Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Historic listings – Augusta Part 3

The Kennebec Arsenal compound in the early years, above, and the arsenal today. (mainepreservation photos)

by Mary Grow

Augusta Part 3

The previous articles in this series on historic places talked about some early Augusta sites and buildings. Two more, besides the Cushnoc Archaeological site and Fort Western discussed last week, are on both the National Register of Historic Places and the list of National Historic Landmarks. They are the Kennebec Arsenal on the east bank of the Kennebec and the Blaine House on the west bank, beside the state capitol building.

The Kennebec Arsenal was built as a result of strained relations between the United States and Britain, which peaked in the War of 1812 (June 1812 – February 1815); and of later border disputes between the State of Maine and the abutting Canadian province of New Brunswick, which peaked in the Aroostook War (1838-1839).

During the War of 1812, British warships repeatedly attacked Maine. The British seized Fort Sullivan, in Eastport, (built in 1808-1809) in July 1814, capturing 65 soldiers. (This writer has found no suggestions why the fort was named Sullivan. Perhaps after New Hampshire’s Revolutionary War General and later state Governor John Sullivan [Dec. 17, 1740 – Jan. 23, 1795]?)

In September 1814, British General John Coape Sherbrooke led the Penobscot Expedition. With 3,000 troops from Halifax, he defeated American forces as far up the Penobscot River as Hampden and Bangor, and seized Machias.

Following this success, the British renamed the Machias fort Fort Sherbrooke and held Castine and the territory east until the war ended. They called the area New Ireland. The February 1815 Treaty of Ghent returned the area to the United States, although disputes over islands near the border continued and, Wikipedia says, Eastport was not returned to the United States until June 30, 1818.

The Wikipedia article adds that the departing British took back to Halifax 10,750 pounds that Castine had accumulated from tariffs and used the money to found Dalhousie University.

The end of the war did not settle the border between the United States and the Canadian province of New Brunswick. There were arguments over what is now northern Aroostook County and southern Madawaska County, as settlers from both sides moved into the area.

Consequently, in 1827 the federal government developed plans for a major arsenal in Augusta, on a site south of Fort Western accessible by ocean-going ships. The arsenal was built between 1828 and 1838.

Wikipedia says the original, mostly granite buildings, built between 1828 and 1831, were “commandant’s and officer quarters, barracks, stables, a carriage shop, and the main armory.” By 1838, the commandant’s building was enlarged and redesigned in Greek Revival style, and two magazines, a munitions laboratory, an office, a wooden stable and a granite and iron perimeter fence were completed. Other sources list buildings differently, but it is clear there were at least eight early granite buildings.

In 1838, Maine and New Brunswick sent soldiers to their common border. United States General Winfield Scott came to the Kennebec Arsenal to negotiate with his friend John Harvey, then Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick. The two agreed to recall the respective militias and the dispute cooled.

In August 1842 the Webster-Ashburton Treaty established the boundary between the United States and Canada that exists today, including the Maine-New Brunswick line that runs along the Saint John and Saint Francis rivers. (Webster was Daniel Webster from New Hampshire, at that time United States Secretary of State; he is also known for his role in negotiating the Compromise of 1850. Ashburton was Alexander Baring, First Baron Ashburton, a British financier and diplomat.)

After Maine became less significant in international affairs, the arsenal became less vital. Wikipedia says the government made weapons in it during the Mexican War (1846-1848) and the Civil War (1861-1865); but it was too remote to be practical for major production.

The federal government closed the Arsenal, issuing the order in 1901 and finishing the process in 1903, and transferred the property to the State of Maine, owner of the Maine Insane Hospital (later the Augusta Mental Health Institute [AMHI]). The mental hospital was established by legislation in 1834 and the first buildings were completed in 1840, adjoining the Arsenal grounds on the south.

By the early 20th century, the state needed more hospital beds. Beginning in 1905, the wooden buildings on the Arsenal grounds were demolished and the granite buildings were redone and integrated into the hospital.

An on-line site describes the building called the “Old Max,” designed by Lewiston architects Coombs and Gibbs and added at the eastern side of the grounds in 1907-1909. Four stories high, built of granite and brick and designed to harmonize with the earlier Arsenal buildings, it was for maximum security patients, those too dangerous for the hospital and too mentally ill for prison.

Beginning in the early 1970s, Maine and other states moved to a new model of mental health care that minimized confinement in institutions. State officials debated what to do with the formal Arsenal/hospital. The Old Max became a state office building.

The Kennebec Arsenal was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in August 1970 and as a National Historic Landmark in February 2000.

In 2004 Save America’s Treasures, a National Park Service grant program, provided funds that state officials used for work on the granite wall and iron and granite fence around part of the original Arsenal property.

Three years later, the state sold the Arsenal property to a private company. A contemporary description lists eight major buildings on the property, plus the fence and gate, retaining walls and a wharf. Wikipedia says there are six buildings.

Conditions of the 2007 sale included a requirement that the new owner preserve and maintain the property. However, the owner let the Arsenal deteriorate to the point where in 2013 Maine sued to force the company to return the property. The owner did some work and promised more, Wikipedia says; but by 2013, the Arsenal was listed as a critically endangered historic landmark.

Contemporary photos of the Arsenal show clearly the light-colored interlocking granite blocks. An on-line site describes it as “one of the best and earliest surviving examples” of a 19th-century federal munitions depot.

Other descriptions feature deterioration, vandalism and graffiti.

Judging from two recent letters to the editor in the Central Maine newspapers, there has been no improvement. In December 2020, a Manchester resident referred to proposals to renovate the Arsenal for commercial or residential space and mourned the failure of city, county and state governments to act.

A second writer echoed the concerns in January 2021and extended them to the entire AMHI site. He called it a “historic gem” that should be preserved as representative of an important part of social and medical history.

The Blaine House, also called the James G. Blaine House, is the fourth Augusta property that is designated both a Historic Place and a Historic Landmark. It is part of Augusta’s Capital Complex Historic District. The Capitol building and Capital Park are also part of the complex and additionally have individual Historic Places listings.

The house stands at 192 State Street, just north of the Capitol building. It is named for James G. Blaine (1830-1893), whose life was summarized earlier in this series (see The Town Line, Aug. 20, 2020).

The Blaine House today. (Internet photo)

The Blaine House was originally a Federal style mansion, built in 1833 by a retired mariner, Captain James Hall. In 1862, Blaine bought it as a gift for his wife, the former Harriet Stanwood.

In the 1870s, Blaine had the original building remodeled and enlarged, making it Victorian and Italian in style and putting an addition on the west (back) side. The house remained in the family until 1919; Wikipedia says it housed the state Committee for Public Safety during World War I.

James and Harriet Blaine had seven children. When Harriet Blaine died in 1903, she left the house to three surviving children and two grandsons. The youngest daughter, Harriet Blaine Beale (1871-1958), had a son, Walker Blaine Beale, for whom his father, Truxton Beale, bought out the other heirs.

Walker Beale was killed in France in World War I, and his share of the house returned to his parents. Truxton Beale gave his share to Harriet, by then his ex-wife, making her sole owner.

In 1919, Harriet Blaine Beale donated the house to the State of Maine in memory of her son, specifying it was to be used as the Governor’s house. She became a writer, publishing children’s books and editing a collection of her mother’s letters. She died at her New York City home and is buried in Bar Harbor.

The legislature in 1919 accepted the gift and the condition. Maine architect John Calvin Stevens remodeled the building in neo-Colonial style, and in 1921 Carl Milliken became the first governor to live there. Most of his successors have also chosen to live in the historic house.

Governors have used the house to entertain famous guests, including President Ulysses Grant, advocate for the blind Helen Keller and aviator Amelia Earhart. An on-line source says some chief executives used it to promote Maine; for example, Governor Louis Brann, who served from January 1933 to January 1937, attracted large crowds to his celebrations of Maine Summer Visitors’ Day.

The Blaine House was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. In 1989, Governor John McKernan started a restoration program that included creation of Friends of the Blaine House, a nonprofit organization that helps the state fund building maintenance. Friends of the Blaine House has a website, www.blainehouse.org, with information about the building, the organization, the gift shop and tours.

Wikipedia says in 2014 heat pumps were installed to reduce the horrendous heating bill.

When current Governor Janet Mills opened the annual Christmas light display on the building on Dec. 11, 2020, she called it “a Celebration of Resilience.”

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Historic listings – Part 2

Fort Halifax, in Winslow.

by Mary Grow

Augusta Part 2

As mentioned in the first article on historic places in Augusta (see The Town Line, Jan. 7), four are on the National Park Service’s Register of National Historic Landmarks (as is Fort Halifax, in Winslow). The Augusta sites, listed in historical order, are the Cushnoc Archaeological Site, Fort Western, the Kennebec Arsenal and the Blaine House.

All except the Blaine House are on the east bank of the Kennebec River. Fort Western is the northernmost, just off Cony Street, northwest of City Hall.

