Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Windsor

by Mary Grow

Introduction: so far this series of historical essays has focused on towns along the central part of the Kennebec River between Augusta and FairfieldBenton, and on the river itself. Next we’ll move inland to four towns farther east: Windsor, east of Augusta; China, east of Vassalboro; Albion, east of Winslow and southeast of Benton; and Palermo, east of China and barely touching Windsor on the southwest and Albion on the northwest.

Windsor, China and Albion are in Kennebec County; Palermo is in Waldo County. Windsor, China and Albion are in the watershed of the Sheepscot River. The main river flows southwest from Sheepscot Pond in Palermo; the West Branch originates in northwestern Palermo, flows through Branch Pond and joins the main river between Coopers Mills and North Whitefield.

Albion is in the Sebasticook River watershed; the Sebasticook flows into the Kennebec at Winslow.

* * * *

Unlike the Kennebec River towns, towns like Windsor were not always surveyed and settled from the coast or river inland. In his comprehensively researched good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993), Linwood H. Lowden writes that Windsor was settled initially from Bristol via Whitefield to the south, later from China and Vassalboro to the north and northwest. Moving directly inland from Hallowell (later Augusta) on the Kennebec was discouraged by an intervening area of swampy, boulder-strewn land that would not appeal to aspiring farmers, he suggests.

How much Windsor’s settlement lagged behind its northern and southern neighbors depends on the source of information. Lowden says the first documented Windsor resident was Ebenezer Grover, who came from Ballstown (now Whitefield) and took over meadowland in southern Windsor, northeast of the current junction of Routes 17 and 32. Grover came in 1781, but kept his Ballstown farm until December 1786. Lowden cites deeds showing him in a house on the west bank of the West Branch of the Sheepscot River by 1793.

Another early settler was John Linn, who brought his wife and 10 children from Bristol in 1801 and settled in the Windsor Corner area in the middle of town. Windsor Corner, also called Windsor Corners and Windsor Four Corners, is the intersection of Route 32 (also Ridge Road) and Route 105 in the middle of town. In 1807 Linn wrote a letter about his property deed in which he used the phrase that is the title of Lowden’s book.

Henry D. Kingsbury says, in his 1892 Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892, that Walter Dockindoff (or Dockendorff, according to Lowden) who came from Bristol around 1790, was the first settler. Dockindoff’s land, Kingsbury says, was “about a mile west of Windsor Corner.”

Kingsbury says Dockindoff planted the first apple orchard in Windsor. Lowden believes Linn also started growing apples very early. When Linn sold his property in 1811 to his son, he reserved the right to continue to tend his trees and to move them later (which Lowden says he apparently did).

Lowden adds that by the 1860s Windsor was known for its apples, and they remained important in the agricultural economy until a hard freeze in the winter of 1933-34 killed many trees.

[See also: A history of Hussey’s General Store]

Kingsbury comments that Windsor is unusual in having all or parts of seven separate ponds within town boundaries, none of them very big. Some modern maps, like the 1984 edition of DeLorme’s Maine Atlas and Gazetteer and Google Maps, show six of them and identify five.

The south end of Three Mile Pond juts into northwestern Windsor. Southward is Mud Pond, between Weeks Mills Road and Route 105, unnamed on Google.

Moody or Moody’s Pond, presumably named after an early settler, is north of Route 17, almost due west of the fairgrounds on Route 32. South of that, on the Whitefield line, Windsor includes the northern tip of Given’s or Givens Pond, formerly Longfellow Pond.

In northeastern Windsor, north of Route 105 and northeast of Greeley Road, are Fox Pond and slightly larger Savade Pond. Kingsbury says Fox was named because people saw foxes in the area and Savade is a corruption of “surveyed.”

Kingsbury’s seventh pond, to which he devotes half a paragraph, is extremely small, with steep sides; is in the center of town about three-fourths of a mile south of Windsor Corner; and was first named after Rev. Moses Donnell, renamed Grant Pond by 1892. Kingsbury says it has two significant features, no outlet and, as far as was known in 1892, no bottom.

Rev. Moses Donnell, born in Wiscasset Aug. 25, 1789, was a Methodist preacher who came to Windsor in the spring of 1818. He kept detailed records from which Lowden took information about his strenuous life and how much – or little – money he earned. Lowden lists various houses Donnell probably owned at different times and says he preached in Windsor in 1822 and from 1832 until his death October 2, 1861. After 1838 he was appointed to different “circuits,” preaching in several towns and traveling thousands of miles.

Lowden gives Donnell Pond another name, Dorr or Dorr’s Pond. It is nameless in the 1984 DeLorme atlas and on current Google maps, but the 1856 and 1879 maps reproduced in Lowden’s history show Donnell Pond on the east side of Route 32 a little south of the present Windsor School. Harland Road leaves Route 32 north of the pond and curves southeast around its northern and eastern shores.

(To this writer’s unscientific eye, Donnell Pond appears to be what geologists call a kettle pond. Kettleholes are created when a retreating glacier leaves behind a block of ice that gets covered with sediment and slowly melts, leaving a hole in the ground. Depending on depth, size and location, such holes can become dry land, bogs or ponds. Kettleholes are fairly common in Maine; Stuart and Hamilton ponds in Belgrade, west of the town office, are examples of kettle ponds.)

Another transplant who followed Dockindoff from Bristol was Thomas Le Ballister (Leballister, according to Lowden; Labalister, according to Geo. J. Varney’s 1886 Gazetteer of the State of Maine), who settled on 300 acres in the southeastern part of town and, Kingsbury said, found squatters already there, including Grover and the Trask brothers, Edward and Joseph.

Josiah Jones surveyed 6,000 acres in southeastern Windsor in 1797 on behalf of Grover and others. They called the area Pinhook, apparently because of a kink in the nearby West Branch of the Sheepscot River. By 1799, Lowden writes, it was generally known as Waterford, later sometimes New Waterford. He suggests the name might have been proposed by Richard Meagher, an early land speculator and agent for the Kennebec Proprietors, who came from Waterford County in Ireland. Lowden also cites a single 1805 reference to New Windsor.

On March 3, 1809, Kingsbury writes, the town was incorporated as Malta. That name was an error, according to Lowden, who quotes a petition to the Massachusetts General Court, signed by 43 residents, asking that New Waterford plantation become an incorporated town named Alpha. Legislative documents approved incorporating Alpha; but the final act incorporating the new town in February 1809 showed the name as Malta. Lowden blames “the slip of a clerk’s pen.”

Residents did not like the name Malta, and in the fall of 1820, town meeting voters approved a petition to the Maine legislature to change Malta to Lexington (Lowden does not say why the name was chosen). Again they did not get their way. On March 10, 1821, the legislature passed a bill renaming the town Gerry, honoring Eldridge Gerry (July 17, 1744 – Nov. 23, 1814), Massachusetts governor and later James Madison’s vice-president and the politician after whom “gerrymander” was named.

Residents promptly appointed a six-man committee to choose another name. On Jan. 9, 1822, the town became Windsor. Lowden cannot say why, or even whether, the committee recommended that name. Ava Harriet Chadbourne, in her Maine Place Names and the Peopling of its Towns (1955) says that Windsor is the name of the British royal family but does not explicitly say that Windsor, Maine, honors them.

The main settled areas in early days were in the southern end of town, where Routes 17 and 32 now intersect, and in the middle where Routes 105 and 32 meet. Lowden says the road connecting them, the current Route 32 (Ridge Road), was “an established way” by 1798. There were smaller areas of settlement in West Windsor and North Windsor.

As more people moved to town, the West Branch of the Sheepscot and several smaller streams provided water power for numerous mills, mostly sawmiils and gristmills, and Kingsbury and Lowden list 19th-century stores, blacksmith shops and other businesses scattered throughout.

