Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Weather events

by Mary Grow

James North and Ruby Crosby Wiggin, quoted last week, were not the only local historians to mention the Year without a Summer. And 1816 was not the only unusually cold spell – though it was the longest spell of (fairly) consistently cold weather – recorded in the central Kennebec Valley since the settlers’ arrival.

The 1995 history of Maine, edited by Richard W. Judd, Edwin A. Churchill and Joel W. Eastman, reminds us that 1816 was also known as “Eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death.” The authors of the chapter on agriculture (James B. Vickery, Judd, and Sheila McDonald) offered it as an example of what they called Maine’s “fickle” climate.

Part of Alma Pierce Robbins’ history of Vassalboro is a summary of major events by year. 1816 she distinguished as “the year of ‘NO SUMMER,'” when “people planted their gardens with their mittens on!” July was the only month in 1816 when it did not snow in Vassalboro, she wrote.

Her account is contradicted by the authors of the Fairfield bicentennial history. Their chapter titled “Disasters” begins with “the year of no summer.” Spring was late, they wrote, with frost in May; but crops were doing well enough until central Maine got six inches of snow on June 6.

“The same thing happened on July 9 and again on August 21,” they wrote. Like other historians, including those cited last week, they wrote that the weather was one reason Maine people moved west.

They added, “The Ohio Hill road is said to be so named because of the many that left from here.” (Fairfield’s Ohio Hill Road is the section of Route 23 that runs from Route 201 a little south of the Goodwill-Hinckley School to Fairfield Center.)

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Other historians described, in more or less detail, other cold days and weeks before and after 1816.

Linwood Lowden quoted an early sample in his Windsor history, a March 17, 1762, letter from an Alna resident named Job Averill to a man in Massachusetts. (Alna is on the Sheepscot River, less than 20 miles downstream from Windsor.)

Averill described “a most terrible winter the snow has been for seven weeks past and is now near four feet deep and no business could be done and people are like to lose all their cattel….” Cattle were dying and people going hungry, he said.

North wrote in his Augusta history that 1780 was another cold winter, when Kennebec Valley residents were already stressed by the hardships of the Revolution. There was “uncommonly deep” snow that lasted into late April and the Kennebec River was frozen down to the coast.

The spring of 1785 saw the latest ice-out recorded up to the time North finished his work in 1870. He dated it by contemporary records of people crossing the river on the ice on April 22 and April 24, the ice moving on April 25 and ice-cakes from up-river still floating past Fort Western on May 1.

January 1807 saw another cold spell, according to North’s history. He quoted temperature readings for the end of the month: 22 degrees below zero on Jan. 20, minus 18 on Jan. 21, minus 24 on Jan 22, minus 32 on Jan. 23, a warming to minus 16 on Jan. 26 and a low of minus 34 on Jan. 27.

There was a major snowstorm in Augusta on May 6, 1812, with high wind. Snowfall was variously estimated at six to 18 inches. The Augusta Herald quoted a man said to be old enough to have “lived in three centuries” who “did not remember colder or more severe [May] weather.”

Windsor historian Lowden followed his report from 1762 with a quotation from the Thursday, Jan. 29, 1857, Kennebec Journal commenting on the extremely cold weather: “The night of Friday last [Jan. 23] was the coldest ever felt by any living inhabitant of Maine.” On Saturday at dawn, “the thermometer at the Insane Hospital registered 42 degrees below zero,” with readings elsewhere in Augusta from 37 to 40 below.

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Ruby Wiggin mentioned in her history of Albion multiple events related to weather and other natural phenomena – either she was unusually attentive to such events, or the small town was unlucky. For example, she wrote that there were few local records of the Year without a Summer, but people she spoke with in the 1960s remembered tales of the “grasshopper year” that she said was almost 50 years after 1816.

That year grasshoppers ate most of the farmers’ hay, as well as “other leafy crops.” Wiggin told two stories.

One Albion resident had no hay for his oxen. He kept them alive by feeding them hemlock branches and meal, buying the latter with money he earned making and selling ash baskets.

Another man found the grasshoppers had spared the hay on what Wiggin called Poplar Island on Bog Road. After ice-in, this farmer was able to cut two loads – for which someone offered him $100. He refused, because his own animals needed to eat.

(Contemporary Google maps show Bog Road crossing what appears to be a tributary of the Sebasticook River, with an island slightly downstream of the bridge – Poplar Island?)

Wiggin also noted the adventure of Lester Shorey, who lived on Drake Hill, in southeastern Albion. He attended a Grange meeting in 1901, probably on Dec. 7 (the Saturday on which that year’s anniversary meeting was held); and because the day’s hard rain had flooded out bridges over most of the streams between Center Albion and his house, it took him more than eight hours to find a road home, via Palermo.

Two historians noted a spectacular natural event in August 1787, although they disagreed on the exact date.

William D. Williamson, in his 1832 history of Maine, described an incident “too rare to be passed unnoticed.” On Aug. 26, 1787, around 4 p.m., “A ball of fire, apparently as large as that of a nine pounder” was seen in New Gloucester, Portland and elsewhere, “flying through the air in a south-western direction, at an angle of more than 45 [degrees] from the ground, when it suddenly exploded three times in quick succession, like the discharge of as many cannon, with reports resembling thunder-claps.”

There was no earthquake, Williamson wrote, but “buildings were shaken” and smoke seen. The noise was heard “as far east as Frenchman’s bay, and westward at Fryeburgh.”

North wrote that on Thursday, Aug. 30, 1787, around mid-afternoon, Colonel (Joseph, probably) North, Captain (Henry) Sewall and Ebenezer Farwell were exploring possible routes along which to lay out a road from Cobbosseecontee to Bowdoinham. Sewall recorded in his diary an aerial explosion that he compared to “a small cannon”; he and his companions “supposed it to be the bursting of a meteor.”

North pointed out that Sewall’s date differs from Williamson’s.

There was an earthquake in central Maine on Dec. 23, 1857, between 1 and 2 p.m., North wrote; it was felt in Lewiston, Augusta and Waterville, among other places. He wrote that in addition to the earth shaking, “The noise attending it, as heard by those in buildings at Augusta, was as of an immense weight in the air moving from the south and descending diagonally through the roof with a rolling and crashing sound….The noise passed off to the north with a prolonged rumbling.”

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Henry Sewall’s diary, for part of 1787 (mentioned above) and consecutively from 1830 to 1843, is one of three that Charles Nash quoted parts of in his history of Augusta, published in 1904. He also reprinted excerpts from Martha Ballard’s diary (1785-1812) and Daniel Cony’s diary (1808-1810).

(Your writer views with amazed admiration the historians who first turned such documents, hand-written and perhaps time-damaged, full of unexplained references, into sources of information for future generations.)

With varying frequency, all three diarists recorded weather and other natural phenomena, both routine and extraordinary. Examples follow.

Ballard sometimes ignored the weather for days on end; sometimes wrote briefly of blustery wind, snow or rain, cold or warmth, clouds or clear sky; occasionally mentioned a rainbow, or an odd color in the sky. On March 27, 1786, and again on May 1, she wrote that northern lights had appeared.

The summer of 1787 was apparently a chilly one. On Sunday, July 1, Ballard wrote “We had ice an intch [her spelling] thick in our yard south side of the house this morn.” On Aug. 4 (a Saturday) she recorded “A very severe shower of hail with thunder and litning [her spelling], began at half after one, –continued near one hour. I hear it broke 130 pains [her spelling] of glass in Fort Western.”

On March 22, 1792, Ballard wrote: “Cloudy, morn; clear the rest of the day. The sun eclipsed.” Later in the week, her husband and son were sugaring with a neighbor. The ice in the Kennebec was gone on April 3, and a friend sowed peas on May 5.

Daniel Cony was 56 and had lived in Augusta for 30 years when he wrote short diary entries in 1808, 1809 and 1810, Nash said. Often an entry was only a few words about the day’s weather.

For example, July 1808 was hot and wet; Cony recorded temperatures of 90 degrees or higher on July 1, 16, 17 and 23. August he summarized as “Dry, fine season to gather in the grain.”

Oct. 10, 1809, was another hot day, with the thermometer reaching 96 degrees in the shade. November Cony summarized as “extreme cold,” with the Kennebec frozen by Nov. 23; but between Dec. 5 and Dec. 16 mild weather with rain took out most of the ice.

According to Henry Sewall, late December of 1830 was similar to early December of 1809. The Kennebec had frozen over “passable for teams” by Nov. 22; but a “warm rain” on Christmas Day “broke up the ice.”

For Dec. 31, he wrote: “Warm and wet, which took off every vestige of snow, raised the river, expelled the ice, and took the frost out of the ground, so as to render the roads muddy and deep and the travelling bad.”

Sewall noted the May 1832 flood described in the Jan. 12 issue of The Town Line. In 1833 he commented on two phenomena: a meteor shower early the morning of Nov. 12, with “meteors flying in all directions over the horizon, which produced an effect like lightning”; and on Dec. 26 a total lunar eclipse.

There was a “considerable eclipse of the sun” on Nov. 30, 1834, but, Sewall wrote, it was “rendered invisible by the clouds.”

On Dec. 23 of that year, Sewall wrote: “Received a Fahrenheit Thermometer from Boston.” He used it to record the Christmas Day temperature, eight degrees below zero; but the next diary record is not until Sunday, Feb. 18, 1838, when the temperature rose from 15 below to 25 above.

The March 31, 1836, entry is an interestingly oblique reference to the coming of spring: “The stages continue to run eastward on runners, though they begin to use wheels westward.” The Kennebec opened April 12 and closed Dec. 1 that year.

Sewall noted his 91st birthday on Oct. 24, 1843, and apparently discontinued his diary at the end of the year. He died Sept. 5, 1845.

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Judd, Richard W., Churchill, Edwin A. and Eastman, Joel W., edd., Maine The Pine Tree State from Prehistory to the Present (1995).
Lowden, Linwood H., good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).
Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).
Williamson, William D., The History of the State of Maine from its First Discovery, A.D. 1602, to the Separation, A.D. 1820, Inclusive Vol. II (1832).

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Floods of central Maine – Part 3

Lower Central St., Hallowell, flood of 1896.

by Mary Grow

And the year without a summer

Before this series moves on to describe the year without a summer, one more flood needs mention and another a description.

The Fairfield Historical Society’s bicentennial history says a March 2, 1896, freshet took out the last remaining of the three 1848 covered bridges between Fairfield and Benton, the easternmost one between Bunker Island and Benton.

Edwin Whittemore made no reference to an 1896 flood in his Waterville history, perhaps because other events that year were more significant. Discussion of a public library got serious at a February 29 public meeting and the library opened Aug. 22 (see The Town Line, Dec. 23, 2021); and another public meeting on May 18 started the process that led to the 1902 city hall and opera house building (see The Town Line, Aug. 18, 2022).

Returning to the definition of a “freshet” as a flood connected with the spring thaw, readers have no doubt noticed that freshets worth historians’ notice occurred in January, February, March, April, May, June and October. The final one to be described was in December of the year 1901 (mentioned in passing two weeks ago). Whittemore gave it a paragraph; Ernest Marriner, in his Kennebec Yesterdays, used more than two pages for his colorful account.

Marriner wrote that in 1901, there was a lot of snow after Thanksgiving. Dec. 13 (“a fateful Friday the thirteenth”) was warm enough to start melting it; a 48-hour “drenching downpour” that began Saturday evening made the Kennebec rise “suddenly and rapidly.”

The Ticonic footbridge connecting Waterville and Winslow had been in use only a few days, Whittemore said, and had already “proved itself a great convenience.” The river took it out the night of Dec. 15, Marriner wrote.

The toll house on the Waterville shore survived the night, but started downriver the next morning. It floated right side up “in a dignified manner” as far as the railroad bridge, which removed its roof and left the wreckage continuing toward Augusta.