The Cushnoc Archaeological Site is southwest of City Hall, north of the waterfront park. The old Arsenal building is south of the Route 202 bridge.

Wikipedia dates the Cushnoc archaeological site to 1628 and describes it as the location of a trading post built by English settlers from the Plymouth Colony. The name Cushnoc is an Anglicized version of a native word meaning “head of tide.” Under a patent from London, post officials traded with the Kennebec Valley Abenakis, exchanging corn and other agricultural and manufactured products for wild-animal furs.

Fort Western, in August

Henry Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history, says no description of the post survives. He surmises it was a wooden building, with a bark or wood roof and window-panes of oiled paper, and was surrounded by a high wooden fence.

In 1634, an interloper from the Piscataqua Plantations at the mouth of the Piscataqua River named John Hocking tried to share the trade. He sailed past the post and anchored upriver. John Alden and John Howland from the Mayflower emigrants were in charge of the post. Howland, who was about six years older than Alden and previously holder of several offices in the colony’s government, ordered Hocking away.

Hocking refused to leave, so Howland sent three men from the post in a canoe to cut his ship adrift. According to the dramatic account by Robert F. Huber in the Howland Quarterly, the quarterly journal of the Pilgrim John Howland Society (first published in 1936), the current bore the canoe away after the men cut only one cable. Howland added a fourth man, Moses Talbot (or Talbott, in Huber’s story), and sent them out again.

When Hocking threatened them with firearms, Howland repeatedly called to him not to shoot them – they were only obeying orders – but to shoot him instead. Nonetheless, Hocking shot Talbot in the head; another man in the canoe promptly shot Hocking, who died instantly.

Hocking’s crewmen reported his death to England, failing to mention that he had fired the first shot. Investigations followed, creating concern about British interference in colonial affairs and a jurisdictional disagreement between the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies. The investigators vindicated Howland as representing the owner of exclusive trading rights.

By 1661, profits were dwindling. The original traders sold their license and the premises to other Boston merchants, who kept the post going sporadically for a few more years.

Kingsbury quotes a source who said overgrown remains of the trading post building were still visible as late as 1692.

Excavation of the site began in 1984. Over the next three years, experts outlined the wall that surrounded the post and found postholes where there had been buildings. Wikipedia lists artifacts from the site including “tobacco pipes, glass beads, utilitarian ceramics, French and Spanish earthenwares, and many hand-forged nails.”

The archaeological site has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1989 and on the list of National Historic Landmarks since 1993.

Fort Halifax, in Winslow, and Fort Western, in Augusta, were both built in 1854, as was the road between them. Which fort was built first is not entirely clear. Kingsbury says unequivocally Fort Halifax was started first and Fort Western second, as an auxiliary. The Fort Western website says construction of that fort was finished in October 1754. Several sources say Fort Halifax construction began on July 25, 1754, and was not finished until 1756.

Fort Western was built by order of the Kennebec Proprietors, also called the Plymouth Company, the organization of first British-based and later Boston-based landowners mentioned in several previous articles (see especially The Town Line, July 2, 2020). The fort was sited just upriver from the former trading post site. It was intended as a supply depot for Fort Halifax, 17 miles farther inland, and as protection for settlements the Proprietors hoped to create.

According to the on-line Maine encyclopedia, the fort was named to honor Thomas Western, a resident of Sussex, England, who was a friend of Massachusetts Colonial Governor William Shirley.

The website for Fort Western gives a history of the fort in the context of the “great contest between cultures” going on in the 1750s. British from Massachusetts and French from Québec both sought influence over the Kennebec River Valley and the Natives who lived there.

Wikipedia describes Fort Western as a rectangular palisaded area about 120-by-220 feet. It was built on a hill, so that its defenders could see more than a mile up and down the Kennebec River.

There were 24-foot-square blockhouses on the southwest and northeast corners and 12-foot-square watch towers on the other two corners. The main house, two stories high, was 32-by-100-feet; a diagram shows it along the east side of the enclosed ground.

Kingsbury’s description adds an outer and sturdier palisade 30 feet from the inner one that started at the river on both ends and enclosed three sides of the fort.

A July 24, 2020, Kennebec Journal article says the main building’s walls were (and are) a foot thick, built from timber floated upriver from Richmond. Two 600-pound cannons in the second story could fire four-pound balls as much as a mile.

Captain James Howard from Massachusetts was the first fort commander, with his sons, Samuel and William, and a company of 15 men, relocated from Fort Richmond farther down the Kennebec.

Supplies came from Boston as often as four times a year on schooners and sloops that navigated the river as far as the head of tide. From Fort Western soldiers took them to Fort Halifax in smaller, flat-bottomed river boats or on sleds over the crude road along the east bank of the river.

When they were not moving supplies, the men spent their time on what the Fort website calls routine duties – collecting firewood, feeding themselves and repairing boats.

The fort was never attacked by either Natives or the French. At least once a supply boat was fired on from the wooded river bank. And one member of the garrison, a private named Edward Whalen, was captured in May 1755 as he carried dispatches north. The website says he remained a captive, first in North America and then in France, until he was exchanged in 1760.

After British forces captured Québec in 1759 during the French and Indian War, the Kennebec was more peaceful, even though the war was not formally ended until the 1763 Treaty of Paris. The already small Fort Western garrison was reduced further, but the fort was manned until late 1767.

In 1769, Howard bought the fort and about 900 acres of land around it, for 270 British pounds, and became the first permanent settler in the area. A website called Legends of America says he and his sons made the main building into a house and a store. Son William and his wife Martha moved in around 1770; James’s brother John joined them later.

The Proprietors’ efforts to encourage settlers bore fruit after the region became safe. The Howards’ store prospered; they formed a shipping company, S & W Howard, that promoted trade with Boston; and Kingsbury says the small community welcomed the sawmill James Howard built on Howard’s Brook (now Riggs’ Brook), a mile north of the fort.

The Howards also trapped and sold alewives during their migrations to and from upriver spawning grounds.

Kingsbury says in 1770 James Howard built a large and elegant house that became “the manor house of the hamlet.” As the settlement’s second magistrate, in 1763 he officiated at Cushnoc’s first wedding, the marriage of his daughter Margaret to Captain Samuel Patterson. Later he served as a judge of the court of common pleas. He died May 14, 1787, aged 85.

Cushnoc archeological site.

The Legends website says James Howard’s son William lived in the former fort until he died in 1810. Kingsbury lists William Howard – this writer guesses the same William Howard – as Augusta’s first treasurer, elected at the town’s organizational meeting April 3, 1797, and credits him for first envisioning, in 1785, the dam across the Kennebec that was built in 1837. William Howard was succeeded as treasurer in 1802 by Samuel Howard (probably William’s son, born 1770, died 1827).

As previously related, Benedict Arnold and his men stopped at the fort on their way to Québec in September 1775, the last military use of the premises (see The Town Line, Jan. 7, 2021). The Legends website says the men camped outdoors while Arnold and four other officers were accommodated indoors. In addition to their own business as they transferred to Major Reuben Colburn’s bateaux, the soldiers found time to make repairs to the building.

When a public meeting was held, the fort was the site. The area around the fort was the northern village when the Town of Hallowell was created in 1771, and town meetings were held in the fort until voters approved building a town meeting house in 1782.

After the 1770s, the palisades and then the blockhouses were torn down. Kingsbury says the southwestern blockhouse stood until around 1834. What remained of Fort Western was included in Augusta when Augusta split off from Hallowell in 1797.

At some time, Wikipedia says, the Howard family sold the former fort and the main building became a tenement – not merely a tenement, according to the Legends website, but the center of a slum neighborhood whose inhabitants supported themselves by selling liquor illegally, creating “an unsavory menace to the city.”

Publisher Guy Gannett (see The Town Line, Nov. 12, 2020) was a Howard descendant, the Legends site says, and he bought the former family home in 1919. In 1920 he and his family restored the main building and built a new stockade (rebuilt again in 1960) and two blockhouses. The Gannett family later donated Fort Western to Augusta.

As the oldest wooden fort in the United States, Fort Western has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1969 and the list of National Historic Landmarks since 1973. Now a replica of an 18th-century trading post, it is normally open to the public from June through October.

Illustrations with the Kennebec Journal article mentioned above show trading post supplies, a bedroom with a curtained bed and more period furniture and household goods. These and other on-line contemporary illustrations show historic interpreters in 18th-century clothing welcoming visitors. The Maine Tourism site adds that the museum is a center for Kennebec Valley archaeological research and the home base for two companies of 18th-century military re-enactors, one named for James Howard.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892)

Websites, miscellaneous

Next: two more Augusta historic places/landmarks, the Arsenal and the Blaine House

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Historic listings – Part 1

Kennebec County Courthouse

by Mary Grow

Part 1

The City of Augusta has 44 listings on the National Register of Historic Places, but some overlap. Nonetheless, the capital city has a substantial share of the 136 historic places in Kennebec County.