Although Windsor is not on the Kennebec (it is about 10 miles from the river), Lowden gives three examples of Windsor people involved in Kennebec River activities.

Before 1810, a large seine net at the mouth of Seven Mile Brook, in Vassalboro, trapped alewives that people from Vassalboro, Malta, Sidney and Belgrade shared. The fish were food for the settlers, especially important to poor families, Lowden writes.

In 1810 the Massachusetts General Court passed a law that, as Lowden presents it, explicitly forbade that seine. Lowden does not give a reason. Vassalboro then established its own net farther up the brook and trapped alewives there. Residents of other towns were allowed to buy them, after a delay and at an inflated price.

Lowden quotes the letter Malta selectmen sent to Massachusetts legislators in 1816 asking them, unsuccessfully, to repeal the law. The three selectmen who signed the letter were William Hilton, Walter Dockindorff and John Linn Jr.

In 1834, when the Kennebec Dam Company proposed the first dam across the Kennebec River, Windsor was one of many towns and cities submitting opinions to the legislature. Windsor’s petition, with 57 signatures, supported the dam, saying it “would be of great benefit and utility,” according to Lowden. (See The Town Line, May 7, for more on this and other dams.)

In the 1870s and 1880s, men from Windsor were among the crews cutting ice on the Kennebec. (See The Town Line, May 14, for more on the ice business.) Lowden quotes from Roger Reeves’ diary about both winter and summer work in 1876. In February, Reeves wrote, two men were hired at $1 per day.

Main sources:

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
Hussey, Elwin, and Ballantyne, Kristen (Hussey), emails

Web sites, miscellaneous

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Log drives and harvesting “frozen gold”

Horses and sleds were used to move ice blocks.

by Mary Grow

In addition to the mills and factories described in the previous article in this series (see The Town Line, May 7), two other uses for the Kennebec (and other Maine rivers) were transporting wood – long logs and four-foot pulpwood, for building and for pulp mills – and chopping cakes of ice for export all over the world. The log drives were mainly north of the Waterville-Augusta area, with pulpwood feeding Keyes Fibre, in Fairfield. Ice harvesting was mainly south of Augusta. But, as Jennie Everson shows in Tidewater Ice of the Kennebec River, people involved in the two activities overlapped.

Both businesses saw their heyday in the middle of the 19th century; both declined as railroad freight supplanted riverboat freight and the need for the products lessened. However, the Federal Writers Project Maine guide says barges and schooners continued to export both products into the 20th century.

River driving was at its peak between 1860 and 1890, according to David C. Smith’s A History of Lumbering in Maine 1861-1960. On the Kennebec, it started a bit later and was continuing, though near its end, when his book was published in 1972.

Wood was cut in the fall and winter and stacked near or on frozen streams, river and lakes. After the ice went out in the spring, logs and pulpwood were prodded downstream from small streams into larger ones, across lakes and eventually to and down the Kennebec River.

The wood normally reached mills in Waterville and Augusta in August or September. Driving ended for the season when streams began to freeze.

River-drivers herded the logs downstream, sometimes from boats, sometimes standing on the floating wood. They used long poles; peaveys, poles with curved hooks on the end used to grasp and move individual logs; and pickaroons, poles with spikes that could be driven into a log to hold or move it. (Peaveys and pickaroons are advertised for sale on the web today.)

Driving pulp and especially long, heavy logs down an ice-cold, swift-moving river was strenuous and often dangerous work. Logs would run ashore and get caught on rocks. They would pile up in head-high jams that had to be untangled and, when the key log was freed, would tumble tumultuously downstream. They would float uncontrollably seaward in floods. Heavy rain in the spring of 1887 washed almost 10,000,000 feet of timber down the Kennebec into the Atlantic, Smith says.

Smith’s description and random paragraphs in Kingsbury’s history suggest that river-driving was a young man’s job. Kingsbury mentions three Benton men who worked as river drivers. Jackson Fitz Gerald, born in 1815, was a river driver as a young man and later a farmer (Kingsbury gives no dates). William F. Wyman, born in 1824, moved from river-driving to farming in 1855. Alpheus Brown, born in 1837, was a river driver until September 1864, when he joined the army; he was a dam builder from 1866 until 1890 and then a farmer.

Manning the log drives.

The Kennebec Log Driving Company was organized in Gardiner on March 27, 1835, with 63 sawmill owners as its members. Members jointly built dams and booms to hold the logs in check, hired drivers, sharing the costs according to each members’ proportion of the logs. (A boom is a series of chained-together logs, often anchored to cribs – square wooden structures in the river filled with rocks – as well as to the shore, to hold back floating timber.)

Kingsbury credits Ira D. Sturgis (again see The Town Line, May 7), a businessman with interests in Augusta, Vassalboro, Nova Scotia and elsewhere, for persuading fellow lumbermen to build many of the booms along the central Kennebec, including one at Five-Mile Island, in Vassalboro, and another in Hallowell. These improvements, Kingsbury says, made it less expensive to separate logs and send them to the owners’ mills.

According to a September 8, 1976, New York Times article archived on the web, the Kennebec Log Driving Company ran the last log drive on the Kennebec in the summer of that year. Writing from Skowhegan, the Times reporter said about 30,000 cords of four-foot pulpwood were boomed about eight miles upstream of the Scott Paper Company’s mill, in Winslow.

The pulp had started downriver from Moosehead Lake in March and the drive was expected to end in October, the article said. Trucks would take over pulp-hauling.

* * * * * *

Ice harvesting on the Kennebec began in the 1820s and, according to Jennie Everson’s Tidewater Ice on the Kennebec, flourished from the 1850s to the end of the 19th century and ended around 1920. Everson was born in 1890, and her family lived on the river in Dresden in a large house where some of the higher-ranking ice company employees often boarded. Parts of her generously-illustrated book are based on her personal experience.

[See also: Remembering ice houses]

Dean Marriner, author of Kennebec Yesterdays, also saw ice-harvesting first-hand during his first year at Colby College in 1909-1910. He describes watching hundreds of men at work on the river south of Augusta.

Marriner says the business started in the spring of 1824 (Everson says 1826), when the brig Orion took floating Kennebec ice to Baltimore and sold it for $700. The first ice houses went up in Gardiner two years later, Marriner says, and building and improving these storage facilities continued for the rest of the century.

Everson lists three ice-houses in Augusta. An 1882 map she includes shows houses on the west side of the river owned by G. E. Weeks and by Getchell and others, with capacities of 2,000 and 3,000 tons respectively. The Getchell business was not far north of the Hallowell line, Weeks’ a bit south of the dam.

By the time an 1886-87 map was published, they were gone and Cony and White owned one with a capacity of 6,000 tons, still extant in 1892 when Kingsbury’s history was published. However, most ice-harvesting was south of Augusta – an 1891 map from the Ice Trade Journal shows four dozen ice houses from the southern edge of Augusta (Cony and White’s) to Bowdoinham and Woolwich, concentrated in Pittston and Randolph.

Ira Sturgis was involved with the ice business, too. Kingsbury says he owned ice houses downriver, including a large one in Wiscasset, and established southern ones in major cities (Washington, Norfolk, Savannah, Charleston and later Philadelphia and Baltimore) so ice could be stored and sold year-round.

In 1895, Bath native Charles W. Morse (Oct. 21, 1856 – Jan. 12, 1933) finished incorporating the Consolidated Ice Company, in Augusta, controlling most of the Kennebec ice-harvesting business. By 1899, Everson writes, his renamed American Ice Company ran all but one ice company on the river (the exception was on Swan Island, in Richmond). American Ice Company also went into the artificial ice business, she says, speeding the decline of river-ice harvesting; electric refrigerators, coming into use by 1815, finished off the industry.

In the 19th century, the working season began after the ice was thick enough, and by then, Everson writes, tree-harvesting was over, so some of the men who had worked as loggers went to work on the river and in the ice-houses.

