COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: My life with history

The interior of the China History Museum.


by Bob Bennett

In all of the lives of human beings, the one factor that can never be changed is our history. It is there in all of its glory or shame. The deeds of those who came before us, and ourselves from the moment they are carried out, are forever in place. So, if it can’t be altered why is history important? The short answer to this question is that knowledge of the past, if used as a learning experience, can and should have a positive impact on those who are still alive and all of those who follow in our future. We should accept, but not repeat mistakes, live with the results but attempt to repair errors, and without question try and ensure that the faults and mistakes of our predecessors are not blessed or repeated. And yet, we all know that these ideas do not always occur; a perfect world does not and will never exist.

I have revered history throughout my entire life. This means that I started with the stories my dad told me when I was a toddler. He loved Zane Grey’s novels and knew a lot about the old west. When I was a couple of years older, my parents bought a full set of Colliers Encyclopedias, including the yearly update volumes, and I was really off and running. I would spend hours paging through those heavy books reading anything that caught my attention. Maybe this is a little over the top, but I loved every moment and learned tons of stuff.

Starting my secondary education in South Portland Junior High School in 1961, I was fortunate to have great history teachers all the way through high school. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions and at a time when many kids were bored with learning names, dates and places, I was in heaven. My freshman history teacher, Charles Cahill, had been in the OSS (pre-CIA) during World War II and even though he told us that he couldn’t really tell us what his actions involved, he could always keep us awake with his stories. Other teachers in high school were good, too, but it was in my college career at the University of Maine in Orono that I really “hit it big.”

My advisor and professor in a number of classes was Clark G. Reynolds. Dr. Reynolds had taught at the U.S. Naval Academy before arriving at UMO. He was the ultimate example of the teacher who knew the stories relating to history that made the classwork incredibly interesting. He had been closely involved with major World War II figures like Admirals Halsey and Nimitz and knew all of the details of their decisions and actions. He had also met many other players in the war. On December 7, 1970, he marched into our classroom with a Christmas card he had just received from a former Japanese naval officer, Minoru Genda, who had largely put together the attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7,1941); talk about timing! We’ll talk more about Dr. Reynolds later.

After college graduation in 1971, I began a 38-year career in education as a history teacher and also a 20-year semi-career in the 195th Army Band of the Maine National Guard. In both of these lives I was exposed to history in different ways. As a teacher, I was very consistent in relating what I was presenting to my students to events that had similarity to both the past and present. I tried to begin every single class session with at least a couple of current events, including something that had some relation to the history we were covering. Some days those events might take more time than I anticipated but I managed to get most everything on the day’s agenda addressed. As a member of an extremely well-regarded army band, I had the opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico, Canada and a number of American states. As a drum major leading a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, meeting and talking with Canadian World War II veterans at Gagetown, NewBrunswick, and seeing Robert E. Lee’s first Corp of Engineering project at Ft. Monroe, Virginia, were all great and eye opening experiences.

I moved from one school system to another, Portland to SAD #3 in 1978, got married in 1984 and it was at Mount View High School, in Thorndike, that I reconnected with Dr. Reynolds. One morning during a prep period I looked him up on line and found that he was at the College of Charleton, in South Carolina. On a whim I called the college, charging the cost to my home phone back then, and discovered that he was coming to Orono for a seminar in the following week. I set up a time to meet on campus. When I arrived at the building I went down the appropriate hallway, following the sound of his great, booming voice. When he concluded his presentation, we drove downtown to Pat’s Pizza and had a fantastic, several hour discussion about everything historic. This meeting helped confirm everything I felt about the value of history in one’s life and the need to keep up with all of its pieces.

As my teaching career continued, another opportunity arose and I switched to Erskine Academy, in South China. The location is just around the corner from where we live in South China; I walked to work most days rather than driving 50 mile round trips to Thorndike. While at EA, I was able to see a lot of history in a new part of the world. I chaperoned on five trips to Europe in my seven years teaching mostly Advanced Placement U.S. History. There really isn’t anything like walking through the U.S. Cemetery, in Normandy, and exploring Omaha Beach. The Colosseum, in Rome, is neat, too. When I retired in 2012, my formal teaching was done but I am a firm believer in “once a teacher, always a teacher.” I substitute taught and continued to pass on my knowledge ’till COVID arrived. I volunteered at the Boothbay Railway Museum and enlightened visitors with my wealth of railroad history.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I am a nearly life-long model railroader. One of the best aspects of this hobby for me is the research into railroad history to build accurate models and scenes. To help other modelers, I have written more that 100 articles for various national publications, This has helped me stay active intellectually and to continue to share my ideas and passions, Also, in a rail-related venue, I was a summer conductor for 14 years on the Belfast and Moosehead Lake R.R. I shared tons of history with thousands of passengers during those times.

And so, this is my life exploring, enjoying and passing on history. The past is such a vital part of everyones’ existence and I really feel that ignoring it is almost inhuman. For parents, teach your kids about your past and experiences. For students, listen to your history teachers. Ask questions about what intrigues you and get involved in organizations that highlight learning about, and memories of what, has come before. It is absolutely true that once the ideas and memories of long ago are forgotten, they can never be recovered. It is our task to help preserve them forever.

This essay was composed to help inspire continued interest in and growth of the newly-resurrected China Historical Society.

PAGES IN TIME: Ice harvesting

by Richard Dillenbeck

Another normal part of life was “putting up ice” in our ice house located behind the barns. In January and February, the ice in China Lake averaged 20-22 inches thick. Ice was necessary in some rural Maine homes because iceboxes were still used by families without electric refrigerators. My father and I would go down to the South China landing to observe the harvest of ice.

