On 19 September 1832, Orson Hyde and Samuel H. Smith, the first Latter-day Saint missionaries to visit several of the New England states, crossed the Piscatagua River in a canoe from New Hampshire into Maine. During the next several weeks they visited house to house, primarily in the Saco-Biddeford area, and established a branch. Timothy Smith was the first Maine resident baptized, on 31 October. Several converts had been members of the Cochranites, a Protestant group that believed in the need for a living prophet. A branch was established farther north in Farmington by June 1834, and the next year several members of the newly established Quorum of the Twelve met there to organize the Maine Conference, which consisted of four branches and about 100 members.

In August 1837, Wilford Woodruff and Jonathan H. Hale came to Maine to preach in the Fox Islands (present-day North Haven and Vinalhaven), where they established branches on North Fox and South Fox islands and converted more than 100 people. During his time in the islands, Woodruff also briefly visited Bangor and other mainland communities. In August 1838, during his second mission to the Fox Islands, Woodruff received a letter informing him that he had been called as a member of the Twelve and should return to Church headquarters in Missouri. He took with him 53 converts from Maine.

Although 500 Maine residents were baptized by 1844, thanks to the gathering to Kirtland, Ohio, and other Church centers farther west, most Latter-day Saints left the state. There were at least 14 branches in Maine before the Prophet’s martyrdom, but by April 1843, only four branches and 128 members were reported.

E. B. Tripp, sent from Utah in 1855 to visit the remaining Latter-day Saints, organized branches at Mexico and Newry among those still faithful to the Church. When Maine native Perrigrine Sessions made a similar visit in 1869, he found about 20 members in the Mexico area “scattered and like sheep without a shepherd,” and brought several of them to Utah. They were one of the first groups of Latter-day Saints to make the overland journey entirely by rail.

Eastern States Mission President John G. McQuarrie wrote in 1904 that the northeastern United States was “practically abandoned [as far as missionary work] until 1893 when President Woodruff sent a few Elders . . . to try to locate and revive the scattered Saints.” McQuarrie reported that the number of elders assigned to his mission had increased and its territory was now divided into conferences. He reported that until 1901 most of the work was done in “country districts” and converts were scattered, which led to a decision to centralize the work in the area’s principal cities.

This policy proved difficult to apply in Maine, where even today Portland, the state’s largest city, only has a population of 65,000 and 75 percent of Maine residents live in towns with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants. For decades missionaries were assigned to Portland and Bangor and spent the colder months working there while visiting nearby towns or venturing into northern Maine during the summer.

The New England Conference of the Eastern States Mission was divided in 1909 to form conferences in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The missionaries of that era found little success in Maine, as evidenced by the report that they visited 18,000 homes during 1909 and only baptized 10 people. Growth continued to be slow for years to come. The eight missionaries assigned to Maine were transferred to the Canadian Mission in September 1925, with the state becoming part of the newly organized New England Mission in September 1937, when Portland was the only branch in Maine.

Among Maine’s pioneer members in the 20th century were Percy and Anne Lane, who were contacted on their farm near Augusta, the state capital, in 1912. Anne and her oldest child were baptized in July 1913 and her husband and other family members later. The first Sunday School was held in the Lane home, and eventually a branch was organized, which was known in sequence as the Ferrin, Litchfield, Farmingdale, and eventually Augusta Branch as it changed meeting places.

A similar process took place at Bangor, where the William G. Bunker family was baptized in 1911 and the William L. Small family of East Bucksport joined the Church in October 1912. Although others were baptized in Bangor, the branch remained small because so many converts moved west. Typical of this was the 1927 move of the entire Relief Society presidency and their families to Utah and California, representing nearly half the branch’s families. In 1931, the average sacrament meeting attendance was 11. Later that year the branch was closed and no further sacrament meetings were held for five years. Even when the branch reopened, only two families attended.

Following World War II, the Church in Maine began to be established on a more solid footing. In April 1948, Bangor for the first time had a branch presidency made up of local men, as opposed to missionaries — although some were military personnel from the West stationed at a nearby Air Force base. By 1950, there were 401 Latter-day Saints in Maine, with branches in Litchfield, Bangor, and Portland, but two-thirds of the members lived too far away to be part of organized branches. During the following decade the first LDS meetinghouses were built in Portland and Bangor, both of them dedicated in May 1957. By 1960, as the number of Latter-day Saints in what had before been “outlying areas” began to grow, Church membership nearly quadrupled, with 11 branches functioning.

Further growth came during the 1960s as new approaches to missionary work were developed. One outstanding example took place in Litchfield, where branch president George McLaughlin prayed for inspiration about the growth of his small congregation and began to call “proselyting families” who worked with investigators, with new converts in turn becoming proselyting families. The first year more than 450 people joined the Church, with nearly 200 more being baptized the following year. President McLaughlin left his counselors to run the branch while he devoted his time to training the converts to become strong members of the Church. Additional growth in Maine came with the arrival of Latter-day Saints from the West, including military personnel and faculty and students at various colleges and universities.

With the Church growing and more local converts remaining in the state, a milestone was reached in June 1968 when Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve created the Maine Stake. The new stake had 2,200 members and included wards in Bangor, Dover, Augusta, Portland, and Skowhegan, with branches at Ellsworth, Auburn, Farmington, Rockland, and South Paris. All of Maine except the Sanford Branch at the southern extreme of the state and the Caribou and Springfield branches at its northern tip were part of the stake — and Sanford in 1970 became part of the Merrimack Stake headquartered in nearby New Hampshire.

The Church in Maine is made up of small numbers of Latter-day Saints spread over large distances, with a given ward or branch including numerous towns besides the one where the meetinghouse is located. Many times in the past several decades Church units have been divided or had their boundaries realigned to lessen travel distances. In the process, the Maine Stake (renamed the Augusta Maine Stake in 1974) was divided in 1981 to form the Portland Maine Stake and again in 1986 to form the Bangor Maine Stake (which also took in the Caribou Maine District in the far northern part of the state). In 1990, a major realignment took place, with the headquarters of the stake in Portland being transferred to Exeter, N.H., while Caribou and other units in northern Maine were moved to the Saint John New Brunswick Stake, headquartered across the international border in Canada.

In 2002, membership reached 9,304. In 2005, membership reached 9,807.


Andrew Jenson, “Maine Conference,” Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; Richard S. Williams, “The Missionary Movements of the LDS Church in New England, 1830-1850,” thesis, 1969; Paul E. Damron, The Narrative of the Saints in Maine from 1831 to the 1990s, Church History Library; Donald Q. Cannon, “Wilford Woodruff’s Mission to the Fox Islands,” in Donald Q. Cannon, ed., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History: New England, 1988; John G. McQuarrie, “Eastern States Mission,” Millennial Star, 24 February 1904 (quote is from page 113); “Those Who Went Before: Pioneer Members in East and South Recall Rich Past,” Church News, 20 July 1991; Viola M. Hawkins, History of the Bangor Ward (1832-1970), 1994; Douglas Jacobsen, “Portland Saints Are Beacons to Maine Neighbors,” Ensign, July 1986; “Roadside Prayer Leads to Conversion of Many in Maine,” Church News, 17 May 2003; “2 Stakes Organized,” Church News, 29 June 1968.

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