Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Mail delivery – Part 1

Rural delivery in the early years.

by Mary Grow

Intercolonial mail started in the early 1700s in the major cities on the east coast of the future United States, and had reached Maine’s coastal towns before the Revolution. The national postal service was organized during the Revolution, with Benjamin Franklin the first Postmaster General. Alma Pierce Robbins wrote in her history of Vassalboro that mail service reached the central Kennebec Valley in the 1790s.

Mail carriers, employees of, or contractors with the federal government, delivered mail to local post offices by boat; on foot; on horseback; by wagon, stagecoach, sleigh or other conveyance; later by railroad; and later still by truck or car. Spread-out towns with multiple population centers had multiple post offices. Most were in stores, some in private homes.

The early Pony Express.

Alice Hammond, in her history of Sidney, described two methods of mail delivery by stagecoach: if a post office were on a stagecoach route, the coach dropped off the mail, but for post offices not on a coach route, the federal government hired a responsible person to meet the coach and bring the mail to the post office.

Vassalboro had six post office in the early 1800s, Robbins wrote. Hammond found Sidney also had six, the first opened in 1813 and the sixth in 1891. The latter remained open for only 11 years. The Fairfield bicentennial history says Fairfield had seven.

Milton Dowe’s Palermo history says there were post offices in North Palermo, East Palermo and Center Palermo, in addition to the one in Branch Mills, the village shared by Palermo and China. Henry Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history lists four post offices in Benton, four in Windsor, three in Clinton and two in Albion. Until recently, Augusta and Waterville apparently had only one post office each.

Postal charges were initially determined by weight plus distance, according to the China bicentennial history. The 1799 charge for a one-page letter was eight cents within 40 miles; the fee increased progressively to 25 cents beyond 500 miles. New rates in 1845 were five cents for one page within 300 miles, doubled to 10 cents beyond 300 miles. At first the recipient paid the postage. In 1851 the U. S. Congress set up a two-tier system, charging less if the sender prepaid, and beginning in 1856 everyone was expected to pay in advance.

Initially the postal service was a government department (since 1970, it has been an independent agency of the federal executive department). Until postal service employees came under the civil service system, positions were political patronage jobs; consequently, a change in Washington, D. C., often had local consequences.

The presidency changed from one party to another in 1840 (Whig John Tyler succeeded Democrat Martin Van Buren), 1844 (Democrat James Polk), 1848 (Whig Zachary Taylor), 1852 (Democrat Franklin Pierce), 1860 (Republican Abraham Lincoln), 1884 (Democrat Grover Cleveland), 1888 (Republican Benjamin Harrison) and 1892 (Democrat Cleveland again).

A review of Kingsbury’s lists of postmasters in central Kennebec Valley towns shows no clear correlation between elections and changes in postmasters. At least eight new postmasters were appointed in the spring of 1885, after Cleveland took office, and more than a dozen in the spring of 1889, high but not excessive numbers. By the time Cleveland was re-elected and had time to undo Harrison’s appointments, if he wanted to, Kingsbury had published his history.

Ruby Crosby Wiggin, in her history of Albion, confirmed the political influence. From the time the Albion post office was established, probably in March 1825, until after 1914, a Republican national administration meant Republican local postmasters and a Democratic administration meant Democratic postmasters, she wrote.

The China bicentennial history says that in South China in the late 1800s, storekeeper Wilson Hawes was postmaster during Republican administrations, but when the Democrats were in power the post office moved westward to Tim Farrington’s store.

The list of South China postmasters in the history’s appendix correlates the postmastership with the presidential election, but it shows no switching back and forth. It says Farrington was appointed April 17, 1893, and Hawes April 12, 1897 (Hawes served until 1919). Democrat Grover Cleveland’s second term as president was from 1893 to 1897; Republican William McKinley succeeded him in 1897.

Augusta had one of the first post offices in the central Kennebec Valley, started in 1789 or 1794 (depending on the source). Charles Nash, author of the Augusta chapters in Kingsbury’s history, wrote that Postmaster James Burton was appointed Aug. 12, 1794, and that his house was where Meonian Hall stood in 1792.

(Augusta’s current Museum in the Streets website says Meonian Hall replaced the Burton House where the first post office opened in 1789. The Hall was an Italianate structure built by James North in 1856 and used for public events – Civil War rallies, plays and more. Frederick Douglass spoke there on April 1, 1864.)

Burton served as postmaster until Jan. 1, 1806, when he was “removed for party reasons,” Nash wrote. Among his successors was his son Joseph.

The Museum in the Streets includes a description of Augusta’s 1890 “Castle,” at 295 Water Street, one of the earliest buildings this writer has found built specifically as a post office. The website calls it “Richardsonian Romanesque” in style, 32,000 square feet, made of Hallowell granite, “with a corner tower, Roman arches, [and] a winding staircase.”

The “Castle” was the city’s main post office until the 1960s, the website says. Now called the Olde Federal Building, it has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.

In Vassalboro, Robbins surmised that the first mail deliveries were probably by boat up the river. Stagecoaches took over early in the 1800s. In 1825, Robbins said, there were two mail deliveries a week from Augusta to Waterville. By 1897, a postmaster’s report said there were six deliveries a week.

The first post office in Vassalboro was at Getchell’s Corner, also called Vassalboro Corners (an important village from the town’s early days until the 20th century). Kingsbury wrote that the office opened April 1, 1796. Brown’s Corner, now Riverside, opened Jan. 18, 1817; in September 1856 it was moved from Brown’s store to where it stood when Kingsbury finished his history in 1892; and in January 1866 it was renamed Riverside. East Vassalboro’s post office opened March 26, 1827, and North Vassalboro’s March 22, 1828.

The village at Cross Hill in southern Vassalboro was first served by a Mudgett Hill post office established Feb. 2, 1827, near Three Mile Pond and from May 3, 1860, by the Cross Hill post office, located in a store. Nearby Seward’s Mills (as Kingsbury spelled it) had the Seward’s Mills post office from October 1853 until Oct. 30, 1889. The Mudgett Hill office was renamed South Vassalboro in or before 1859. The first postmaster, Kingsbury noted, had married Hannah Whitehouse, and his successors until 1892 all had the surname Whitehouse.

Benjamin Franklin
one-cent stamp of 1895.

Kingsbury wrote that Winslow’s first post office opened July 1, 1796, with Asa Redington postmaster. Kingsbury gave no specific location. The second post office opened April 18, 1891, at Lamb’s Corner; Lizzie Lamb was appointed postmistress May 20. (The contemporary Google map identifies Lamb’s Corner as the intersection of Route 137 [China Road] with Maple Ridge and Nowell roads, in southeastern Winslow.)