Some of the buildings are private houses built for, owned by or otherwise connected with prominent individuals and families. Many public or formerly public buildings are also on the list.

Four of Augusta’s designated historic sites (and Fort Halifax, in Winslow) are also on the National Park Service’s list of National Historic Landmarks. They are the Cushnoc Archaeological Site, Fort Western, the Kennebec Arsenal and the Blaine House.

Kennebec Arsenal (photo by Joe Phelan)

According to the National Register on-line list, the earliest Augusta listing, on Oct. 1, 1969, was the Arnold Trail to Québec. Three buildings were recognized in 1974: the Kennebec County Courthouse at 95 State Street, the Lot Morrill house at 113 Winthrop Street and the Old Post Office and Court House at 295 Water Street.

The most recent is listing is the Hartford Fire Station, at 1 Hartford Square, listed on Jan. 1, 2018.

The Arnold Trail marks Colonel Benedict Arnold’s march to Québec in 1775 with an army of 1,100 men. This unsuccessful attempt to capture the British stronghold has been commemorated in history books and in the novel Rabble in Arms by Maine writer Kenneth Roberts. The Daughters of the American Revolution placed markers along the trail from Pittston, south of Augusta, to Eustis, almost on the Canadian border.

The marker in Pittston, on the east bank of the river, was placed in 1913 at the site of Arnold’s headquarters at Major Reuben Colburn’s house. In preparation for the expedition, General George Washington directed Colburn to send scouts up-river to evaluate the route and watch for British spies. An on-line site says the two men were Samuel Berry and Dennis Getchell, from Vassalboro.

Washington also ordered a fleet of 200 bateaux equipped with both paddles and poles. (A bateau is a flat-bottomed boat designed for use in shallow water; photographs of 20th-century reenactments show Colburn’s craft with high flared sides and pointed bows and sterns.) Workers at Colburn’s shipyard built the bateaux, using green lumber; the boats leaked copiously, soaking the expedition’s supplies of food and ammunition.

Old Fort Western

Arnold moved his headquarters north to Fort Western on Sept. 23, 1775. Another on-line site shows a marker and a photograph of a punch bowl Arnold is said to have used at the fort.

The DAR installed the next marker up the river in 1919, on the east bank across from the Winslow Congregational Church to mark the expedition’s landing place on Sept. 26, 1775.

Two more markers had been installed in 1917 on the west side of the river. One is in Waterville’s Castonguay Square to show where the soldiers re-embarked after carrying their bateaux around Ticonic Falls. The other is in Fairfield, at the intersection of Willow Street with Route 201 and Upper Main Street, between downtown Fairfield and Interstate 95; it marks one of the places where soldiers stopped to repair the bateaux.

The Kennebec County Courthouse, another early listing, is at 95 State Street. On-line sources say it was designed by architect James Cochran and built in 1829 by Robert Vose, under Cochran’s supervision.

The two-story granite building is in early Greek Revival style, with Doric columns across the front on both levels. The center block is topped by a wooden belfry. When the bell tower was restored in 2000, a plaque was added dedicating it to legal personnel and others “who under this tower have contributed to the impartial and effective administration of equal justice under the law.”

The original courthouse was enlarged twice, in 1851 and in 1907, in each case using granite and taking care to preserve the architectural style. The architect for the 1907 addition was almost certainly George Henri (or Henry) Desmond (1874 – 1965), of Massachusetts. Desmond also worked on the 1911 expansion of the capitol building.

Augusta sessions of the Maine Supreme Court were held in the courthouse for 140 years, from its opening in 1830 until 1970.

Between 2012 and 2015 a modern judicial center was built on the east side of the old building, connected by a skywalk. That building was designed by PDT Architects, of Portland, (since 2019, CHA Architecture). Most court business is now conducted in the new building.

Lot Morrill House

The two and a half story brick Lot Morrill house on Winthrop Street is also an example of Greek Revival architecture, built about 1830. Lot Myrick Morrill (1813-1883) was born in Belgrade. He was a lawyer who entered politics as a Democrat and temperance advocate and was elected a Democratic state representative in 1854.

In 1856, he switched to the anti-slavery Republican party and served as a state senator in 1856 and as Maine’s 28th governor from January 1858 to January 1861. He represented Maine in the United States Senate from January 1861 (when Hannibal Hamlin resigned his seat to become vice-president under Abraham Lincoln) until July 1876, when he resigned to become President Ulysses Grant’s Secretary of the Treasury.

Morrill bought the Winthrop Street house in 1845 and it remained in the family until his widow, Charlotte, died in 1918. In 1919 the successors sold the house to John Edward Nelson (1874 – 1955).

Nelson was born in China (Maine) and educated in Waterville and at the Friends School, in Providence, Rhode Island. He graduated from Colby College, Class of 1898, and earned a law degree from the University of Maine at Orono in 1904. He practiced in Waterville until 1913 and then in Augusta.

Nelson served as a Republican in the United States House of Representatives from March 1922 to March 1933, losing a bid for another term in 1932 and returning to his law practice until he retired in 1946.

Wikipedia says in 1931 the Fish Committee (chaired by New York Representative Hamilton Fish) recommended outlawing the Communist Party and taking other steps to discourage Communism. Nelson, a member of the committee, wrote a minority report describing the committee majority’s anti-Communism as hysteria and saying there was no serious domestic threat and no need for new laws.

The Lot Morrill house is currently owned by Sandor, a Maine-based Limited Liability Company, and is described on-line as a multiple occupancy building.

The old court house and post office at 295 Water Street is the third of Augusta’s earliest-listed historic buildings. One source lists it as the Olde Federal Building. Several sources call it Maine’s best surviving example of the Romanesque Revival style of architecture. It is built of Hallowell granite, two and a half stories tall, with a central tower, smaller side towers and dramatic arches at street level.

The building was designed by Mifflin Emlen Bell (1847-1904), described in Wikipedia as the supervising architect with the United States Treasury Department from 1883 to 1887, and his successor, William Alfred Freret (born Jan. 19, 1833, if any reader would like to give him a thought on the anniversary; died Dec. 5, 1911). It opened in January 1890. Wikipedia says it cost $178,281.20, and its conveniences included steam heat and a hydraulic freight elevator.

Augusta needed a large new post office by 1890 because of the volume of mail generated by publishing businesses in the city, including those of E. C. Allen, Peleg O. Vickery and William Gannett (see The Town Line, Nov. 12, 2020).

Architect Bell worked on the final stages of the Washington Monument and designed the federal buildings for the 1893 Columbian Exposition, as well as many post office buildings, including those in Keokuk, Iowa; Quincy, Illinois; Aberdeen, Mississippi; Auburn, New York; and Nebraska City, Nebraska.

Freret succeeded Bell when Bell resigned and served from June 1887 until either 1888 or March 1890 (Wikipedia gives both dates). He was a New Orleans native who had served in the Confederate army. Most of his other government buildings are in the South – post offices in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and the Carolinas, for example.

Wikipedia’s only reference to a Freret-designed building north of the Mason-Dixon Line is the former post office in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, now City Hall. It resembles Augusta’s old post office, and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since March 1972.

Augusta’s former post office and court house has not been used for federal government purposes since the 1960s. It is now a commercial building owned by Vickery Downing Associates Inc., of Yarmouth.

Main sources:

Websites, miscellaneous

Next: more historic sites in Maine’s capital city.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Maine Supreme Court Chief Justices from Kennebec Valley – Part 2

by Mary Grow

William Pattangall
Robert Williamson
Daniel Wathen

After the three Maine Supreme Court Justices whose biographies were summarized last week (see The Town Line, Dec. 10) the next Chief Justice listed as an Augusta resident was the 15th, William Robinson Pattangall (1865-1942).

William Pattangall

Pattangall was born June 29, 1865, in Pembroke, almost on the Canadian border. He graduated from the University of Maine (then Maine State College), Class of 1884, and studied law in a Calais office.

Maine Chief Justice Raymond Fellows’ short 1954 book about Pattangall (not a biography, Fellows wrote) says his father was a sailor and shipbuilder, and Pattangall went to sea in a Pattangall-built ship for two years. Then he worked in shoe factory offices in Massachusetts and New York before returning to Machiasport in 1891, where he taught high school, including navigation courses.

He married twice, in 1884 to Jean M. Johnson, who died in 1888, and in 1892 to Gertrude Helen McKenzie, who died in 1950. He and Jean had one daughter, born in Massachusetts in 1886; Gertrude, who was a former student of his, bore him three more daughters.

By continuing to study law, Pattangall earned admission to the Maine bar in April 1893. He practiced in Columbia Falls, then Machias, and briefly in Bangor until 1905, meanwhile serving in the Maine House of Representatives in 1897-1898 and 1901-1902 and from 1903 to 1909 editing the weekly Machias Union. In those years he authored satirical political articles, later collected as The Meddybemps Letters (Meddybemps is close to Pembroke) and The Maine Hall of Fame. Fellows’ book includes the two books.