Snow had to first be removed from the frozen lake surface. Cutting was done by hand and started at a hand drilled hole made by a big hand-powered auger, big enough to allow the saw blade down through the hole. I haven’t seen one since, but the big-toothed saw was a good four feet long and had a T-shaped handle attached perpendicular to the blade, allowing the man doing the sawing to slowly walk backwards as he cut the ice.

Each worker had his own way of sawing, but basically it was done with the saw at an angle and it was heavy enough to bite through the ice. Several parallel cuts were then made, followed by cuts made at 90 degrees to the first, thus freeing the blocks of ice.

Removing the first block of ice was tricky but usually they would push the ice block down in the water and it would bob up high enough for another worker to grab it with big ice tongs. The next would come out easier because it was free on both ends and the tongs could grab it. Big, heavy five-foot long ice chisels with a wide blade helped free blocks. The well over 100-pound blocks of ice were then dragged off by other workers with ice tongs and pulled up a ramp onto a truck for delivery to ice houses around the area, including ours.

There may still be ice houses standing somewhere in our northern states but, for the most part, they were a symbol of rural Maine that is gone forever.

Ice houses didn’t have floors. A layer of sawdust started the process at ground level. That thick layer of sawdust was always the first step in preparing for the delivery of ice. The ice blocks were slid down a ramp into the icehouse and carried by tongs to their place, each separated by at least an inch of sawdust and then the whole layer covered with it. Each block had sawdust stuffed between the blocks, otherwise they would freeze together.

The first layer of ice, after being covered with sawdust, would receive the next layer of ice, also covered with a layer. This was repeated until the icehouse was full. The front opening of the icehouse through which the blocks were pulled, was close to nine feet tall and made like a Dutch door with an upper and lower section. A fixed wood ladder ran up the ice house wall next to the doors. The reader can well imagine, it was easy to bring the blocks into the ice house for the first few layers, but when the ramp reached up higher than the truck bed, they had to be dragged upwards on the ramp.

The driver of the truck helped move the ice into the ice house. I was not strong enough to handle the blocks during the few years we “put up ice,” so my job was to spread sawdust. When summer approached, I sold ice if my father was not around. In late spring and summer, owners of several camps around the lake would come every week for a fresh block of ice. Towards the end of summer, the blocks had melted a lot and were easier to handle.

We only did it for two or three years. By then, everyone had electric refrigerators.

PAGES IN TIME: The Leeman Sheepscot Lake fish trap

Leeman trap on Chamberlain Lake

by Jim Metcalf

A Maine ice shanty is a temple reserved for those who consider ice fishing a religion. Being invited to enter a shanty is a privilege reserved for those few who can respect the language and rules of the house. All others must stand outside and only address the shanty’s congregation if the door is opened from the inside. Occasionally an exception can be made if someone falls through the ice and is freezing wet or if a member’s wife brings out a platter of food.

Leeman Ice Fishing Trap.

Archie Leeman’s Sheepscot Lake shanty was such a temple. It was placed off Bald Head where most of the lake could be surveyed. The congregation consisted of Archie Leeman, the builder of the shanty and skilled stone mason; Manley Scates, owner of the Scates General Store, in Palermo; Harold Sennett, owner of the blueberry barrens on level hill road; and Jim Grady, Palermo farmer and first snowmobile owner in town. These four friends could sit in the shanty for hours without ever talking. They communicated with each other only using sounds, grunts, mumbles, coughs, looks and the occasional word “flag” which was the signal for congregation members to look out the windows to determine whose trap had a flag and who had to walk or run, Other members would watch from the shanty’s warmth unless there was a yell for help.

Everyone’s fish traps were homemade ranging from a whip stick placed in a chiseled slot in the ice to a tip-up type trap with a red handkerchief attached as a flag. The line may be coiled on the ice or later wrapped on homemade birch spools. Although everyone sat quietly in the shanty the common thought was to always develop the ideal fish trap which would stay together in heavy wind, instantly notify the fisherman of a fish near or on the bait and finally set the hook and hold the fish until the fisherman got to the hole.

The only exception to fishing with traps was Manley Scates, a jig fisherman, who was damned if he was going to walk all over the pond checking traps. Manley never left the warmth of the shanty. His seat was over a jig hole next to the wood stove in the shanty where he would wrap the line around his fingers and sit quietly strumming his wrist like he was playing a guitar. It would not take very long for Manley’s head to drop into sleep. This was the time for Harold to mumble something about full bladder and leave the shanty. Harold would quietly move around to the corner outside of where Manley sat to reach under the shanty and yank Manley’s jig line. The explosion that occurred when Manley came alive sometimes kicking the stove off its stone while yelling, “Jaesus, wicked monster. Damn, lost him.” Harold would then enter the shanty zipping up to listen to the one that got away story. I don’t know if Manley ever figured it out or if anyone ever told him, but the rest of us never dropped off to sleep while Harold was with us in the shanty. Harold looked like a grumpy old man, but he had this twinkle which masked a full of fun brain, thinking about who would be next to experience his practical jokes.

Archie was the one who introduced all of us to ice fishing and the shanty. Since my wife Sandra lived with her Grammy Lil and grandfather Guy and uncle Archie during her younger years, we always enjoyed staying with family for a few days during ice fishing season. Archie and I or Norman would wake before dawn, drink a glass of milk with a couple raw eggs then stuff our pockets with Grammy Lil’s biscuits and head out on snowshoes down to the river and on to the lake. We chiseled our holes and set up our traps before we entered the shanty. Often others from the congregation would come snowshoeing in to join us. It was during these shanty meetings that I learned to love the rules and silent language of the shanty. No talking or humming unless you did it while walking around skimming ice holes. No questions, as you were an apprentice with the responsibility to watch, listen and learn. The ultimate compliment, if you did something well, was a pat on the back or a seat in the shanty to get warm.