Kingsbury added that Lizzie (Furber) Lamb was the widow of Charles Lamb (1829-1883), whose parents settled in Winslow in 1821. Writing in 1892, he described her as running “the homestead farm.”

Whittemore’s Waterville centennial history says in the 1700s the town, part of Winslow until June 23, 1802, had sporadic mail service, with carriers traveling by snowshoe in the winter. Kingsbury wrote that when the Waterville post office was established Oct. 3, 1796, Asa Redington was the first postmaster there, as well as in Winslow. The two were evidently not the same establishment, because Kingsbury’s lists of successive postmasters are not duplicates. Winslow’s second postmaster was Nathaniel B. Dingley, installed in 1803; Waterville’s was Asa Dalton, installed in 1816.

Whittemore’s history says in 1806, Peter Gilman established a stage line between Hallowell and Norridgewock with a stop in Waterville, ensuring regular two-day-a-week delivery.

The history includes a reminiscence by William Mathews, born in 1818, whose family lived on Silver Street for at least part of his childhood. By the 1820s, the mail stage from Augusta arrived daily about 11 a.m., he wrote, announced by the driver’s blowing his horn. The mail stop was at Levi Dow’s Main Street tavern.

Palermo’s earliest residents had to get their mail in Wiscasset, Millard Howard wrote. Palermo’s first postmaster, John Marden, was ap­pointed in 1816. Later, Hiram Worthing served as Branch Mills postmaster for 47 years (except for two years during James Buchanan’s 1857-1861 administration); his son Pembroke succeeded him, and the job remained in the Worthing family well into the 20th century.

In Harlem, later China, the bicentennial history says Japheth C. Washburn was in charge of the mail early in the 19th century. Before 1810, his 10-year-old daughter Abra and eight-year-old son Oliver Wendell rode horseback through the woods to bring mail from Getchell’s Corner, in Vassalboro.

Around 1812, the history continues, the post office began contracting with adult mail carriers. That year the Vassalboro service was supplemented by a weekly Augusta to Bangor run, still extant in 1827 after the Town of China was created. In 1816, the history says, a mail route from Augusta to Palermo went through Brown’s Corner (location unspecified) and Harlem (later China). In 1820, two new routes were established, from Hallowell and from Vassalboro.

In 1837, the history says, three mail routes crossed the town: the driver of the daily coach from Portland to Bangor and the weekly horseman from Waterville to Palermo stopped in China Village, and three times a week the man driving a wagon or sulky delivered mail in South China on his way from Augusta to Belfast.

The China Village post office was established in 1818 in Washburn’s store, with Washburn the first postmaster.

South China had a post office from 1828, according to Kingsbury, first located in Silas Piper’s store with Piper the postmaster. Kingsbury wrote that Piper collected 13 cents worth of postage and earned 30 cents for his work during the first three months of his post
mastership.

The Weeks Mills post office was started in 1838, and was served by stagecoach for most of the 19th century.

Windsor’s first post office probably opened in 1822 at Windsor Corner, according to Kingsbury. He wrote that Postmaster Robert Williams’ commission dated from July 17 that year. South Windsor acquired a post office May 5, 1838; West Windsor, Sept. 8, 1873; and North Windsor, June 3, 1884.

While the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington railroad served Windsor, Palermo, China, Albion, Vassalboro and Winslow in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (see The Town Line, Sept. 17, and Sept. 24), the government mail contract was an important source of income. Local histories give few details of mail service; there are occasional references to revenue, and Clinton Thurlow wrote that at one point, Weeks Mills got two daily mail deliveries by train, at 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Next week: more about mail service.

Main sources

Dowe, Milton E. , Palermo, Maine Things That I Remember in 1996 (1997).
Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984).
Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992).
Howard, Millard, An Introduction to the Early History of Palermo, Maine (second edition, December 2015).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Robbins, Alma Pierce , History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Trolleys

The Waterville, Fairfield & Oakland Railway trolley on Main St., in Fairfield.

by Mary Grow

Not long after finishing the piece about street railways that appeared in The Town Line, Sept. 10, this writer came across a small paperback book published in 1955. Written by O. R. (Osmond Richard) Cummings, it is titled Toonervilles of Maine, the Pine Tree State.

(The title refers to Fontaine Fox’s comic strip called Toonerville Folks that Wikipedia says first appeared in the Chicago Post in 1908 and last appeared in 1955. Toonerville was a suburban community with an assortment of oddball characters. One was Terrible-Tempered Mister Bang, who drove the Toonerville Trolley that met all the trains, Wikipedia explains.)

Additionally, the Connecticut Valley Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society’s April-December 1965 Transportation Bulletin, available on line, includes a well-illustrated article Cummings wrote about the Waterville & Fairfield and other area street railways. Cummings and the Fairfield history both have information on trolleys in Fairfield, but they do not always agree. Cummings’ work is much more detailed, with information from multiple historical records.

The Waterville & Fairfield Railroad, which was initially powered by horses, is described in both books. Cummings wrote that it was incorporated on Feb. 24, 1887, and authorized to run horse-drawn cars the three and a third miles from Waterville to Fairfield. With $20,000 in bond sales and $20,000 borrowed, Amos F. Gerald, of Fairfield, and the other organizers acquired four cars and six horses. They oversaw the laying of tracks along the west side of the Kennebec roughly where College Avenue now runs and construction of a wooden carhouse for the cars and stable for the horses in Fairfield.

One online photo shows an elaborate open passenger car, rather precariously balanced on two sets of small wheels under its middle third, drawn by two white horses. Two women in floor-length skirts stand on the sidewalk in front of a row of large-windowed two-story brick buildings on Main Street, in Fairfield. The car is identified as Horse Car No. 1, and the estimated date is opening day, June 23, 1888 (the Fairfield historians wrote that service began June 24, 1888).

Car #1, in 1902.

Cummings said the open cars had eight benches and could accommodate 40 passengers. Another photo shows a closed car outside the Fairfield carhouse; the closed cars had space for 20 passengers, according to the text.

The railway soon had 24 horses. The Railroad Commissioners’ 1889 report, quoted by Cummings, said the horses “are well fed and kindly treated.”

The Waterville & Fairfield was well-patronized, Cummings wrote, carrying almost 95,000 passengers between its June 1888 opening and Sept. 30 that year. In its first full year, Sept. 30, 1888, to Sept. 30, 1889, there were 232,684 passengers, and despite having to buy snow-moving equipment and repair tracks in the spring, the line made a profit: $657, of which stockholders got $600 as dividends.

