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Ten of us piled into a mini-van for a swing through Topsham, Maine (population about 9,100) — Brunswick’s suburb to the north. We were attending the Northern New England APA conference, held at Brunswick’s historic Fort Andross, perched above the Androscoggin River.

Bowdoin Mill

Bowdoin Mill.
Bowdoin Mill seen from the Green Bridge across the Androscoggin River.

First stop was just across the river from Brunswick. Looming ahead on the right as we crossed over the Green Bridge: the historic Bowdoin Mill. Located on Bowdoin Mill Island, the Mill was renovated in 2000.

It was the cornerstone of a larger project seeking to create an urban hub for Topsham (as town planner Rod Melanson acknowledged “Topsham doesn’t have a downtown”).

The second major component of the project was construction of the “Red Mill” in 2006, a new 35,000 square foot building. But, as John Shattuck, Topsham’s Economic Development Director told us, the Red Mill has been standing empty for six years.

As a result, Bowdoin Mill Island had a bit of a desolate feel to it. While the Sea Dog Brewery in the old Mill seems to be prospering, the predominant “land use” on the Island is surface parking.

series of photos taken on Bowdoin Mill Island
Upper left: the old Bowdoin Mill; upper right: John Shattuck; middle left: Rod Melanson; middle right: the new Red Mill; bottom: view towards Bowdoin Mill from in front of the Red Mill building.

On to the Mall

That same “use” — parking lots — also  dominates the large Topsham Fair regional mall (though at a much larger scale), not far down the road from Bowdoin Mill Island.

wide field of parking at Topsham Fair Mail

Ruby Tuesday Restaurant at the MallMelanson sees glimmers of change at Topsham Fair Mall, change that may eventually make it a more pleasant place for pedestrians.

He pointed to the Ruby Tuesday restaurant which (sort of) fronts the main road bisecting the Mall. Perhaps future infill uses will break what’s now a vast field of parking. But there’s a long way to go.

From the Mall it was a short drive over to the 800 acre Highlands Green active-adult development. Yes, it has the “requisite” golf course, and an incongruously wide roadway winding its way into the development. Attractive houses, and quite a few seniors out for fast-paced walks.

Highland Green — Development & Nature

According to Melanson, there’s been “enormous boom in retirement population” in Topsham. Many come up from the Boston area; others are Bowdoin College alum looking to return to the part of Maine they loved as students years earlier.

Houses at Highland Green
A wide private road wends its way through the Highland Green development.

One of several trails through the Cathance River Preserve that surround part of the Highland Green development. It's a beautiful and relaxing place.At Highland Green, it’s not really the golf course that’s the star attraction. Instead, it’s a remarkable nature preserve that’s woven around the edges of the development (or, more accurately, the development is woven around the preserve).

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