Leeman four foot trap

Everything was going well during winters of fishing, grunting, pulling Manley’s jig line and reading the inside walls of the shanty which were covered with pieces of tintype from the Kennebec Journal. Then there was the day that Jimmy Grady came roaring down the river and out on the lake sitting on some sort of contraption which looked like a seat on skis with him in front and a noisy engine in back. Jim said it was a Polaris snow machine which could take him anywhere he wanted to go all winter. Further, he announced that he would be the local dealer for these “snow machines” and when would each of the members of the shanty congregation like to order theirs. Everyone’s words cannot be repeated or printed, but they mentioned that nothing would replace snowshoes or driving out on the ice in the trucks when it got safe enough. However, by the end of that winter each of the congregation had to eat their words as they rode their own snow machines purchased from Jim Grady’s snow machine dealership.

Now you could set your traps further away from the shanty as the quick 8/mph ride to a flag made for more lake to fish and less fish lost. Everyone started living happily ever after until the snow machine cowboys started racing, spinning out and doing tricks on the lake. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the number of times these machines ran over and destroyed fish traps. This destruction by snow machine yahoos resulted in loud shanty meetings trying to find a solution. Of course, the first idea was to ban machines from the lake, but with the shanty surrounded by members’ machines banning would not work. A couple of guys cut six-foot ash poles to mark the fish holes. Another shoveled up piles of show to protect the fish traps. Instead, Archie Leeman figured he had to make a fish trap which was big enough to be seen and unique enough not to be ignored.

One day Archie caught a beautiful 17-inch brown trout. The light went on. Why not pay tribute to this brown, the most sporting of all trout, by putting the fish on the trap as the tip up. When Archie got back to the farm, he laid out the brown on a piece of plywood and traced the outline. He sawed out the profile and determined where the balance point would be. If the trap upright was notched and a bolt positioned across the notch, the fish profile could pivot on the bolt. The bolt could also pass through a line spool. It all sounded easy, but the fish trap had to be tested and modified so Archie would sneak down to the lake when no one was around to fish with this new trap. It didn’t take long to figure the Leeman fish trap could be introduced to the shanty members. Archie set up five traps with the brown trout profile as the tip up then came into the shanty and sat down. Harold offered the first comment, “Putting a fish decoy on top of the stick could call the keepers into the ice hole.” Archie replied, “That’s what I was thinking.” Manley’s contribution was, “Craziest thing I ever saw. No way am I going to give up my jig hole for a flatlander fish trap like that.” Jimmy Grady said, “Crazy or not no sled operator is going to hit a trap that visible.”

As luck would have it, Archie had a busy day of getting flags and catching fish. But he also began catching people on the lake. Everyone on the lake had to swing by the traps to try to figure them out. More people stopped by the shanty to ask why would anyone put a fish on a stick. The replies ranged from every conceivable reason which resulted in people walking away shaking their heads and four old friends filling the shanty with laughter. The immediate result was that three members, each wanted a set for themselves. Manley still refused to fish with a damn trap when his jig hole was right in front of him.

Sheepscot Lake Fish and Game club held a derby on the first Sunday in February. This was the ideal time to show the world the Leeman fish trap. Surrounding the shanty was 25 or 30 Leeman fish traps tended by the shanty crew and a few nephews who wanted to be part of this showcase of the Leeman trap to all at the derby. Snowmobilers, fishermen, and just people visiting the derby had to surround the shanty to see this trap in action. In fact, there were so many people attracted to the traps that the shanty members couldn’t see flags. But it didn’t matter as people would yell flag and run over to the trap just to see how fish were handled. That derby was a success as was the Leeman fish trap. Archie and Norman Leeman estimated they made 3,000 – 4,000 Leeman traps in the years following the introduction.

For the next few ice fishing seasons, the Leeman fish traps could be seen from Eagle and Chamberlain lakes to Moosehead to Sebago lakes, and constantly on Sheepscot Lake, in Palermo. Mainers were identified as members of the ice fishing congregation if they set out the Leeman traps. Unfortunately, over the years, the trap lost the name of the inventor Archie Leeman as it became known as the Sheepscot Fish Trap paying tribute to where it was first used in the Sheepscot Ice Fishing Derby. Even today Norman or one of his sons build a set of these famous traps as a prize for biggest derby fish. There is even a trap made with a four- foot fish which sits on top of an eight-foot pole which only comes out for the Sheepscot Derby to keep the story of the revolutionary Leeman Sheepscot Ice Fishing Trap alive.

PAGES IN TIME: Dock days on China Lake

by Elizabeth Byrd Wood

Our dock on China Lake is a place for morning coffee and an afternoon beer, rambling conversations and quiet meditation, paperbacks and loon watching, and in the summer months, we spend much of our time there.

For years we had an all-wooden dock, composed of two sections with supports in the middle and at the end. It was a dead ringer for the photos of kids jumping off a dock in the tourism ad “Maine: The way life should be.” In late June an intrepid soul or souls would brave the cold water and put the dock in. The same would happen in reverse in late September. Every so often when too many people crowded on the dock, one of the supports would give out, and the dock would gently slide into the water, spilling shrieking family members into the lake.

In the early morning, when I take my coffee down to the dock, the lake is tranquil and smooth—“like a mill pond” we often say. I sit on the end of the dock and dangle my feet in the water, welcoming the warmth of the dog as he leans against me. Mornings belong to the fishermen, who set their lines and troll slowly close to the shore. As they pass by, we nod to one another, but don’t speak.