The next two years saw deficits almost $1,400. Nonetheless, early in 1891 two things happened indicating the railway was considered a going concern.

First, Cummings wrote, Gerald and other local men organized the Waterville & Fairfield Railway & Light Company, chartered by the Maine legislature on Feb. 12 and approved to buy the Waterville & Fairfield and two electric companies, in Waterville and Fairfield. The two railway companies became one on July 1, 1891.

The second event was that on March 4, the legislature authorized the Waterville & Fairfield to build a line through Winslow to North Vassalboro and to become an electric railroad.

The next year, horses were replaced by electricity, a conversion that involved adding poles and overhead wires, large generators at both ends of the line and new equipment in the cars. The first electric cars ran July 20, 1892. Cummings wrote that residents were excited and every car was full on opening day.

13-bench open car #11 of the Waterville, Fairfield & Oakland Railway, with conductor William McAuley, standing left, and motorman John Carl, on Grove St., in Waterville, near Pine Grove Cemetery.

The Waterville & Fairfield was the first of several street railways serving the area from the late 19th century well into the 20th century. Another that the Fairfield history describes was the Benton & Benton Falls Electric Railroad. It opened Dec. 7, 1898, and extended its tracks to Fairfield in July 1900. Cummings wrote about the Benton & Fairfield Railway, which had been operating a shorter line before it connected Benton to Fairfield in 1901. (The writer suspects the two were the same, perhaps going by slightly different names and owners’ names at different times.)

The Benton & Fairfield, Cummings wrote, was owned by Kennebec Fibre Company and served primarily to carry pulpwood delivered on Maine Central freight cars to Benton and Fairfield paper mills. Its first three miles of track, all in Benton, opened Dec. 7, 1898. Extensions in 1899 and 1900 brought the line across the Kennebec to Fairfield and increased mileage to a little over four miles.

Cummings wrote that the railroad made a profit in only nine of its 32 or so years, and state railway commissioners were frequently dissatisfied with its maintenance. What little passenger service was offered ended in 1928, and the railroad went out of business around 1930, Cummings found.

The Fairfield & Shawmut connected those two villages in 1906 (Fairfield history) or October 1907 (Cummings). Amos Gerald was among its founders. It was primarily intended to serve passengers; Cummings wrote that its schedules were designed to let people transfer to the Waterville & Fairfield. The fare was five cents; the three-mile trip took 15 minutes, and cars ran every half hour.

The line, a little more than three miles long, served Keyes Fibre Company near Shawmut and Central Maine Sanatorium on Mountain Avenue between downtown Fairfield and Shawmut. There was a waiting room for sanatorium visitors at the foot of the avenue, Cummings wrote.

Like the other electric railroads Cummings described, the Fairfield & Shawmut was partly built with borrowed money — $30,000, in this case. Cum—mings wrote that when the 20-year bonds came due July 1, 1927, there wasn’t enough money to redeem them. The bondholders chose a receiver who got approval to abandon the railroad; the last trolleys ran July 23, 1927.

The Waterville & Fairfield met the lines from Benton and from Shawmut in Fairfield, and provided electricity for both.

As the Waterville & Fairfield grew, local businessmen formed the Waterville & Oakland Street Railway. (Yes, one was Amos F. Gerald, and Cummings lists him as the railway’s first general manager.) It was chartered in 1902, despite opposition from the Maine Central Railroad that also connected the two towns. Construction began in April 1903; the line from downtown Waterville to Snow Pond opened July 2, 1903, Cummings wrote.

High trestle over the Messalonskee Stream, in Oakland, with one of the Duplex convertibles crossing at the Cascade Woolen Mill.

The new line required two bridges across Messalonskee Stream, one in Oakland and one off Western Avenue in Waterville. The railway and the city split the cost of the Waterville bridge, which Cummings said was 53 feet long and 28 feet wide.

The Waterville & Fairfield and Waterville & Oakland met in Waterville. Thence passengers could travel to Fairfield and connect for Benton or Shawmut.

By 1910, the Waterville & Fairfield tracks had been extended into the southern part of Waterville, out Grove Street to Pine Grove Cemetery and out Silver Street. There might have been a plan to connect the two lines at the foot of what is now Kennedy Memorial Drive; if so, it was never achieved.

The Waterville & Fairfield and Waterville & Oakland consolidated in 1911 under the auspices of Central Maine Power Company (which owned two other street railways in Maine). As of December of that year, Cummings wrote, the new Waterville, Fairfield & Oakland had 10.5 miles of track plus sidings.

A postcard showing Main St., in Waterville, after an ice storm with iced lines and plowed Waterville, Fairfield & Oakland trolley tracks running the middle of the street, on March 10, 1906.

The line through Winslow and Vassalboro was eventually built by the Lewiston, Augusta & Waterville Street Railway. This company opened a railway from Winslow to East Vassalboro on June 27, 1908, and continued it from East Vassalboro to Augusta by November 1908.

The Lewiston and Waterville lines were connected by an arched concrete bridge across the Kennebec between Winslow and Waterville that opened Dec. 15, 1909, Cummings found. He wrote that after the 1936 flood took out the highway bridge, the trolley bridge was temporarily the only local way to cross the Kennebec (except by the footbridge).

The trolley bridge had survived its builders. The Lewiston, Augusta & Waterville became the Androscoggin & Kennebec in 1919 and stopped running July 31, 1932.

Cummings described in some detail routes, equipment, power sources and facilities. Fairfield’s two carhouses were on High Street (plus a smaller one on Main Street for the Fairfield & Shawmut); Benton had one, at Benton Falls; Waterville had one, at the Waterville Fairgrounds; and Oakland had elegant Messalonskee Hall, on Summer Street at the foot of Church Street near the lake. Cummings wrote that the Hall’s ground level accommodated three trolley tracks; the basement had a restaurant and a boathouse; and on the second floor were a dance hall and dining room.

The trolley fare remained a nickel until 1918, rose to seven cents that year and later to 10 cents, Cummings wrote; but regular riders could buy tickets in bulk and get a discount. Children rode for half price.

Schedules called for a trolley-car every half hour on each of the various routes. Cummings commented that as more and more automobiles and trucks competed for space on the streets, staying on schedule became increasingly challenging.

The Waterville, Fairfield & Oakland surrendered on Oct. 10, 1937. On its final day, passengers again filled the cars, as when the first electric cars ran more than 45 years earlier. Cummings wrote that the last trip over the Waterville to Oakland line began at 10:35 p.m. on Oct. 10; the last run to Fairfield began at 12:40 a.m. on Oct. 11. Bus service began at 5:15 that same morning.