The railroad bridge apparently stood, but there was extensive damage along the shores of the Kennebec, the Sebasticook and Messalonskee Stream (and other Maine rivers).

Marriner said the Hollingsworth and Whitney paper mill was so saturated that work couldn’t resume for two weeks. The Lockwood cotton mill shut down because the dam that diverted the river into its canal was damaged. Three hundred thousand feet of lumber washed out of the Reynolds sawmill yard in Winslow.

He mentioned a photograph of a building “near the junction of the Sebasticook and Kennebec with only the roof out of water,” and quoted the Dec. 16 Waterville Mail that said the residents of Head of Falls, the former riverside slum in Waterville, were having a worse time than usual.

Most of the tenements had two or three feet of water in the ground floors, the unnamed reporter said. One house, standing in three-foot-deep water, was roped to a tree, equally waterlogged, 25 or 30 feet up the bank.

The Dec. 16 Mail, Marriner wrote, was not the usual eight or 12 full-size pages, but four eight-and-a-half-by-11 pages of flood news. The editors apologized to the advertisers; explained that with the electric company “practically dead to the world,” staffers had converted a press to footpower; and said they hoped for, but did not promise, “a regular edition tomorrow.”

According to Marriner, the piece of low ground between Waterville’s Pleasant and Burleigh streets was, centuries ago, the bed of the Kennebec River. In December 1901, the river tried to reclaim it. Buildings flooded and intersections washed out. “Water rose far up the banks, even in the steepest sections.”

Whittemore wrote that miles of railroad track were undermined; Marriner said Waterville had no train service for three days. Roads washed out; because power plants were flooded, the electric streetcars stopped. Marriner wrote that Waterville “had no telephone connection with outside communities” for a week.

As central Kennebec Valley residents no doubt remember, there have been freshets since December 1901; your writer considers them too recent to belong in this series. And so, at last, to the Year Without a Summer.

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1816 was the year without a summer over most of the northern hemisphere, though the effects were especially harsh in New England, eastern Canada and parts of Europe. The main cause was a tremendous eruption of a volcano named Tambora, on what is now the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, beginning on April 5, 1815, and continuing for more than a week.

Painting of the summer of 1816.

Wikipedia says the planet was then coming out of a cooler period called the Little Ice Age. There was already more dust than usual in the air from volcanic eruptions in the Caribbean and the Dutch East Indies in 1812, in Japan in 1813 and in the Philippines in 1814.

Tambora’s eruption, sources agree, was the largest and most damaging in centuries. An estimated 10,000 or more local people were killed immediately by ash heavy enough to knock down buildings, by molten lava spreading over the island and by tsunamis and other area effects.

Adding Tambora’s ash thickened atmospheric dust enough to weaken the sunlight that reached the ground, lowering the temperature world-wide. Modern estimates put the average decrease at about one degree Celsius, but parts of the British Isles, France and Spain saw an average decrease of two or three degrees.

Most of the local historians whose research has contributed so much to this series mentioned 1816. James North’s Augusta history has the most information on local effects.

North, quoting from an unnamed source, called 1816 the “coldest and ‘most disastrous [year] on record.’ Frosts occurred in every month in the year.”

An April 12 snowstorm “made sleighing for a number of days.” On May 24, “rain froze on the fruit trees then nearly ready to blossom.”

June 5 and 6 featured a northwest wind with snow and hail. “The ground froze, corn and potatoes were cut down, and workmen put on their coats and mittens. This weather continued for some days.”

North quoted from a June 8 letter that Kennebec County Sheriff Samuel Howard wrote to Henry W. Fuller, representative to the Massachusetts General Court, in Boston, saying that in Augusta it was snowing and “so cold that a large fire has been kept up in court all day.” Birds were freezing, he reported.

On July 8 and 9, North reported, “as corn was being hoed for the first time it was again cut down by a frost.”

General Henry Sewall’s diary said that Sept. 19 was a fast day, partly on account of “the decay of religion,” but also because of “the extraordinary cold and dry season.”

The same source recorded snow on Oct. 7.

North quoted Sewall’s end-of-year summary: “The year past has been remarkable – the season of vegetation was uncommonly dry and cold, not a single month without frost!” The Indian corn crop was “almost entirely cut off”; the hay crop was down by one-half; grain, especially rye, was “very considerably diminished.”

Accompanying the cold weather was a “severe drought,” leading to woods fires in the fall that caused fatalities and property loss in Maine and Canada. “In this region so severe was the drought that water is said to have been carried three miles from the river to extinguish fires,” North wrote, citing Augusta lawyer Reuel Williams.

The woodsmoke was so thick, especially when combined with morning fog, that a ferry operator got turned around and landed Williams and a visiting judge on the same side of the Kennebec they’d left, North said.

The unusual weather was accompanied by an unusual display of sunspots, especially in April, May and July. North quoted from the Portsmouth Journal: “Some of them suddenly burst forth in clusters, and appeared for a day or two and then as quickly disappeared. On the 29th of May there were six spots of magnificent proportion, varying by estimate from ten to fifteen thousand miles in diameter.”

(Most on-line sources your writer found doubt that sunspots cause short-term cooler temperatures on earth.)

Evidence from Hudson Bay region of severe cold in the summer of 1816. CARTOON BY A. J. W. CATCHPOL

North wrote that the unusual weather continued into 1817: “It was generally believed that Friday, February 14th, 1817, was ‘the coldest day ever known in this region of country.'” The cold extended as far south as Maryland and Georgia, he said.

The St. Lawrence River was frozen wide and deep, and harbors from Halifax to New York were iced-choked, except Portsmouth and Newport. There were more large sunspots.

By the spring of 1817, grain was so scarce farmers couldn’t get seed. Augusta’s May town meeting appropriated $200 for selectmen to give farmers seed, conditional on promises to plant it and to make repayment after harvest.

The plan worked; North wrote there was a good harvest in the fall of 1817. He quoted crop prices as evidence: in May in Boston, beans were $4.00 to $4.50 a bushel and corn $1.80 to 1.85, but by December, in Augusta, beans were $1.25 to 1.50 a bushel & corn $1.00.

North continued his weather record into the winter of 1819, which, he wrote, “was as remarkably warm at the north, as that of 1817 had been cold.” The high temperature in January and February was 54 degrees on Feb. 9, and there was almost no snow.

The period after the War of 1812 (which was discussed in five previous articles in this series published between February 10 and March 10, 2022) was characterized by “Ohio fever,” an emigration to the Midwest to escape the post-war economic depression and Maine winters. North wrote that Augusta was a gathering point for families heading west, to the benefit of the local economy; people bought supplies and exchanged paper money for silver “at a profitable premium.”

He repeated the estimate that Maine “lost from fifteen thousand to twenty thousand inhabitants by this exodus.” Some returned disappointed; their tales, plus warmer weather, slowed the exodus.

Ruby Crosby Wiggin, in her history of the Town of Albion, also connected the weather in 1816 and the economy.

In Albion, Wiggin said, the town saw hard economic times for several years beginning in 1810, worsened by the War of 1812. Wiggin mentioned a petition to the (Massachusetts) legislature protesting land valuations as too high; roads being discontinued; and for three years, produce allowed for tax payments if the taxpayer were short of cash.

Albion voters nonetheless voted in March 1815 to build a town house. The builder who put up and roofed the frame was to be paid partly in stock (livestock?) that a resident owed. Two later contractors finished the outside and inside, each being asked to wait until the following January for his pay.

The year without a summer contributed to the financial problem. “It would seem that residents of the town were not able to pay their taxes that year even in produce because of the scarcity of produce raised,” Wiggin commented.

She wrote that there was frost every month. One June day, children who went to school barefoot walked home in snow, unless their parents could come for them with “ox-team and sled.”

(Your writer assumed that snowy day to have been June 8 or 9, per North; but those dates were a weekend, so it must have been the beginning of the next week, when, North and other sources said, snow continued.)

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Marriner, Ernest, Kennebec Yesterdays (1954).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Kennebec River floods – Part 2

Hallowell Merchants District, 1896.

by Mary Grow

After the great freshet of 1832, with which last week’s article ended, Augusta business leaders went ahead with their plan to build a dam across the Kennebec River to power mills; and a Fairfield company dammed part of the river there.

The idea of an Augusta dam was by then about 50 years old. An early settler left a record predicting a dam in 1785, according to Augusta historian James North; and around 1818 Ephraim Ballard was quoted as saying he could build one for $25,000.

At the beginning of 1834, an Augusta group petitioned the Maine legislature to form a corporation to build a dam. Despite opponents’ concerns about effects on fishing, river transportation and upriver communities that might be flooded, a legislative majority created the Kennebec Dam Company in March 1834.

Work started in the spring of 1836. Expanded plans and time constraints meant the middle of the dam was left open through the winter of 1836-37; the ends survived freshets in November and December 1836 and April 1837.

In March 1837 the legislature renamed the dam company the Kennebec Locks and Canals Company and doubled the amount of capital stock it could issue, to $600,000. Work resumed in June; the 600-foot-long dam was closed Sept. 27; and the lock that allowed boats to pass opened Oct. 12, in a ceremony that was followed by a celebratory dinner.

In Fairfield, according to the Fairfield Historical Society’s bicentennial history, sometime between 1835 and 1840 the Fairfield Land and Mill Association dammed the west channel of the Kennebec between downtown Fairfield (then Kendall’s Mills) and Mill Island. “This earthen and timber dam had a short life as an [undated] unusual surge of high water washed it away.”

Its (undated) replacement a short distance downriver “was ingeniously unique in having a hinged bulkhead at its downstream end that swung open to release the pressure when the flow of water became excessive at flood stage.”

North described the solidity of the 1837 Augusta dam in detail, with illustrations, talking about ballasted timber cribs, thick planks, granite walls, cement, cast iron and iron strapping and similar substantial materials. The project used 800,000 cubic feet of granite, 2.5 million feet of timber and 25 tons of iron, and cost the full $300,000, he wrote.

The river continued to flow through a canal along each bank. North’s sketch shows the lock on the east end, between the dam and the canal.

A May 1838 freshet brought high water and giant logs that damaged the west bank, and a January 1839 windy rainstorm damaged it again (and covered Hallowell’s Water Street four feet deep in icy water). Nonetheless, Locks and Canals Company directors promptly started seeking proposals to build mills to use the water power, and by late May 1839 ten mills were almost built.

Then came, North wrote, “one of those catastrophes which mock at human foresight and defy human energy to resist.” After several days of rain, about 4 a.m. Friday, May 30, water began to go over the west side canal and through the damaged bank.

People “assembled in great numbers” to try to repair the leaks, but when the canal itself began to give way, they fled. The dam held; the river made a new channel about 500 feet wide around the west end, taking out two houses in the process (one, North said, was about a tenth of a mile from and 100 feet above the former shore).

An effort to blow up the mills to prevent their doing damage downstream failed, and one by one they were lifted off the dam, the last one floating away late Saturday afternoon.

Thus ended the first attempt to use the Kennebec to power Augusta industries. The dam stood blocking the river; the new channel was unnavigable; and during the summer of 1839 merchandise had to be unloaded from one boat and carried to another on the other side of the dam, “which was frequently piled high with various descriptions of goods in the process of transit.”

Businesspeople were annoyed. The company corporators had lost their investment. The legislature in March 1840 repealed the company charter effective Aug. 1, unless by then the corporators promised a rebuilt dam within two years.

North credited General Alfred Redington with saving the situation. Redington said if he were given a mill site, water power, “the materials of the old mills swept away in 1839” and as much money as people could come up with, he would build an improved dam and put a sawmill atop it.

The dam was to be 400 feet long, “upon a ledge, in shallow water, and not so high as the old dam” and Redington thought he could do it for $10,000.

Beginning with an Aug 1, 1840, public meeting, he did it. North wrote that work started Sept. 5, 1840, and was apparently finished promptly. Redington’s mill went up “during the following winter” (1840, or 1841?).

