s thesis concerning population loss on the Maine coast to the town of Cumberland was accomplished by using five data sets: (1) census data for the period 1860–1930; (2) natality and mortality data for Cumberland residents; (3) death listings reported in the 1893–1960 Annual Reports of the Town of Cumberland; (4) the annual census of children between the ages of four and 21 in Cumberland’s school districts for the period 1874–1920; and (5) listings for Cumberland males between the ages of 18 and 45 from the 1862 draft list and militia rolls from 1863–1865 and 1881–1917.

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Prince Memorial Library


Cumberland, Maine



“Changes in Character of Response”: Population Decline in Cumberland, Maine, 1860-1920



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