Main sources

Cummings, O. R. , Toonervilles of Maine The Pine Tree State (1955)
Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley – Transportation: roads

1904 Cadillac

by Mary Grow

Previous articles have discussed transportation by water and overland by railroads, local and long-distance. This article discusses aspects of the evolution of roads and travel over them.

Laying out roads was a major task for local governments in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In the central Kennebec valley area, schools and roads were main topics at town meetings. Local histories quote from town records about deciding where to build roads; when and where to relocate them; when and how to maintain them, at what cost; and when to discontinue them.

Laying out a road, Linwood Lowden explained in his history of Windsor, refers only to choosing the route, not to actually building the road. Some roads laid out were never built. Sometimes male residents were required to contribute labor toward building roads.

As described earlier, the first road in the central Kennebec valley connected the trading post and fort at Cushnoc (now Winslow) with Fort Western (in what is now Augusta). Running along the east bank of the Kennebec, it was completed in 1754. The area around Fort Western and on the west side of the river was all called Hallowell until 1797, when the northern part that is now Augusta was incorporated as Harrington in February and renamed Augusta in June.

Kingsbury wrote in his Kennebec County history that at Hallowell’s first town meeting, held May 22, 1771, at the fort, about 30 voters appropriated 36 British pounds for road-building to connect houses around the fort (and 16 pounds for schools). By 1779, the west side of the river had grown enough so that roads were laid out there. The first part of Augusta’s Water Street came into being in 1784, two rods (33 feet) wide; part of it was widened in 1822, and in 1829 a section was widened again, to 50 feet, Kingsbury wrote.

At Harrington’s first town meeting on April 3, 1797, voters appropriated $1,250 for roads (and only $400 for schools). Kingsbury found that in 1798 Augusta voters laid out a road north to Sidney on the west side of the river and Stone Street going south on the east side. (Stone Street was named to honor Rev. Daniel Stone [1767-1834], a Harvard graduate and Hallowell/Augusta preacher from 1794 to 1809.)

On June 24, 1802, Kingsbury wrote, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts appointed two men, Jonathan Maynard and Lothrop Lewis, to do the ambitious job of laying out a four-rod (66 feet wide) road from Augusta to Bangor, connecting the Kennebec and Penobscot valleys. They were to choose as direct a route as the terrain allowed and to estimate the construction cost. On Feb. 26, 1803, the two were paid $610.04 for their work, included supplies and costs.

Vassalboro voters also began dealing with roads in 1771, according to Robbins’ history, though it is not always clear what they did. For example, Robbins quotes from a Sept. 9, 1771, town meeting report: voters were asked to decide whether to “do their Highway work this year by Rate where they are marked out” and how wide to make roads. The votes were to make the roads “forty rods wide as marked” (40 rods equals 660 feet!) and “Work four days on the highways” (an obligation for each property-owner?).

In March 1772 Vassalboro voters decided to lay out roads according to “Mr. Jones Plan”; but, Robbins added, the Kennebec Proprietors who then owned the area did not hire surveyor John Jones until 1774.

Early roads followed trails or surveyors’ range lines between tiers of lots, or went across private land. Robbins wrote that often voters approved compensation, in early days called an eight-rod allowance (eight rods equals 132 feet), when a road crossed private property instead of following a range line.

Vassalboro voters repeatedly set wage rates for work on roads. In 1804 or 1805, men were paid $1.25 a day. Their oxen earned 43.5 cents daily, and the owners were reimbursed 33.5 cents for a cart and 66.5 cents for a plough. In 1875, men earned 20 cents an hour; a team of oxen got the same rate and a team of horses 25 cents. By 1880 the hourly rates were lower: 15 cents for men and oxen, 10 cents for a single horse and 20 cents for two horses.

In Waterville, Kingsbury wrote that the first streets (he gave no dates) were Front, Main, Water and Silver, running roughly parallel with the river, and Temple, connecting Front and Main. Silver, he said, was named by Isaac Stevens, a wealthy carpenter who lived there along with Nathaniel Gilman and Simeon Mathews and said that among them, they controlled more money than any other three men in town. (Kingsbury does not say whether Gilman Street and Mathews Avenue were named to honor Stevens’ neighbors.)

Elm Street, laid out later, got its name because an early resident, David McFarland, lined it with elm trees. Kingsbury approved.

In Palermo, Millard Howard wrote that the first road, laid out in 1802, connected the southern and northern settlements. The contemporary roughly-corresponding roads, he wrote, are Turner Ridge, Parmenter, Marden Hill and North Palermo.

In 1802, also, the equivalents of Level Hill and Jones Road were laid out. More roads followed in 1805. Then Howard listed some of the complications, like Hostile Valley Road, laid out in 1807, relocated in 1816; or Western Ridge Road, laid out in 1811 and relocated in 1838.

Milton Dowe’s 1996 reminiscence of Palermo ends with a list of 20 discontinued roads, although only 18 are named and several are in China rather than in Palermo. One is described as the first road from George Studley’s house to the Perkins (formerly Black) Cemetery; Dowe added that closing the road explains “why grave markers are now lettered on the back.” (Google map shows the cemetery on the north side of North Palermo Road, just west of the Rowe Road intersection.)

Residents of Freetown (Fairfax after March 1804, now Albion) had held at least two town meetings before a special one on Oct. 8, 1803, at which they appointed three three-man committees to lay out roads in the town’s northern, southern and eastern districts, Ruby Crosby Wiggin wrote. By March 19,1804, when voters accepted all but one of the recommended roads, she deduced that the Bangor and Sebasticook roads were already in use.

Many of the roads went over existing trails, Wiggin wrote. When new roadways separated farms, land was taken equally from owners on both sides.

Model T Ford.

The April 16, 1804, town meeting approved $1,200 for road maintenance, Wiggin found. But the town did not spend any such sum. Instead, each district road commissioner divided his district’s appropriated amount among landowners and offered each the chance to pay his taxes in road work. Most accepted.

In Windsor, Lowden described an 1809 town meeting vote to lay out seven roads. From the descriptions, Lowden was able to identify contemporary equivalents of five. For the other two he was reduced to speculation.

One of the 1809 roads he identified as current Route 17 between South Windsor Corner and Coopers Mills (a village in Whitefield, the town south of Windsor). By 1835, he wrote, this stretch was part of the main road from Augusta to Thomaston. Nonetheless, at a July 18, 1835, town meeting, voters voted to discontinue it. The next month, an attempt to discontinue what is now Windsor’s piece of Route 105 between Augusta and Searsmont failed. (He did not say when Route 17 was reinstituted.)