Our family passes many lazy afternoons on the dock, surrounded by books, towels, sunscreen, folding chairs, water bottles, and dog toys. Distractions abound: shimmery, blue and green dragonflies, the sudden appearance of a loon, an eagle perched on a dead branch in the towering pines along the shore, the great blue heron balancing on the sunfish moored nearby. The breeze across the water brings a whiff of gasoline from a passing motorboat and the earthy smell of manure from the dairy farm across the lake. The shouts and whoops from the nearby raft signal that a young cousin has gotten up on water skis for the first time.

The dog pesters someone – anyone – to throw a frayed tennis ball into the lake. The ball safely fetched, the dog runs back down the dock and shakes, ready for the next toss. The dock is soon wet and slippery, except for the dry islands where someone is sitting.

At some point, it is time for a swim. Getting into China Lake requires a little preparation, at least for the grown-ups. Not so for kids. Kids just take off and run the length of the dock and plop into the water like little frogs. “Don’t run on the wet dock,” we call out. But they never listen.

But for the rest of us, sun-warmed from an afternoon on the dock, the thought of jumping into the cold water requires planning and occasionally some discussion. Is the sun going behind the cloud? Better wait until it comes back out. Are those thunderheads forming across the lake? Better get your swim in before the storm.

My sister likes to dive into the lake. She stands for a minute at the edge of the dock, and makes a clean, shallow dive into the lake. Others take a more gradual approach and use the wooden ladder to ease into the water. When my sister and I were little, our dad would stand on the ladder and pretend to let us push him into the lake. After we pushed and pushed, our father would fall back with a roar and a mighty splash.

I prefer to wade in. I venture out a few steps, the soles of my feet protesting against the sharp and slippery rocks underfoot. As the cold water creeps up my bathing suit, I lift my arms high and linger a moment. The smart remarks from family members sitting on the dock begin. “Why do you torture yourself!” “Just get in, for crying out loud.” “You make me cold just watching you.” “But this is the way I’ve always done it,” I protest. Others, usually visitors from warmer climates, test the water and exclaim, “No way am I getting in that cold lake.”

Although we have upgraded to a new, sturdier dock, our afternoons on the lake have not changed much over the years. In family movies from the 1930s, the dads might be wearing a one-piece, wool swim suit, but they still bob delighted toddlers in the water. Young cousins take turns diving off the end of the dock and show off their crawl strokes. My mother, as a teenager, suns herself and flashes a self-conscious grin at the camera.

The sun sets late in the summer, and many nights we enjoy a glorious sunset as we linger over dinner on the back porch. As the sun sinks on the western shore, it casts a shining trail of gold directly across the water. I often imagine that I could step right off the dock and run across the lake on that glimmering path. Once the sun disappears behind the trees, the rich colors of the sunset begin to emerge–mauves, purples, pinks, and corals—which slowly change into a deep blue black. Darkness soon envelops the dock, hiding it from view until early the next morning—and my cup of coffee, with the dog, on the dock.

PAGES IN TIME – South China’s Summer Colony: The Bolt Hole

Lee Hargadon, front, joined her son Geoff, back, and his daughters Ashley, left, and Stephanie. (The Town Line file photos)

Reprinted from August 9, 1997
by Dorothy Templeton

The Leaning Elm cottage boasts one delightful addition called “the Bolt Hole.” Barbara Jones Haskins describes its construction: “My daughter Lee and her family spent several years in Colombia, South America. When they returned and came back to the cottage, Lee’s five children and her husband, plus my husband and I, all stayed in a cottage with partitions like tissue paper. An architect friend drew up a plan for an addition for privacy, with a bedroom, bath and kitchen space. Lee’s sons Geoff and Bob, teenagers (15 and 13 respectively) at the time, helped with the construction.”

Lee Hargadon takes up the story: “It was to be a glorified bedroom. They worked on it the summer of ‘69 with Ralph Austin. In South America, Spanish had become their primary language, so that’s what the boys used to talk together. It was frustrating for Ralph: he didn’t have a clue as to what was being said.”

“We were paid 30 cents an hour,” Geoff (visiting for two weeks with daughters Ashley and Stephanie) recalls, “and I hated getting up early in the morning. Someone put in the supports and we all did the sawing. It took all summer, nine to four, with Saturdays and Sundays off. We couldn’t get to swim when we wanted to.” The Bolt Hole (so dubbed by visiting English cousins because one could “bolt away” to it), is connected to the cottage by a short wooden walkway, provides a delightful escape, is of good size, high-roofed, with a window wall overlooking the lake.“We always spend all winter thinking how we will get back to South China,” Barbara admits. “People from the colony are scattered from coast to coast. But when we return here, we pick up relationships as though we’d been all year together. Hugh Weed’s mother and aunt lived ion the front of the inn at one time and Ella would walk down and visit me. (Hugh’s parents, Hazekiah and Ella, were the second of Wilmot Sr.’s friends to build a cottage, in 1900).”

A sense of timelessness prevails on the porch of the Leaning Elm. Bird song, wind in the trees, voices from nearby cottages blend. Nobody hurries, their activities repeating those of a century ago. The porch steps where the family has gathered to eat watermelon must have witnessed this event countless times. Lee insists, “The steps are crucial to family life at the cottage. We drink our morning coffee sitting on them, eat a luncheon sandwich there, have an afternoon drink, watch the kids water ski, and sun set.” It’s also a spot from which to greet a neighbor who is walking along the waterfront path to another’s cottage and make a quick plan for later in the day.

