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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.
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.
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.
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.
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).