In the early 20th century, road improvements were a consequence of development of automobiles and trucks. Dowe recalled traveling by Model T Ford (sold from 1908 to 1927, according to the web). A round trip between Palermo and Augusta without a flat tire was a memorable event, he wrote.

Stanley twins, Francis and Freelan, invented the Stanley Steamer in 1897, in Kingfield, Maine.

In spring, it was smart to travel early in the morning, before roads thawed and turned to mud. When a car got stuck, the driver sought a nearby resident with a horse to rescue him.

In fall, Dowe wrote, ruts were so deep and hard that whenever two cars met on a three-rut road, at least one driver would likely be carrying an axe to cut grooves to let his car move aside.

Dowe wrote that a relative had an eight-passenger Stanley Steamer. To start it, the owner lighted a gasoline burner, which warmed a kerosene burner until it came on and heated water in a boiler to produce steam to run the vehicle. The boiler had a hose so the driver could add water as necessary.

(The Stanley Steamer was invented in 1897 by twin brothers Francis E. and Freelan O. Stanley, born in 1849 in Kingfield, Maine. In 1902 the Stanley Motor Carriage Company was formed in Watertown, Massachusetts. Production declined beginning in 1918 as gasoline-powered cars took over.)

Alice Hammond commented in her history of Sidney that many owners of early cars put them up for the winter and took out their sleighs and sleds. Heavy town-owned snow rollers packed down snow to make a firm surface, instead of shoving it aside.

Horse-drawn snow roller.

Ernest Marriner’s Kennebec Yesterdays includes a not-very-clear 1890s photo of a snow roller with eight horses ready to go, at least three men on board, a bystander with a shovel and two children. The circumference of the roller appears to be approximately the height of the watching man.

In 1907, Hammond wrote, Sidney voters approved a 15-mile-an-hour speed limit for automobiles in town. In 1920, automobiles were included in the list of taxable personal property; there were 55 in town.

There was at least one car in Albion by 1907 (probably more): Wiggin wrote that in that year, Charles Abbott bought a building to garage the first car he owned.

(The building, Wiggin reported, started life as a farmer’s hired man’s house. It was moved and turned into a store that went through at least three owners before Abbott made it his garage. When Abbott became postmaster into 1914, he turned the building into the post office. That incarnation ended in 1960 when Francis Jones built a new post office; the old building was still standing in 1964.)

In China, the bicentennial history tells of a dozen autos early in the 20th century. One was the Oldsmobile runabout Richard Jones, of South China, bought, probably in 1903, for $875. He sent it and Bert Whitehouse to Boston, where Whitehouse learned to drive and maintain the vehicle. They came upriver by boat to Gardiner and Whitehouse drove to Jones’ Pine Rock home on Lakeview Drive.

1920 Velie.

Will Woodsum is credited with bringing the first car to China Village, a 1904 one-cylinder Cadillac he owned by 1909. In 1912, his father, John Woodsum, bought a Velie (one of the early ones; the web says Velies were produced by the Velie Motor Corporation, in Moline, Illinois, between 1908 and 1928).

In 1911, the China history says, Sewall McCartney and Buford Reed bought a second-hand Packard, in Albion; it took them two days to drive it to China, apparently because the engine was seriously underpowered. They sold the engine to Verne Denico, who sawed wood with it, and installed a stationary engine behind the front seats. Years later, someone discovered they had purchased the second Packard ever built.

Main sources

Dowe, Milton E., Palermo, Maine Things That I Remember in 1996, (1997).
Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions, (1984).
Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992, (1992).
Howard, Millard, An Introduction to the Early History of Palermo, Maine (second edition, December 2015).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892), (1892).
Marriner, Ernest, Kennebec Yesterdays, (1954).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Urgent funding needed to save Nathaniel Hawthorne’s boyhood home

Hawthorne House

by David Carew

The boyhood home of the legendary author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables in Raymond, Maine—known with great affection by locals as “the Hawthorne House” and listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1969—is at risk of serious structural damage if major repairs are not made soon. A major “Save the Hawthorne House” fundraising drive is now underway, seeking to raise $75,000 to make critical repairs to the house’s foundation and structural support, roof, and siding, as identified by a professional structural engineer hired by The Hawthorne Community Association.

“The Hawthorne House is a landmark and a source of pride, not only for our community but also for everyone who appreciates the culture and heritage of New England, and of southern Maine in particular,” said Abel Bates, of the Hawthorne Community Association, which has cared for the historic house since 1921. “By raising the needed $75,000, we will ensure that one of Maine’s most historic places will endure and that, in the future, we will continue to have this special place to hold popular community events such as our annual Strawberry Festival and Christmas Party, as well many other public gatherings.”

To help save Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Boyhood Home, please consider a much-appreciated check or online donation. Please make checks payable to “Hawthorne Community Association” / PO Box 185 / South Casco, ME 04077. PayPal donations may be made online at: https://www.hawthorneassoc.com.

For more information, please contact Abel Bates at (207) 318-7131 or jbates4@maine.rr.com.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley Railway transportation

by Mary Grow

Although the narrow-gauge railroad that was built inland from Wiscasset starting in 1894 never reached either Québec (its first name was the Wiscasset and Québec) or Waterville or Farmington (later it was the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington) (see The Town Line, Sept. 17), as the WW&F it was an integral part of towns along its route.

Reminiscences from Palermo include the WW&F. Dean Marriner mentioned the WW&F in two Kennebec Valley histories. The histories of China and Vassalboro include the WW&F. Clinton Thurlow, of Weeks Mills, wrote three small books on the WW&F. Ruby Crosby Wiggin titled her town history Albion on the Narrow Gauge; the cover has a sketch of engine number 7 taking on water at the Albion water tank, and her introduction says that for 40 years the WW&F was vital to the town and in 1964 residents still remembered it fondly.

Milton E. Dowe’s 1954 Palermo history (the town was incorporated in 1804, so this booklet would be a sesquicentennial history) points out that the WW&F did not even enter Palermo; the Branch Mills station, though called Palermo, was in China, west of the village the two towns share. However, Dowe wrote in the history and in his later book, Palermo, Maine Things That I Remember in 1996, the railroad carried Palermo residents on business and pleasure trips; it brought things they needed, like mail and foodstuffs for local grocery stores; and it took away things they sold, like milk and cream, lumber and bark, apples, potatoes and grain.

Dowe wrote in his history that the regular passenger fare to Wiscasset was $1.25, and excursion fares were $1.00 round trip. After the branch line to Winslow opened in 1902, Palermo residents had the option of riding to Waterville.