Everson includes an undated wage table showing that men cutting and loading the ice earned from 15 cents an hour for the lowest-paid categories of workers to 25 cents an hour for a superintendent. In April 1906, for the first time, the workers struck, demanding a 25-cent-an-hour pay raise. To replace the strikers, woodsmen came downriver, and in May a boatload of Italian workers arrived.

The Italians lived in a boarding house close enough to Everson’s farm so that some of them came to buy milk from her father’s dairy. Neither the first nor a second crew stayed after more Maine people came or returned to the ice-house work and the strike petered out. Everson does not say whether the raise was granted.

Work was year-round, because ice that was cut from the river and stored in ice-houses in winter and spring was loaded onto schooners (usually; Everson mentions early 20th-century experiments with steel whalebacks from the Great Lakes and with barges) and shipped all over the world. The major markets were in cities along the east coast of the United States. Everson adds Cuba, Panama, the coasts of South America, India and New Zealand.

Alice Hammond, in her history of Sidney, mentions that residents cut ice for personal use from the Kennebec River and from Messalonskee Lake (Snow Pond) and three smaller ponds in town.

Main sources:

Everson, Jennie G. Tidewater Ice of the Kennebec River (Maine State Museum, Maine Heritage Series #1, 1970)
Federal Writers Project, Maine: a Guide Down East 1937
Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 1992
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed. Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 1892
Marriner, Ernest Kennebec Yesterdays 1954
Smith, David C. A History of Lumbering in Maine (University of Maine Studies #93, University of Maine Press, 1972)

Web sites, miscellaneous

Remembering ice houses

by Roland D. Hallee

As a young lad growing up in the early 1950s, I can still remember my parents having an ice box* in the kitchen of our home in Waterville. That predated us getting a “new fangled” electric refrigerator later in that decade.

In the box, ice was placed in the top compartment, and a small door was closed. As the ice melted, it drained down a tube that passed through the cold section, and into a large tray that was located in a compartment at the bottom of the “fridge.” Once the tray was full, it was emptied.

I can still remember the ice wagon approaching the house every week, on a still unpaved street in the middle of the city, carrying ice chunks. A man would get out of the buggy, take the order, cut the block of ice to size in the wagon, and lugged it in the house with a set of ice tongs. The ice came from the only ice house I can remember in Waterville, called Spring Brook Ice and Fuel Co., that was, at the time, located behind some warehouses on the corner of Pleasant and North streets (across from Ware-Butler Building Supplies). You could drive by there in the middle of summer and see the ice chunks covered with sawdust and straw to slow the melting process. The company still exists today, only no longer offers ice. Those ice houses remained long after the industry disappeared, and were eventually torn down sometime around the 1980s.

The Spring Brook Ice Company was taken from the name of the crystal clear brook on Drummond Avenue that the owner, Robert L. Ervin, dammed and harvested every winter with his men. Blocks of ice were cut with heavily-toothed saws and carried by conveyor belt into the massive icehouse to be covered with straw and sawdust. Ervin was a Colby College graduate, coach, and business owner. He did not have to look far to see the sound commercial potential in the Kennebec River which had become the source of “frozen gold” for entrepreneurs shipping ice all over the world.

*My father preserved that icebox and installed it in a rec room in the basement of the house. It remained there until it was partially damaged by fire on December 1, 2018. The door was destroyed but the remainder of the shell and shelves remain.

Up and down the Kennebec River: Water power and industry on the river

The Mill Island mill in Fairfield

by Mary Grow

A diagram of the mill’s layout.

Another use for the Kennebec, and for its tributary streams, was to provide water and water power for a variety of mills and other industries, beginning in the 1790s and continuing well into the 20th century. Kingsbury, in his History of Kennebec County, says sawmills came first, with lumber used locally and exported down the river.

Tanneries were next, because they needed water plus hemlock bark, and hemlocks commonly grew along rivers. The tanning process involved preparing animal hides and soaking them in tannic acid derived from tree bark to make leather. Hemlock bark was preferred, according to a web article, because it has a high tannin content.

Bark was dried, shredded and soaked to get the tannin out. Hides went into the tannin-rich water; redried bark become fuel or, Kingsbury says, was exported.

In Augusta, the dam that provided power for a number of industries was finished in September 1837, though the lock that allowed shipping to go around it took another year. The dam was built and owned by the Kennebec Locks and Canals Company, successor to the 1834 Kennebec Dam Company. Parts of it washed out in spring floods and had to be rebuilt in 1839-1841, 1846, 1850 and 1870.

Kingsbury has a long list of industries started because the dam provided water power: in 1842 a double sawmill and a machine shop, followed by more sawmills, a cotton factory, a flour mill, another machine shop and a kyanizing shop. (Kyanizing is the process of soaking wood in mercuric chloride to prevent decay. It is named after John Howard Kyan, who patented it in 1833 in England.)

Later businesses on the dam produced wooden doors and the wooden parts of windows, broom handles, shovels, pulp and by the 1890s paper. In the 1860s and 1870s, Kingsbury says, Ira Daggett Sturgis (Nov. 20, 1814 – Dec. 28, 1891)) and associates owned two steam mills and a water mill on the dam’s east end, plus timber land, creating “the largest lumbering enterprise ever conducted on the Kennebec river.”

(Sturgis, who will reappear in this series, married Rebecca Russell Goodenow [1815-1894] on Oct. 3, 1836. She is memorialized in one of the nine Tiffany windows in Augusta’s South Parish Congregational Church, built in 1865. Web information suggests the window was provided by their daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Sturgis Haynes, and probably installed between 1895 and 1910.)

The dam as rebuilt in 1870 stood until it was removed on July 1, 1999. The Edwards Manu­facturing Company acquired it in 1882 (hence the 20th-century name Edwards Dam). Hundreds of employees produced textiles at machines powered by water wheels until electricity was introduced in 1913. Textile production ended in the early 1980s; after 1984, the dam generated electricity.

In Vassalboro, much of the bank of the Kennebec slopes steeply to the river, limiting riverside development, although various industries grew along tributaries. For example, Ira Sturgis rebuilt earlier sawmills on Seven-Mile Brook and used the lumber in his factory, which was also on the stream. Other water-powered industries were sited along the banks almost to Webber Pond. Kingsbury says Sturgis’s factory produced doors, windows and boxes, including the first orange and lemon boxes exported from Maine.

In the 1860s, Kingsbury says, John D. Lang had a steam-powered sawmill, previously water-powered, on the Lang farm (later owned by well-known Hereford breeder Hall C. Burleigh). The farm is on the section of old Route 202 named Dunham Road.

Farther north, Getchell’s Corner was a significant village in the 1800s, with a post office, a hotel and various industries. Kingsbury mentions an early sawmill owned by John Getchell, succeeded by a tannery owned by Prince Hopkins and Jacob Southwick that operated between 1816 and 1865, on a brook near the Kennebec.

Sidney, on the east bank of the Kennebec, across from and originally part of Vassalboro, had its share of sawmills, gristmills, tanneries and other water-powered industries in the late 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, but Kingsbury lists them all on brooks, none on the Kennebec itself. Alice Hammond, in her History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992, surmises that the river was too powerful to be controlled for use by early mills.

Waterville and Winslow were one town until Waterville was separated in 1802. The earliest mills in Waterville were built along Messalonskee Stream, because its flow was easier to control than the Kennebec’s.

Kingsbury has a long list of dams and manufactories on the stream, including sawmills and gristmills, a carding and clothing mill that became a shingle mill around 1832, an iron company (plows, later stoves), a paper mill, multiple wood-based businesses including a factory that made wooden shanks for shoes, a match factory(1858-1890), a carpet factory, woolen mills and a tannery.