(Although both North and Henry Kingsbury, in his chapter on manufacturing in his Kennebec County history, referred to “rebuilding” the dam, what they described as actually built was a 400-foot addition to the 600-foot dam, extending it across the new channel the river had carved on the west end.)

Another sawmill opened on the east end of the (original?) dam, and a machine shop, in 1842. In 1845 and 1846 there was a burst of expansion: cotton mills, a flour mill and half a dozen sawmills.

Kennebec floods tried the rebuilt dam repeatedly. On April 28, 1843, a “southeasterly storm” raised the river to within four feet of the 1832 level. Four and a half days of rain that began Friday evening, Oct. 31, 1845, brought more than four inches of water. Logs, lumber and remains of upriver buildings were carried on “a magnificent sheet [of water] of great depth” over the dam.

The dam was undamaged both times. North gave credit to the width of the “wasteway,” almost the entire width of the dam, and the way the road bridge just downstream narrowed the waterway to 440 feet, divided by the central bridge pier.

The remains of the Hallowell-Chelsea Crib bridge in 1870.

The result, he explained, was the water level below the dam rose faster than the level above it and the force diminished. Normally, the water below the dam would be about 15 feet lower than in the pond behind it; during the 1845 freshet the difference was reduced to five feet.

This flood damaged two Augusta wharves and swept away the basement framing for a new block of six sawmills.

The river breached the new dam at the end of March 1846, when several days of rain following a normal spring rise as snow melted brought down “floating ice…intermixed with logs.”

The rebuilding had left a stone pier (the west end of the original dam, 400 feet from the west shore) as a connector between old and new sections “rising like a tower unprotected above the top of the dam.” An ice cake knocked it down, and in following days the adjoining area washed away; by Saturday, April 11, 1846, there was a 150-foot opening.

Repair work started Monday, April 13, North wrote, and despite a couple more freshets was finished “in about ten weeks,” for about $13,000.

The next damage was from fire, not water: in September 1853 most of the industrial buildings on top of the dam burned. The dam was quickly “repaired, improved and strengthened.”

In June 1855, part of the 1846 repairs failed. About 100 feet of the dam were swept away; repairs cost about $20,000.

North wrote these repairs were tested by a major flood before the derricks used in the work had been taken away. An estimated five inches of rainfall between Friday evening, Oct. 12, and late Saturday, Oct. 13, raised the river level 21 feet by Sunday afternoon, “within eighteen inches of the highest point of the great freshet of 1832.”

The dam was unscathed.

The next major floods North described occurred in October 1869 and January and February 1870. The southeaster that began pouring rain on the Kennebec Valley Sunday morning, Oct. 3, 1869, was expected to be fairly harmless, because the river was low at the time; but it did major damage from Skowhegan south (and through much of New England).

Logs that lumber companies had harvested over the summer and left floating were carried downriver to create jams, notably one at Hallowell, that raised the water behind them. At Water­ville, the Ticonic toll bridge was torn from the banks and floated downriver.

(This bridge, Edwin Whittemore wrote in his Waterville centennial history, dated from 1835. It had been damaged in the 1855 flood and quickly repaired. After it washed out in October 1869, a new free bridge was built for $32,000, mostly paid by Waterville taxpayers; it opened Dec. 1, 1870.)

North wrote that to prevent the Ticonic bridge taking out Augusta’s railroad bridge, “A locomotive was despatched with ropes and a crew of men, who met it in Vassalborough and fastened it to the shore.” The part that came loose and went over the dam was not solid enough to do damage.

This October 1869 freshet damaged warehouses on Augusta wharves and swept away piles of logs and lumber.

The following months, North wrote, were “generally mild,” but with occasional cold spells that froze the river to a considerable depth. After Christmas came another warm spell “which started the buds on trees in favorable exposures” and was followed by rain on Jan. 3, 1870.

The rain caused a freshet; the freshet broke up the ice over rapids in the Vassalboro area; the ice came down and jammed above unbroken ice in Augusta, Hallowell and Gardiner. In Hallowell and Gardiner, North wrote, water started backing up during the night; town officials had bells rung to notify Water Street business owners to rescue merchandise from their basements.

A cold spell added more ice to the jams. From Feb. 18 through 20, 1870, rain and wind moved more ice downstream, until, North wrote, the river was one continuous thickly-layered jam from near the Kennebec Arsenal (on the east bank a bit downriver from old Fort Western) to Hallowell. In places the ice-layers were 15 feet thick; in places they rested on the river bed.

This barrier made the river rise six feet in 30 minutes, until the water levels were equal above and below the Augusta dam. “The dam was completely flowed out, a slight ripple only marking its place,” North wrote.

He described in detail – probably from personal observation – 175 feet of the wooden railroad bridge (built in 1857, according to Charles Nash’s chapter in Kingsbury’s history) breaking away, turning upside down from the weight of the track on top and floating toward the already damaged road bridge, “a huge battering ram.”

When the upside-down floating bridge crashed into the stationary one, one end dipped under and came up on the downriver side, leaving 20-foot-long “legs” sticking up on either side. The mass wriggled until it bounced out and continued downriver, to the “joyous shouts and cheers of many anxious spectators.”

Nash wrote that 160 feet of the Augusta dam went down the river, and commented this was the fourth major damage since 1837. The dam was rebuilt “in a more elaborate and expensive manner than ever before” by the end of 1870; the road bridge was repaired; and a new iron railroad bridge was built “immediately.”

In Hallowell, North wrote, the bridge was carried away and some stores were moved from the east (river) side of Water Street to the west side. An on-line source estimated damage at more than $1 million, including loss of two bridges (road and railroad) and walls torn off buildings by the ice.

This 1870 freshet, North wrote as he concluded his history of Augusta, was the fiercest yet; the water level was two feet higher than in 1832.

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Kennebec River floods – Part 1

Hallowell flood of 1870.

by Mary Grow

When this historical series started in the spring of 2020 as a way to distract writer and readers from the Covid-19 pandemic, part of the plan was a survey of historic local disease outbreaks and other disasters. The latter have come to include weather, floods, fires and other destructive events, man-made or a combination.

January in Maine seems like a good time to talk about weather, including floods. Some local historians collected a lot of information on the topic; others paid it little attention. Here is your writer’s proposal to share some past events.

Of great importance along the Kennebec River were – and still are – the frequent floods, often called “freshets.” Kennebec River freshets, interrelated with human attempts to control the water and sometimes including tributary streams, will be the first topic.

(Wikipedia: “The term freshet is most commonly used to describe a spring thaw resulting from snow and ice melt in rivers located in upper North America.”)

Then there is the famous “Year without a summer,” 1816, for a second topic.

Other weather-related events that have distressed central Kennebec Valley residents over the years, were recorded and have not been covered under the prior two topics will be a third topic.

* * * * * *

To the Kennebec Valley’s Native American inhabitants, the Kennebec River was a main source of transportation and communication up-river and down; a barrier, though one that could be overcome in various ways; a source of food; and a recreational resource. Early European inhabitants further counted the river as a natural dividing line, for example when Waterville was set off from Winslow and Sidney from Vassalboro; and a source of power for industry. To everyone, it was sometimes a threat.

Your writer found two books especially good sources of information on the river’s interactions with the Europeans who settled along its banks. The older is James North’s history of Augusta, published in 1870; the newer is Ernest Marriner’s 1954 Kennebec Yesterdays.

North mentioned the Kennebec in the first sentence of his book, when French explorer Sieur de Monts visited the mouth of the river in 1604. Marriner’s first chapter is titled Our Lady Kennebec; he described the river as a “gracious lady” who intermittently loses her temper and wreaks havoc.

After Europeans discovered the mouth of the river, exploration extended upstream. A series of land grants from the British monarchy authorized settlements, starting with the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. (Your writer has avoided trying to untangle the history of early land titles in the Kennebec Valley.)

The Plymouth settlers started trading with Kennebec Valley Native Americans, especially for furs. Their first three trading posts, established around 1628, were at the mouth of the river; in the Richmond/Swan Island area; and at Cushnoc, on the east bank of the river in what is now Augusta.

Trade was broken off in the 1650s. The valley was mostly devoid of Europeans, mainly because of opposition from the Native Americans and their French supporters in Canada, until Fort Halifax and Fort Western were built in 1754.

By the Feb. 19, 1763, Treaty of Paris, the French abandoned their claim to northern North America (they kept Louisiana until President Thomas Jefferson bought it in 1803). Without French backing, Kennebec Valley Native Americans moved north to join other tribes.

British settlers quickly replaced them. North listed about 100 families around Fort Western by 1762. On April 26, 1771, the Massachusetts legislature incorporated the towns of Hallowell, Vassalboro, Winslow and Winthrop.

(Later boundary changes took Augusta, Chelsea and most of Farmingdale and Manchester out of Hallowell; divided Sidney from Vassalboro, and Waterville from Winslow, separated by the river; and took Readfield from Winthrop.)

Hallowell residents built their log houses and laid out early roads on both banks of the Kennebec, which they apparently crossed at will. North wrote that the 1773 annual town meeting began on March 15 in a house on the west shore; after the first decisions, voters adjourned until March 16, when they reassembled in a house on the east shore.

Henry Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history has the earliest mention of a freshet, not on the Kennebec’s main stem but on Bog – later Hastings – Brook, which flows in from the west in what was then Vassalboro (now Sidney). (This brook was in the southern part of town; it might have been the one now called Goff Brook.)

An early settler named John Marsh built a sawmill and a grist mill on Bog Brook, between the road (the present West River Road, also Route 104, approximately follows this road) and the river. Both mills “were carried away by a freshet and an ice jam in 1774.”

Kingsbury wrote that another early settler, Thomas Clark, had two bags of meal in the grist mill. He rescued one; saying his family needed the second bag, he went back into the mill “just as the resistless torrent bore it and him to destruction.”

North’s first mention of a Kennebec flood was in April 1789, after an April 7 rainstorm. Apparently a minor flood, it nonetheless set a destructive precedent: a six-month-old bridge over Bond Brook (formerly Ballard’s Brook), which enters the Kennebec from the west at the north end of Water Street, was washed out, and Ephraim Ballard’s house and dam were damaged.

On Feb. 3, 1791, North wrote, Hallowell residents experienced “the greatest freshet…since the settlement of the country.” After bare ground and an ice-free river at the end of 1790, the river froze and a foot of snow fell by Jan. 4. There was more snow at the beginning of February; it changed to rain as the wind blew from the southeast.

Again the area around the mouth of Bond Brook was hard-hit. A store was flooded, and the house where Martha and Ephraim Ballard’s son was living was knocked off its foundation by four feet of water carrying cakes of ice.

Hallowell flood of 1896.

During the winter of 1794 – no specific date – and on Feb. 5, 1795, North wrote that ice jams in the river led to brief flooding. In February 1806, a combination of rain and ice-jams raised water levels, in Bond Brook early in the month and in the Kennebec in mid-month.

The week of March 21, 1826, began with thunderstorms and ended with “torrents of rain” falling on almost two feet of ice on the Kennebec. Saturday morning, March 26, North wrote, the ice broke up, floated down to Hallowell and jammed against Brown’s Island, creating a barricade that brought the river 20 feet above normal high water in Augusta by Sunday (while downstream in Gardiner the level was below normal).

This flood took out parts of bridges in Norridgewock and Waterville. In Augusta it damaged a mill on Bond Brook, floated away stockpiled lumber and flooded cellars. Buildings on Hallowell’s Main Street had first floors as well as cellars water-filled, and much merchandise was ruined. “Capt. Wyman’s sloop was driven into Mr. Elias Bond’s garden”; other ships were carried downriver to join the jam at Brown’s Island.

Late Sunday afternoon, March 27, the jam let go. A “compact mass” of ice, trees, logs, lumber and five schooners” tore past Gardiner and hung up again a mile or two south, raising the river “to an unprecedented height” at Gardiner.

