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The World Traveler Signpost of Lynchville

Upon arriving at the junction where Route 5 joins Route 35 in the Western Mountains, you’ll come across a sign telling you that you can get to China and Peru by heading north, and that Norway is just 15 miles away. You may arrive at the conclusion that the residents of Lynchville, Maine, are bad at geography. You would be wrong.

The sign is alternately referred to as "Maine’s Famous Signpost," "the World Traveler Signpost" and "the World Places Sign," but none of those names are entirely accurate. It may indeed be Maine’s most famous signpost, but that’s not saying much. And it does point you in the direction of several world places—just not the places you’re thinking of. Because China, Peru and Norway—along with Denmark and Sweden—are the names of Maine towns.

At this point, you may think the early residents of Maine were unoriginal when it came to naming their towns. There’s certainly no mistaking Paris, Maine (population 5,187) for Paris, France (population 2.24 million), nor will you find any French speakers here. So what gives? But they knew what they were doing. The residents of Paris adopted the name in 1793 to show appreciation for the help France gave the colonists in the American Revolution. They may have been looking for a name with a certain je ne sais quoi, because until then, it was simply known as “No. 4 Township.”

With both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 fresh in their minds, nations fighting for independence around the world struck a chord with New England residents throughout the late 1700s and early 1800s. The Town of Poland, Maine, was named in 1795, when its European namesake was being partitioned by Russia, Prussia and Austria.

The Town of Denmark, Maine, was incorporated in 1807, as Copenhagen was being attacked by the British Royal Navy—the same navy that had attacked Portland in 1775. And Norway, Maine, was named ... due to a clerical error. The residents registered the town name as either Norwich or Norage—accounts differ—but it was recorded by the Massachusetts provincial government in 1797 as Norway. Although considering at the time the country of Norway was being occupied by Sweden (the country, not to be confused with the Town of Sweden, Maine, incorporated in 1813), it may not have been such a clerical “error” after all.

So, when you visit Maine, be sure check out the World Traveler Signpost of Lynchville. This historic landmark will ensure you have tales to tell when returning home as a “world traveler.”

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