On the Kennebec, Nehemiah Getchell and his son-in-law Asa Redington from Vassalboro built the first dam, from the west shore to Rock Island, in 1792. The site is south of the present downtown and the highway bridge to Winslow. Kingsbury says water-powered sawmills, gristmills and other businesses made that area Waterville’s business center until well into the 20th century.

One of the mills described in both Kingsbury and the Centennial History of Waterville was built in the 1940s by William and Daniel Moor, the same Moors who built ships in Waterville (see The Town Line, April 30). Four stories high, the building housed sawmills, a shovel factory, a plaster mill, a feed mill and storage areas. The July 15, 1849, fire destroyed the entire complex. The Moors rebuilt, and were burned out again in another major fire in 1859.

The Lockwood-Duchess Textile Complex on the west bank of the Kennebec River between Waterville and Winslow. Note the horse and buggy crossing the bridge at right.

The Ticonic Water Power and Manufacturing Company was formed in February 1866 and in 1868 invested $40,000 to build a second dam at Ticonic rapids, north of the earlier dam. The company started what became the Lockwood Company, named after industrial designer Amos D. Lockwood (1811-1884). The first brick cotton mill was built in 1873; second and third buildings were constructed in 1882 and 1883. Plocher’s history says by 1900 the Lockwood mill had 1,300 employees.

Cotton textiles were produced until 1956, and from 1957 to 1992 the Hathaway Shirt Factory used one building. The mill complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 2007.

A June 19, 2019, Bangor Daily News article said North River Company, which already owned the Hathaway Creative Center building, bought the other two buildings and plans to begin work on them in the fall of 2020. The goal is to contribute to Waterville’s downtown revitalization plan that includes riverside development.

In Winslow, too, early waterpower came from streams rather than the Kennebec, and manufacturing was scattered through the town. The first major Kennebec River project was the Hollingsworth and Whitney paper mill, started in 1892. Wikipedia says around 1900 the mill was producing 235 tons of paper daily, and was so profitable that the owners provided employees with a clubhouse that had a swimming pool, bowling alley, library and pool tables.

The Hollingsworth & Whitney paper mill on the east bank of the Kennebec River, in Winslow, circa 1905.

Enough employees lived in Waterville that Wikipedia says Waterville’s Two-Cent Bridge was built in 1901 to give them a shortcut to work.

Scott Paper Company acquired Hollingsworth and Whitney in the 1950s and in turn sold to Kimberly-Clark in 1994, Wikipedia says. The mills closed in 1997.

Keyes Fibre, now a division of Huhtamaki Corporation, was started by Martin Keyes, a New Hampshire native who invented plates made of molded pulp. He opened his first small mill in rented space in a Shawmut pulp mill in 1902 or 1904 (on-line sources disagree). After a brief closure in 1905, because the plates were too expensive to be competitive, Keyes improved the process and by 1908 had opened a larger Waterville mill and expanded the product line.

In 1920, to cope with a shortage of pulp, Dr. George Averill, Keyes’ son-in-law and successor as head of the company, opened the company’s pulp mill at the Shawmut mill. Since then the company has changed hands several times and has become an international corporation. The local mill on College Avenue straddles the Waterville-Fairfield line.

Jonas Dutton built the first Kennebec dam in Fairfield, running from the west shore to the western (now Mill) island. The dam supported water-powered sawmills and gristmills owned initially by William Kendall – hence the early (until 1872) name for downtown Fairfield, Kendall’s Mills.

In 1835 and 1836 the Fairfield Land and Mill Association dredged the channel and built a higher dam and new buildings. Soon afterward the river washed away the dam. The Fairfield bicentennial history says the association built a new dam downstream, approximately behind the present post office, which was “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.”

By the 1850s, the bicentennial history says, the west bank of the Kennebec was lined by a 360-foot series of mills under a single roof. When a fire started in a pail mill near the dam, it took out everything upstream. The owners rebuilt. On a windy day in July 1882 another fire destroyed the mill buildings and threatened the entire village. Another rebuilding followed, and on Aug. 21, 1895, there was a third major fire, described in dramatic detail in the bicentennial history, from which Fairfield’s lumber industry did not recover.

A third dam (perhaps built in the 1850s) connected the north end of Mill Island to the east shore of the river. The island, which is now partly residential and partly a town-owned park, housed industries that included a matchbox factory, a sawmill and a pulp mill. United Boxboard and Paper Company had a three-story brick mill complex at the north end of the island, established in 1882 and running into the early 1930s; remains of the foundation are still visible. At full production the mill employed 100 people; its pulp was used by the company’s other paper mill at Benton Falls and at Hollingsworth and Whitney, in Winslow.

North of what is now downtown Fairfield, Shawmut was a mill village from 1835 until early in the 20th century, primarily producing wood products. The bicentennial history says the Kennebec was dammed there before the 1880s. The village was called successively Philbrook Mills, Lyons Mills (Alpheus Lyon, a Waterville lawyer, built Fairfield’s first flour mill) and Somerset Mills. In December 1904 the Shawmut Manufacturing Company bought the buildings and water rights and the village took the company’s name.

Benton and Clinton, on the east side of the Kennebec opposite Fairfield, also had numerous water-powered industries throughout the 19th century, but they were built on the Sebasticook River and its tributaries. Kingsbury also describes mills near the outlet of Carrabassett Stream, which flows through Clinton into the Kennebec at Pishon’s Ferry opposite Hinckley; but he lists no significant industries along the Kennebec.

Next week: Lumber and ice from the Kennebec

Main sources:

Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988)
Federal Writers Project Maine: a Guide Down East (1937)
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed. Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892)
Plocher, Stephen, Colby College Class of 2007 A Short History of Waterville, Maine Found on the web at Waterville-maine.gov.
Robbins, Alma Pierce History of Vassalborough Maine 1771-1971 (1971)

Websites, miscellaneous

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Shipping on the Kennebec River

Longboats were used between Augusta and Waterville until at least the 1830s.

by Mary Grow

The Kennebec River that has been an important feature of the towns and cities so far discussed in this series runs from Moosehead Lake to the Atlantic Ocean, a distance of about 170 miles. It served as the first route to the interior for Europeans, and as a known landmark in a largely unknown area.

The Kennebec Proprietors’ land extended 15 miles either side of the river, and their surveyors laid out lots from the river inland. Settlers bought and built on riverside lots before inland lots. Most travel was by water, especially if goods were to be carried.

Kingsbury’s History of Kennebec County says Captain James Howard and his sons Samuel and William were the first to use the river to export local products. (He does not specify the products; they undoubtedly included forest products; perhaps fish, since he writes later that by the 1790s the head of tide at Cushnoc falls or rapids was a source of fish for food and commerce; and perhaps crops as well.)

The older Howard had been Fort Western’s commander. After the 1763 Treaty of Paris eliminated the French from most of North America and permanently ended the need to defend the Kennebec, the fort was abandoned. Howard bought the fort and surrounding land, opened a store and built a mill, not on the main river but on a tributary about a mile north that was first named Howard’s Brook and by 1892 was Riggs’ Brook, the name it still bears.

Not all freight needed a boat. Kingsbury says when Fort Western was built in 1754, trees were cut in what is now Dresden, downriver from Augusta, shaped into building timbers, dumped into the river, hitched together and towed upstream to the building site.

The earliest story in this series explained that the area that is now Augusta started out as part of Hallowell; in February 1797 Augusta was separated and named Harrington and in June 1797 it was renamed Augusta (see The Town Line, March 26). Kingsbury says at the time of separation Harrington had 620 tons of shipping; he also lists human population, houses, cows and other statistics.

[See also: Benedict Arnold’s Québec Campaign came up the Kennebec River]

Large passenger and freight ships and boats came from Boston and elsewhere up the Kennebec as far as Augusta. Some could navigate Cushnoc rapids, and a lock for ships and for floating logs was included when the dam was built there in 1837.

