The city of Caribou started as three separate townships: Eaton Grant, Letter H and Letter I. Native American peoples lived in the area for hundreds of years, but below is a brief account of European settlement.
In 1807, Charles Turner surveyed ten thousand acres of land in Northern Maine, then part of the state of Massachusetts. In 1808 Captain William Eaton was deeded these same 10,000 acres as a reward for his heroic victory over the Barbary Pirates, this estate became known as the Eaton Grant and is now the southeast section of Caribou. Around 1823 settlers began arriving from New Brunswick, and settled land on the north side of the Aroostook River. As far as we can tell, Peter Kelley was the first of these settlers. The Aroostook River was the city's first "road" and these settlers' homes were located on the present River, Grimes, Grimes Mills and Fort Fairfield Roads.
When these early river dwellers came to the area, the ownership of the land was disputed. Both the United States and Canada (Great Britain) claimed the land. Most of the early European settlers were part of logging operations in the area as Caribou was home to tall pine trees coveted by England for ship masts and other ton timber. Since the area was in disputed territory, these early settlers had difficulty crossing back and forth and were considered trespassers on either count. Getting grain ground for flour was particularly difficult.
One of these early settlers, William Wark, persuaded his son-in-law, Alexander Cochran, to come to the area to build a gristmill. Cochran agreed and arrived in 1828. After searching the area, a site was settled on the Caribou Stream. Cochran built a crude mill and carved his own millstones from local rock. But his gristmill did much to aid the early settlers. Cochran also had a lot to do with naming the area. Legend has it that his eldest son, later a respected lumber boss, shot a caribou that came to the stream and gave name to it. The mill also led to the earliest roads in the area as they were grubbed out to help people bring their grain to the mill. These roads are Water Street and Lower Lyndon Street today. His mill was located in what became Letter H Township.
The border between the USA and Canada had been in dispute since the Revolutionary War. The State of Maine, founded in 1820, considered its border farther north than its current location and Canada pegged it further south and west. Official in Maine became aware of the lumber operations going on in the area and became alarmed at the loss of these resources. Plus, complaints were being received of harrassment of the early settlers. Maine sent agents to the area who were then captured as prisoners by a local Canadian sheriff and tensions mounted.
All of this came to a head in 1839 as the governor of Maine sent militia soldiers who forged a road from Bangor north for its troops. War seemed iminent when cooler head prevailed and the Webster-Ashburton Treaty forever set the boundry line in place and our area firmly on the side of the USA. This almost-war became known as the Bloodless Aroostook War and fortunately, the only casualties was one Maine soldier who died of sickness on the road north.
One of the teamsters who brought supplies north with the militia was Ivory Hardison. Once war was averted, he stayed and assisted Park Holland with surveying the area. While here, he grew intrigued with the fertile ground and the lack of rocks encountered in southern Maine. He decided to stay in the area and in 1842 built his house. It was constructed of squared timber hurriedly left behind by the fleeing Canadian lumbermen. His house still stands a quarter mile above the present Caribou Inn and Convention Center.
Hardison is considered by many to be the first United States citizen to settle in the area, but that honor probably goes to Jonathan Parks who was born in New Jersey and arrived around 1826 and was followed later by Justis Gray, born in New York, who settled his family here on Hardwood Brook.
But Hardison was a turning point as several southern and central Maine settlers began arriving after him and what is now the Presque Isle Road was where many of them settled. Letter H was organized in 1848. Hardison was the moderator of those meetings and was the township's first postmaster.
To influence settlers north, the state allowed that two lots would be given to anyone who created a mill for the purpose of furthering the community. In 1844, Washington Vaughan and Samuel W. Collins came and took advantage of this bounty and created a gristmill and a sawmill further upstream from Cochran on the Caribou Stream. These two mills gave them four lots (about 600 acres). Cochran was also given two lots. At that time, these three millers owned all of what is now downtown Caribou.
Letter I was organized much later than Letter H and was settled from the north and the south. In the north, on what is now the Van Buren Road, French and Acadian settlers such as the Jacques, Lavassieur, Dubay, Gagnon, Cyr, Brissette, Bouchard and Sirois families came south from the valley and settled a community. The southern end of the township was settled by central and southern Maine settlers and they created farms on what is now North Main Street and the southern end of the Van Buren Road. These families included S.W. Collins' brother, Harvey, the Ellis, Billings, Howell and Johnson families and the Lufkin family. Another settlement was along the Otter Brook, notably the Wrights, Keech, Whittier and Powers families.
Letter H absorbed Letter I and the Eaton Grant in 1869 to become one town named Lyndon. The downtown area, which grew around the mills was called Caribou Village. These two names became confusing and the name of the entire town was changed to Caribou in 1877 and remained so since. Caribou was later incorporated as a city.