The next year, 1827, Augusta was chosen as the capital of Maine, which had become a separate state from Massachusetts in 1820. The Maine legislature began its first session in the new state house on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 1832. In May 1832 occurred what North, Edwin Carey Whittemore in his centennial history of Waterville and Marriner agreed was the worst flooding Europeans had seen on the Kennebec to that date.

North wrote that central Maine got a lot of snow in the winter of 1831-32, and spring was late – the ground was still frozen early in May. A sudden warming beginning May 8 started melting the snow. After rain, at first moderate and then “in torrents” from Thursday night, May 17, through Tuesday morning, May 22, “the Kennebec was swollen to an unexampled height.”

North listed damage as including destruction of two bridges in Waterville (part of one came downstream past Augusta); all but one of that town’s sawmills knocked off their foundations; on Bond Brook, a “valuable fulling-mill” and – again – the bridge swept away.

He wrote: “The Redington saw mill [from Waterville] came floating along, upright and high out of the water, being buoyed up by lumber piled in it. The formidable looking mass as it rapidly approached was expected to seriously damage if not remove the [Augusta] bridge. It struck, stopped for a moment, the gable of the building was crushed, and it sunk down into the water and passed under” without harming the bridge.”

However, the water damaged the east end of the bridge enough so that it was unsafe for carriages for two weeks.

Whittemore dated the Redington mill and the dam on which it stood to 1792. The bridge that sailed downriver was the Ticonic bridge, a privately-constructed wooden toll bridge dating from the early 1820s. It had been damaged in the “great freshet” in March 1826 and promptly repaired.

To Whittemore, the 1832 “great freshet” had not been equaled when he finished editing his history in 1902.

Kingsbury wrote that the bridge across the Sebasticook in Winslow was also taken out. A private company replaced it with a toll bridge in 1834; in 1866, the town bought it for $2,500 and abolished the tolls.

Marriner described his Lady Kennebec in May 1832 (and again in 1936) as a “demon of wrath” who did millions of dollars in damage. Much of his description of the flood is based on an 1891 report by a Winslow-born engineer named Timothy Otis Paine, employed in the interest of the Hollingsworth and Whitney Company to date high-water marks.

Paine, born in a house uphill from the Sebasticook River and Fort Halifax and eight years old in 1832, remembered watching the Kennebec cover Lithgow Street and continue rising. He knew other people who measured subsequent floods by how close the water came to 1832 levels, as recorded on riverside trees and other features.

Why, Paine asked, did the river rise so dramatically in 1832? He discounted two theories: the rumor that a dam holding back Moosehead Lake had breached, because there was no dam at the foot of the lake in 1832; and an elderly resident’s theory that the persistent northeast wind had blown water out of the lake to supplement the rainfall.

Marriner wrote that Paine decided the flood was so bad because large logs being floated to sawmills got jammed in Fairfield, against the foundations of “the three bridges between Fairfield and Benton” and around Bunker Island. When the jam broke and moved forcefully downriver, pent-up water followed in a series of waves, each higher than the one before.

This information does not match the Fairfield Historical Society’s bicentennial history. That book contains a single reference to the 1832 flood, a quotation from the Dec. 17, 1901, Fairfield Journal saying the Dec. 16, 1901, flood was “the worst freshet since 1832.”

The Fairfield history dates the first dam across the west channel of the Kennebec, between downtown Fairfield (then Kendall’s Mills) and Mill Island, to the late 1780s, but there is no reference to a dam in Marriner’s account of the flood. The Fairfield history also says the bridges linking Fairfield and Benton were built in 1848, so they could not have held back logs in 1832.

Marriner retold an odd story from Paine. He wrote that a flock of sheep pastured on the east bank of the Kennebec “just above the Pond Hole,” with “an old flat boat turned bottom up” as their shelter, lived through the flood.

In the course of trying to find out how they survived, Paine decided the “Pond Hole” was neither a pond nor a hole, merely a piece of very rough ground. Why that interpretation saved the sheep, Marriner did not explain.

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Marriner, Ernest, Kennebec Yesterdays (1954).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870). Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: The Burleigh family

by Mary Grow

Burleigh family of Palermo, Aroostook County and Augusta

The Burleigh (sometimes spelled Burley) families were among the earliest to settle in the Kennebec Valley. One of Palermo’s early settlers was Moses Burleigh, and there were 19th-century Burleighs in other area towns.

Millard Howard, in his Palermo history, said the Palermo family had been in America since 1648, when a Burley ancestor lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

The first generation of these Burleighs: Moses, in Palermo and Linneus

Moses Burleigh (March 25, 1781 – Feb. 13, 1860) was one of seven children (and oldest of four sons) of Benjamin Burleigh and Priscilla (Senter) Burleigh. He and his father were the first Burleighs to come to Pal­ermo, moving from Sand­wich, New Hampshire, in 1800. An on-line source says he married Nancy Spiller (1785 – Jan. 2, 1850) in Palermo “about 1812.”

The same source lists birth dates of the first four of the couple’s “at least 6 sons and 3 daughters” beginning with Elvira Senter Burleigh in 1806 (she died in 1829); followed by Benjamin Burleigh (1809 – 1811); a second Benjamin Burleigh, born in 1811; and on May 16, 1812 (the exact date is from Milton Dowe’s history of Palermo), Parker Prescott Burleigh.

(Your writer questions the marriage date. Children were born out of wedlock in Maine in the early 1800s, and sometimes acknowledged by their fathers; and they were born less than nine months after a wedding. But three children born and one conceived, and then the wedding? – an unusual series of events.)

Dowe called Moses Burleigh “the most prominent man in this section of the state.” He was a militia captain in the War of 1812 and led his troop to Belfast when the British landed at Castine in September, 1814. In 1816 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

Burleigh chaired the Palermo board of selectmen “for many years” and was a justice of the peace and a deputy sheriff, according to Dowe and Howard. He served in the Massachusetts General Court for three years.

By 1816, the majority of Palermo voters favored statehood for Maine. Two public meetings that year produced pro-statehood votes. At the second one, on Sept. 2, the vote was 78 to 20, according to Howard, and voters chose Burleigh to represent the town at a convention in Brunswick called to write a Maine constitution.

After Maine became a state in 1820, Burleigh was a member of the Maine legislature for three years. He was also a mail carrier between Augusta and Bangor, first on horseback and later by carriage.

In 1830 or 1831 the Burleighs moved to Linneus, an Aroostook County town southwest of Houlton. There, Howard wrote, Moses Burleigh “continued to hold important positions in state, county and the militia.” An on-line Linneus site lists the positions as including census taker, land agent responsible for evicting Canadian trespassers from land claimed by Maine and postmaster at Linneus.

The second generation: Moses Burleigh’s son, Parker Prescott, in Aroostook County

Moses and Nancy Burleigh’s son, Parker Prescott Burleigh (May 16, 1812- Apr. 29, 1899), Dowe described as a “prominent statesman.” On-line sites say he was a surveyor, civil engineer and farmer, well-informed about Maine timberland. They list some of the town and county positions he held, including town clerk, treasurer, tax collector and school board chairman; and county commissioner and treasurer.

Parker Burleigh was North Linneus postmaster for 25 years, and represented the town in the Maine House of Representatives in 1856 and the area in the Maine Senate twice, in 1864 and 1877.

Parker Burleigh’s first wife was Caroline Peabody Chick (Jan. 31, 1815 – Apr. 6, 1861) from Bangor. They had two sons. He remarried in May, 1873, to Charlotte Mehitable Smith, also from Bangor.

The third generation: Moses Burleigh’s grandson (Parker Burleigh’s son), Albert Augustus, in Aroostook County

Parker and Caroline’s older son, Albert Augustus Burleigh (Oct. 12, 1841 – 1916) served in the First Maine Cavalry in the Civil War. He was wounded at least twice and imprisoned in the Confederacy. He and his wife, Lucinda Collins, had five sons and one daughter born between Novem­ber, 1862, and October, 1874.

Albert Burleigh was a state senator early in the 1900s, from the Houlton/Oakfield area. He and his brother Edwin were among those who supported extending Bangor and Aroostook Railroad service into Aroostook County. He died in Houlton about 1918.

The third generation continued: Moses Burleigh’s grandson, Edwin Chick (Parker Burleigh’s son), in Aroostook County and Augusta

Albert’s brother, Edwin Chick Burleigh (Nov. 27, 1843 – June 16, 1916), graduated from Houlton Academy and worked as a teacher, farmer and surveyor. On June 28, 1863, he married Mary Jane Bither (Nov. 9, 1841 – May? 1916) of Linneus; they had two sons and four daughters, born between 1864 and 1877.

(Your writer found no exact date for Mary Jane Burleigh’s death. A May 2, 1916, clipping from the Portland Express-Advertiser, found on line, says Senator Burleigh’s wife “is dangerously ill and is not expected to recover” after a “serious collapse” on May 1.)

A detailed on-line biography from 1909 says Edwin Burleigh would have enlisted for Civil War service with his brother, but was rejected for (unspecified) health issues.

Instead, he spent the war as a clerk in the state adjutant general’s office. Then he returned to surveying and farming until 1870, when he accepted a clerkship in the state land office in Bangor (where, according to Louis Hatch’s history of Maine, his father was the land agent).

In 1876 he was appointed state land agent, and also, according to the on-line biography, assistant clerk in the Maine House of Representatives. These jobs led the family to move to Augusta, either in 1876 or in 1880, when he became a clerk in the state treasurer’s office (sources differ).

From 1884 to 1888, Edwin Burleigh was state treasurer, “an office that he filled with conspicuous ability and success,” according to the on-line biography. He ran successfully for governor in the fall of 1888 and was re-elected two years later, serving as Maine’s 42nd governor from January 1889 to January 1893.

The biography says his administration was “pre-eminently constructive and progressive in character.” A list of accomplishments starts with blocking a proposal to relocate the state capital to Portland and instead overseeing enlargement of the state house, thereby saving taxpayers “at least two million dollars.”

In 1892 Edwin Burleigh ran for the U. S. House from Maine’s Third Congressional District. He lost to incumbent Seth Milliken, of Belfast; but when Milliken died in office in 1897, Burleigh was chosen as his successor. He served from June 21, 1897, until he lost a 1910 re-election bid and was replaced on March 3, 1911; the 1909 on-line biography says his “ability and usefulness have been conspicuous.”

Hatch wrote that “he was very successful in obtaining public buildings for his district.”

Meanwhile, in 1887 he had purchased Augusta’s Kennebec Journal, so in 1911 he turned his attention back to the newspaper and to managing forest land he owned in Aroostook County. The biography adds that his older son, Clarence Blendon Burleigh, was the paper’s managing editor in the early 1900s.

In the fall of 1912 Edwin Burleigh was elected to the U. S. Senate, taking office March 4, 1913. He did not finish his Senate term; he died in Augusta on June 16, 1916. He, his wife and other family members are buried in Augusta’s Forest Grove Cemetery.

The fourth generation: Moses Burleigh’s great-grandson (Edwin Burleigh’s son) Clarence Blendon, in Augusta

Edwin and Mary Jane Burleigh’s older son was Clarence Blendon Burleigh (Nov. 1, 1864 – 1910), born in Linneus. He attended local schools in Linneus and Bangor, and graduated from Hampton Literary Institute in 1883 and from Bowdoin College in 1887.

After a summer as “editor of the Old Orchard Sea Shell, which was published by the Biddeford Times until the close of the beach season,” Clarence Burleigh came back to Augusta and joined his father’s Kennebec Journal venture. His career included 10 years (1896-1906) as state printer.

Clarence Burleigh also served as president of the Maine Press Association (1896); member of the city board of assessors (1897); president of Augusta City Hospital (founded in 1898); and president of the Augusta Board of Trade (1899).

