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.

PAGES IN TIME: St. Denis Church observes 200th anniversary

Peter Taylor, from the town of Washington, has attended St. Denis Church, in Whitefield, for 40 years, and for him, there is no place like it.

“I just feel the Holy Spirit in this building,” he said. “It’s the community that brings that feeling to me.”

Al Parker, who has attended the church for more than a quarter century feels similarly. He said he used to travel around the country and the world for his work, but none of the churches he found compared to St. Denis.

“St. Denis is very, very unique. The people there are unbelievable. The community that we have is second to none,” he said.

Taylor and Parker were among the many parishioners who filled St. Denis Church on Sunday, June 10, to commemorate the church’s 200th anniversary. Bishop Robert Deeley celebrated the anniversary Mass (20 pictures below).

“The records of history show that there was only a small Catholic community here in Whitefield when Bishop Cheverus, then Bishop of Boston, of which Maine was a part, visited in 1812. There were perhaps five Catholics. Five years later, however, the reality was quite different. The rich farmland of the Sheepscot River Valley, available for a reasonable price, had drawn many Irish immigrants who had come to America seeking a new way of life, just as immigrants do today,” the bishop recounted in his homily.

St. Denis Church, originally spelled with two “n’s”, is the second oldest Catholic church in New England, predated only by St. Patrick Church in Newcastle. The church got its start when Father Dennis Ryan, who had been assigned pastor of St. Patrick by Bishop Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus in 1818, recognized the growing population in Whitefield and chose to move there.

Work on the first church began that same year, and it was consecrated by Bishop Cheverus in 1822. The original church was a white, wood-framed building with no pews. People would stand or kneel on the floor.

“The first settlers knew they needed their faith, and their faith was not their own. It needed a community and a place to celebrate Mass. They knew the meaning they derived from the love of God they experienced in their relationship with Jesus. They wanted to nurture that for themselves in the harshness of winter in a new place, and they wanted to hand it on to their children. It is the legacy they passed on to you. You and I are now the brothers and sisters of Jesus in this place,” the bishop said.

The church community continued to thrive, and in the 1830s, the Irish Catholic population of the parish had grown to nearly 1,200. Unfortunately, the church also wasn’t well maintained, which caught the attention of Bishop Benedict Fenwick, the second Bishop of Boston, who visited in 1832. He urged the community to build another church, and the following year, work on the current church began.

“The Irish Catholics wanted the new church to be on the same spot as the old church, so they put the bricks right over and around the wooden church, so they still had a place to go to church,” said Libby Harmon, a longtime parishioner who researched the history and was one of the organizers of the celebration. “When they got the walls and the roof of the new brick church done, they then disassembled the wooden church and took it out through the front doors.”

The new church was consecrated by Bishop Fenwick in 1838. At the time, it was Maine’s largest Catholic church building, as well as having the largest congregation.

The church was designed like a typical New England meetinghouse, an appearance it retains today. Among the changes along the way, however, was a new Italianate-style tower, which replaced the old belfry in 1862. Around 1890, stained-glass windows were added, the sanctuary was enlarged, and decorative work was added to the walls and ceiling.

In 1976, it was entered on the National Register of Historic Places. The church underwent a major restoration beginning in 1997.

“It’s quite a quaint building, very nostalgic, old, but very comforting. It’s a very nice place to worship,” said Parker.

St. Denis Church is now part of St. Michael Parish in Augusta, but it has maintained its rural character, as well as its loyal congregation.

“I think one of the things that maybe is special for us is that families come from surrounding communities. It’s not like being in the city where everybody is right here. People come from afar to come here,” said Mary Caswell, whose ties to the church span four generations, since her great grandparents immigrated from Ireland. “We’ve had, over the years, to be very independent.”

“My mother, she brought us up here, and I still live in this area. It’s just very special,” said Louise Reed, Caswell’s sister.

“It’s very nice. Wonderful, wonderful people,” said Anne Springer, age 102.

The church was full for the Mass, as was the parish hall for a celebratory brunch.

“I’m just very, very happy to be part of this 200th, because it is so significant in the history of the Church in Maine,” said Father Frank Morin, pastor of St. Michael Parish. “People really supported it, and I’m very happy that we gave them the opportunity to appreciate again their heritage, especially the descendants of the original families, several of whom are here and who have not forgotten their roots.”