Memories of Lee’s father, Wilmot Rufus Jones Jr., flow and enhance our porch conversation. He owned a thistle class sailboat which he named Do It. Lee recalls, “In the days when he was planning our annual expedition to Pemaquid Point, he would always buy the lobsters steaming hot at the pound in New Harbor, which is now Shaw’s, and take them to eat over on the rocks. During World War II, when gas rationing was on, we would come up on the East Wind train from Wilmington, Delaware, straight through to Augusta, and we’d give our gas stamps to Ralph Austin (who was our caretaker and handyman) to pick us up.”

Later, as Lee’s five children were growing up, she remembers that there always seemed to be others the right age (and sometimes friends they brought from home) for tennis, swimming, boating, water skiing, and lots of card playing. Someone always had a boat to share for water skiing, so taking turns at it and watching others from the raft consumed many afternoons.

Now, on this breezy day, Ashley, 14, and Stephanie, 12, have plans to go sailing with their grandmother (Lee) in the small boat that spends winters in the boathouse at the water’s edge – waiting for their return. When Stephanie reports in parting, “This is a great place to see relatives, relax and have fun.” Ashley comments. “It’s also a great place to watch sunsets.”

Stephanie then shares a poem she wrote, inspired by happy summers in South China.

The Leaning Elm, South China

by Stephanie Hargadon

My favorite place in Maine my be
The Leaning Elm cottage in South China, you see.
All the rainy days around the fire, reading,
Playing cards at the table, eating,
Long walks around the water’s surface,
Fun and relaxation must be South China’s purpose.
Waking up late, seeing neighbors at late hours,
Swimming, making cookies and picking flowers,
My favorite place in Maine for me
Is South China, yes, South China, it just might be.

PAGES IN TIME: The Killdeer Lodge story – part 2

Killdeer Lodge, circa 1930s. The Town Line file photo

Part 1 is available here.

With the demise of the old Killdeer Lodge recently, which over the years had fallen into disrepair, the following article represents a history of the lodge, from its inception in 1929, to the razing in 2018.

This is a reprint from The Town Line, September 18, 1999, issue, from a recollection written by Ben S. Dillenbeck in 1975 for the China Bicentennial History Book.

The advertising program begun by Eli Wagner in the summer of 1929, drawing people to China Lake’s Killdeer Point with the goal of selling lots in his development, continued during the warm months for several seasons. In spite of the stock market crash and the beginning of that Big Depression of the ‘30s, Eli continued to operate as the president of the Killdeer Maine Co. However, the tight money conditions of those days finally forced its pinching effect and Eli took to other fields where he used his talents in other developments. He had envisioned a summer colony of at least 100 cottages, a summer store, theater and religious chapel. But when the depressions’ effects really hit, many, who had planned to build, were forced to abandon their plans. There now are 28 cottages at the Killdeer Point Highland Development, which today would be legally designated as a subdivision. Two of these cottages have been converted into year-round residences, both of which can be reached only over private roads. The main road leading down into Killdeer, which Eli named “Harlem Road,” was built by Killdeer Maine Co. starting in 1928, on what was originally mapped as a “Town Rangeway.”

During the depression years, from about 1934 until the economy recovered, Killdeer Lodge tried to operate by taking both transient and American plan guests, without success: so for a few years the place was closed. During a couple of those lean summer seasons, two enterprising young Colby students hired the dining hall building and ran dances. They called the place “Dreamworld” and some area residents may recall spending pleasant evenings there.

From 1946 to about 1952, Killdeer Lodge and dining hall were operated by myself, my wife and family. Business fluctuated each year from “fair to poor.” It was hard work and a nonprofit undertaking! Supplemental income results from rentals to outside organizations for special events. Many Colby College fraternity spring dances were held there and as late as 1962 Colby College seniors held their Commencement Week Outing and Field Day there, which culminated in a huge lobster bake on the lawn, put on by the late Bill Macomber of the Colby staff.

These were happy, good time affairs, with as many as 250 seniors and guests participating. The Kennebec Bar Association also held some of its annual meetings and banquets at Killdeer, the first being arranged by Ed Muskie, who had a cottage not too far away. The Hathaway Shirt Co sales department for many years, was another client that seemed to enjoy Killdeer for its annual outing and banquet. The nice part of this affair was the excellent catering of the late Clarence Milton. What a fine man and what a wonderful feed he could put on!

St. Joseph’s Church, in Waterville, also made use of the Killdeer facilities for its three-day annual fiesta or “Maharajan” as it was also called. Another outstanding event for a number of years, until  Colby acquired its own Belgrade property, was the annual Coaches Clinic Outing and Banquet, under the leadership of Lee Williams and Bill Millett. Some very noted coaches participated in these affairs, among them Frank Leahy, of Notre Dame, Adolph Rupp, of Kentucky and Henry Iba, of Cincinnati, who was later to be coach of the U.S. Olympic basketball team. For at least 10 years, the District Deputies Association of the Grand Lodge of F&A Masons for the state of Maine held their annual meeting and picnic at Killdeer Dining Hall, on the first Sunday after Labor Day. The last Killdeer Dining Hall rental was made to father Guillet of St. Bridget’s Church, of North Vassalboro, for Sunday Mass services.

On March 20, 1963, during a winter of very heavy snowfall, young Gary Hamilton came riding down the road on a sunny afternoon and excitedly asked me what had happened to the Killdeer dining hall. “Come and take a look!” he urged. We hurried up the highway and were shocked by the sight. The whole dining hall part of the building had collapsed! As the snow was three – four feet deep, an inspection was made on snowshoes. Apparently, the east wall would not sustain the great snow weight on the big roof – so down it came, smashing everything beneath, including about one-third of the floor on the east side. The building containing the fining room and recreation hall was never rebuilt. Afterwards, Killdeer Lodge continued to operate as a Sleep Lodge only.

