Zac McDorr“Russians! The State of Maine awaits you! Excellent hunting and fishing, a beautiful climate, house for sale, 8 rooms, garage, cellar, 30 acres, apple orchard, $2,500 …”

Ads like these were appearing in America’s Russian language newspapers around 1950, and they were placed by one of Maine’s most interesting residents. Baron Vladimir von Poushental was the flamboyant son of a Russian Baron and a Greek princess. His family originated in Austria-Hungary, where they were wealthy landowners.

After his ancestor was caught dealing with the Russians, the family fled to Russia and were rewarded with titles and land by the Tsar.

Poushental became one of Russia’s first fighter pilots in 1915, armed with a pistol and small bombs he dropped by hand over Constantinople. He survived being shot down, and later was forced into the Russian Revolution on the side of the Tsar. As the Communists took power, he escaped with a suitcase of Russian rubles that had once been worth more than 12 million U.S. dollars. He exchanged them for $850.

Poushental moved to New York, but fell in love with the Kennebec River Valley during a hunting trip. He also saw potential there in the real estate market. In the late 1940s, the valley was severely depressed, with two-thirds of the dairy farms having been abandoned, and some land selling for less than a dollar an acre.

Poushental began buying farms, selling the house, and keeping most of the land for himself. He had grander plans however: A Russian colony in Richmond.

Two waves of Russian-speaking refugees had come to America in the early 20th century. The first group fled the Russian Revolution, and the second fled the Soviet’s power and land grab after the Second World War.

Poushental began to buy advertisements in Russian language newspapers to attract these people to his new colony. There they would share a common language, a common Orthodox faith, and a common hatred of Communism.
It worked.

Hundreds of Russian families, including Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Cossacks, moved to the Richmond area, and it became the largest Russian speaking settlement in America. They built Russian restaurants and shops, and even a Russian Orthodox church with an onion-shaped dome.

Poushental married a wealthy American woman and moved to Miami, where he started another real estate business. He could still be seen in Maine during the summer and fall, riding around in a white chauffeured Cadillac. Though respected by the settlers, his aristocratic manners, rumored womanizing, and loose business practices kept him at a distance.

He died, nearly penniless, in 1978 and was buried in Dresden.

Source: “Russian Voices on the Kennebec, The Story of Maine’s Unlikely Colony,” by Robert S. Jaster, 1999

 

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