In 1905, Fellows wrote, Pattangall was invited to become editor of the Waterville Sentinel, so he and his family moved to Waterville. In addition to practicing law, he was mayor of Waterville and Maine Attorney General from 1911 to 1913 and Attorney General again in 1915; and an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress in 1904, 1913 and 1914.

(Current Governor Janet Mills, when she was sworn in for her second term as Attorney General on Jan. 7, 2013, said she was following Pattangall’s pattern: she had served as Maine’s 55th and now 57th Attorney General, and Pattangall had been the 32nd and 34th, the only two she knew of who took a break between terms.)

In 1915 the Pattangalls moved to Augusta. From there he ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1922 and 1924. He was a delegate to the 1924 Democratic National Convention.

He was also, Fellows wrote, an extremely successful lawyer, so good that “his attainments and qualifications for high judicial office could no longer be overlooked.” Consequently, on July 2, 1926, Republican Governor Owen Brewster appointed Democrat Pattangall an Associate Justice of the Maine Supreme Court.

In following years, Pattangall became so disillusioned with President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that he switched parties. One on-line source says the change was not long before he was appointed Chief Justice on Feb. 7, 1930, by Brewster’s Republican successor, Governor William Tudor Gardiner.

Pattangall retired from the court July 16, 1935, and continued his successful law practice. He died Oct. 21, 1942, in Augusta.

Sources describe him as a supporter of public education, civil rights and President Woodrow Wilson and a determined opponent of the Ku Klux Klan, which was active in Maine in the early 20th century. Fellows wrote that Pattangall believed judges, and everyone else involved in the law, had two responsibilities: to protect “constitutional rights and liberties,” specifically individual and state rights against federal incursions; and to adapt the legal system to the contemporary world, slowly and thoughtfully.

When Bowdoin College awarded Pattangall an honorary Doctor of Laws during his tenure as Chief Justice; the accompanying citation referred to his earlier career as a journalist and editor. It praised his literary achievements, calling him “a master of epigram and satire.”

Fellows, who knew Pattangall, mentioned his sense of humor, his kindness, his ability as a speaker and the simplicity and clarity of his written opinions.

A bit over 21 years later, Robert Byron Williamson (1899-1976) became Maine’s 22nd Chief Justice on Oct. 4, 1956.

Williamson’s great-grandfather was Maine Senate President Joseph Williamson, younger brother of Maine’s second governor, William D. Williamson (1821), and his grandfather was Edwin C. Burleigh, who was Maine’s governor from 1889 to 1893.

According to Bill Caldwell’s combination obituary and tribute in the Jan. 2, 1977, Portland Sunday Telegram (reprinted in the Congressional Record at the request of then-Senator Edmund Muskie), Williamson was the fourth of five generations of lawyers.

Born in Augusta, Williamson attended Cony High School and graduated from Phillips Andover Academy. Two sources say he served in World War I, his Dec. 28, 1976, obituary in The New York Times specifying that he was a lieutenant of infantry; neither source gives dates. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, where he edited The Harvard Crimson, in 1920 and a doctorate of law (J.D.) from Harvard Law School in 1923.

On June 2, 1925, he married Grace Warren Whitney, a graduate of Cony High School and Wellesley College. Their son, Robert B. Williamson, was a lawyer in Cape Elizabeth in 1976.

Caldwell quoted an earlier newspaper report that Williamson began practicing law in Augusta in partnership with Lewis Burleigh; his father and Lewis Burleigh’s father had been partners in the earlier Williamson and Burleigh firm. He also wrote for the Kennebec Journal at some point. His first public position was as U. S. Commissioner for Kennebec County, in 1926. He resigned from that job in December 1928, after being elected to his only term in the Maine House of Representatives.

On Aug. 15, 1945, Governor Horace A. Hildreth made Williamson a Maine Superior Court justice. Governor Frederick Payne appointed him a Supreme Court associate justice on April 28, 1949; on Oct. 4, 1956, Governor Muskie made him Chief Justice. Seven years later Governor John Reed reappointed him for a second term. Williamson retired from the court on Aug. 21, 1970.

The New York Times obituary said that in 1967-68 Williamson served as head of the national Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ), created in 1949 to let states’ top judicial officers discuss common problems. (As of January 2016, Wikipedia says, the CCJ included all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the five United States territories [American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands.])

Caldwell, quoting employees at the state Law Library and others who knew Williamson personally, called him gentle, quiet, modest, compassionate, courteous and well-liked. And, Caldwell wrote, he was in his quiet way a rebel who made many improvements to the Maine court system during his two terms as Chief Justice. In granting him an honorary doctorate, Bowdoin College credited him with updating the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure, the document that describes procedures for state district and superior courts in civil cases.

The Bowdoin citation also praised his service as president of the Maine Congregational Conference and said that B’nai B’rith had praised him for exemplifying brotherhood.

After Williamson’s retirement from the Court, an on-line source says he was a teacher for a year, and then-Senator Muskie’s tribute in the United States Senate said he served on state and national committees. Williamson died Dec. 27, 1976, four days after being admitted to the coronary care unit at Augusta General Hospital.

Daniel Wathen

Daniel Everett Wathen, Maine’s 25th Chief Justice and the most recent one from Augusta, was born Nov. 4, 1939, in Easton. He graduated from Easton High School and Houlton’s Ricker College, Class of 1962. He earned his law degree from the University of Maine School of Law in 1965, graduating cum laude and serving as editor of the school’s Maine Law Review for two years. In 1987 he earned a Masters of Law (LLM) from the University of Virginia School of Law.

In an interview with a Maine law school representative (unnamed) available on line, Wathen credited the law school with providing his life’s direction. In his youth, he confessed, he left college more than once before he got married in his junior year (to Judith C. Foren, also of Easton) and settled down, becoming a dean’s list scholar.

Admitted to the Maine bar in 1965, Wathen was a member of the law firm of Wathen and Wathen, in Augusta. The first Wathen was his brother George; after George’s untimely death in 1971, Wathen became head of the firm.

In September 1977, Governor James Longley abruptly appointed him a Maine Superior Court justice. Governor Joseph Brennan named him to the Supreme Court on Aug. 31, 1981, and on March 20, 1992, Governor John R. McKernan Jr. made him Chief Justice. Wathen told the law school interviewer he had enjoyed everything he worked at – except “picking potatoes and shoveling manure” – but found the position of Chief Justice “the best job by far,” providing interesting cases, a mandate to decide them the right way and authority to carry out the mandate.

Reappointed in 1999 by Governor Angus King, he resigned Oct. 4, 2001, for a brief candidacy for governor in the Republican primary. The experience showed him that he did not enjoy being part of the political process, and he quit after seven weeks.

He then joined the Augusta law firm Pierce Atwood, which became the successor to Wathen and Wathen in 1977 when Wathen became a Superior Court Justice. The Pierce Atwood website lists him as Of Counsel, specializing in arbitration and mediation and dealing with issues nation-wide and in Puerto Rico. The website has a long list of types of issue in which he uses his expertise, most of them business-oriented.

On June 8, 2011, Governor Paul LePage appointed Wathen chairman of the board of the Maine Turnpike Authority. He was reappointed in 2019; his term ends March 31, 2024. He serves on several other state and national boards overseeing legal and educational programs.

Other on-line sources (see, for example, the list of winners of the Access to Justice Award on the Muskie Fund for Legal Services home page) describe his roles in mental health and domestic violence issues, improving access to legal services for poor people and charitable and educational activities.

The Muskie Fund website has a long list of Wathen’s honors, including honorary degrees from the University of Maine at Augusta, Thomas College, in Waterville, and the University of New England, in Biddeford. He has received awards from the University of Southern Maine, the Maine Bar Foundation, the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Commission on Safety and Health in the Maine Workplace, the Maine Child Abuse Action Network and Maine Seniors, among others.

Wathen, like Senator Angus King, rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle (known affectionately as a hog). Several Maine newspapers, including the Lewiston Sun Journal (Aug. 21, 2017) and the Ellsworth American (Aug. 15, 2018), have run stories about the two and their companions touring the state. According to the interview mentioned above, Wathen is a fan of Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Main sources

Fellows, Raymond, and Edward J. Conquest, compilers, William R. Pattangall of Maine Lawyer, Politician, Jurist, 1954.
L’Hommedieu, Andrea, Interview with Dan Wathen, Sept. 29, 1999, part of Bowdoin College’s George J. Mitchell Oral History Project (found on line).
University of Maine School of Law, anonymous and undated interviews with alumni (found on line).

Other websites, miscellaneous.

Vassalboro sestercentennial calendars available

Vassalboro Historical Society

In preparation for Vassalboro’s Sestercentennial (250 years) celebration next year, Donald Breton, Vassalboro resident, has created a calendar that contains 47 copies of postcards from Vassalboro’s past. The cover and reverse side of the calendar contain a map of Vassalboro from 1879.