Next week: the conclusion.

PAGES IN TIME: The history of the Killdeer Lodge – part 1

Killdeer lodge from a few years ago. (Contributed photo)

With the demise of the old Killdeer Lodge recently, which over the years had fallen into disrepair, the following article represents a history of the lodge, from its inception in 1929, to the razing in 2018.

This is a reprint from The Town Line, September 18, 1999, issue, from a recollection written by Ben S. Dillenbeck in 1975 for the China Bicentennial History Book.

One beautiful clear summer’s day back in the latter half of the 1920s, my brother-in-law, Earle Eli Wagner, who lived on the Pond Road, about two miles south of China Village, desired to go bass fishing with Eli Bush, who lived on the west side of the same Pond Road.

According to Eli, they carried a picnic lunch and, when noon came, beached their boat on the long point, across the lake, to the east of the Neck. Many folks today call this beautiful spot “Lone Pine Point,” but on the map it is referred to as Killdeer Point. When the lunch was finished, Eli decided to do some exploring and climbed up the steep path into the open field above. At that time the only trees worth mentioning were in a small fringe along the shore; the remainder of the point being pasture land of the Seward, Edson and Sinclair farms. From this position, Eli saw two other higher levels of land to the east, which, arousing his curiosity, he proceeded to investigate. From the next highest elevation, which runs parallel with the big ledge or outcrop, he faced west and was thrilled by the unfolding beauty of that magnificent view across the lake!

The Killdeer Lodge dining room. (from a Town Line file photo)

Later, as it turned out, he was to have a road here, which on the map, would be named “Mountain View Drive.” From this level he climbed onto the big ledge, where the remains of the Killdeer Lodge Dining and Recreation Hall now stand. As he looked westward he was dynamically thrilled by the awesome beauty of the giant panorama, with the East Basin of China Lake in the foreground, separated from the West Basin by China Neck – while in the stunningly clear background were, what he learned later to be, Mt. Blue [in the Farmington area]; then to the right most of the Rangeley mountains, and further to the north, the twin notch-formed profile of Mt. Bigelow, with Sugarloaf nearby. How impressed he was at the sight and how quickly he was in deciding that this was a spot which should be seen by many people! Thus, the idea of a development of some kind began to form in his creative mind. But at that time it was nameless. As he returned to his boat there were numerous small birds scurrying along the water line. Eli thought they were baby Killdeers and decided the peninsula should be called “Killdeer Point.” (Several times through the years the Killdeer have been seen by the writer, on the upper levels, but never has he seen them at the water’s edge. Birds often seen down there are commonly called Sandpipers, and, even in adulthood, are much smaller than the Killdeer. There are those who feel that Eli named the point after the wrong bird!)

Postcard advertising Killdeer Lodge.

The more Eli envisioned a summer development, the more enthusiastic he became. Through his consultation with officials at People’s Bank, in Water­ville, he because acquainted with Charles W. Vigue, its president, and was able to sell him his idea of a Killdeer Point summer development. Subsequently, the Seward, Edson and Sinclair farms were purchased, totalling 250 acres, more or less. On July 17, 1929, a plot plan called “Killdeer Point Highland, China, Maine,” was recorded in the Kennebec County Registry of Deeds.

That same year, Eli made elaborate plans to start a very active promotional program. It was his idea to get as many people as he could to come here and look at what the Killdeer Maine Company had to offer. In 1929, he engaged Frank Vigue (no relation to Charles), of Winslow, a carpenter-contractor, to convert the old “Bragg Barn” (which was on the Edson Farm and which had been there since the very early 1800s) into a Sleep Lodge which would accommodate 40 persons. This old barn was transformed into an attractive, rustic, white-cedar-lined sleeping unit. That same year, Frank Vigue and his crew of carpenters built the big 100- x40-foot dining and recreation hall, with a dining room, serving room, kitchen, storeroom, restrooms and two bedrooms for personnel. Its 120 feet of porch allowed an unobstructed, expansive view of that picturesque, one-of-a-kind view to the west.

An extensive advertising program was carried out by Eli in the Boston, Providence, Worcester and New York papers in which he advertised a three-day excursion trip to China Lake’s Killdeer Point at a below cost fee, which included transportation, lodging and meals. The first prospects, 40 of them, arrived in the early summer of 1929 (probably a Friday afternoon in late June or early July) and were assigned to rooms in the “Sleep Lodge,” as Eli called it. It is vividly recalled that there were no room numbers on the doors. The numbers were cut from a big calendar and pasted on the doors where they are still in good condition after a lapse of 43 years.

The first afternoon, after arrival, provided an opportunity for guests to explore the place or do pretty much what they pleased. Then came a good dinner provided by a very efficient hard-working, pleasant person, Mrs. Harriett Martin, assisted by her granddaughter (whose name is not recalled). Florence Plaisted (who married Earl Brown) and Glenis Hall (Lawrence Hall’s sister) served as waitresses. These young ladies also assisted with the kitchen work, dishes, etc., and helped make up the bedrooms. I did the buying and hauling supplies for Mrs. Martin and supervised the booking of guests at the Sleep Lodge.

Next week: Part 2.