The Taconic (Ticonic, Teconnet and numerous other spellings) falls or rapids just upstream from Waterville were the final limit for large boats. Upstream, and often downstream as well, settlers used a variety of wooden boats, usually flat-bottomed.

Kingsbury describes the longboat, no longer in use by 1892, as a principal carrier of heavy freight – sometimes more than 100 tons – and passengers for part of the 19th century. Longboats, he says, were from 60 to 95 feet long and 15 to 20 feet wide. They had two masts that could be lowered to go under bridges. Going downriver with the current was the easy part; to go upriver, they depended on a south wind.

Longboats were used between Augusta and Waterville until at least the 1830s. In the summer of 1832, the Ticonic was the first steamship to come upriver as far as Waterville. By 1848, Kingsbury says, there were five trips a day between Waterville and Augusta. Around that time, there was so much competition that a passenger ticket from Waterville to Boston cost only a dollar.

By 1840, after the Augusta dam eliminated the rapids as an obstacle, the Federal Writers Project Maine guide says schooners traveled weekly between Augusta and Waterville. Freight was transferred at Augusta from ocean-going ships to longboats; oxen hauled the longboats through Cushnoc rapids, walking in the river when there wasn’t room for a towpath on the shore.

Many of the ships were built locally. The Federal Writers Project guide says more than 500 ships were built in yards along the river from Augusta to Winslow in the 1800s. Merchants owned thousands of tons of shipping; it was not unusual to see 20 or so ships at Augusta wharves.

The Howard family started Augusta’s shipbuilding industry in the 1770s, according to local history, building ships that carried lumber to Boston. William Jones had a shipyard in the 1840s and 1850s; it might have been he who oversaw construction of the J. A. Thompson, built in 1849 to take easterners to the California gold rush.

The R. M. Mills, built in 1854, is described by a local source as an 800-tonner, the largest ship of the 37 ships built in Augusta between 1837 and 1856. In the dramatic account of her near-loss in the United States Register for 1860, she is listed at 673 tons.

The Mills was in the Bay of Biscay (between northern Spain and southwestern France) on her way from Ardrossan, in southwestern Scotland, to Genoa, Italy, when she started leaking. The crew of the schooner Stork saw her distress signal, and they and crew of “the Douro steamer” rescued everyone aboard, including ladies. The Stork’s passengers were taken to London, the rest to Lisbon.

The rescuers left the Mills apparently sinking on May 27. But the Register continues the story: on Tuesday, May 29, the ship Scotia from Baltimore found the Mills abandoned. The Scotia’s captain put his first mate and two crewmen on board and they brought her safely up the Thames to Victoria Dock, in London.

Vassalboro had shipyards as well. Robbins’ History of Vassalborough Maine 1771-1971 says “shipbuilding on the river” is one reason the southern part of town had enough residents by 1817 to deserve its own post office, in Benjamin Brown’s store near Seven Mile Stream. Robbins believes Vassalboro’s mail was delivered by boat on the river until 1820, when the road linking forts Western and Halifax was improved enough for stagecoaches.

Around 1850, Kingsbury describes Vassalboro entrepreneur Ira Sturgis expanding his wood-based empire that started with a sawmill and a box factory by adding a shipyard, which produced a bark, a brig and two schooners. The sawmill was on Seven Mile Stream and the shipyard nearby on the Kennebec.

In Sidney, the 1904 Belgrade and Sidney Register says there was only one shipyard (undated), at the mouth of Thayer Brook (now Goff Brook). It was owned by Willard Bailey and John Sawtelle, who also had a sawmill on the brook. The shipyard built schooners smaller than 100 tons.

In Waterville, shipbuilding started in 1794 and continued into the 1820s. In Kennebec Yesterdays, Ernest Marriner says the abundance of timber in the surrounding area helped the business flourish.

John Getchell had the first shipyard, from which the schooner Sally was launched in 1794. Marriner and Whittemore’s Centennial History of Waterville say 22 vessels came from Waterville before 1835, the largest the 290-ton Francis & Sarah, built by Robert Shaw and launched in 1814. The 178-ton brig Waterville was launched in 1825.

Shipyard owners included John Clark at the foot of Sherwin Street, next north Nathaniel Gilman, then Asa Redington and W. & D. Moor. Whittemore says the larger ships were launched during high water in spring or fall, floated down to Hallowell or Gardiner to be rigged and were never able to return to Waterville.

Kingsbury writes that Daniel Moor’s family came to Waterville in 1798. Three sons went into lumbering and boat-building; Kingsbury says they built numerous river steamers, including two they sold to Cornelius Vanderbilt.

In Winslow, Kingsbury mentions Nathaniel Dingley as a shipbuilder, as well as a lumberman and a farmer, but gives no other details.

From 1849 on, railroads along the Kennebec supplanted the waterway as a commercial route for both people and goods.

Main sources:

Federal Writers Project Maine: a Guide Down East (1937)
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed. Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892)
Marriner, Ernest Kennebec Yesterdays (1954)
Plocher, Stephen, Colby College Class of 2007 A Short History of Waterville, Maine Found on the web at Waterville-maine.gov.
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902)

Web sites, miscellaneous.

Benedict Arnold’s Québec Campaign came up the Kennebec River

Replica of a bateaux that Benedict Arnold and his army took up the Kennebec River on their march to attack Québec City in 1775.

The Second Continental Congress authorized an invasion of Québec, in part on the urging of Arnold — but he was passed over for command of the expedition. He then went to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and suggested to George Washington a second expedition to attack Québec City via a wilderness route through Maine.

He received a colonel’s commission in the Continental Army for this expedition and left Cambridge in September 1775 with 1,100 men. Part of their journey came up the Kennebec River and passed through Augusta, Waterville and continued northward. That is why Rte. 201 is often referred to as the Arnold Trail. Artifacts from an encampment have been found on the river’s banks. He arrived before Québec City in November, after a difficult passage in which 300 men turned back and another 200 died en route.

He and his men were joined by Richard Montgomery’s small army and participated in the December 31 assault on Québec City in which Montgomery was killed and Arnold’s leg was shattered. His chaplain Rev. Samuel Spring carried him to the makeshift hospital at the Hôtel Dieu. Arnold was promoted to brigadier general for his role in reaching Québec, and he maintained an ineffectual siege of the city until he was replaced by Major General David Wooster in April 1776.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Crossing the Kennebec River

The Kennebec River has been known to occasionally overflow its banks. In this photo, houses of the residents at the Head of Falls, in Waterville, managed to survive the great flood of 1936. The houses were later razed in the name of urban renewal. The famous two-cent bridge can be seen at right, and the water tower of the former Wyandotte-Worsted textile mill can be seen in the background. The river has also had catastrophic floods in 1973 and 1987. (photo courtesy of Waterville Historical Society)

by Mary Grow

The Kennebec River was a highway into the interior of Maine, but it was also a barrier to travel. The Native Americans found safe places to cross; European settlers did the same, learning either from the Natives or by trial and error. As early as 1757, Kingsbury’s History of Kennebec County refers to “Riverside or Lovejoy’s ferry,” on the river’s east bank between Fort Western and Fort Halifax, in the section of Vassalboro still called Riverside.

Farther south, the river divided what was at first Hallowell and later became the City of Augusta. Kingsbury says people crossed by Pollard’s Ferry, started in 1785 and running from the foot of Winthrop Street to the old Fort Western site, until it was superseded in November 1797 by the first bridge across the river.

This bridge, like most of the other early bridges, was financed by private enterprise. Investors formed companies of various kinds, some selling stock. In Kingsbury’s history, it appears that few if any made money from their enterprises.

The first Augusta bridge, Kingsbury says, collapsed in June1816. A ferry ran again for two years while a second bridge was built; that one burned in April 1827. The third bridge was completed in August 1828.

The first three bridges were toll bridges, until the City of Augusta bought the third one in 1867 and eliminated tolls. Kingsbury cites an undated list of toll rates, which range from two cents for a pedestrian to 35 cents for a “coach, chariot, phaeton, or curricle.”