Among those in attendance were several Sisters of Mercy. From 1871 to 1888, the Sisters of Mercy ran an orphanage at a convent across the street from the church and also taught schoolchildren. Several sisters are buried in the church’s historic cemetery.

Concelebrating the Mass with the bishop was Father Morin; Monsignor J. Joseph Ford, a native son of the parish; Father Ralph Boisvert, who formerly served there; and Father Roger Chabot. Father Arokiasamy Santhiyagu, HGN, a parochial vicar of St. Michael Parish, joined the gathering for the reception.

As the St. Denis community celebrates its 200th anniversary, the bishop stressed the importance of continuing to gather for the celebration of the Eucharist, which is why the church was first built.

“As we begin the third century of Catholic life in this valley, it is a good opportunity to ask God for the grace we need to be faithful to Jesus’ invitation to be part of his family, ‘whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ If we do that together as Church, the Lord will be with us, and we will bring the light of Jesus’ message into our world,” the bishop said.

PAGES in TIME: Maine is the main thing

by Milt Huntington

Just when you think everything good about the State of Maine has been said or read, you come across another platitude from another source that makes your chest swell with pride. Here we go again.

Almost every time I look out the window or go for a ride in the car, I see something else that makes me thankful that I live here in the Pine Tree State. Before I attempt to wax eloquently about my personal love for this incredible place, let me offer my credentials.

I was born on Bay View Street in Belfast, Maine, a stone’s throw from the harbor. It was on those rocky shores I played with my toy soldiers, watched the tides come and go, and sat behind a sloping ledge pretending I was operating a ship. I caught flounders off the Belfast wharf and picked berries on the embankments leading to the beach. I observed the mail boat arriving each day from Castine and the humongous Boston Boat when it docked on the outside of the wharf to discharge passengers from away. No one ever had a better playground than I. We moved to Augusta when I was ten.

To add further to my Maine credentials, I had the enviable pleasure of working with the old Maine Department of Economic Development. Equipped with a typewriter and camera, I was charged with the responsibility of promoting Maine’s recreational, agricultural and industrial pursuits. Talk about a labor of love, I would have done it for nothing. Well, maybe that’s carrying my enthusiasm a little far.

I did, however, serve without pay, as president of the Maine Publicity Bureau. In my days of work and play, I got to know Maine pretty well. I think back on those days of joy and remember attending the New England Governors’ Conference, in Rangeley, which was set deep in the woods on Kennebago Lake.

I was afforded the opportunity to handle publicity when Maine officials went to Fenway Park on Maine Day, and when Governor John Reed went to New York City for the opening of No Strings. The Broadway play, starring Richard Kiley and Dianne Carroll, featured a song about the Pine Tree State. It was called Maine is the Maine Thing, by Rogers and Hart. One verse went: “The fields and streams are like a frozen cup.” It stunk! So did the play. It closed after a couple of weeks.

We also visited back stage during rehearsals with the likes of Perry Como, Carol Burnett, Don Knots, Gary Moore and a bunch of other well-known stars of the day. Perry Como didn’t like Maine lobsters, but I photographed him with a dead one anyway. We orchestrated a contest between Maine clam chowder and Manhattan clam chowder. Maine won in the judgment of a nutritionist from Harvard who also raved about the healthful values of Maine sardines.

As far as Maine Day at Fenway Park is concerned, the DED and Old Orchard Beach cooked up a scheme to promote that incredible Beach area. Old Orchard girls, during the seventh inning stretch, swept the outfield with brooms to accentuate the cleanliness of their white sand beaches. Best of all, however, a ten-foot-long hot dog was trucked from Maine but became impounded by Bay State troopers for some perceived violation of the Pure Foods Act. Imagine the publicity we got with a story about a hotdog from Maine that was arrested in Massachusetts.

I was there for the dedication of Two Lights State Park, in Cape Elizabeth, having written the speech for Governor Reed who delivered the message against the beautiful backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. Lady Bird Johnson was a special guest when she was the wife of the vice president. I heard her say she didn’t like potatoes, and I heard her aide say, “Yes you do. You’re in Maine.” Lady Bird proceeded to fill her plate.

On another occasion, I escorted a Japanese film star and her crew along the length of our marvelous coast as they filmed it all because it reminded them so much of the coast of northern Japan. The cute little Japanese TV star ate lobsters raw in Tennant’s Harbor and filmed seagulls the same day on a Bar Harbor wharf.