Only the fireplace remains. (Contributed photo)

Author Mark Allen Leslie to speak about new book at Winslow Library

Winslow area families put their lives and fortunes on the line connecting to the Underground Railroad

Maine’s connection to the famous Underground Railroad that helped free runaway slaves in the mid-1800s does not begin and end with Harriet Beecher Stowe. Indeed, people from Kittery to Ft. Fairfield, including Waterville-Winslow, Augusta, China and Vassalboro, conspired to break the law — the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 — forming a network of “safe houses,” hiding slaves from slave hunters and scurrying them to Canada. If caught, these Underground Railroad “conductors” faced fines and jail.

At the Winslow Public Library at 6 p.m. on Oct. 18, author Mark Alan Leslie will weave the tale of the brave families who housed and fed slaves in hidden rooms, attics and elsewhere en route to the next secret “way station” on the “railroad.”

Former Morning Sentinel reporter Mark Allen Leslie

“Some called slavery ‘the absolute power of one person over another — the vilest human behavior and institution,’” said Leslie. “Others called it ‘essential to our economy and prosperity’ and even ‘a humane institution which provided food, shelter and family’ to the African race.”

“Slavery was the one issue that has been able to tear America apart, and that included Mainers,” he added.

And slavery remains in the news. The Treasury Department plans to add Harriet Tubman, a heroine of the Under­ground Railroad, to the $20 bill. Also, the Brunswick home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, a National Historic Landmark since 1962, was placed on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The former parlor room, where it is believed she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is open to the public as “Harriet’s Writing Room.”

Publisher’s Weekly hailed Leslie’s novel, True North: Tice’s Story, about a slave’s escape over the Underground Railroad through Maine, naming it a Featured Book for 2016. The Midwest Book Review cited Leslie’s “genuine flair for compelling, entertaining, and deftly crafted storytelling.”

And AFA Journal called Leslie “a seasoned wordsmith” whose contemporary novels are “in the class with John Grisham.”

A longtime journalist whose career started as a reporter for the then-Waterville Sentinel, Leslie first burst on the literary scene in 2008 with his novel Midnight Rider for the Morning Star, based on the life of Francis Asbury, America’s first circuit-riding preacher.

Since then, in addition to True North he has written The Crossing about the Ku Klux Klan in Maine in the 1920s and three contemporary thrillers: Chasing the Music about the hunt for King David’s music of the Psalms, The Three Sixes about Islamic terror cells in America, and the just-released The Last Aliyah about the Jewish escape from America when the United Nations bans Jewish emigration to Israel.

A book signing will follow Leslie’s presentation.

Nelsons celebrate long family history with reunions

In the Spring of 1862 church bells rang out over the land, as President Lincoln called for volunteers. In Palermo, Maine, Erastus Foote Nelson was hoeing potatoes. He stuck his hoe in the row he was hoeing and walked to the Branch. When he returned home he told his wife, “Eliza, war has been declared. I have enlisted and am to go to Augusta tomorrow.”

Eliza was left with a farm and four children to care for. Wesley was seven years old, Prince was five, Oville was three, Harriet was two and a new baby on the way. As Eliza recounted to her granddaughter, “I put my wool on my shoulders and carried it to the Branch, had it carded and went to work spinning and knitting. We got along real good. The boys helped real good. When I wrote Erastus that I had a baby boy the day after Christmas, he wrote back on a piece of brown paper, “Name the boy Yeaton Dutton for my two tentmates who have been shot besides me.”

Erastus served with the 19th Maine Infantry from 1862 to 1865. He returned to Palermo and the farm on the hill that is currently the home of Keith Nelson and his sister Jacqueline. The family of Erastus and Eliza grew to include nine children, all of whom were born in Palermo. Erastus Nelson died of pneumonia in 1885. His wife Eliza died in 1921.

The first organized Nelson Family Reunion was held at the home of Erastus son, Frank, on the Western Ridge Rd., in Palermo. This reunion has been held every year since then. Some years it has been held in New Hampshire or Vermont where some of the family settled. This year, the 93rd annual Nelson reunion will be held on Saturday, August 11, at the home of Bob and Marion Foster, in Albion. Marion is the great-great-granddaughter of Erastus and Eliza.

The family of Erastus and Eliza Nelson, circa 1814.

Waterville’s First Baptist Church celebrates 200 years

by Roland D. Hallee

On the corner of Elm and Park streets, in Waterville, stands one of the more magnificent buildings in the city. An iconic landmark that stands tall in the Waterville skyline. This year, the congregation of the First Baptist Church will celebrates its 200th birthday. The official date of the anniversary is July 15, 1818.

According to Jan Goddard, chairman of the 200th anniversary committee, church secretary, and China resident, “Two hundred is a number. Numbers in themselves are insignificant; it is the events of those years that make it significant.”

The First Baptist Church, circa 1955, which doesn’t look much different than today. (Contributed photos)

Organized by Rev. Jeremiah Chaplin, in 1818, the original meeting house was located in a farmhouse on the site later occupied by the Elmwood Hotel, at the intersection of Main Street and College Avenue. Chaplin was the first president of Colby College, when it was located on College Ave., where the Waterville Police Station, Social Security Office, and the Waterville Homeless Shelter now stand. Recognizing the need for the college to be affiliated with a church, Chaplin gathered a few Baptist families at his home, a building later known as the Elmwood Hotel.

The First Baptist Society, a legal entity to hold property, was formed in 1924, and the society sold pews to help finance the new meeting house. At a cost of $4,000, the new meeting house was completed in 1926, on the corner of Elm and Park streets. The main part of the building still rests on the original foundation. The land was donated by Timothy Boulette, Waterville’s leading attorney and state senator.

“This small group of Baptists did not want to depend on the availability of the town meetinghouse, where most others met to worship,” Goddard added. “They were determined to have their own church.” *

Stephen Chapin served as part-time minister until the election of the first full-time pastor, Harvey Fritz, in 1829.