Some of the proceeds from the sale of the calendar will be used for Vassalboro Sestercentennial Scavenger Hunt next year along with supporting some other local nonprofit organizations.

They are $15 each, or $20 if you would like one mailed. Add $1 for each additional calendar. They are available at the Vassalboro Town Office, Vassalboro Public Library, and the Olde Mill Place Gift Store. Make checks payable to Donald Breton, PO Box 12, North Vassalboro, ME 04962.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Maine Supreme Court Chief Justices from Kennebec Valley – Part 1

by Mary Grow

Of the 26 chief justices of the Maine Supreme Court, Augusta has provided six – perhaps not surprising for the state capital. Portland is second, with five chief justices including Leigh Saufly, who was appointed Dec. 6, 2001, and retired April 14, 2020. Andrew Mead is currently acting Chief Justice. None of the other Kennebec Valley towns in this series has brought forth a chief justice, though Wikipedia lists Waterville as the residence of five of the 109 associate justices.

The state Supreme Court, known as the Law Court when it acts as an appellate court, was established by legislative act June 24, 1820, according to the chapter on the courts in Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history. (The chapter was written by William Penn Whitehouse, later to become the court’s tenth Chief Justice.) The court initially had a Chief Justice and two Associate Justices. The membership was increased in 1847 and again in 1852. When Whitehouse wrote in 1892, he said there were a Chief Justice and seven Associates, as there are now.

Justices were originally and still are appointed by the Governor of Maine, with Senate confirmation required. Wikipedia says until 1839 justices were appointed for life or until they reached the mandatory retirement age, 70. Since 1839, they have been appointed for seven-year terms, with an unlimited number of reappointments and no mandatory retirement age.

The court’s office is in Portland. Wikipedia comments that most state supreme courts meet in the capital city, but Portland’s Cumberland County courthouse offered a larger meeting room than Augusta’s Kennebec County courthouse.

The court’s website lists five principal duties: hearing appeals on legal grounds from lower-court cases, both civil and criminal; giving the governor and the legislature advisory opinions on important issues; supervising the conduct of Maine lawyers and judges (including disciplinary power); making procedural rules that apply to all Maine courts; and, through its appellate division, hearing appeals of criminal convictions if the defendant received a prison sentence of a year or more. Wikipedia says only a few other state constitutions authorize state supreme courts to issue advisory opinions.

Prentiss Mellen

The court’s members were initially appointed July 1, 1820, with Prentiss Mellen, of Portland, as the first Chief Justice.

Nathan Weston Jr.

The second Maine Chief Justice was Augusta native Nathan Weston, Jr. (1782-1872). A Dartmouth College graduate (Class of 1803) and lawyer in Boston, he was appointed Chief Justice of the Second Circuit of Maine in 1811. After Maine and Massachusetts separated on March 15, 1820, and the Maine Supreme Court was created, he became one of the initial associate justices on July 1, 1820.

Louis Hatch wrote in his Maine: A History that in 1825 a Maine legislative caucus offered to nominate Weston for governor, after incumbent Albion K. Parris declined to run for a sixth term. Weston preferred to stay on the court.

Chosen on Oct. 22, 1834, to succeed Mellen as Chief Justice, he served until his term expired on Oct. 22, 1841, according to on-line information.

In 1827, Weston bought the Fuller-Weston House on Summer Street, in Augusta. The Federal-style two-story wooden house was built in 1818 for a lawyer named Henry Weld Fuller, who sold it to Weston. Weston lived there with his wife Paulina Bass Cony (1787-1857) and their four sons and four daughters, born between 1810 and 1824.

Later, Wikipedia says, the house was the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church rectory. House and church have been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984.

Records do not show what Weston did between 1841 and his death in 1872. Apparently, however, he continued to be an important figure in Augusta. When a large public meeting was held on April 22, 1861, as part of Maine’s response to the beginning of the Civil War, he was one of the speakers, along with Lot M. Morrill, former three-term governor and in 1861 United States Senator; James G. Blaine, at that time a member of the state House of Representatives and chairman of the state Republican Committee; and others.

Melville Weston Fuller

Weston’s daughter Catherine married Fuller’s son Frederick and gave birth to a son, Melville Weston Fuller, in February 1833. The couple divorced almost immediately, Wikipedia says, and Melville was raised in the Summer Street house by his grandfather. Following family precedent, Melville studied law and rose to the position of Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, a position he held from July 20, 1888, until his death July 10, 1910.

(Melville Fuller’s statue outside the Kennebec County courthouse, in Augusta, is currently a topic of public debate, because during his tenure the 1896 “Plessy v. Ferguson” decision upheld racial segregation laws, the “separate but equal” doctrine. According to a recent Kennebec Journal article, Fuller did not write the decision, but agreed with it. Earlier this year the Maine Supreme Court asked Kennebec County Commissioners to remove the statue from the courthouse, calling it inconsistent with contemporary judges’ values.)

William Penn Whitehouse

The second Augusta Chief Justice was the court’s 10th, William Penn Whitehouse (1842-1922). Born in Vassalboro, son of John Roberts Whitehouse and Hannah Percival Whitehouse, he attended China Academy, entered Waterville (now Colby) College in September 1858, graduated with honors in 1863 and earned a master’s degree in 1866. After a year as principal of Vassalboro Academy, he studied law, becoming a member of the Kennebec Bar in October 1865.

Whitehouse served as Augusta city solicitor for four years, Kennebec County attorney for seven years and Kennebec County Superior Court judge for 12 years. He was appointed an Associate Justice of the state Supreme Court on April 15, 1890, and Chief Justice on July 26, 1911. He served less than two years, resigning on April 8, 1913, and returning to practice in Augusta.

Colby awarded him an honorary LLD in 1896 and Bowdoin another in 1912. An on-line site (which this writer has not confirmed) describes the historical marker on Water Street, in Augusta, east of and close to Memorial Circle, where his house once stood. The house was a Greek Revival building dating from 1851; Whitehouse bought it in 1879 and died there on Oct. 22, 1922. The marker says the house became an apartment building and was demolished in 2007.

According to the marker, Whitehouse was “a strong advocate for the abolition of the death penalty in Maine.” An on-line source quotes Hatch, writing as though he knew Whitehouse, as offering high praise for his legal knowledge and his character, using phrases like “fair-mindedness,” “sense of duty,” “keen and ready mind,” “gracious and urbane manners” and “balance and sanity of temperament.” (The on-line source purports to be reprinting a long excerpt about the Whitehouse family from Hatch’s Maine history, pp. 35 and 36. However, in this writer’s facsimile copy of the 1919 printed history, the index refers to no such material, and pp. 35 and 36 deal with military actions during the Revolution.)

Whitehouse married Evelyn Marie Treat (1843-1925) in 1869. Two of their three children died in infancy; their first-born, Robert Treat Whitehouse, was also a lawyer with a practice in Portland.

Leslie Colby Cornish

Leslie Colby Cornish (1854-1925), a Winslow native, became Maine’s 12th Chief Justice on June 25, 1917. Son of Colby Coombs Cornish and Pauline Bailey Simpson Cornish, he attended Waterville Classical Institute (later Coburn Classical Institute) and graduated from Colby College, Class of 1875, with high honors. He was one of Coburn’s original 1901 trustees, and from 1907 to 1926 he chaired Colby’s Board of Trustees.

His legal studies included a year with an Augusta law firm (1878-79) and a year at Harvard Law School (1879-1880). He became a member of the Kennebec Bar in November 1880, and held local elective office in Augusta. In 1884, he married Fannie Holmes Woodman. He was appointed an Associate Justice on March 31, 1907, and Chief Justice on June 25, 1917. He resigned on March 1, 1925, for health reasons and died June 24, 1925.

The April 10, 1807, issue of the Colby Echo reported that Cornish had thrice rejected nominations to the Maine Supreme Court because he preferred practicing law. In 1807, the Echo writer surmised, he accepted because he and Governor William Titcomb Cobb had been roommates at Harvard Law School and friends ever since. The writer commented that with Cornish’s appointment, “while the bar of Maine loses one of its most brilliant and best beloved practitioners, the bench gains a member who will honor and adorn it.”

In 1922 Cornish was chosen a member of an American Bar Association committee chaired by Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft to draw up a code of judicial ethics.

An on-line excerpt from Sprague’s Journal of Maine History credits Cornish with restoring a Wiscasset monument honoring Samuel Sewall, a Commonwealth of Massachusetts Chief Justice who died suddenly while holding a court session at Wiscasset on June 8, 1814. Cornish was similarly representing the Maine court in the 1920s when he found the monument in disrepair and started a restoration fund. Massachusetts Chief Justice Arthur P. Rugg joined his effort.

Sprague adds that Cornish was “one of the cultured men of Maine who are appreciative readers of Maine history; who believe that it should be taught to the youth of Maine in our public school[s]; and that the state should pursue a broad and liberal policy in encouraging the publication of literature relating to it.”

