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SARTHE, a department of north-western France, formed in 1790 out of the eastern part of Maine, and portions of Anjou and of Perche. Pop. (1906) 421,470. Area 2410 sq. m. It is bounded N. by the department of Orne, N.E. by Eure-et-Loir, E. by Loir-et-Cher, S. by Indre-et-Loire and Maine-et-Loire and W. by Mayenne. The Sarthe, a sub-tributary of the Loire, flows in a south-westerly direction through the department; and the Loire, which along with the Sarthe joins the Mayenne to form the Maine above Angers, traverses its southern borders. Broken and elevated country is found in the north and east of the department, which elsewhere is low and undulating. The highest point (on the boundary towards Orne) is 1115 ft. The Sarthe flows past Le Mans and Sablé, receiving the Merdereau and the Vègre from the right, and the Orne Saosnoise and the Huisne from the left. The Loir passes La Flèche, and along its chalky banks caves have been hollowed out which, like those along the Cher and the Loire, serve as dwelling-houses and stores. The mean annual temperature is 51° to 52° Fahr. The rainfall is between 25 and 26 in.

The majority of the inhabitants live by agriculture. There are three distinct districts:—the corn lands to the north of the Sarthe and the Huisne; the region of barren land and moor, partly planted with pine, between those two streams and the Loir; and the wine-growing country to the south of the Loir. Sarthe ranks high among French departments in the production of barley, and more hemp is grown here than in any other department. The raising of cattle and of horses, notably those of the Perche breed, prospers, and fowls and geese are fattened in large numbers for the Paris market. Apples are largely grown for cider. The chief forests are those of Bercé in the south and Perseigne in the north, but the department owes its well-wooded appearance in a great measure to the hedges planted with trees which divide the fields. Coal, marble and freestone are among the mineral products. The staple industry is the weaving of hemp and flax, and cotton and wool-weaving are also carried on. Paper and cardboard are made in several localities. Iron-foundries, copper and bell foundries, factories for provision-preserving, marble-works at Sablé, potteries, tile-works, glass-works and stained-glass manufactories, currieries, machine factories, wire-gauze factories, flour-mills and distilleries are also prominent industrial establishments, a great variety of which are found at Le Mans. Flour, agricultural products, live stock and poultry form the bulk of the exports. The department is served by the Western, the Orléans and the State railways, and the Sarthe and Loir provide about 100 m. of waterway, though the latter river carries little traffic.

The department forms the diocese of Le Mans and part of the ecclesiastical province of Tours, has its court of appeal at Angers, and its educational centre at Caen, and constitutes part of the territory of the IV. army corps, with its headquarters at Le Mans. The four arrondissements are named from Le Mans, the chief town, La Flèche, Mamers and St Calais. The principal places are Le Mans, La Flèche, La Ferté Bernard, Sablé and Solesmes, which receive separate treatment. Besides these places, those of chief architectural interest are Le Lude, which has a fine château of the Renaissance period, Sillé-le-Guillaume, where there is a Gothic church and a stronghold of the 15th century, and St Calais, the church of which dates from the 14th to the 17th centuries.