He and his younger brother Lewis were Republicans, active Masons and Congregationalists.

On Nov. 24, 1887, he married Sarah P. Quimby of Sandwich, New Hamp­shire. The on-line site says that had two sons, Edwin C. (born Dec. 9, 1891) and Donald Q. (born June 2, 1894), carrying the Burleigh name into the fifth generation.

The fourth generation continued: Moses Burleigh’s great-grandson Lewis Albert (Edwin Burleigh’s son), Augusta

Clarence Burleigh’s younger brother, Lewis Albert Burleigh (March 24, 1870 – 1929), was born in Linneus; the family moved to Augusta in time for him to graduate from Cony High School in 1887. He followed his brother to Bowdoin, graduating in 1891, and earned his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1894.

He was immediately admitted to the Kennebec Bar and went into practice with his brother-in-law, Joseph Williamson (husband of his older sister, Vallie Mary). The on-line biography says as of 1909, “The firm has taken a leading position among the lawyers of the state, doing a general and corporation business.”

This source says Lewis Burleigh had been Augusta city clerk and was in his second term as one of three United States Commissioners. (Another on-line source explains that United States Commissioners are appointed by district court chief judges to “perform judicial functions for the federal government” similar to those performed by state “magistrates or justices of the peace.”)

In 1909 he was also on Augusta’s board of education and representing the city in the state House of Representatives.

On Oct. 18, 1894, Lewis Burleigh married Caddie Hall Brown (Apr. 22, 1871 – 1955) of Fairfield. The couple had a daughter who was born and died in 1895 and a son, Lewis Albert Burleigh, Jr. (July 20, 1897 – Aug. 11, 1949) – another of Moses Burleigh’s fifth-generation descendants.

The senior Lewis Burleigh got a Nov. 12, 1929, obituary in The New York Times, in which he was identified as an “Attorney and Former Legislator of Augusta, Me.”

And briefly one member of the fifth generation: Moses Burleigh’s great-great-grandson Donald Quimby (Clarence Burleigh’s son)

Donald Quimby Burleigh is identified as a novelist and, with his wife Mary (Johnson) Burleigh, “a New England champion bridge player.” Donald and Mary Burleigh had four daughters and no sons.

One website lists several books written by Clarence Blendon Burleigh. Your writer was surprised to find available on line copies of:

Bowdoin ’87: A History of Undergraduate Days : Together with Brief Sketches of Members of the Class Since Graduation, published in 1900 by the Kennebec Journal Press;

The Letter on Camp K, subtitled Two Live Boys in Northern Maine, with author and illustrator L. J. Brigman (Lewis Jesse Brigman, 1857 – 1931) listed as co-author, originally published in 1906;

Raymond Benson at Krampton, published in 1907 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard of Boston, with two young men ready for a baseball game on the cover; and

The Kenton Pines, or Raymond Benson in College, also published in 1907 by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. The forgottenbooks.com website categorizes its reproduction of the novel as “childrens” and says it is 412 pages long.

Sources

Dowe, Milton E., History Town of Palermo Incorporated 1884 (1954).
Hatch, Louis Clinton, ed., Maine: A History 1919 ((facsimile, 1974).
Howard, Millard, An Introduction to the Early History of Palermo, Maine (second edition, December 2015).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Stories from Fort Hill Cemetery: Joseph Eaton (1800 – 1860)

Fort Hill Cemetery, in Winslow

by Kit Alexander

As you walk through the entrance of Fort Hill Cemetery and look left, you will see a tall, granite obelisk dated 1886 with the name Eaton inscribed on it. The monument looks a little out of place in this humble, Winslow cemetery, but then, Joseph Eaton died a wealthy man. The simple but dignified memorial sits on the largest lot in Fort Hill, the resting place of Joseph and 15 of his direct and extended family members.

At the age of 17, Joseph came to Winslow from Bowdoin with his father, Solomon. Solomon already owned a store and other businesses in Winslow, and Joseph and he went into business together when Joseph turned 21. They engaged in trade of all types, using the rivers as their route of transportation. Besides running the store, they bought and sold land, traded in lumber, and owned several saw mills in the area.

During the years 1831 and 1834, Joseph was a selectman in the town. Elected to the Maine State Legislature from 1829-1832, he later served two terms in the Senate.

Joseph was one of the founders of the Kennebec & Somerset Railroad which stretched from Augusta to Waterville and then Skowhegan. It later became part of the Central Maine Railroad, and Joseph served as president for both.

As the years passed, Joseph engaged in other enterprises in the Winslow area, including the toll bridge over the Sebasticook River. He served as a trustee for the Waterville Liberal Institute and was president of the Ticonic Bank during the last ten years of his life.

So, we can see that the Honorable Joseph Eaton, as he was known, was a busy man, running lucrative businesses, standing for local and state offices, and lending his energy to the success of education and other community institutions. Joseph died in 1865 after a spell of paralysis, due, most likely, to stroke. His obituary described him as “…one of the most energetic and successful business men of Maine…”

In 1830, Joseph married Mary Ann Loring, of Norridgewock, and together they had nine children. Their first child, Abigail, born the year of their marriage, died at the age of seven, just three and a half years after the twins were born. Oddly enough, Abigail has two stones in Fort Hill, one in the family plot and another far away in the older section. Both stones are marked “Abbie Eaton” with a death date of 1837, so the grave must belong to the same person. Now why would that be?

The first twin, Charles, born in 1834, was initially a grain dealer, in Fairfield. In 1856, he married Mary Lucia Johnson, in Québec, Canada, and they later moved to Boston. He served in the Civil War, having been drafted in 1863. Charles died a single man in Plaistow, New Hampshire, of kidney disease in 1886.

Charles’ twin brother, Roland Leonard, appears to have been supported by his father throughout his life, living in hotels in Waterville over the years. Joseph left him one sixth of his estate in 1865, but appointed his wife and one of his sons as trustees. After five years, Roland could have free access to his inheritance if he had developed “…confirmed habits of sobriety and frugality…” An 1867 article in the Augusta, ME newspaper, Maine Farmer, described an accident in which Roland’s foot was crushed when he jumped onto a moving freight train. He died unmarried three years later.

Next came Joseph Jr., in 1837, who grew up to be a successful farmer in Winslow. He married Ellen Simpson in 1866, fathered two sons, and died three years later of heart disease. He was a Captain in Co. H. of the 19th Maine Infantry during the Civil War.

Mary Ann was born in 1839 and became the wife of Horace Batchelder in 1866. She spent most of her life in Boston and died there of heart disease in 1897.

Abbie Frances came along four years later. She was rewarded by way of a special gift in her father’s will, caring for him in his final days. She moved to Massachusetts to live with her sister after his death and married Lucius Allen in 1873, dying of heart disease in Boston in 1905.

Solomon, named for his grandfather, was born in 1846. He moved to Boston before 1860, lived with Abbie Frances, and worked in sales and bookkeeping. At the age of 59, he married Anna M. Bauer, 24 years his junior. They must have moved back to Winslow around 1832 when Solomon died and where Anna continued to live until her death in 1951.

Francis Loring was born in 1849, followed by Frederick three years later. “Frankie” and “Freddie” died nine days apart in 1857, most likely of infectious disease.

And so, at age 43, Mary Ann’s child bearing years were over. Six children had grown to adulthood in the Eaton household over a period 37 years, three having died in childhood. She passed away three years after Joseph, following what must have been a full life as the wife of a prominent businessman.

While four of the Eaton children moved to other states, they all came back to spend eternity with their family in Fort Hill. The only exception was Abbie Allen who was buried close by in Pine Grove Cemetery, in Waterville, along with her husband’s ancestors.

Besides Joseph’s nine children, Mary’s husband Horace, Joseph, Jr.’s wife, Ellen, their sons Walter and Joseph, and Joseph’s wife, Iva, were buried on the front of the plot. On the back was the resting place of Solomon’s wife, Anna, who lived until 1951.

One could assume that Joseph was the wealthiest man buried at Fort Hill. In 1850, the Winslow census showed him owning $50,000 worth of real estate. Five years before his death, the census recorded $60,000 in real estate and $10,000. in personal property, altogether worth well over $2 million in today’s money. His will contained 57 pages, and while his net worth was not indicated, it must have been significant.

And so, can we say Joseph and Mary Ann’s family was much like other wealthy families living in rural Maine in the middle of the 19th century? The father worked at a furious pace to enrich his town, increase his own wealth, and support his six children, while his wife, along with a few domestic helpers, managed the house and cared for their children. Death took three of their children early on, a common occurrence at the time.

But can we compare the Eaton family to one of today? One son appears to have been a “bad boy,” unable to conduct himself in an appropriate manner. Five children went on to live successful lives, four of them leaving the little town of Winslow for the big city. One son stayed behind, possibly to help his parents, working the land and dying at an early age. The youngest of them lived to be an old man, while the others, including Joseph, were prone to early death from heart disease. Both the Eaton family and the town of Winslow sent two of their sons to military service and brought them home again. Aside from its great wealth and the loss of three little ones, the family could be similar to others that live here today. Did the Eatons talk about the institution of slavery at their dinner table, much the same as equal rights for African Americans are discussed at supper tables today?

The older, southern part of Fort Hill, contains the graves of some of the men and women who were instrumental in carving Winslow out of the wilderness. When Joseph came to town many years later, his drive and determination helped it to continue to grow. He was responsible, in part or in whole, for some of the area’s institutions and businesses we may have heard of or can still see the remnants of today. The next time we drive north over the Sebasticook River bridge, we might think of this man and his family who are still memorialized not too far down the road and up the hill.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Christmas pre-20th century

The Christmas holiday grew in popularity after the Civil War. Certainly, the message of peace and goodwill resonated with Americans who yearned for reconciliation and unity. (photo from the book, Christmas in the 19th Century, by Bev Scott)

by Mary Grow

This article is intended to complete the survey of pre-20th-century social activities in the central Kennebec Valley and, given the current date, to report on Christmas observances.

An organization omitted last week, but covered earlier in this series (see The Town Line issues of April 8 through May 13, 2021), was the Patrons of Husbandry, the farmers’ organization commonly called the Grange. All of the dozen towns and cities covered in this series had at least one Grange; according to the Maine State Grange website, Benton, Fairfield, Palermo and Vassalboro are among 98 Maine towns that still do.

The history of Waterville’s Grange is lost. Edwin Whittemore’s 1902 Waterville history said the Waterville Grange once existed, named three members and concluded, “It is long since defunct.”

The April 8, 2021, issue of The Town Line listed 19 local Granges, including three each in China and Vassalboro and two each in Albion, Augusta, Clinton and Palermo, founded between 1874 and about 1974.

While farming remained prominent, the Grange was a center of social activity, especially in smaller towns. Meetings provided education as well as entertainment, and several Granges had stores where they sold essentials, bought in bulk, to members at discount prices.

In addition to organizational activities, residents had other types of entertainment. Windsor historian Linwood Lowden mentioned minstrel shows, put on by different groups beginning in the 1860s.

He also cited a local diary: “On Monday night, March 29, 1886, the Weeks Mills Dramatic Club performed at Windsor Four Corners. The performance was followed by a ‘sociable.'”

On the west side of the Kennebec, historian Alice Hammond found an advertising poster for the Sidney Minstrels’ Grand Concert on Thursday, Aug. 18, 1898. The location is written in; the cursive script has faded to illegibility.

Vern Woodcock, Boston’s Favorite, had the largest headline; he was described as “the Celebrated Guitarist, and Beautiful Tenor Balladist, in his Comic and Sentimental Songs and Character Impersonations.” Also to perform were Happy Charlie Simonds (“the Merry Minstrel, the Prince of Ethiopian Comedians, and the Champion Clog Dancer of the World”) and other comics and musicians.