The railroad served traveling salesmen, Dowe wrote. They would sell to Palermo residents, play cards and swap stories in Branch Mills stores and spend the night at the Branch Mills Hotel. The next day they would move on to China Village or Albion.

The Palermo station was flanked by three potato houses where local potatoes were sorted and bagged ready for shipment, mainly to the Boston market. One year (presumably early in the 20th century), Dowe wrote, 100,000 bushels of potatoes were shipped through the station. At that time, farmers could expect to be paid $1 per barrel.

The creamery, also near the station, collected and pasteurized milk, brought in by the wagonload. Butter was made by the pound; Dowe said production averaged 3,000 pounds a week. The creamery later became an apple cannery and cider mill. Dowe described a line of 75 wagons waiting to unload apples during a week in 1920 when 3,000 bushels of cider apples arrived for processing.

The China bicentennial history says there were three other WW&F stations in China. From south to north, they were west of Weeks Mills; south of South China; and east of China Village. (The China Village station was on the east side of the head of China Lake; the village is on the west side. A causeway crosses the inlet stream.)

Each station was a small rectangular wooden building with an overhanging roof, the history says. The stations were painted the WW&F colors, two shades of green. Weeks Mills, South China, and China Village stations each had one nearby potato house.

The Weeks Mills station complex was west of the Sheepscot River and south of Main Street. It included a freight building and one of the WW&F’s five water tanks, put up in 1913; south of the station building was a roundhouse with space for four engines (used as a hay barn for a few years after the WW&F went out of business).

South of the roundhouse was the turntable on which an engine was shifted to either the Albion or the Winslow line. The China history describes the turntable as having ball bearings in the middle, a circular outer rim encasing a wheel and two tracks that could be turned different directions as needed. The machinery ran so easily that two men could operate it with a locomotive on it, the history says.

Frank Noyes opened a canning factory about 1904 and used the WW&F to ship out canned corn and succotash and later each fall apples and cider. The factory closed in 1931; the China history blames the Depression, which killed Noyes’ profit.

Thurlow’s three small, generously-illustrated books start with a focus on Weeks Mills, where he retired after a career teaching history. He found numerous original documents, like a 1911 set of operating orders. Among other things, the orders absolutely prohibited smoking around the trains and drinking alcohol on duty.

While the WW&F’s line to Winslow served Vassalboro between 1902 and 1915 or 1916, Vassalboro residents and goods traveled both ways. James Schad’s chapter in Anthology of Vassalboro Tales says that lumber, potatoes, canned corn and poultry were shipped to Wiscasset, to continue by water to Boston and other points south. Imports included coal to power North Vassalboro mills, feed and grain for farmers and supplies for local retailers.

Vassalboro had at least two WW&F stations. Schad’s article is accompanied by a photo of one on Oak Grove Road that served North Vassalboro, and Robbins’ bicentennial history mentions East Vassalboro’s “pretty little station,” later converted to a house that was evidently still occupied in 1971.

The photo in the Vassalboro anthology shows Engine No. 4, with no cars attached, in front of a rectangular wooden building. The engineer (probably) stands in shirtsleeves and cap, right hand on right hip, left arm draped casually on the engine. Two more formally dressed men accompany him, and three others stand on the trackside platform under the building’s overhanging roof.

Thurlow’s WW&F Two-footers includes 1964 photos of the former Winslow and North Vassalboro stations, both converted into two-story houses.

The Winslow line brought people to two attractions on the west side of China Lake a bit north of South China. One was a dance pavilion; excursion cars from Winslow took passengers out for the evening and brought them home around midnight, Thurlow and other sources say. Thurlow adds that north of the pavilion was a mineral spring where train crews were known to make unofficial stops so they and their passengers could have a refreshing break.

Wiggin speculated that the WW&F was more important to Albion people than to others it served because George H. Crosby, prominent among the railway’s founders, was an Albion native (see the article on Albion in the June 11 issue of The Town Line, p. 11), and because many Albion residents invested heavily in railroad stock. Additionally, she wrote, the railroad employed Albion residents (and those in other towns).

The Albion station had the northernmost of the WW&F’s five water tanks, coal sheds and a turntable. The building was the only one of the 15 WW&F stations (11 on the Albion line, four on the Winslow line) to have a second floor; Thurlow wrote that a conductor named Alfred Rancourt and his family lived above the station for 11 years.

In 1908 the Albion-Wiscasset fare was $1.50. In ideal conditions, the trip could be made in two hours; on the five-and-a-half mile stretch between China Village and Albion, several sources say the train often traveled at 60 miles an hour.

There are many, many local stories about the WW&F as a sort of family railroad. Most, unfortunately, are undated. Some are handed down; others local writers witnessed or heard directly from participants or observers.

Wiggin wrote from personal experience with the railroad and from interviews with other local residents, especially Earl Keef, who worked for the railroad for about 30 years, much of the time as an engineer. Consequently she included many personal stories in her Albion history.

For example, she quoted the neighbor who said she and two other women were admiring the first bananas they had ever seen in a local store window. The foreman of the Italian crew building the rail line bought each of them the first banana she’d ever eaten.

Another story is of a train that left Wiscasset at 2 a.m. in a snowstorm, with an attached plow and flange blocking the engineer’s view. At Palermo, the train was flagged down: a local doctor heading home after an emergency call was using the track ahead for his snowmobile (converted from an old Ford).

One of the crew volunteered to ride on the snowplow to watch out for the popular doctor. At the next trestle, they paused to make sure the doctor hadn’t fallen off it; but his tracks continued across.

The train finally caught up with him in Albion. China’s roads were plowed, so he switched to roads and reached Albion as the train did. Later, he said he made better time on the tracks than on the highway.

Yet another story, in Thurlow’s Weeks Mills “Y” (repeated in the China history), tells of Weeks Mills resident Edna Van Strien reaching East Vassalboro on the WW&F as the electric trolley by which she planned to continue to Augusta was leaving. The WW&F engineer stopped the train athwart the trolley tracks and waited until she was safely on board before moving out of the trolley’s way.

Ernest Marriner has two of the best anecdotes about the WW&F. Neither, alas, is dated.

The first, in his Kennebec Yesterdays (1954) concerns the line’s most successful – and unsuccessful – train. A mixed (freight and passenger) train, it carried an unusually large load of bark from Winslow, which was to go by sea from Wiscasset to a Massachusetts tannery. It also had an unusual number of passengers planning to witness the launch of a new schooner from a Wiscasset shipyard.

Marriner related that WW&F stockholders, informed of the big – and profitable — run, started touting the railroad to residents along the line. A welcoming committee assembled in Wiscasset.