My other publicity score was when I was publicizing Maine at the Eastern States Exposition, in Springfield, Massachusetts. We had somehow arranged to obtain as a model for the day – Tina Louise, who appeared as Ginger Grant on the TV comedy Gilligan’s Island. I got to drive her around in my family car and photograph her in a Maine potato sack. My picture went everywhere thanks to the Associated Press.

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter and Things That Make You Grin.”

Pages in Time: Memories are made of these

by Milt Huntington

Sit back, relax, and make a few withdrawals from your collective memory banks while I dredge up a few nostalgia nuggets of my own.

I had the honor of speaking at my 60th Cony High School class reunion a while ago and used the occasion to delve into the pages of yesteryear where fond and distant memories were lurking.

I assured my classmates that some things never change like the Hartford Fire Station whistle that still sounds religiously every single day at 12:30 p.m. and again at 9 o’clock. I reminded them that the State House and the Blaine Mansion are still there along with the old Post Office, the Armory, the AMHI buildings and of course the old flatiron building where long ago they built a school upon a hill.

Speaking to a room-full of Cony grads from here and away, I reminded them of the icons of long ago that no longer exist–places like the Augusta House, Jose Motors, the State Street Diner, Forrest’s Drug Store and the A&P. Gone, all gone, I lamented are our old hangouts like McAuley’s Restaurant on Outer Western Avenue, Doc’s Lunch, Mike’s Lunch, The Roseland, Foster’s Smoke Shop, McNamara’s and the Oxbow out in Winthrop. We still all smile with happy memories when we hear of Island Park.

It was my sad duty to remind folks that McLellan’s, Kresge’s and Woolworth;s have all disappeared from downtown Water Street. No more can they visit Penny’s, Montgomery Ward, Sears & Roebuck, Adam’s, Chernowsky’s, Farrell’s Clothing Store, Nicholson & Ryan’s or Bilodeau’s jewelry stores.

Other institutions that have faded into the pages of time include: the Colonial and Capitol theaters, the drugstores with the wonderful pinball machines, the barber shops, the beer joints, the Depot News, the Army-Navy store, Foster’s Smoke Shop and the Hotel North.

Stealing thoughts from one of my earlier columns, I pushed some buttons of memory concerning the clothes that all of us wore. The boys of the 40’s and 50’s wore maroon corduroy jackets with plaid trousers rolled up at the cuffs. Their shoes consisted of white bucks or penny loafers. Crew cuts were far and away the style of the day. I wish I could grow one now.

The Cony girls of long ago displayed pony tails, up-do’s or page boys, and they looked “sharp” in blue velvet, sweaters, clinging skirts, Gibson Girl blouses and midi-skirts. Their feet were decked with bobby sox, white sneakers and saddle shoes.

The guys never called them “cool.” Nah! They called them sharp, groovy, snazzy or neat. Today, of course, all the younger whippersnappers say “like” and “you know” most of the time. Not all the time, just when they open their mouths. It doesn’t take much to get me going on that subject. I think of the the Red Sox pitcher I watched who said “you know” 32 times in a three minute television interview. I expressed my amazement that a lot of college graduates who go on to sports never learned to exhibit some degree of articulateness.

Seizing my moment in the spotlight, I dug down deep to dredge up memories of icons of 60 years ago and more. I asked them to sink into the depths of their memories to remember stuff like table-side juke boxes that played the music of Frankie Lane, Joni James Patti Page, Jo Stafford and Frank Sinatra. The songs that continually spring from my memory of years gone by are the likes of Mule Train, Jezebel, Come Fly With Me, See the Pyramids, Music, Music, Music, Purple Shades and a thousand more.

Those were the days, my friends, we thought they’d never end, but they did–just like the pant leg clips we wore when we road our one-speed bicycles. Gone forever are the glass milk bottles delivered to our doorsteps and the ice boxes that actually contained blocks of ice. Gone, all gone, are the telephone party lines, Howdy Doody, 45 rpm’s, S&H Green Stamps, Hi-Fi’s, Studebakers and Packards, roller skate keys and pizza when we called it pizza pie.

I could go on and on…and I usually do, but suffice it to say: “Those were the good old days.” How much fun it is to pause now and again to think back on all the things that we remember of our own particular and special Camelot.

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter” and “Things That Make You Grin.”