Megunticook Reel is a mid-nineteenth century American contra dance that first appears in at least two editions of The ball-room manual of contra dances and social cotillons: the second edition, published in 1856, and the "Vest Pocket Edition" copyright 1862 and published 1863, which is available online here. The original introduction was signed by "W. H. Q.", presumed to be one William Henry Quimby (1831-1857). The posthumous Vest Pocket Edition has additional unsigned introductory material. It is likely that the dance appeared in the first edition as well, but I don't have a copy of that one to check.
There appears to be no tune by the name "Megunticook Reel", so the name presumably belongs to the dance. Maine is home to Mount Megunticook, Megunticook Lake, and the Megunticook River, from one or all of which the dance takes its name. The photo at left, from SummitPost.Org, shows a view of Megunticook Lake from an overlook on Mount Megunticook.
There are three other sources for the dance, all from New England. Eben's Order Book of Dancing (New Hampshire, 1877) is cited by Ralph Page as his source for the figures. Page's outline of the dance was published in 1951 in Northern Junket, Vol. 8, No. 3. I don't have a copy of Eben's either, but judging from Page's writeup, I doubt that it differs substantially from the Quimby one.
The dance also turns up in Howe's New American Dancing Master (Boston, 1882 and 1892) with text identical to the Quimby one other than punctuaton. The 1892 edition has only minor changes from the 1882 one. It's interesting that, as far as I can tell, the dance does not appear in any earlier books by Elias Howe. California Reel has the same publication history (Quimby and late Howe), though I don't know whether or not it appears in Eben's.
MEGUNTICOOK REEL. 80 Steps. First couple cross over, down outside below third couple, swing partner quite round with right hand; swing third couple with left hand (viz.:— The first lady swing the third gent., the first gent. swing the third lady), swing partner with the right hand, the second couple with the left, and swing partner to place with right; down the centre, back, cast off; right and left
The last half of the dance follows the most common pattern for mid-nineteenth-century American contra dances. The first part is considerably more interesting, since it incorporates a version of the "strip the willow" figure famously found in the Virginia Reel, but with the active dancers moving up the set instead of down.
The format of the dance is a typical (for the time) proper contra dance set, ladies on one side and gentlemen on the other. The figures are triple minor, requiring three couples to dance. The older way of performing them would have called for only the top couple in the set to begin the dance, with other couples becoming active as they reach the top. But by the early 1860s, at least, noted musician/author/caller Elias Howe was advocating simultaneous starts, with every third couple beginning at once.
Megunticook Reel (32-bar contra)
4b Active couples crosses over (improper) and goes down the outside of the set
3b Active couple turns by right hands all the way around (still improper!)
3b Active lady turns third gentleman/active gentleman turns third lady by left hands
2b Active couple turns by right hands, moving up the set
2b Active lady turns second gentleman/active gentleman turns second lady by left hands
2b Active couple turns by right hands halfway (back to proper sides)
(Keep right hands and join left hands, facing, for the next figure)
4b Actives galop down the set and back, keeping crossed hands
4b Actives cast off to second place
8b Right and left
The nature of the strip the willow figure makes it very hard to time exactly; the measures given to each turn are approximate. The dancers need to complete the strip the willow by (but not before) the end of the second eight bars of music. Moving too slowly is a problem. Moving too quickly can be fixed at the end by slowing the final half-turn to use up all remaining music.
For down the centre, back, when accompanied by casting off, I use a four-slide galop (1&2&3&4) down the set and the same up the set. The subsequent casting off is relatively slow; the dancers should trace big looping tracks. Remember that the ladies would have been in hoops!
I prefer the final right and left to be done with hands, as discussed here.
There being, as far as I can discover, no name tune, any suitable thirty-two bar dance tune will do. Despite the name of the dance, it need not be a reel; the titular reel probably refers to the strip-the-willow figure. A jig will do as well.
A video of modern contra dancers performing the dance in 2013 may be seen here, courtesy of the Country Dance and Song Society. The down the middle, back, cast off and right and left figures are done in modern style, but the strip-the-willow figure is clearly shown from two different angles, with three different active couples each timing it slightly differently. From about :48 to :51 you can see on the right a couple finishing the strip the willow early and killing time with a very slow half-turn before starting down the center!