The engineer and fireman added to the publicity by blowing the loud whistle constantly. Thus, Marriner wrote, they used a lot of steam and had to stop at water tanks. Perhaps because they allegedly had a generous supply of rum, they soon forgot about the water; and in Alna, the engine died. The load of bark eventually reached its destination, but neither the stockholders nor the excursionists were happy.

Marriner’s second story is in Remembered Maine (1957). He (like other local historians) wrote that WW&F engineers would usually stop wherever they saw someone trying to attract their attention, not just at stations and when the flag was up at a flag stop. One day, a Weeks Mills woman ran trackside and waved her apron.

The engineer shut down the engine and climbed out of the cab. The woman allegedly told him her hen was about to lay the twelfth egg; as soon as she had the full dozen, she wanted the engineer to take the eggs to the store in Wiscasset and swap them for a spool of thread and a bottle of vanilla.

Main sources:

Bernhardt, Esther, and Vicki Schad, compilers/editors, Anthology of Vassalboro Tales (2017).
Dowe, Milton E., History Town of Palermo Incorporated 1884 (1954).
Dowe, Milton E., Palermo, Maine Things That I Remember in 1996 (1997).
Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984).
Marriner, Ernest, Kennebec Yesterdays (1954).
Marriner, Ernest, Remembered Maine (1957).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).
Websites, miscellaneous.

 

The WW&F Railway Station Restoration Project Albion, Maine

by Phillip Dow, Albion Historical Society

The year was 1976. Albion townsfolk banded together to present a week-long period celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of our great country, the United States of America.

It was suggested that the Albion railroad station be preserved. Nothing was done to improve the structure for another 10 years. New blood got involved and the Albion Historical Society was formed. Their first major project was to try to save the old railroad station. John and Ora Rand, the owners of the station, graciously gave it to the Albion Historical Society for a museum.

Time and money were the big factors holding up progress on the restoration of said building. Donations finally came in and away we went. Dirt work around the building started. The old building was braced up, inside and out. The station had to be gutted, both downstairs and up. Cobwebs, spiders, bats and mice had to find a new home.

But, 10 years later, with the help of many people, a concrete slab was poured to the tune of $20,000. Floor joists and studs were added. New lumber replaced the old rotted boards. Asphalt shingles and a new chimney were added. A $500 grant was received and new wooden-framed windows were purchased.

We discovered stamped on one of the hidden window sills “Mathews Bros., Belfast, Me.” The original windows had been installed in 1895. Where did we purchase the new windows? Mathews Bros., with one “t,” Belfast, Me., one hundred years later.

Pine clapboard siding was painted and added. The interior of the railroad station is fairly simple in style, but it is the simple style that we should go back to, at least for a few days.

Albion railroad station, before, left, and after restorations.

CHINA: Program at ACB Memorial Library

Albert Church Brown Memorial Library in China Village.

by Mary Grow

“Maine Memories,” the second post-coronavirus outdoor program at the Albert Church Brown Memorial Library in China Village, brought an interested audience to the library’s south lawn Sunday afternoon, Sept. 20.

Librarian Carla Olson Gade opened the program by reading a poem by Maine author and Vassalboro native Holman Day, and closed it by reading summer resident Richard Dillenbeck’s contemporary reminiscence of the China Village grammar school, which stood on the lot across Main Street from the library.

Marjeanne (Banks) Vacco said she, too attended the village school, four years behind Dillenbeck. Both transferred in the spring of 1949 to the new consolidated elementary school on Lakeview Drive, now China Middle School.

Vacco said her grandmother was her teacher. The building had two teachers, Dillenbeck wrote, one for the four younger grades on the lower floor, the other for the four upper grades on the second floor.

In the 1940s, China Village’s business district was at the south end of Main Street, around the intersection with Neck Road and Causeway Street, Vacco said. Because she lived just down the hill in the house at the corner of Peking and Causeway streets, she could stop at the grocery and spend a nickel for an ice cream cone on her way home from school.

Mention of Peking Street reminded former China resident Isabelle Wiand of a story told her by the late Louise Tracey, who lived at the intersection of Canton Street and Neck Road: Tracey once received her pension check months late, because it came via China in Asia. Several other people remembered similarly delayed mail, some in envelopes with markings in Chinese.

Neck Road resident Louisa Barnhart talked about her house, built around 1827, one of several on Neck Road built with bricks from a kiln in the area of Fire Road 9. When she and husband Michael Klein needed to repoint the brickwork, they found sand from a Fire Road 9 pit created an exact match for the original work.

On the back of the house is a 17-foot-square room that used to be a separate building. It was made from recycled timbers, with saplings for a roof, so Barnhart believes its woodwork is even older than the main house.

The house has been owned by three families in almost two centuries, Barnhart said. It was in the Ward family for many years and owned for about 10 years by Bill Rollins before Klein and Barnhart bought it.

Vacco, whose family was connected with the Wards two generations back, added that the former schoolhouse in front of the brick house was moved to Vermont. Lilacs mark the site of the former school privy, Barnhart said.

The afternoon’s other main speaker was Tom Parent, President of the China Library Association and an Eagle Lake native who will have lived in China for 37 years next month. Growing up in The County, he said, every fall schools would close for potato-picking month and his entire family would move to the potato fields around Fort Fairfield.

There they would live in what he called a shack and pick potatoes from sun-up to sun-down. Parent compared their situation to being a migrant worker today, except that the whole family took part.

Pickers had two choices, he said: most picked on their knees, and often developed knee trouble later in life, while those who chose to stay on their feet & bend down were likely to have back trouble. Many pickers wore braces on their swollen wrists.

When the weather was uncooperative Parent said poker was the indoor fall-back. “I earned more money playing poker than I did picking potatoes,” he claimed.

Pickers earned 12 cents a barrel when he first went into the fields, Parent said. The price had more than doubled, to 25 cents a barrel, by the time he was in his early teens. Each barrel held about 200 pounds of potatoes.

A good picker could do more than 100 barrels a day, Parent said. One of his brothers filled 165 barrels one day.

Money from the work paid the debt at the local grocery and provided school clothes and supplies. And, Parent said, children brought up in the potato-picking culture developed a good work ethic that lasted a lifetime.

He also mentioned that while towns like Eagle Lake were mostly deserted during potato-picking season, no one locked doors, and families would find their possessions untouched when they came home.

The next public event planned at the Albert Church Brown Memorial Library is the annual candidates’ forum to introduce candidates in contested local elections to voters. This year, five people seek three seats on the Board of Selectmen: incumbents Ronald Breton and Janet Preston and Blane Casey, Brent Chesley and Jeanne Marquis.