The Fairfield history added roller skating to 19th-century local recreational activities. Citing a journal written by a local businessman named S. H. Blackwell, the writers said the roller rink was on Lawrence Avenue, where the telephone company building was in 1988. People of all ages and groups from out of town came to skate.

The China Grange, in China Village.

The China bicentennial history includes a list of available spaces for social gatherings in three of the town’s four villages. In China Village in the early 1800s were “Mr. [Japheth C.] Washburn’s hall and General [Alfred] Marshall’s inn.”

Until the major fire in 1872, there was a three-story building in South China that prominent Quaker Rufus Jones described as a meeting place. Barzillai Harrington’s school building in China’s part of Branch Mills and “the meeting room over Coombs’ store” were available “in the last half of the nineteenth century.”

In Clinton, Kingsbury said, John P. Billings built Centennial Hall, on Church Street, in 1876, apparently as a public hall. He sold it to the Grange in 1890; in 1892, the Grangers used the ground floor and the second floor was “used for exhibition purposes.”

Milton Dowe wrote that Palermo’s “first known building for recreation” was on Amon Bradstreet’s farm, described as between Donald Brown’s land (in 1954) and Sheepscot Lake. Dances were held there until the hall and farm buildings burned about 1890.

In Branch Mills Village, Dowe said, the large hotel east of the Sheepscot and north of Main Street (where the Grange Hall now stands) had a dance hall on the second floor of the ell. Behind the hotel was a dance pavilion. Both were destroyed in the 1908 fire that leveled the entire downtown.

In her Vassalboro history, Alma Pierce Robbins mentioned that the big schoolhouse on Main Street, in North Vassalboro, was used for “‘benefit’ gatherings of many kinds” from the time it was built in 1873, though she gave no specifics before the 1960s.

Sometimes the weather – or a person’s mood – forbade socializing. Lowden’s history has a paragraph titled “B.T.V. (Before Television),” in which he talked about books people could read and reread during long evenings, based on inventories he reviewed.

Some families had no books, he wrote. If there was only one, it was a Bible.

A relatively well-off resident named Reuben Libby, who died around 1814, had four books plus a pamphlet (subject not given). The books were a Bible; a dictionary; Young Man’s Best Companion (also called The American Instructor, described on line as first published in 1792 and offering an easy way to teach spelling writing, reading and arithmetic); and a book described as a “selection” – Lowden did not know whether it was poetry or prose.

Benjamin Duren’s 1814 inventory listed a Bible and a dictionary, two geography books, an arithmetic book and two unnamed others.

A former sea captain’s 1831 inventory listed two nautical books, the American Coast Pilot (first published in 1796) and Bowditch’s American Practical Navigator (first published in 1802, though there were earlier versions from 1799), plus The Poets of Great Britain Complete from Chaucer to Churchill (the work is described by Wikipedia as 109 volumes, published by John Bell between 1777 and 1783; Lowden did not say whether the set was complete).

* * * * *

Christmas was not much of a holiday in the 19th century, according to the few local accounts your writer found.

In Lowden’s history of Windsor, he used diary entries from the 1870s and 1880s to support his claim that “Mostly it was a quiet day at home.”

The longest account is from the diary of Roger Reeves, a farmer and carpenter. In 1874, Lowden learned, Dec. 24 was a cloudy day with rain that turned to snow; nonetheless, Reeves traveled to Augusta and spent $1.50 on Christmas presents.

Christmas day Reeves “spent the day making picture frames in his shop, doing his regular chores, and otherwise busying himself about the place.” That evening, he joined people gathered around a Christmas tree at Tyler’s Hall to exchange presents, enjoy an “antiquarian supper,” sing and socialize.

(Albion historian Ruby Crosby Wiggin also came across such a supper, though it was planned at a Feb. 8, 1878, Grange meeting, not associated with Christmas, and was in the meeting report spelled “antignarian” – to Wiggins’ delight.

Wiggin consulted her Webster’s dictionary and found that “gnar” meant [and still means, though the web offers additional meanings] “to snarl.” “Anti” means against; so she concluded approvingly that “antignarian” had to mean “not snarling but friendly or smiling.”)

Orren Choate (June 20, 1868-1948), another Windsor diarist, spent Christmas 1885 “at home with his parents,” identified on line as Abram and Adeline (Moody) Choate. They had company in the afternoon.

Christmas evening, Choate skipped a Christmas dance in South Windsor because he didn’t want to drive that far in the cold. Instead, he and his father spent the evening playing cards at the home of his father’s younger brother, Ira Choate.

In Vassalboro, one of the women’s clubs Alma Pierce Robbins mentioned in her town history was the Christmas Club on Webber Pond Road, “where the women met for sociability and sewing for Christmas.” These meetings were held all year at members’ houses, she said; but she gave no indication of when the club was founded or how long it lasted.

Another source of Christmas information was Revolutionary War veteran and Augusta civic leader Henry Sewall’s diary, as excerpted in Charles Nash’s Augusta history for the years 1830 to 1843.

Sewall was a Congregationalist who attended church regularly. He often participated in religious exercises on other days, like the four-day meeting in May 1831 that began daily with a 5:30 a.m. prayer meeting and ended around 9 p.m. after the evening lecture.

Nash was selective in his choice of entries. Between 1830 and 1843, he included only seven Dec. 25 entries (of 14).

Sewall’s 1830 diary entry for Dec. 25 identified the day as Christmas and reported on the warm rain that broke up the ice in the Kennebec. Dec. 25, 1834, had another weather report; the temperature was eight below that Christmas.

In 1832 Dec. 25 was a Tuesday (according to on-line sources). Sewall called the day Christmas and wrote that he listened to Rev. Mr. Shepherd’s “discourse” proving the divinity of Christ.

Four of the entries strike an odd note, and are not explained in Nash’s book. On Dec. 25, 1838, and again in 1839, Sewall wrote merely, “Christmas (so-called).” He expanded on the theme in 1841, writing, “Christmas, so-called, which was employed here in consecrating St. Mark’s church, for their future worship.”

(St. Mark’s Episcopal congregation organized in 1840; Wikipedia says the first church was a wooden building just north of the present Lithgow Library. James North wrote in his Augusta history that the cornerstone was laid July 4, 1841, and the building was first used for worship that Christmas. Construction cost was $6,248; the church was 46 by 85 feet with a 110-foot tall “tower and spire.”)

On Dec. 25, 1843, Sewall, who had noted that he turned 91 on Nov. 24 (and on Nov. 28 recorded that he had finished “sawing a cord of wood, with my own hands”) wrote: “Christmas, as held by Episcopalians, is a misnomer.”

North, in a biographical sketch, commented that Sewall was “pious and rigidly orthodox in his religious views. Towards the close of his life his religious rigor was much softened.”

Main sources

Dowe, Milton E., History Town of Palermo Incorporated 1884 (1954).
Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984.)
Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Lowden, Linwood H., good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).
Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Social clubs in Kennebec Valley

Phonograph, circa 1890.

by Mary Grow

Last week’s article talked mostly about ways early settlers interacted socially as individuals and families. This week’s piece will describe some of the 19th-century organizations that united residents and kept them busy, and related topics.

Kennebec Valley towns had a variety of organizations, some branches of national groups and others home-grown. Some built headquarters buildings; other groups met wherever they could, in public spaces or private homes.

In her chapter on social life in Edwin Carey Whittemore’s centennial history, Martha Dunn described some of Waterville’s 19th-century organizations. Separate chapters listed others.

The first Waterville literary organization for which Dunn found records was the Shakespearean Club, whose members presented Shakespeare’s plays. Started about 1852, it included men and women. Meetings were held weekly “during the winter season” at members’ houses.

Dunn named two members: Baptist church pastor Rev. N[athaniel] Milton Wood, “a man of strict tenets and naturally lugubrious cast of countenance,” who reportedly “not only excelled but delighted in the representation of comic parts”; and Mrs. Ephraim Maxham (the former Eliza Anna Naylor, according to on-line sources), wife of the Waterville Mail owner-editor, who “was especially skilled in the rendering of tragedy.”

The club disbanded during the Civil War and after the war reformed as the Roundabout and continued another half-dozen years, becoming, Dunn wrote, less intellectual and “more given to feasting and social enjoyments.”

Mrs. James H. Hanson (the former Mary E. Field, of Sidney) wrote a chapter in Whittemore’s history on the Waterville Women’s Association, an organization praised by Dunn and in Henry Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history. Dunn called it the place “where women may work – and enjoy – together, independent of society distinctions or church affiliations.”

A wealthy widow named Sarah Scott Ware (Mrs. John Ware, Sr.) founded the Association in 1897, with working women and girls foremost in her mind. She wanted to provide a “homelike” place for them, with “facilities for literary and womanly culture and usefulness,” beginning with a lending library.

By 1902 the club had well over 100 members. Its rooms provided books, magazines and newspapers; games; and a sewing machine. Women and girls attended late-afternoon programs and evening classes (Kingsbury listed instruction in “needlework, penmanship, music and a variety of useful arts”). The group ran a lunchroom, an employment bureau and a second-hand clothing distribution center.

Funding came from donations and, Hanson wrote, “the successful doll sales and May-basket sales.” For those she credited the enthusiasm and skill of the young members; they “were also indispensable in the work of the schools,” she wrote.

The Women’s Association spun off the Women’s Literary Club in the winter of 1891-1892. Dunn wrote the members met “fortnightly during the winter season” for literary and musical programs, gathering in church vestries, at Waterville Classical Institute (so named in 1865; after 1883, Coburn Classical Institute) or in members’ houses.

A separate club called the Literature Class, with a dozen members, met weekly “during the winter months.”

Augusta, according to Kingsbury, had a Benevolent Society, started about 1842 “by Miss Jane Howard, a maiden lady whose name is still fragrant in this community, by reason of her many deeds of benevolence and charity.” Later renamed the Howard Benevolent Society and in 1883 The Howard Benevolent Union, Kingsbury said its work was primarily “clothing the poor.”

The Fairfield bicentennial history records a Ladies Book Club, started in 1895. As described in the Nov. 11, 2021, The Town Line, one founding member was Addie Lawrence, whose father a few years later donated money to build Fairfield’s Lawrence Library.

Vassalboro historian Alma Pierce Robbins listed – without dates – four clubs, at least three identified as women’s clubs, and said two of them “met at members’ homes year ’round.”

In Palermo, historian Milton Dowe wrote, the Branch Mills Ladies Sewing Circle first met on March 10, 1853, hosted by Mrs. B. Harrington (almost certainly the wife of Barzillai Harrington; he was recognized in the Sept. 23, 2021, issue of The Town Line for starting a high school in China’s side of Branch Mills Village about 1851).

The sewing circle remained active for years; its members were responsible for construction of the Branch Mills Community House in 1922.

Among national/international organizations with local affiliates, the Masons, mostly the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons (A. F. & A. M.), had branches in many Maine towns.

Windsor had Malta Lodge for about five years in the 1880s, according to Leonard Lowden’s town history. Members customarily met “weekly on Saturday nights.” After the lodge shut down, on “Saturday evening, December 12, 1885,” the few Windsor men still interested joined the lodge in Weeks Mills, “on Saturday night, May 29, 1886.”

Kingsbury wrote that Benton’s Lodge was organized Nov. 21, 1891, and as he finished his county history in 1892 was “in a flourishing condition.” Members met every Thursday evening in one of Benton’s schoolhouses.

Masonic lodges were also noted in histories of Augusta (four lodges, the earliest founded in 1821); China (four lodges, the first dating from 1824); Clinton (Sebasticook Lodge, chartered in May 1868); and Fairfield (Siloam Lodge, chartered March 8, 1858, with 13 members).

Sidney’s branch of the A. F. & A. M. was Rural Lodge No. 53, according to Alice Hammond’s town history. A dozen men, some members of a lodge in Waterville, started it on April 25, 1827.