According to Alice Hammond’s History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 and Alma Robbins’ History of Vassalborough Maine 1771-1971, there were two ferries across the Kennebec, first to the western part of Vassalboro and after 1792 to the separate town of Sidney. The two towns have never been connected by a bridge, although in 1915, Hammond writes, Sidney voters approved building a bridge “to be located east of the junction of the River and Church roads.”

However, they passed over – took no action on – the next article, which would have appropriated money for the project. When the idea was presented again in 1916 it got no support.

Lovejoy’s ferry at Riverside was the southern and the earlier Vassalboro ferry; the other was farther upstream at Getchell’s Corner. Vassalboro voters discontinued roads to both ferries in the 1870s and 1890s, but the ferries continued to operate through the 1920s, according to Hammond. In the 1890s they usually ran from 200 to 250 days a year. By then, a main purpose was to transport people and goods from Sidney to connect with the railroad running through Vassalboro.

In 1889, Hammond writes, the county commissioners divided ferry costs between the two towns, making Vassalboro responsible for 3/8 of the costs of the Riverside ferry and 5/8 of Getchell’s Corner and Sidney responsible for the remaining percentages. The ferry operators were paid $1 per day in the 1890s. Town reports show that the ferries ran deficits, up to $200 some years, and that the two towns were hesitant to cover them.

In 1919, Hammond says, the Sidney town report noted that the town owed Vassalboro $566.62 for 10 years of ferry money, and voters called for an investigation. In 1920, she says, Sidney paid Vassalboro $430.74.

She says each ferry had two boats, a rowboat for passengers and a large flat-bottomed boat that carried horses and wagons and later automobiles.

Robbins’ History includes a photo labeled “The Ferry Vassalboro, Me. 1909.” It shows a flat barge with a small triangular sail putting out from a wooded bank carrying a cart drawn by two white horses, with someone at the horses’ heads and at least one person in the cart.

Hammond quotes two residents who remembered the Riverside ferry, Norman Haskell, of Sidney, and Norman Fossett, of Vassalboro. Haskell, who lived near the landing as a young man and sometimes worked the ferry, commented on the skill needed to get the boat across the river and docked. The crossing took half an hour or longer, he remembered.

Haskell went to high school in Augusta, Hammond writes. To go home on weekends he took the train north to Riverside and the ferry to Sidney. At Riverside a Sidney man named Alphonso Clark had a barn where he stored hay from Sidney for the Boston market.

Fossett told Hammond the boats were docked in Sidney, so the Riverside terminal had a horn that Vassalboro people blew to call the ferryman. Youngsters used to think it amusing to call him over and then hide.

Hammond says the Getchell’s Corner ferry was not rowed, but pulled across the river on a cable. It transported Sidney-grown corn to the Burnham and Morrill cannery, in North Vassalboro, and Sidney students to Oak Grove School.

In 1922 and 1923, Hammond writes, a former student remembered the fare as 10 cents one way, 15 cents round-trip. Transporting a team on the large boat cost 50 cents.

By 1922, the combined deficit for the two ferries was over $1,000. In 1925-26, Sidney and Vassalboro town meeting warrants asked voters to close the ferries. Apparently at least one town refused, because service continued through 1931, with Burnham and Morrill contributing funds. The 1934 Vassalboro town report records that Vassalboro and Sidney split a $106 bill for trucking Sidney corn to the B & M cannery in 1933, Hammond writes.

This photograph was taken from atop Sand Hill, in Winslow, looking towards Waterville. Taken in 1870, the photo shows the two covered bridges that carried trains (right), and wagons, back and forth between the two communities. The bridge on the left is the Ticonic Bridge that connects Waterville and Winslow, which today is a four-lane crossing. (photo courtesy of Waterville Historical Society)

Neither Kingsbury nor the Waterville bicentennial history mentions ferries in the 1700s. The first bridge linking Waterville and Winslow was built in 1823, Kingsbury says. Like the early Augusta bridges a covered toll bridge built by entrepreneurs, it lasted until a flood in 1832; its successor, another covered toll bridge, was washed downstream in 1869.

The county commissioners then ordered Waterville and Winslow to build a new bridge. It opened in 1870, toll-free; but Kingsbury says construction errors made rebuilding necessary within a few years. Its solid piers supported the iron bridge still in use in 1892.

In his account of the early days of the North Fairfield Friends (Quakers), Ernest Marriner (Kennebec Yesterday) describes their trips to the Vassalboro Friends meeting, crossing the Kennebec. There was no ferry service north of Augusta until around 1802, Marriner says, so when the water was low, people waded across; in high water, they used rafts.

The ford at Waterville was downstream of Ticonic Falls, Marriner says. He says a traveler started from the west bank slanting downstream, turned upstream to a small island and from the island went straight across to Winslow. Small round rocks on the river bottom provided poor footing for horses once the Friends had horses.

The history of Fairfield lists three ferries across the Kennebec, all north of what is now downtown, without dates. Ames’ Ferry was at Emery Brook, Noble’s Ferry was a quarter mile downriver from Nye’s Corner and Pishon’s Ferry was at Hinckley.

Fairfield and Benton were connected by bridges in 1848, three covered bridges going via the two islands, Mill (apparently known earlier as Oakes’ Rock and Rock Island) and Bunker’s Island. They were toll bridges until 1873, and when the Fairfield bicentennial history was published in 1988 the toll-house on the north end of Bunker’s Island was still standing; it was torn down not long afterward.

The history says until 1873, the town line ran down the center channel of the river, leaving Bunker’s Island and two bridges in Benton. Benton, reluctant to assume the expense, petitioned the state legislature to transfer Bunker’s Island to Fairfield. The petition was granted Feb. 27, 1873..

The history says the wooden bridge between Fairfield and Mill Island was replaced with a steel one in 1887. The islands must have been connected by a new steel bridge sometime in the next 11 years, because the history says an early-March 1896 flood washed away the remaining covered bridge between Bunker’s Island and Benton and a steel one was built there, too. In 1934 all three bridges were replaced, again with steel.

Next: The useful Kennebec: transportation, water power, etc.

Main sources:

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)
Marriner, Ernest, Kennebec Yesterdays (1954)
Robbins, Alma Pierce History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971)

Web sites, miscellaneous

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Fairfield

by Mary Grow

Fairfield, the southernmost town in Somerset County, differs from Augusta, Vassalboro/Sidney, and Winslow/Waterville in being surveyed and settled only on the west bank of the Kennebec. However, the Charles Hayden survey map copied pursuant to a Feb. 4, 1813, vote of the Kennebec Proprietors and published in the Fairfield Historical Society’s Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 shows a pattern similar to the towns farther down-river: smaller rectangular riverside lots and wider, much longer (some extending from the river to the 15-mile boundary) lots between and behind them.

The history says the first recorded house in town was built in 1771 by Jonathan Emery on Emery Hill. His son Samuel, born in 1773, is believed to be the first white child born in town. The house stood until 1982.

Early homestead on Emery Hill, in Fairfield. (Internet photo)

Emery Hill rises from the Kennebec between the river and Route 201 north of downtown Fairfield, opposite the foot of Mountain Avenue. The Emery Hill Cemetery is said to contain graves of some of the men who began the march to Québec with General Benedict Arnold in 1775. When this writer knew it in the 1950s, it also contained a good crop of poison ivy.

More families must have quickly followed the Emerys, because the bicentennial history reports the settlement was organized as a plantation in 1774. Ava H. Chadbourne’s Maine Place Names says the plantation was named Fairfield because of its natural beauty, and the name was carried over when the plantation became an incorporated town on June 18, 1788.

In 1774, according to the bicentennial history, a man named Pushard built a log cabin on the north side of what is now Western Avenue where Hillman’s Bakery was established in 1960.