Between 1836 and 1904, additions were built in four separate stages, resulting in the present vestries, classrooms, parlors and dining facilities.

The bell was hung in the belfry in 1844 and the first small reed organ was put in place in 1850.

In 1855 saw the first major alterations to the sanctuary with the removal of the doors from the pews, the lowering of the pulpit and the installation of carpeting.

In 1866 the congregation accepted into membership Samuel Osborne, a former Negro slave, on his own statement that he had been baptized and accepted into a church in Culpepper, Virginia, where the Civil War had destroyed all records.

In 1877, the first baptism was performed inside. Previously, all baptisms had taken place either in the Kennebec River or Messalonskee Stream.

The church underwent major renovations in 1875, and services were temporarily held at the Unitarian Church. The re-dedication sermon was delivered by Rev. George Dan Boardman Pepper, the only man since Jeremiah Chaplin to be both pastor of the First Baptist Church and President of Colby College.

In the 35 years between 1879 and 1914, only two men served as pastor, William Spencer (1879-1899) and Edwin Whittemore (1899-1914).

Electric lighting was installed in 1889.

The pipe organ that is now used in the church. Contributed photo)

Rev. William Spencer, who had a successful pastorate at the church for more than 20 years, shared his appreciation of music and secured the enrichment of the service of song, most notably with the purchase of a new, hand-pumped organ in 1893 at a cost of $2,200.

In a change in the law in 1901, permitting churches to hold property, the society was incorporated as the First Baptist Church of Waterville, thus ending its run as a “society.

A new Purinton organ was installed in 1924.

On the 100th anniversary of the building, the Philbrick parlors and Morse Baptistry were opened, and new lighting was installed.

The sanctuary underwent another remodeling in 1951 when the central pulpit was changed to a lectern and pulpits were added on either side of the chancel, with the altar in the center. This remodeling cost $60,000 – 17 times the original cost of the entire building back in 1826. In 1960, the Purinton organ was rebuilt and placed in the balcony.

The building was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1976.

Many other occasions were instituted in the more recent years. The steeple was renovated in 1990, and the Purinton organ underwent another reconstruction in 2002. From 2002-2009 the Handoll Mission Church (Kor­ean) used the facilities for their services.

In 2010 the lower level of the building opened to accommodate the overflow of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter. From 2012-2014 the basement became the the shelter’s primary facility.

Some facts about the church:

  • The First Baptist Church is the tallest building in Waterville, and its oldest public building.
  • While many of the ministers who have served at the First Baptist Church have a notable history, perhaps none would exceed that of Samuel Francis Smith, composer of America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee), who served as pastor from 1834-1841. The first time the song was sung indoors was in this church.
  • Rev. B. F. Shaw, who became pastor in 1867, was said to have been the most popular pastor the church has ever had.
  • Every Colby College annual commencement and baccalaureate sermon were held there from 1827-1917.
  • Four former members of the church have streets named after them in Waterville: Jeremiah Chaplin, Nathaniel Gilman, international merchant and the town’s wealthiest man, Asa Redington, the most prominent local Revolutionary War veteran who served in George Washington’s honor guard, who also built the Ticonic Dam, and buried at Pine Grove Cemetery, in Waterville, John Burleigh, publisher of the town newspaper.

When the First Baptist Society was formed in 1818, Maine was still part of Massachusetts (becoming a state two years later in 1820).

Jeremiah Chaplin was president of the Maine Literary and Theological Institution (now Colby College) when he organized his friends to convince them to organize the church.

James Monroe was president of the United States, and William King was Maine’s governor.

Goddard once reflected on a sense of what had filled the past 200 years.

“I came into the sanctuary one morning, and had a compelling feeling to sit in silence for a bit to enjoy the peace, the beauty, the tranquility of this room. Sitting in silence is not entirely true; I may have been silent, but the building was not. I do believe that this building ‘talks.’”

Local and foreign missions were a prime consideration for members of the First Baptist Church.

Rev. Jonathan Forbush started what was known as the “French Mission,” serving French Canadian immigrants. Later, Rev. Isaac LaFleur presided over morning worship in French. The French mission eventually grew to the point where they moved on to what is now the Second Baptist Church, on Water St., in Waterville.

Since 1990, the church has held weekly organ concerts during the Lenten season, featuring many local organists, including China resident Don Pauley.

In an anniversary presentation, Goddard once commented, “Only during the organ concerts held each Sunday afternoon during the Lenten season, does it [ the organ] come out of the corner and is placed in the middle of the sanctuary for all to see and hear the various area professional organists. Then, the congregation and audience can truly appreciate the art of the organist, for not only can we see the hands on the keyboard, but also the feet dancing on the foot pedals.”

Current pastor Russell D. Laflamme.

Current pastor, Russell D. Laflamme, assists in providing a time of worship to residents living in area nursing homes.

“The First Baptist Church, which we in the community use and enjoy, represents our inheritance from hundreds of devoted and generous forefathers,” Goddard concluded. “Proudly, we say, ‘Happy 200th birthday, First Baptist Church!”

The celebration will continue throughout the year with Adoniran Judson, by Rev. Foster and Mary Jane Williams, in July; Tea and Tour, in August, which is open to the community; Dean Ernest Marriner’s Little Talks on Common Things,” by David Brown, in September; Earle Shettleworth: ˆWho was Rev. Henry S. Burrage?, in October; The Mt. View Chamber Singers, in November; and December will see the Christmas Cantata, the combined choirs of Getchell Street and First Baptist churches.

* From an article written by Jan Goddard in Discover Maine magazine, Vol. 27, Issue 2, 2018.