(Sprague wrote that Sewall died, and Cornish discovered the neglected monument, when each was holding a “nisi prius” term at the Wiscasset courthouse. On-line legal dictionaries translate “nisi prius” as “unless before,” summarize its origin in British law, offer “court of original jurisdiction” as substitute wording and explain that it describes a trial court [as distinguished from an appeals court] where cases are tried before a judge. Some definitions say a judge and jury, and one limits trials in the United States to civil cases.)

Hatch wrote that both Whitehouse and Cornish were active in the Unitarian Church. When Hatch’s history was being assembled for its 1919 publication, Whitehouse headed Maine’s State Conference of Unitarian Churches and Cornish headed the Maine Unitarian Association.

Main sources

Hatch, Louis Clinton, ed., Maine: A History 1919 (facsimile, 1974).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Changes are happening at Fairfield Center’s Victor Grange

The dilapidated house that was razed. (photo contributed courtesy of Barbara Bailey)

Although it is not the first in its 146 years of existence, it is probably one of the most visibly noticeable.

Submitted by Barbara Bailey

Victor Grange has taken on another challenge. Although it is not the first in its 146 years of existence, it is probably one of the most visibly noticeable. As people drive through the Fairfield Center area they will notice that the house next to the Grange has been demolished. The house had been in a state of disrepair for many years and needed to be torn down. After a long battle and lots of negotiations with many parties, this has finally been accomplished.

The boot scraper that was located at the front door of the house above. (photo contributed courtesy of Barbara Bailey)

In 2015 the house was taken by the bank in foreclosure after the owner passed away. The lack of size for the land and setback restrictions from both the stream and road limited its potential. The bank put it up for auction twice but it never sold.

This area is a busy part of the Fairfield Center, and the house was located in the same block as the Volunteer Fire Dept., two businesses, and The Victor Grange – all quite active. With the need for parking in the area and restrictions on this lot, it was suggested that the bank turn the property over to the town to be demolished and used as a parking area/green space. The town received the property in December of 2016.

After three-and-a-half years of the house continuing to deteriorate, no action by the town, and no money in the budget to proceed, Victor Grange proposed that the town turn the property over to them. They too wanted to create parking and green space but felt with the help of the community and Friends of the Grange they could accomplish it faster.

Map of what is now Fairfield Center in 1860. Here, the intersection with Rte. 139, Fairfield St. and Ohio Hill Rd. (photo contributed courtesy of Barbara Bailey)

Though the demolition was inevitable, it is important to recognize that this area has such a rich history. Through research, it was established that in 1860 the house belonged to H.S. Toby, the local blacksmith; this was evident with the front step which consisted of a large piece of granite with an elaborate boot scraper embedded in the stone. This stone has been moved to the Grange until permanent placement, possibly in the new green space.

The surrounding area also has an interesting history. Through deeds, hand-drawn plans, and receipts in the Victor Grange records we know of purchases of the store, the schoolhouse, and the conversion of the Grange Store to the ell of the present hall.

On the 1860 map, this area was known as “Fairfield”, not Fairfield Center as it is now. It was a bustling village made up of the Town Meeting House (where all town business was conducted), church, parsonage, one-room schoolhouse, hotel, two stores, doctor’s office, blacksmith, carriage, tanner, and sleigh shops.

The legend of the business owners at the time for the 1860 map above. (photo contributed courtesy of Barbara Bailey)

From 1874 to 1899 Grange rented the “Old Town Meeting House” for their meetings until the current hall was built. In 1878 The Grange purchased one of the village stores to run as a Grange Co-Op, where members could purchase supplies at bulk pricing. When renting the Town Meeting House was no longer an option, the decision was made to build a new hall. At that time, the Grange Co-op/store was rotated 90 degrees and attached to the new hall, for use as the entrance/foyer, stairways, kitchen, bathrooms, coat and junior rooms

In the 1960s the state removed the old dam and fire pond and rerouted the Norridgewock Road thus making many new changes to the layout of the land in Fairfield Center. This meant the water from the pond was redirected behind the Grange and the house next door, each losing land to the new state road.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Newspapers of Central Maine – Conclusion

Reproduction of The Orb from 1836.

by Mary Grow

Several of the small towns in the central Kennebec Valley have had local newspapers, and one – China – still does as of 2020. This writer has found no record of a newspaper published in Sidney, Winslow, Benton, Palermo or Windsor.

Vassalboro’s first local paper was The Clarion, which Dean Marriner calls “one of the most unusual newspapers ever printed in Maine or anywhere else.” The first edition was published in March 1886 by S. A. and N. C. Burleigh. S. A. was 15-year-old Samuel A. Burleigh, later owner and editor of the Sentinel in Waterville; N. C. was his eleven-year-old sister Nettie.

The first issue, Marriner wrote, was only four small (six inches by five-and-a-half inches) pages. It contained the publishers’ statement of purpose (“dissemination of truth and temperance” and “advancement of scientific and practical knowledge”) and advertisements from a dressmaker in North Fairfield (Hall Burleigh, Samuel and Nettie’s father, was a Fairfield native), a farm in Vassalboro and a Vassalboro woman selling a Davis Machine (Davis was a leading brand of sewing machine in the 1880s). Marriner added that ads cost 10 cents an inch, 45 cents a column or 85 cents for a whole page. An annual subscription was 20 cents.

By 1888, Marriner continued, the Burleighs’ monthly paper had four eight-by-10-inch pages, a circulation of more than 1,000 and ads from as far away as Belgrade. The annual subscription price was 30 cents, and the publishers were seeking local correspondents in Vassalboro, China, Winslow and Sidney. Recompense would be a free subscription, and the publishers would supply writing materials and pay postage.

When Samuel Burleigh entered Colby in the fall of 1881, the Clarion went out of business. Marriner wrote that Burleigh replaced it in September 1881 with a four-page non-partisan weekly named the Valley News, published by the Kennebec Valley News Company. The publisher was also the editor. Subscriptions were 50 cents a year. Numerous advertisers from Waterville helped support the paper, whose closing date is not listed in any source this writer found.

The Library of Congress (LOC) on-line newspaper directory lists a weekly Kennebec Valley News with the same Vassalboro-based publisher. It appears to be yet another paper, because the LOC has a copy of Vol. 1, No. 32, that is dated April 5, 1892.

The LOC also lists a monthly publication from Vassalboro named The Young America that first appeared in 1877. This writer failed to find any additional information.

Whittemore wrote in his history of Waterville that in 1898 the W. M. Ladd Company, whose owners bought the Waterville Sentinel’s printing equipment, began printing three weeklies from surrounding towns, the Vassalboro Times, the Clinton Herald and the China Tribune. This writer has found no other reference to any of those newspapers.

Fairfield has had two local weeklies, according to the bicentennial history, and Howard Owen, author of the newspaper chapter in Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history, added a third. According to Owen, before Benjamin Bunker started the Kennebec Democrat, in Waterville, in February 1887, he published the Pine Tree State in Fairfield for two years starting in 1880, and owned the Fairfield Journal (see below) until 1886.

The Fairfield history says the Fairfield Chronicle began publication March 1, 1872, in the village then called Kendall’s Mills (now downtown Fairfield). It continued until 1878, according to LOC’s summary. The LOC lists George H. Colby as editor and the publishers as Fairfield Chronicle Association, 1873-1875; George H. Colby in 1876, 1877 and 1878; and Colby & Small in 1878.

Joseph Griffin’s 1872 publication, The Press of Maine, found online, has a paragraph about the Chronicle, which he called the Fairfield Weekly Chronicle. Griffin dated the first issue May 1, 1872. The four-page, eight-column paper was what the trade called a “patent outside”; Griffin explained that the outside pages, one and four, came preprinted from Boston or New York and editor Colby composed and printed the local news and ads that filled pages two and three. An annual subscription was $2.50, Griffin wrote.

The Chronicle was succeeded by the Fairfield Journal, beginning July 2, 1879, and ending, according to the LOC listing, with Volume 52, No. 28, July 9, 1925. The LOC gives the publisher as Augustine Simmons. The Fairfield history includes an excerpt from the Dec. 17, 1901, issue describing the flood the day before.

Judge Augustine Simmons rates three pages in Sprague’s Maine history journal (found online), with his Fairfield newspaper experience covered in a single sentence. Elmer Sawyer wrote that Simmons was born Feb. 20, 1849, in Topsham; the family moved to Brunswick when he was three and he always called Brunswick home, though he lived elsewhere.

Simmons entered Bowdoin in 1867, but withdrew for lack of money after two years; he graduated in 1881, counted as a member of the Class of 1871. During his enforced break he taught, mostly at Anson Academy in North Anson. He also studied law with E. W. and F. E. McFadden in Fairfield and became a member of the Kennebec bar on Aug. 7, 1877. After that he edited the “Fairfield Journal “for less than a year (perhaps its first editor?) before going back to teaching and then practicing law in North New Portland over the 1880-81 winter and in North Anson from May 1881 to Oct. 24, 1917.