In 1778, the history continues, Jonas Dutton built a dam between the west shore and Mill Island, the westernmost of the two islands – the other is Bunker’s or Bunker Island – between Fairfield and Benton. Dutton planned to use waterpower for mills, he did not get them built before General William Kendall bought him out in 1780. Kendall also bought adjacent land, making Kendall’s Mills an early name for Fairfield Village. Ernest Marriner says in Kennebec Yesterdays there were 11 sawmills at Kendall’s Mills in 1870.

According to the web, Kendall was born in Georgetown, November 19, 1759, married Abigail Chase on Dec. 25, 1782, died Aug. 11, 1827, and is buried in Emery Hill Cemetery with his wife and other family members. The bicentennial history adds that the Kendalls lived first in a log cabin near the present intersection of Main Street and Western Avenue. Before 1800 they had a large brick house at the intersection of Lawrence Avenue and Newhall Street, which stood until the 1890s.

Chadbourne and the bicentennial history list other centers of settlement inside the town boundary as Shawmut (earlier Philbrooks Mills, Lyons Mills, Somerset Mills; settled in 1835) and Hinckley (East Fairfield, Pichon’s Ferry), three miles and eight miles, respectively, north of Fairfield on the river; Fairfield Center, three miles west of the present town center; North Fairfield (also known as Black’s Mills, Blacknell’s Mills and Quakertown, according to the bicentennial history), north of Fairfield Center; and Larone (formerly Winslow’s Mills) on what is now Route 139 almost at the Norridgewock town line.

The bicentennial history calls Fairfield Center the first town center, despite its distance from the river, because, the authors say, it was on the road from Waterville to Skowhegan.

The early years of Keyes Fibre Co. (Internet photo)

Chadbourne fails to mention Fairfield Corner (now Nye’s Corner), on the river about half-way between Shawmut and Hinckley. No date of settlement is given; the bicentennial history says it was named for multiple Nye families and was a commercial center in the 1820s and 1830s.

In Kennebec Yesterdays, Marriner draws from the 1848 reminiscences of Elihu Bowerman, who came north from Massachusetts in 1780, at the age of 18, looking for available land. He stayed with John Taber, in Vassalboro, and joined the Quaker meeting there.

Marriner says Taber and other Vassalboro Quakers helped Bowerman find his land. Early in 1782, newly married, he, his wife and two younger brothers came to stay. Leaving Mrs. Bowerman in rented rooms in what became Waterville, the three young men staked a claim along Martin Stream, in the area known later as North Fairfield. They built first a lean-to and then a log cabin roofed and floored with bark, to which Mrs. Bowerman came in the fall.

One of Elihu’s brothers went back to Massachusetts for the winter of 1782-83. Marriner suggests the remaining three people might have starved had not a Winslow man given them corn on credit to supplement a bit of pork and smoked herring and the (frozen in an early cold spell) potatoes they had raised on Remington Hobby’s Vassalboro farm. The corn they carried 17 miles, on foot, to be ground at the closest gristmill, Marriner says.

During the winter, too, the two men hauled 700 feet of boards “several miles” from a sawmill so they could provide a better roof and floor for the cabin.

The next summer they bought two cows to provide milk and butter and planted crops to feed them through the following winter. It was probably that summer that Elihu’s mother came from Massachusetts to join them. By 1785, Marriner says, the older Mrs. Bowerman and eight of her nine children – one daughter had died –were living in the area.

Marriner credits the Bowermans with establishing the Friends meeting in North Fairfield. At first it was affiliated with the Vassalboro Friends, and Elihu Bowerman remembered the 14-mile walk to and from meeting before roads were fit for horses and later for carriages. The trip required fording or rafting across the Sebasticook and the Kennebec rivers.

After the June 1788 incorporation of the town of Fairfield, the bicentennial history says the first town meeting was held Aug. 19 in Samuel Fuller’s house. Elihu Bowerman was elected selectman, with Josiah Burgess and Joseph Town; Samuel Tobey became town clerk and treasurer.

Fairfield’s first elementary schools and the first two churches, a Quaker Meeting House in North Fairfield built in 1784 and a Methodist church in Fairfield Center built in 1793 and 1794, were in use before 1800. The bicentennial history says Jesse Lee preached the first sermon in the Methodist church on March 5, 1794.

Jesse Lee’s marker in Norwalk, Connecticut, marking the spot of his first speech.

Jesse Lee, sometimes called the Apostle of Methodism, was a Methodist Episcopal preacher who traveled northern New England in the 1790s. Born March 12, 1758, in Virginia, he became a preacher in 1783. After his travels in New England, he was chaplain of the United States House of Representatives, starting in 1809 and serving at least three terms, and in 1814 began a year as chaplain of the United States Senate. He died Sept. 12, 1816, in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Jesse Lee Church, in Readfield, built in 1794, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Kents Hill resident Les Priest said Lee preached at the dedication of the church on June 24, 1794, with close to 2,000 people from all around the area attending.

The church is still used seasonally; the web has information on the April 12 Easter Sunday service. Members of the Readfield United Methodist Church had the historic building reroofed five or six years ago, Priest said. They are now raising money to redo the exterior. Donations are welcome; checks may be made out to RUMC and mailed to PO Box 286, Kents Hill, Maine 04349.


Chadbourne, Ava Harriet, Maine Place Names and the Peopling of Its Towns (1955)
Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988)
Marriner, Ernest, Kennebec Yesterdays (1954)
Personal interviews

Web sites, miscellaneous

The Kennebec Indian tribe

In August 1724, four companies of English soldiers set out from Fort Richmond. On Aug. 23, they drew near the village of Norridgewock. Their arrival was unexpected. Little or no resistance was made by the natives, who fled precipitately, but Father Rasles remained in his cabin, defending himself. The door was broken open, and Lieut. Richard Jaques rushed in, shot and mortally wounded the aged priest.

The Kennebec tribe, also known as Norridgewock and Kennebis, was an early Abenaki band who lived in the Kennebec Valley of Maine. Their name comes from the Kennebec River, which was named after the bay it emptied into — kinipek meaning “bay” in the Abenaki language.

When the valley of the Kennebec was first explored, the Chief Kennebis lived on Little Swan Island, a small island in the Kennebec River opposite what is now the town of Richmond. His home was built of logs in a circular form and strongly fortified.

The Kennebec were divided into four bands, each having its own chief. These included the Sagadahoc who lived between Merrymeeting Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the Cushnoc who dwelt in the vicinity of Augusta, the Tacconet who possessed and occupied the fertile region that is watered by the Sebasticook River at Waterville, and the powerful Norridgewock, who lived in the village of the same name on the Kennebec River. The different clans all paid homage or political deference to the great chief who resided on Swan Island. At this time, it was estimated the tribes’ warriors numbered about 1,500.

The Kennebec, along with other Abenaki tribes in the area, who were attempting to stop the English encroachment upon their lands, began to conduct Indian raids with regularity on the heavily populated settlements in Southern Maine.

At the time that Father Rasles was in residence at Norridgewock, the English and the French were fighting over the territory of Maine and French Canada, and Rasles exercised a powerful influence over the tribe. He worked to attach the area tribes to the French cause, and before long, the English colonists saw the Kennebec as dangerous enemies.

The Kennebec engaged against the English in four Indian Wars.

Afterward, the remnants of the Kennebec fled to Canada or merged into other Abenaki and New England Algonquian groups. Today there is no distinct Kennebec band.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Waterville – Sidney

A sketch of the Kennebec tribe settling along the Kennebec River. (Internet photo)

by Mary Grow

As previously described, what is now the Town of Sidney, on the west bank of the Kennebec River north of Augusta, began as the western half of Vassalborough, now a separate town on the east bank of the river. (See The Town Line, March 26)

The Kennebec Proprietors hired Nathan Winslow to survey both sides of the river in 1761, and in 1774 they had John Jones survey the rest of the west side to Lake Messalonskee, also known as Snow Pond (and so called in this article). The map and description of Winslow’s surveys in Alice Hammond’s History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 match the description of Vassalboro: three tiers of long narrow lots west from the river with a rangeway between each tier, an irregular space that Hammond calls a gore between Winslow’s and Jones’ work, then two more tiers of lots.