The lodge disbanded in 1836, she wrote, “because of the violent anti-masonic feeling which prevailed at that time.” The China bicentennial history expanded on that theme, quoting from Thomas Burrill’s history of Central Lodge.

Burrill said “Antimasonry” started about 1829 and soon “assumed a most formidable type of persecution, both against Masons and Masonry.” Central Lodge members got rid of their paraphernalia, sending “their beautiful painted flooring” to a Lodge in St. Croix and abandoning their hall. The Lodge reassembled in 1849.

Sidney’s Rural Lodge was revived in 1863, Hammond said. A Masonic Hall was built in 1887 and dedicated Jan. 3, 1888. After the dedication and installation of officers, members went to Sidney Town Hall “where a bountiful repast was served and a social time enjoyed.”

Rural Lodge No. 53 is still active, listed on a Maine Masons website, with a photo of the white wooden lodge hall at 3000 Middle Road. The website also lists Lodges in Augusta, China (China Village), Clinton, Fairfield, Waterville and Weeks Mills (China).

The Order of the Eastern Star, related to the Masons and open to women and men, had branches in China, Fairfield and Waterville, among other towns.

Another widely represented organization was the Independent Order of Good Templars (I. O. G. T.). Founded in New York State in 1852, it soon became an international temperance organization open to men and women. Maine’s Grand Lodge of the I. O. G. T. was created in the summer of 1860.

The Sons of Temperance, founded in 1842, also organized in the area, including, Kingsbury wrote, three local branches in China.

In Vassalboro, historian Robbins saw temperance as an issue from the 1820s. In 1821, eight “innkeepers” got liquor licenses, she wrote; by 1829 Congregational pastor Rev. Thomas Adams was preaching temperance.

In 1834, Robbins wrote, Vassalboro’s Juvenile Temperance Society was organized. The president was Abiel John Getchel; an on-line search found a Vassalboro resident of that name (spelled Getchell) born in Vassalboro in 1815, so 19 years old in 1834. One of three executive committee members was Greenlief Low, born in 1817.

R. B. Hall

Vassalboro had three I. O. G. T. Lodges, Robbins wrote. Each had its own meeting hall: “a nice little hall” at Riverside (demolished in the 1930s): “Golden Cross Hall” in North Vassalboro; and Maccabees Hall “in Center Vassalboro or Cross Hill.”

The buildings were supposed to be only for the organizations’ events, Robbins wrote, but later she said Maccabees Hall was the scene of “many meetings.” The Riverside hall hosted dances, “Christian Endeavor plays” and “demonstrations of ‘fireless cookers'” by the University of Maine Extension Service.

(Wikipedia says The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavour was founded in 1881 in Portland by Rev. Francis Edward Clark, with the goal of bringing young people to interdenominational Christian belief and work. By 1906 there were more than four million members around the world in “67,000 youth-led…societies.” Causes members supported included temperance.)

Dowe wrote the Good Templars and Christian Endeavor were active in 19th-century Palermo. The East Palermo schoolhouse, he wrote, served as a community center and “church for prayer meetings and the Young People’s Christian Endeavor.”

The schoolhouse also hosted singing, spelling and writing schools, Dowe said. When phonographs first came to Palermo, an unspecified group or person would charge admission to listen to one in the schoolhouse.

In her history of Sidney, Alice Hammond found another reference to phonograph shows: she reproduced a poster advertising PHONOGRAPH!, an exhibition starting at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 5, 1892, at the Grange Hall, in Centre Sidney.

“There will be an exhibition of the marvels of the modern phonograph,” the poster promised. “It Will Talk, Laugh, Sing, Whistle, Play on all sorts Instruments including Full Brass Band.”

Professor R. B. Capen, of Augusta, would explain the device. Admission was 20 cents, half price for children under 12.

The exhibition would be followed by a supper “Furnished at the Hall” and a Grand Ball, with music by Dennis’ Orchestra of Augusta, dance tickets sold at 50 cents for each couple and dancing until 2 a.m.

Another organization Lowden noted was the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), the Civil War veterans’ organization founded in 1866 in Illinois and dissolved in 1956 after its last member died. The Windsor post was organized June 2, 1884, and met in its hall on the second floor of the town house “on each Saturday night” (with at least one Wednesday evening gathering – see the paragraphs on Civil War soldier Marcellus Vining in the March 31, 2022, issue of The Town Line).

Augusta had Masons and Odd Fellows; a lodge of the Knights of Honor (its chief officer’s title was dictator, according to Kingsbury); Dirigo Council No. 790 of the Royal Arcanum (1883); and Tribe No. 12 of the Independent Order of Red Men (1888).

Late 19th-century organizations in Fairfield included local Masons and Odd Fellows; an Eastern Star chapter; and the Past and Present Club, organized by 15 women in 1892 and accepted into the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1899.

Waterville had Masons, Odd Fellows, Good Templars, a Tribe of Red Men and numerous other groups. Whittemore listed Hall’s Military Band, the late-19th-century successor to local brass bands first organized in 1822; a choral group named the Cecilia Club, organized in 1896; and since 1892 the Waterville Bicycle Club and the Waterville Gun Club.

The Bicycle Club, Whittemore wrote, rented an entire floor of the Boutelle Block at Main and Temple streets. The premises hosted meetings and social events; gambling and liquor were banned.

The Gun Club’s five-man team won state championships in 1897, 1898 and 1901. The club produced two individual state champions, Walter E. Reid once and Samuel L. Preble twice (no years given).

Main sources

Dowe, Milton E., History Town of Palermo Incorporated 1884 (1954).
Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984).
Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Lowden, Linwood H., good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Social activities

Eighteenth century drawing of a dance social.

by Mary Grow

This year’s Nov. 6 time change, with darkness falling an hour earlier, led your writer to think about how central Kennebec Valley families passed long winter evenings 200 or 250 years ago – a research challenge, as few historians devoted pen and ink to such mundane events.

Readers who have answers to the many questions this article raises are invited to email The Town Line editor Roland Hallee (townline@townline.org) to propose their follow-up paragraphs or pages.

Your writer was amused to find that Waterville novelist Martha Baker Dunn also got frustrated by limited information as she wrote the chapter on Social Life in Waterville for Edwin Carey Whittemore’s centennial history. The example she gave was an early diarist in Winslow (before Waterville became a separate town in 1802) whose daily notes about “weather, crops and traffic” were varied by “August 15th Sarah Johnson went away.”

Dunn complained there was no explanation and no follow-up, leaving her wondering who Sarah Johnson was, where she went and why, why her departure mattered to the diarist and whether she ever came back.

Your writer encountered similar incomplete stories as she reviewed local town histories and other readily available sources, like the diary kept by Hallowell midwife Martha Ballard from 1785 to 1812.

(A series of fortunate events led to the preservation of Ballard’s diary, used by Augusta historian James North, who excerpted sections for his 1870 history, and by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, whose mixture of quotation and commentary was published in 1990 as A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812.)

For this and following articles, two points were established as preliminaries. The first is that before, on and after Dec. 21 in this part of central Maine, there are about 15 hours of darkness and semi-darkness each day. The sun rises a few minutes after 7 a.m. and sets about 4 p.m., by our contemporary clocks.

The second point is that when the central Kennebec Valley was settled, people kept track of time for everyday purposes much as 21st-century residents do. Town meetings and other public events, church services and private gatherings were scheduled for specific times, and people knew how long they stayed and how late they went to bed.

There were public timepieces, in places like church and town hall towers, and private ones in at least wealthier homes. In his thorough research for his history of Windsor, Linwood Lowden found lists of household items; in an 1814 inventory, one family’s “personal items” included a watch (and “a fan and a needlecase”).

Midwife Ballard habitually recorded the time when someone came to request her help (often in the middle of the night) and the time a baby was born.

Woodcut of early modern clockmakers, 1568.

Vassalboro historian Alma Pierce Robbins found in the town records that a Quaker clock maker named James Brackett came to Getchell’s Corner in 1794. She added that as of 1971, St. Marks Home, in Augusta, had one of Brackett’s clocks.

In Albion, historian Ruby Crosby Wiggin found a storekeeper who had, sometime after 1845, 52 clocks of six different kinds in stock, priced between $10 and $20, with a total value of $620. She remarked that he had a lot of clocks for a small store in a small town.

Exchanging visits with neighbors, friends and family members was a popular way to spend time year-round. Ballard constantly had relatives and neighbors in her house, often staying overnight. It is easy to picture the women sitting talking after the sun went down, probably sewing or knitting – the diary often refers to both activities. Were husbands and sons with them, or in another room, or out in the barn?

In Windsor, historian Lowden wrote, even the earliest settlers “naturally sought and found pleasurable and worthwhile social activities,” especially exchanging visits. Such visits often meant “staying for a meal or even overnight.”

Wiggin commented that despite much hard work, Albion’s first settlers “were a sociable lot and many traveled some distance to spend an evening with friends or relatives.”

An example comes from the Fairfield bicentennial history. Elihu Bannerman (mentioned in the April 16, 2020, issue of The Town Line as the first inhabitant of North Fairfield) kept a record of daily occurrences. Bowerman described the log house he built in 1783 as having a bark roof, a bark floor that couldn’t be nailed down and was “very uneven and tottering,” no glass in the windows and apparently no chimney for the first winter.

The compilers of the history found that after six months of isolation with Elihu and his brother Zaccheus, Mrs. Bowerman paid a winter visit to another woman who had emigrated from Massachusetts and lived “over a mile away. She put on snowshoes and went for a six hour visit.”

Ballard’s diary said nothing about organized social activities in the late 1700s and early 1800s in the Hallowell area. Martha’s husband, surveyor Ephraim Ballard, went to town meetings and other public events in which women were not included.

Ulrich cited one series of entries referring to events in the fall of 1790 and the fall of 1791, while the Ballards’ daughter Hannah was engaged to be married. Hannah, her sisters and their friends got together for quilting bees; the women spent the day at their needlework, and in the evening young men joined them for tea and dancing.

One evening after a bee at Ballards’, Martha was pleased that everyone was back home by 11 p.m. Other social events kept her children out later, and she made one reference to a sleighing party that didn’t get home until 12:30 a.m.

Dunn found similar references to late 18th and early 19th century social activities. She mentioned a 1784 sleighing party recorded in a diary, and “spinning bees and wool-breakings,” the two steps in the process of making wool into usable thread. The activities sound like women’s, but there were men around, as at the Ballards’, because Dunn wrote that, “These gatherings not infrequently ended in a dance.”

In Windsor, too, Lowden wrote, “many social activities were organized around work.” He listed, for men, mowing bees and chopping bees, when neighbors helped someone who had fallen behind in haying or putting up a woodpile; and husking bees, a gathering in a barn to husk corn. For women, Lowden mentioned “sewing and quilting parties.”

He quoted a description of a chopping bee written in a North Blue Hill woman’s letter in March 1864, surmising Windsor might have had similar events. The writer and “Nellie” spent three days cooking for 47 people, of both sexes; the men “chopped wood in the afternoon,” and the evening party required “five large loaves of frosted mountain cake” (almost certainly a layer cake, probably three layers, judging from on-line information about White Mountain Cake).

Roger Reeves, a farmer and carpenter from whose diary Lowden often quoted, wrote that on Feb. 1, 1876, he “carried Julia [his wife?]…to a sewing party,” whence he went on to another house where he “blacksmithed” and had dinner.

In the fall of 1878 Reeves attended an “apple bee” (defined on-line as like other agricultural bees, a group assembled to pick or process apples, specifically to prepare them for drying. Milton Dowe described the latter in his 1954 history of Palermo: “apples were peeled, cored and sliced, then strung on twine and hung up to dry.”).

In Waterville, Dunn wrote, two loosely defined, sometimes overlapping social classes developed early in the 19th century: mill workers and storekeepers on one level, and an upper echelon of professional men and their families. The latter included officers and faculty of the Maine Literary and Theological Institute, founded in 1813 (renamed Waterville College in 1821, Colby University in 1867 and Colby College in 1899).