Simmons has the title “Judge” because he was Somerset County Judge of Probate from 1904 to 1912.

The LOC lists one 20th century Fairfield weekly newspaper, the Fairfield Free Press. The first issue appeared Nov.3, 1938; Ivers L. Greenleaf is named as publisher. This writer has found no other information.

The Clinton Advertiser was the first – and only? Owen says so, but see the Clinton Herald reference above – Clinton local paper. According to the LOC, from Oct. 14, 1886, to sometime around 1894 it was a weekly; it was published until at least July 29, 1909 (when the volume was number 32). The University of Maine’s Fogler Library index, however, says the Advertiser began publication in 1879 and closed in 1907.

Owen wrote that as of 1892, the paper was the smallest in Kennebec County. It was founded in June 1886, edited and published by B. T. Foster & Company. An annual subscription cost 50 cents. A Clinton history web site says Clinton’s Brown Memorial Library has bound copies of the Advertiser.

In Albion, Ruby Crosby Wiggin found a copy of the Albion Courier dated Oct. 7, 1878. The front page said the paper was a semi-monthly published by Bert Foster. The subscription fee was listed as 50 cents (annually?) or for six months 25 cents, payable in advance. Foster declared the paper was apolitical, non-sectarian and interested in local news, including accounts from neighboring towns.

Wiggin’s history has no other information about the Albion Courier. This writer found no other references.

China’s 19th-century newspaper was The Orb, published every Saturday by “an association of gentlemen” (quoted by Marriner from its initial issue) headed by China Village resident Japheth C. Washburn. The first two volumes of The Orb started with the issues of Dec. 5, 1833, and Dec. 6, 1834, respectively. The China bicentennial history says in the fall of 1835 Washburn organized a meeting to consider whether to discontinue publication and got enough local support to continue the paper until November 1836.

The paper’s goal was to be “interesting, useful and pleasing.” It covered agricultural and other local occupations; temperance; and religious, literary and political news.

A lengthy description in the China history says the paper had four pages, each with four or five columns of small type. The only illustrations were in ads. Readers found a mix of fiction and non-fiction: Washburn’s editorials were on page two, news (from the town, the state, the nation and the world) usually on pages two and three, ads mostly on pages three and four, frequently a poem and a moral or religious essay on page four, jokes throughout as fillers.

The Orb supported President Andrew Jackson and his party; the Dec. 13, 1834, issue contained the text of Jackson’s December 1 address to Congress. Washburn had no use for the opposing Whig party and frequently referred to them as Wigs, Marriner wrote. In 1836, the China history says, The Orb reported on the state and national Democratic conventions. The paper presented selective detailed information on state legislative sessions and Congressional activities, sometimes even quoting or summarizing debates.

Local items included births and deaths, meeting notices, and reports on fires, crimes and similar events. The China history comments that one unusual item, appearing intermittently, was “the list of addressees of unclaimed letters at the China post office.”

An annual subscription to The Orb was $2 discounted if paid during the first three months. Washburn reported 300 unpaid subscriptions at the beginning of the second year,perhaps one reason the paper had a short life. Owen adds another explanation: the lack of advertisers and of other jobs for Washburn’s printing press in an agricultural town. [Editor’s note: Reproductions of The Orb, Vol. 3, No. 37, dated September 10, 1836, are available at The Town Line’ s office.]

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Marriner, Ernest, Kennebec Yesterdays (1954)
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Vassalboro recovers lost piece of its history

A similar statue in Winslow with the rifle in hand (left), and the statue in Vassalboro missing the rifle (right). (The Town Line file photos by Isabelle Markley)

by Eric W. Austin

The two pieces of the missing rifle found by Nate Gray. (photo courtesy of Vassalboro Historical Society)

Looking up at the Civil War memorial statue standing guard over Monument Park on Route 32, in Vassalboro, you may notice something missing. Although the proud Union soldier stands tall, gripping the muzzle of a 19th century rifle, the bottom portion of the chiseled gun he holds is gone. Where it disappeared to has been a source of continuing mystery and speculation in the town of Vassalboro. But now, after more than 50 years, a part of this lost history has been found.

The commemorative statue was commissioned in 1905 by the town of Vassalboro from Hallowell sculptor William Tregembo for a cost of $1,075, according to a copy of the contract kept by the Vassalboro Historical Society.

The bottom half of the rifle was broken off and lost “in the late ‘60s or ‘70s,” said Janice Clowes, president of the Vassalboro Historical Society. It is unknown whether the incident was an act of vandalism or an act of God.

Nate Gray

Nate Gray

Nate Gray, an employee for the Maine Department of Marine Resources, stumbled upon several broken sections of the missing relic last week while investigating a blockage at the Outlet Dam, courtesy of a couple of nature’s impulsive dam builders.

“Beavers had plugged the gates at Outlet Dam,” he said. “I went to observe the beaver activity [and] while watching for the beavers, I happened upon the rifle pieces. I scooped them up and delivered [them] to the town office for safe keeping.”

According to Gray, “Local legend has it that some pieces [of the rifle] had been found in the past and kept in the former town office. Those pieces were lost or misplaced in the move to the new town office. True? Not true? We may never know. Time has a way of blurring past events.”

There has been some talk of restoring the statue to its former glory, especially considering Vassalboro will be celebrating its semiquincentennial anniversary next year.

“There have been a couple people looking into the possibility of finding grant money or fundraising to get the ball rolling,” said Vassalboro Historical Society president Clowes. “Vassalboro turns 250 in 2021, [and] I think it would be a great birthday present to the town.”

Contact the author at ericwaustin@gmail.com.

An alternative view of the rifle pieces found. (photo courtesy of Nate Gray)

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Newspapers of Central Maine, Part 1

by Mary Grow

In previous pieces there have been references to local newspapers, especially the Augusta-based Kennebec Journal. Both it and its sister publication in Waterville, the “Morning Sentinel”, have had long lives; but they are not and never have been the only newspapers in the central Kennebec Valley.

Here is a partial list of 18th and 19th century Augusta and Waterville papers, excluding monthlies and student and most other specialty publications. The Library of Congress list of newspaper holdings has others.

  • The earliest was the Eastern Star, Aug. 4, 1794 to sometime in 1795, published in Hallowell by Howard Robinson, the first of at least a dozen Hallowell papers started before 1830. Augusta was the northern part of Hallowell until February 1797.
  • The Tocsin, 1795-1797, was published by Thomas B. Wait and John K. Baker from Falmouth, who sold it to Benjamin Poor in September 1796.
  • The Kennebec Intelligencer, started Nov. 14, 1795, was published by Peter Edes (son of printer Benjamin Edes of Boston); it became the Kennebec Gazette in 1800 and the Herald of Liberty in 1810. The Herald of Liberty went out of existence in 1815 when Edes moved to Bangor.

An excerpt from an on-line source says the Tocsin and the Kennebec Intelligencer were the earliest inland papers in Maine. The first Maine newspapers were published in Portland beginning in 1792. Kennebec Valley staff members worked hard to bring local people news from London in 61 days and from the United States Congress in Philadelphia in 16 days.

  • Hallowell Gazette was a Federalist organ published by Ezekiel Goodale and James Burton from January 1814 to 1827.
  • Augusta Patriot, March 17, 1817, was published by James Burton and, perhaps because Burton vowed to avoid “personal invective, political rancor, and sectarian heat,” discontinued in less than two years for lack of readers.
  • Kennebec Journal, Jan. 8, 1823, was published by printers Luther Severance and Russell Eaton. It started as a Whig paper, with about 450 initial subscribers, and transitioned to the successor Republican party.

The Kennebec Journal had several owners in the mid-19th century, including briefly (1854-1857) James G. Blaine. Henry Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history, describes Blaine’s management as “able and vigorous.” During part of the Civil War, the paper published a small daily supplement with current news, received by telegraph. At the beginning of 1870, Howard Owen, Charles E. Nash and Alden Sprague made the Daily Kennebec Journal the first successful daily paper in Augusta, while continuing the weekly version that Kingsbury says acquired subscribers state-wide.

  • Gospel Banner and Universalists’ Family Monitor existed from July 25, 1835 to July 16, 1836; Gospel Banner and Maine Christian Pilot from July 23, 1836 to July 15, 1837; Gospel Banner, a weekly, from July 30, 1842 to Nov. 4, 1897. Kingsbury lists a number of successive owners and editors, the majority Universalist ministers.
  • Maine Patriot and State Gazette, Oct. 31, 1827-December 1831, was published weekly by James Dickman, edited by Aurelius V. Chandler for three years and J. W. Bradbury in 1831, after Chandler resigned and moved south for health reasons. (He died on Dec. 31, 1830, in Charleston, South Carolina, at the age of 23.) This paper was started to support Andrew Jackson against John Quincy Adams in the 1828 election.
  • The Age, Dec. 23, 1831, was started after Maine’s capital was relocated from Portland to Augusta in 1827, to meet two needs: printing state documents and providing publicity for the state government. It was initially printed in the Maine Patriot and State Gazette’s facility, and, Kingsbury wrote, “absorbed” the Gazette. It was edited by part-owner Francis Ormond Jonathan Smith, former editor of the “Portland Argus”.