Sidney’s original boundary was on the west side of Snow Pond, Hammond says; after Sidney separated from Vassalboro in 1792, the new town laid out 10 school districts, and one of them was the area on the west side of “the Pond.” In 1799, she says, that land became part of Belgrade, leaving Sidney with the Kennebec as its eastern boundary and Snow Pond as part of the western boundary.

The name Sidney recognizes British soldier and poet Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586). Sources consulted offer no reason why it was chosen for a Maine settlement.

Hammond mentions a feature that makes Sidney unusual: the Great Sidney Bog, which is mostly in southern Sidney, on the west side of Bog Road, and partly in Augusta. Hammond calls it a 640-acre peat bog traditionally used for hunting and blueberrying.

On its (undated) Beginning with Habitat website, Great Sidney Bog is called a 605-acre Raised Level Bog and an area of state-wide ecological significance. It is important, the website says, because it is farther south than most similar bogs in Maine and because it provides habitat for deer, wading birds and waterfowl.

[See also: The Kennebec Indian tribe]

The first settlers in the 1760s chose riverside lots. Henry Kingsbury’s History of Kennebec County offers a list of names, starting with John Marsh, whose family still owned the June 24, 1763, deed from Massachusetts when Kingsbury published his invaluable book in 1892.

Neither Kingsbury nor Hammond gives details about the spread of settlement through the rest of the town in the early days, although Hammond mentions a few people settled on the shore of Snow Pond. The first town meetings in 1792 were convened along the river; Kingsbury says the first was in David Smiley’s house, and David Smiley operated the first tavern on what Kingsbury calls the river road (presumably today’s West River Road/Route 104).

To be a voter in 1792 Sidney, Hammond says, one had to be male, at least 21 and possessor of either an annual income of at least three pounds or a “free hold estate” valued at a minimum of 60 pounds.

Hamond says the first meeting elected 32 town officers, some with experience in town affairs in Vassalboro.

The first meeting must have been early in the year, because Hammond says at least four more town meetings were held in 1792. Business at the second meeting in May included electing a four-man committee to reach a final agreement with Vassalboro, presumably on the separation of the two towns.

Abenaki Indians engaged in warfare. (Internet photo)

In 1793 voters agreed to alternate meetings between David Smiley’s and Isaac Cowan’s houses. Town meeting voters voted in Massachusetts elections and dealt with local matters, including funding for schools and churches and the laying out of roads.

Voters at an April 1792 school meeting – Hammond does not explain the difference between town meetings and school meetings – approved raising 100 pounds to support 10 school districts, Hammond says. The decision was rescinded at a special town meeting early in 1794; the annual (presumably town) meeting later that year settled on 60 pounds.

Although the Kennebec was the original means of transportation, as mills were developed on tributary brooks, better overland transport became a necessity. What had been foot trails became horse trails, then cart trails and then roads. Hammond says the rangeways turned out not to be the most convenient routes, and the eight-rod rangeway width unnecessary.

The town deeded parts of rangeways to abutters. Roads were laid out across as well as between properties, with landowners allowed to work off part of their taxes by building them. In 1793, Hammond says, voters approved the following (daily?) rates: $1 per man, 25 cents for an ox, a plow or a cart.

Most early industries were sawmills and gristmills producing lumber for frame houses (to replace early log cabins) and grain to eat. Kingsbury says John Marsh built one of each in 1763, on the east (river) side of river road on Bog (later Hastings) Brook. In 1774, he says, a combination of high water and an ice jam washed away both mills and drowned Thomas Clark as he tried to save two bags of meal his family need.ed.

(Observant readers will have noticed that Hammond gives some of her prices in British pounds and some in United States dollars. In Kennebec Yesterdays, Ernest Marriner says that after the new United States government converted to a decimal system, country people had to adapt too. Talking about a doctor in Sidney in the early 1800s, Marriner explains that the man used to charge one British shilling to pull a tooth; he changed to 17 cents American after a dollar was “arbitrarily” set as equal to six shillings, making one shilling one-sixth of a dollar, or 17 cents.)

Continuing north along the Kennebec River, Sidney is bordered by Waterville, like Sidney originally part of its east-bank neighbor, Winslow (see The Town Line, April 2). The two were separated in 1802.

After sharing Winslow’s early name, Ticonic, and then being part of Winslow, Waterville needed a new name in 1802. Ava Harriet Chadbourne’s Maine Place Names says “Waterville” means “a town or city located on the water.” Marriner says several prominent families wanted the new town named after them, and whoever made the decision chose Waterville to avoid offending anyone.

Waterville included what is now Oakland until 1873, when Oakland was set off as West Waterville. In 1883 the name became Oakland (because of its many oak trees, Chadbourne says).

Kingsbury says the Waterville part of Winslow grew faster than the Winslow part, citing population figures, the number of doctors who chose the western shore, early mills and early businesses. Among early settlers’ names repeated in 21st-century street names are Appleton, Boutelle, Cool, Dalton, Getchell, Gilman, Redington, Sherwin and Temple.

Waterville’s first three doctors, all of whom practiced other professions as well, are mentioned in most histories of the city. Dr. John McKechnie (c. 1732-1782) is generally considered the foremost; Kingsbury calls him active and useful.

McKechnie was an engineer and surveyor as well as a medical doctor. Kingsbury says he was a Scotsman who came to America in 1755 and to the Kennebec in 1771, where he surveyed Winslow before settling on its western side. Though his medical career was not a main occupation, he supposedly helped care for soldiers passing through on Benedict Arnold’s 1776 march to Québec. By 1780 he was operating a gristmill and a sawmill on Messalonskee Stream.

Early mills were built on smaller tributaries to the Kennebec, Marriner explains, because the river was too big and too swift for their simple machinery. Most of the streams with waterfalls flowed from the west shore, these smaller, more controllable streams provided better mill sites; so early mills were more numerous in west-shore towns.

Dr. Obadiah Williams (1752-1799), a surgeon in the Revolutionary War, came from New Hampshire to Sidney (according to Kingsbury) or to Mount Vernon/Vienna (according to Marriner) and in 1792 moved to Waterville, Marriner says for business opportunities. He owned a lot that had 40 rods of Kennebec River frontage and extended west to the first Rangeway, including what became Waterville’s business district.

Williams is said to have built the first frame house in Waterville. Marriner claims he was so prominent that in 1802 his was one of the names proposed for the new town.

According to websites, he is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery.

The third notable doctor was Dr. Moses Appleton (1773-1849), another New Hampshire native who graduated from Dartmouth College in 1791. According to the website American Medical Biographies, a Dartmouth classmate named Reuben Kidder had a law practice in Winslow, and in 1795 or 1796 Appleton asked him about Waterville.

Kidder told him it was a town of about 1,000 people, mostly living in log cabins, with six shops; the nearest drugstore was 30 miles away in Hallowell; and Dr. Williams would welcome a younger colleague. Kidder offered Appleton half of the building he was about to build for a home and office.

Appleton came to Waterville in 1796 and never left. Marriner and the website say he got 96 patients the first year, including Dr. Williams, for whom he pulled a tooth. He was active in town affairs, joined the Maine Medical Society early in its life and was admired and respected. (The Maine Medical Society, properly the Medical Society of Maine, was founded in 1820 and stopped meeting in 1845, eight years before the present Maine Medical Association was organized.)


Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992);
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed. Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892);
Marriner, Ernest, Kennebec Yesterdays (1954);

Websites, miscellaneous.