Nineteenth century sewing circle.

It was almost certainly the wives of doctors, lawyers, bankers, professors and building- and land-owners at the “oldfashioned tea parties” that “a venerable relative who participated in them” described to Dunn. These were mostly winter activities. The ladies arrived about 3 p.m. with their sewing and knitting; the gentlemen came for supper and the evening.

There were also card parties and dances in private houses, Dunn wrote. She quoted from an invitation to a Feb. 26, 1819, ball, starting at 5 p.m. (and commented that a majority of the five leading citizens who signed the invitation were middle-aged or older).

One of Dunn’s reports, probably referring to the period before the Civil War though dated only as showing the “superior courtesy of former times,” answered one 21st-century question: “when a young lady was invited to a ball or large party it always meant that a carriage would be provided for her.”

The Fairfield history includes an excerpt from an 1896 memoir by Martha Sturtevant Coolidge (born Jan. 26, 1822, according to an on-line genealogy, and raised in West Waterville, now Oakland). Activities she described in her youth were “berrying in the summer,” “apple parings in the fall” and “occasional sleigh rides and parties in the winter.”

These activities and quilting parties, “singing schools and spelling matches gave us plenty of society,” she wrote.

In Windsor, community picnics, Sunday afternoon buggy rides and croquet were popular warm-weather activities, Lowden wrote. He added, “Many long winter evenings were passed at cards – some of the neighbors having dropped in for just that purpose.”

(By 1892, according to Henry Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history, William Lamb had opened a factory to make croquet sets in Clinton.)

Alice Hammond recorded a significant winter social event in Sidney: a Jan. 3, 1897, gathering of about 150 people at the home of Phoebe (or Phebe, on her gravestone, Hammond said) Sawtelle Ellis to celebrate Ellis’s 100th birthday.

Citing an article by “a Journal [presumably the Kennebec Journal] reporter, who traveled by horseback to Sidney from Augusta,” Hammond wrote that the single-story Pond Road house, built in 1787, had a display of family heirlooms, including “a flax spinning wheel” Ellis’s father gave her as wedding gift and “a churn which had been in use of 102 years.”

Ellis had made brown bread as part of the supper prepared for her guests, who also enjoyed “a short entertainment”; and each got a souvenir birthday card.

Main sources

Dowe, Milton E., History Town of Palermo Incorporated 1884 (1954).
Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Lowden, Linwood H., good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher, A Midwife’s Tale The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 (1990).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Jefferson Medical College grads – Part 2

Cover of the 1883 Jefferson Medical College catalog.

by Mary Grow

As promised last week, this week’s article will feature random information about three more central Kennebec Valley doctors with degrees from Jefferson Medical College, in Philadelphia. Their names were Cyrus Kendrick, Class of 1850, who practiced in Litchfield; James E. Tuell, Class of 1884, who practiced in Augusta and who started this topic; and Lewis King Austin, Class of 1894, who practiced, at least briefly, in Waterville.

Kingsbury wrote in his chapter on the medical profession in his Kennebec County history that Cyrus Kendrick (Sept. 26, 1825 – 1904) was born in Gardiner, the third son and fifth child of Cyrus and Sarah (Maxcy) Kendrick.

Dr. Kendrick’s father, the first Cyrus Kendrick (1789-1866), was a Gardiner businessman who was a justice of the peace for many years and served as town selectman in 1837 and as treasurer in 1848 and 1849. He was an active Mason (as was his doctor son), and he and his wife were “prominent members of the Baptist church” in Gardiner until they moved to Litchfield, where they died.

Dr. Kendrick went to local schools, spent two years at the medical school at Bowdoin and – for unknown reasons – transferred to Jefferson, where he was one of a class of 211 new physicians who graduated in March 1850.

Kingsbury wrote that after two years in Gardiner, Dr. Kendrick moved his practice to Litchfield, where he still was when the Kennebec County history was published in 1892. He was among the founders of the Maine Medical Association in 1853, and a member of the American Medical Association; Kingsbury noted that he “participated in” the 1884 AMA annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

In 1880 Dr. Kendrick married a Litchfield Academy teacher named Susan (often listed as Susie) P. Howe (May 13, 1848 – 1928), from Rumford. The couple had two daughters, whose names Kingsbury gave as Daisy May (probably an error) and Kate H., and a son, Cyrus Maxcy Kendrick.

A list of Bates College graduates in the Class of 1904, found on line, includes Susan May Kendrick, born Jan. 29, 1881, in Litchfield, to Dr. Cyrus and Susan (Howe) Kendrick. The entry says she taught high school in Dexter and South Paris and at Monmouth Academy and Mattanawcook Academy (in Lincoln) from 1904 through 1915, with the longest stint, six years, in South Paris.

A similar list for Bates’ Class of 1910 includes Cyrus Maxcy Kendrick, born Jan. 26, 1888, to the same parents, and also an educator who moved from place to place. A January 1908 Bates student publication lists him among sophomores who were “out of college teaching” during the first weeks of the semester.

His posts between 1910 and 1915, in order, were high school principal in Garland; teacher at Ricker Classical Institute, in Houlton; high school principal, in Bowdoinham; and in 1815 back to Litchfield Corners as district superintendent of schools.

Dr. Kendrick is buried in Litchfield Plains Cemetery. His tall gravestone has his name and the dates 1825-1904; his wife Susan’s name and the dates 1848-1928; and daughter Kathryn H., 1882-1926. On one side are the names Susan M. 1881-1927 (she is further identified as Susan May “Sadie” Kendrick); Bruce 1947-1947; and Betty-Jean, 1927-1973.

A footstone in the same cemetery marks the grave of Cyrus M. Kendrick, Jan. 26, 1888 – March 26, 1971, identified as a private in World War I. He is also listed on a more elegant stone along with Beatrice B., his wife, who lived from 1908 to 1989.

Another footstone is for Cyrus and Beatrice’s son (Dr. Kendrick’s grandson), Cyrus M. Kendrick Jr., July 10, 1923, to Feb. 16, 2007), a PFC in the U. S. Army in World War II. A Feb. 21, 2007, Kennebec Journal obituary found on line says he was predeceased by an infant son, Bruce, in 1947, and by his first wife, Betty Jean, in 1973.

He married again, to Erma Jean Hayden; they had several children. The obituary gives details of his military service and lists medals he received, starting with two Bronze Stars. It says he worked for the state highway department for 41 years, most of the time as “foreman of the paint crew.”

James Enoch Tuell (1854 – Feb. 11, 1910), was one of four children of James Leonard Tuell (b. Jan. 2, 1829) and Julia Ann Tuell.

Tuell’s graduation from Jefferson was on March 29, 1884. The graduation program says his thesis topic was “Acute Rheumatism.”

(Tuell was one of three 1884 graduates from Maine; the others were Laurentius Melancthon Nason, whose thesis was on “External Manipulation in Obstetric Practice,” and who received a gold medal for an essay “on a subject pertaining to Obstetrics”; and James H. Shannon, whose thesis was on “Symptoms of Scarlatina.”

(Nason, from Standish, was a Colby University graduate, Class of 1880. The April 27, 1878, issue of the Portland Daily Press reported that he received second prize in the sophomore prize declamation; the 1880 Colby Oracle listed him as a member of the Chi Chapter of Zeta Psi fraternity.

Of the 215 Jefferson graduates in 1884, 109 were from Pennsylvania; there were three Canadians and five other men from five different countries, listed as England, Italy, Mauritius, West Indies and Armenia.)

Dr. Tuell’s first medical work was apparently in East Machias, and started before his graduation from Jefferson. The Maine State Board of Health’s first annual report, found on line, covers the fiscal year that ended Dec. 31, 1885; Dr. Tuell was the “medical correspondent” from East Machias.

His report began: “Our leading diseases are pneumonia, ileo-colitis, cholera infantum, sporadic cases of typhoid fever, an occasional case of diphtheria, and the various exanthemata peculiar to childhood.” (Exanthemata, according to an on-line dictionary, is a plural noun; an exanthema is “a skin rash accompanying a disease or fever.”)

He went on to mention one epidemic each of scarlet fever and diphtheria in the last 20 years; typhoid fever, up to the last two years, sometimes “widespread enough, in certain parts of the town, to be styled a local epidemic”; and three cases of smallpox.

Phthisis (tuberculosis) was common, Dr. Tuell wrote. It was hereditary, he said, and flared up due to “climate, dampness, poor ventilation.”

In August 1883, he wrote, he had treated a young man with all the symptoms of scarlet fever, though the patient’s mother was sure he had not been exposed to anyone with the disease. Dr. Tuell learned that the patient’s sister, working out of town, had scarlet fever in February. In April she sent home some clothes; and two weeks before her brother got sick, “the sister took a garment from the trunk and ripped it apart for the purpose of repairing it.”

Part of the medical report was an evaluation of the local school buildings. In East Machias, Dr. Tuell wrote, “we have imperfect ventilation and unsuitable heating apparatus; consequently, headache is frequent.”

Information about Dr. Tuell’s private life is scant. He apparently married twice, first to Sarah Elizabeth, with whom he had three children, and then to Nellie Sarah Quimby.

He was in Augusta by the 1890s. Records show him as one of 100 charter members of the Abnaki Club, organized in June 1894 (see the article on Augusta’s historic buildings in the Feb. 11, 2021, issue of The Town Line).

The auditor’s report in the Augusta annual report for the year ending March 1, 1896, listed Dr. Tuell as billing $66.50 to the account labeled “support of the poor.” His was one of the three largest bills, suggesting city officials called on him comparatively often.

It was on July 3, 1896, that fire destroyed his office in downtown Granite Hall.

A 1940 census record found on line shows Sarah D. Tuell, born about 1890, living at 71 Winthrop Street, in Augusta, with her mother, Elizabeth B. Tuell, who was then aged 75. The Find a Grave website lists seven Tuells buried in Augusta’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery:

  • J. E. Tuell, 1854 – 1910, Dr. Tuell
  • Sarah E. Tuell, 1852 – 1901, presumably Dr. Tuell’s first wife
  • Orrin A. Tuell, 1859 – Jan. 16, 1895, identified elsewhere as Dr. Tuell’s brother, Orrin Abiather Tuell
  • Beth Tuell, 1865 – 1952, perhaps Dr. Tuell’s sister?
  • Josephine Tuell, 1885 – 1978, probably Dr. Tuell’s daughter
  • Edwin E. Tuell, 1886 – 1915, identified elsewhere as Dr. Tuell’s son
  • Sarah E. Tuell, 1890 – 1966, Dr. Tuell’s daughter? Misprint for Sarah D., or did the 1940 census have a wrong middle initial?

Lewis King Austin (Aug. 11, 1869 – Oct. 21, 1952) was a Portland native, according to Dr. Thayer’s chapter in Edwin Carey Whittemore’s Waterville history, supplemented by on-line sources. His parents were William King and Sarah Eliza or Elizabeth (Thomes or Thomas) Austin; he had two sisters and two brothers.

Thayer wrote that Dr. King specialized in “diseases of the eye, ear, nose and throat.” After his 1894 graduation from Jefferson, he practiced in Portland, Deering and Clinton before moving to Waterville in 1902 and opening his office at 145 Main Street. (Deering was incorporated as a town in 1871; it became part of the City of Portland in 1899.)

Dr. Austin married Mary Elizabeth Libby; they had a daughter, Estelle. The 1940 census showed him back in Portland; he was perhaps in a home for the elderly, as the “household members” section listed 92 people, the oldest aged 86.

He is buried in Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery. Nearby is the grave of Mary L. Austin, who died Nov. 29, 1951.

Dr. Austin was one of two Maine men in Jefferson’s Class of 1894. The other, Joseph Albert Lethiecq, died in 1956 and is buried in Mount Desert’s Brookside Cemetery.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.