Early in his Augusta career, Kingsbury wrote, Smith wrote an article calling a Belgrade resident a deserter during the War of 1812. The Age’s publisher was tried for criminal libel and was acquitted, giving the paper valuable publicity.

In the early 1840s, according to Kingsbury, The Age and the Kennebec Journal made an agreement under which each published on three alternate days, creating Augusta’s first version of a daily paper. He did not say how long the arrangement lasted. From 1844 on The Age changed ownership frequently; an Augusta printer named Gilman Smith was the owner when the paper was discontinued during the Civil War.

  • Maine Farmer began in Winthrop in 1833 as the Kennebec Farmer. In 1844 Russell Eaton, Esq, bought it and moved it to Augusta, where it became the “Maine Farmer” and was published until 1900 (or later).

In her Albion history, Roby Crosby Wiggin describes and quotes from a Thursday morning, Feb. 27, 1851, copy of Maine Farmer, found by Albion residents remodeling an old house. The paper then had a circulation of 5,500 and cost four cents a copy. Annual subscription prices were $1.75 paid in advance, $2 paid within a year and $2.50 paid more than a year late. Anyone who signed up six paying subscribers got a free subscription.

Wiggin describes a variety of content – local news, national news, fiction, inspirational pieces and farming information and advice, all intermingled. Advertisers sold medicines and a medical self-help book; pickles; coffee; furniture; and coffins in a choice of pine, black walnut or mahogany with free cushions included.

  • The Washingtonian was a temperance paper started by journeyman printer Henry Green in 1840 and published “briefly,” Kingsbury wrote, at the height of the temperance movement in Maine.
  • Drew’s Rural Intelligencer, first published Jan. 6, 1855, was a weekly published by Rev. William A. Drew, a former “Gospel Banner” editor. A website offering a bound copy of the first year’s issues gives its subtitle, “Devoted to the Wants and Pleasures of Rural Life; both in Town and Country,” and says it mostly covered “agricultural and home craft pursuits.” In 1857 a new owner moved the paper to Gardiner, where it appeared until 1859.
  • Maine Standard was a Democratic weekly published from April 5, 1867, to April 5, 1881, described by Kingsbury as a successor to The Age. Its publishers for the first year were Thaddeus A. Chick and Isaac W. Reed, succeeded by others.
  • The New Age, which began publication in 1881, was a successor to the Maine Standard, and was also Democratic. The publisher is given on-line as Manley H. Pike and Company, a reference to artist and writer Manley Herbert Pike (1857-1910), who bought the Maine Standard in 1881. This writer failed to find a date the paper was discontinued; it was still being published when Kingsbury wrote in 1892.
  • Home Farm, 1880–1887, was published by Boardman and Hall and edited by Samuel L. Boardman. It was an eight-page weekly, subtitled “A journal of practical agriculture and home life.” George J. Varney’s article on the history of Augusta in the Maine Gazetteer calls it “an attractive sheet for a small price.”

(Samuel Lane Boardman [1836-1914] wrote books on history, including Peter Edes’ life in Boston and in Maine; on Maine agriculture; on Maine horse-racing, and on ornithologist George Augustus Boardman [1818-1901], who worked in eastern Maine and New Brunswick. One hopes that George was not Samuel’s father, because Wikipedia says George’s only marriage was in 1843.)

In Waterville, Kingsbury wrote that the first attempts to provide newspapers were short-lived. According to Kingsbury and to Henry C. Prince (who was editor of The Waterville Mail when he wrote the chapter on the press in Edwin Carey Whittemore’s 1902 history of Waterville), the early papers were:

  • The Waterville Intelligencer, started in May 1823 by William Hastings, a Baptist-oriented paper sponsored by Waterville College and devoid of local news. Its last issue was Nov. 26, 1828.
  • A successor named The Watchman, first published on Dec. 11, 1828, established by Hastings as an experimental political, literary and miscellaneous paper, and discontinued after its Dec. 30, 1829, issue.
  • The Times, a Whig paper started in June 1831 by John Burleigh, a failure by the fall of 1833.
  • The “Waterville Journal, Burleigh’s and Waterville College’s second venture, a non-sectarian religious paper that first appeared December 1833. Prince wrote that the college promised to help edit the paper and sign up subscribers, but “these promises not being fully met,” the paper folded after a year. (The Library of Congress lists a second Waterville Journal that began publication in 1878.)

In May 1841 (Prince) or 1842 (Kingsbury), Daniel Ripley Wing and William Mathews founded The Watervillonian, described as “a literary and family journal.” Prince quotes Mathews as sarcastically describing the paper starting with 400 subscribers and by filling its pages with dead authors’ works reducing the number to 250 in a year. The paper ceased publication after that first year; Mathews said the publishers earned $600.

Kingsbury wrote that Wing (Dec. 13, 1816 — Dec. 2, 1885) remained in the newspaper business the rest of his life, and Mathews’ later renown in literature “needs no comment.”

(Mathews [July 28, 1818 – Feb. 14, 1909], was a Waterville native who entered Waterville College when he was 13; he got his bachelor’s degree in 1835 and a law degree from Harvard in 1839. He supplemented his law business with the newspaper. A teacher, writer and lecturer, he lived in and around Chicago from 1856 to 1880 and in Boston from 1880 to his death.)

Mathews, Wing and Mathews’ brother Edward started the Yankee Blade in June 1842. A new part-owner moved it to Gardiner in August 1843.

In April 1847 Charles F. Hathaway (later to found the Hathaway shirt factory) started The Waterville Union. Prince says it failed after 14 weeks, mostly due to “stringent rules adopted and enforced” about payment for subscriptions and ads (it sounds as though Hathaway wanted his money on time).

Hathaway sold to Ephraim Maxham, who started The Eastern Mail (first issue July 19, 1847) and on Sept. 4, 1863, renamed it The Waterville Mail. Wing had been working for Maxham; in 1849 he bought a half interest in the paper and stayed with it until his death.

The Mail endorsed the first Republican Presidential candidate, John Charles Fremont, in the 1856 election, but it only later became a reliably Republican paper, Prince wrote.

In 1886 two of Daniel Ripley Wing’s sons, Charles G. Wing (or Charles Burleigh Wing, according to an on-line genealogy that says Daniel Ripley Wing’s wife was Ann Elizabeth Burleigh) and Daniel Frank Wing, bought the Waterville Mail from Maxham and made it one of Maine’s highest-quality local weeklies. It went through more ownership changes before folding in May 1906.

The first issue of The Waterville Sentinel appeared Wednesday, Dec. 1, 1880, published by M. A. Leger and E. O. Robinson, who believed Waterville would grow fast enough to justify two newspapers. In the next two decades the newspaper went through multiple ownership changes, and, Prince wrote, several changes in publication day – Wednesday in 1880, Friday as of February 1881, Saturday beginning in May 1884.

In December 1896 then-owner Samuel Appleton Burleigh of Vassalboro tried a bi-weekly appearing on Tuesdays and Fridays. The weekly publication resumed Friday, April 16, 1897. In November 1897 a section in French was added; it lasted a month.

The Waterville Morning Sentinel succeeded the earlier title in 1904, started by a group of Democratic politicians plus one newspaperman, Thomas F. Murphy, according to Wikipedia. As of March 3, 1904, it was published daily, Marriner said. It was the Morning Sentinel from 1961 to 1971, the Central Maine Morning Sentinel from 1971 to 1996 and is currently the Morning Sentinel. At some point it changed from weekly to daily publication.

On Wednesday, Feb. 18, 1887, the first issue of Ben Bunker’s unabashedly political The Kennebec Democrat appeared in Waterville. Three months after Bunker’s death in March 8, 1894, Augusta people bought the paper, moved it to Augusta and renamed it “The Maine Democrat”, Prince wrote.

The former Home Farm (see above) moved from Augusta to Waterville and reappeared as the Eastern Farmer at the end of September 1887. Varney says Boardman still owned it; Kingsbury says Hall C. Burleigh and the Wing brothers (who were publishing the Mail) took it over, found it a “financial incubus” and killed it, selling the list of subscribers to the Lewiston Journal in April 1888.

The owners of the Waterville Mail added the Waterville Evening Mail as the city’s first daily newspaper beginning on Jan. 29, 1896. Prince wrote that the four-page paper, still published in 1902, was primarily a source of local news, though world events were mentioned.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Marriner, Ernest Kennebec Yesterdays (1954).
Whittemore, Edwin Carey, The Centennial History of Waterville, Kennebec County, Maine (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.