Non-Mainers may be rightfully confounded by this sign outside Lynchville, which asserts that Paris is a mere 15 miles away.
How could Naples and Denmark possibly both be located 23 miles from this roadside outpost? And surely the distance from Lynchville to China must be greater than 94 miles!
The explanation is that the sign’s destinations aren’t far-flung nations. They are all towns in Maine.
Many of these hamlets acquired their international-sounding names in the late 1700s and early 1800s, as notoriously independent Maine residents sought to honor peoples across the world fighting for independence. Denmark, Maine was named in solidarity with a British naval attack on Copenhagen in 1807. Mexico and Peru, Maine both got their names in celebration of those countries’ separations from Spain. An outlier is Norway, Maine, which was a clerical error. The town had been registered as either Norwich or Norage, but was mistakenly recorded by the provincial government of Massachusetts as Norway in 1797.
The worldly sounding Maine towns have very little in common with their global namesakes. For example, China — the country — has a population of 1.4 billion people; China—the town in Maine—has a population of less than 5,000 people. However, many of the towns have their own claims to fame. Poland, Maine, is the home of Poland Spring water, which is now bottled by Nestlé and sold all over the country. South Paris, Maine, is a major producer of the iconic Flexible Flyer sleds.
The sign itself, sometimes called “the World Places Sign” or “Maine’s Famous Signpost” was erected in the 1930s to promote tourism in the state. It features prominently in many vintage postcards from 1940s and 1950s, where it is depicted as a painted white wooden sign. The modern iteration is fortified with steel, to prevent vandals from making off with it (something that happened more than once over the years).
While the sign likely isn’t going anywhere, it could probably use an extension. There are plenty of Maine towns that meet the criteria for inclusion, but just didn’t make the cut: Moscow, Belfast, Rome, Vienna, and Lisbon are among them. Although the sign isn’t comprehensive, it’s still charming and the perfect place for any Maine-specific globetrotters to start their adventure.
Know Before You Go
The sign can be found at the junction of of Route 35 (Valley Road) and Route 5 (Crooked River Causeway). It is on the northeast side of Route 35. It is just outside the Waterford town limits, in Albany Township.