The forum date is not yet set. In past years, it has been in late October in advance of local elections, which will be Nov. 3 this year. Plans are to have the forum available to the public over Zoom, Gade said. Notices will appear on the library website, www.chinalibrary.org, and elsewhere.

The library reopened Sept. 8 with coronavirus precautions and slightly changed hours. New hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington

1894 Forney.

by Mary Grow

When railroads first began operating in the United States, different companies used different gauges (width between the tracks). “Standard gauge” ranged from four feet eight-and-a-half inches (imported from Britain, used by the Baltimore & Ohio and Boston & Albany lines, among others) to six feet (used by the Erie and the Lackawanna, among others), and was not definitely established at four feet eight-and-a-half inches until after the Civil War. The war emphasized the need for interconnected rail transportation; the transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869.

In addition to the standard gauge, there were “narrow-gauge” railroads. According to Ernest Marriner’s Kennebec Yesterdays, a narrow-gauge line could have tracks anywhere from two feet to three-and-a-half feet apart.

Maine, Marriner wrote, was the state with the most narrow-gauge railroads. Linwood Moody wrote a generously illustrated book about them, published in 1959 and entitled The Maine Two-Footers. How many there were depends on when they were counted, because, as with the standard-gauge lines, companies consolidated. Moody is certain, however, that the central Kennebec Valley hosted two: the Kennebec Central, with which he fell in love as a child of 10 or 11, and the one remembered locally as the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington.

The Kennebec Central was the shortest narrow-gauge in Maine. It had five miles of track, from Randolph to the Togus veterans’ home in Chelsea, and ran from July 23, 1890, to June 29, 1929. Wikipedia says Randolph had a small station from which stairs led to the covered bridge crossing the Kennebec River to Gardiner.

1894 Baldwin.

During those 39 years, the railroad used four engines, an 1890 Baldwin and three Portlands built between December 1890 and April 1892. The first two were apparently bought new; the Baldwin was scrapped about 1922 and the first Portland about four years later.

The two later Portlands were second-hand, one acquired about 1922 (to replace the Baldwin) from the Bridgton & Saco River line and the other (no date given; probably 1925 or 1926, as it replaced the first Portland) from the Sandy River line. Moody wrote they both went to the Waterville, Wiscasset & Farmington in the early 1930s, after the Kennebec Central closed and as the WW&F in turn was about to go under.

(The Bridgton & Saco operated from 1883 to 1941. The Sandy River started in 1879 and ran until 1908, when it merged into the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes and ran until the mid-1930s.)

The Kennebec Central engines hauled passenger coaches, open-sided excursion cars, combination passenger and baggage cars, freight cars and coal gondolas. A main purpose of the railroad was to let Civil War veterans get from Togus to Gardiner and their relatives and other visitors from Gardiner to Togus. Both Moody and Wikipedia describe the Sunday afternoon baseball games and concerts that brought crowds of visitors to the veterans’ home grounds.

The railroad’s other use, and probably more dependable income source, was to deliver supplies to Togus, especially the coal that was shipped up the Kennebec to a government-owned facility in Randolph and was used as heating fuel. Therefore, when the government switched the coal-hauling contract to a trucking company, the railroad closed.

Its rolling stock was stored until 1931, when a fire damaged the WW&F engines housed in Wiscasset. Wikipedia says Frank Winter, then the WW&F owner, bought the entire Kennebec Central, brought the engines back into use and sold what trackage and cars he could; the left-overs were carried down the river in the 1936 flood.

The WW&F, also known as the Weak, Weary and Feeble and the Little Wiggler, went through multiple corporate incarnations, according to Moody. It started in Wiscasset because Wiscasset was a major port, and was first chartered in 1854 as the Wiscasset & Québec.

For 40 years, Moody wrote, nobody developed the railroad. In 1894, a group of local entrepreneurs raised funds to start laying track, improving Wiscasset’s docks and connecting the new railroad via a very long trestle across the Sheepscot to the docks and adjoining Maine Central yard.

The railroad’s first engine was an 11-year-old Forney bought from the Sandy River and used to haul work trains with supplies and crews as the line was built. Two Portlands built in November 1894 were the next engines added.

The W&Q tracks went along the Sheepscot River through Sheepscot station, which served Alna, where there was a flag stop, and Sheepscot Village; through Head Tide; past a railroad-owned water tank and gravel pit and across the Sheepscot to Whitefield; thence to North Whitefield and Coopers Mills. Leaving the river, the line continued through Windsor, Weeks Mills, Palermo and China to Albion, which it reached in November 1895.

Moody commented that the typical station was in the countryside a mile or more from the nearest village.

The promoters still had Québec in their vision statements. Moody wrote that tracks were laid from Albion to the point between Burnham and Pittsfield where the W&Q would cross the Maine Central tracks and continue north. In 1897, the Maine Central vetoed the crossing.

Representatives of both lines went to the three-man Maine Railroad Commission. The commissioners ruled that the W&Q could build an overpass; and that while the overpass was being built, the W&Q could install a temporary crossing, called a diamond, if the company could do the job without interfering with Maine Central traffic.

The overpass idea was a non-starter; the ground was too flat.

As Moody told the story, the Maine Central trains, passenger or freight, normally ran about every two hours. W&Q officials hauled in a pre-made diamond and assembled an Italian crew to install it. The foreman waited for the morning Maine Central to go through and signaled the crew to get started. But whoops! here came another Maine Central train. It passed, the crew moved in – and another engine was bearing down on them.

(Moody thought the whole deal, including the commissioners’ role, smelled of fish. He doubted the railroad promoters seriously planned to continue the line to Québec, or would have prospered if they had; wondered why, if they were serious, they didn’t fight harder against the Maine Central; and believed their stockholders were gypped.)

The result was that as of 1897, the main line of the W&Q ran 43-1/2 miles from Wiscasset to Albion, carrying passengers, mail and freight.

The promoters still promised Québec and, Moody wrote, organized two new companies, the Waterville & Wiscasset to connect Weeks Mills via Vassalboro to Winslow and the Franklin, Somerset & Kennebec to continue through Waterville to Farmington.

In 1898 and 1899 most of the line between Weeks Mills and Winslow was finished. But a vital connection in Farmington to the Sandy River line required crossing a piece of land the Maine Central owned; and the Maine Central refused passage. (Moody wondered why the FS&K wasn’t relocated around the Maine Central lot, and suggested the Sandy River directors were unenthusiastic about the proposed connection.)

The result of this second failure was that the W&Q went bankrupt. In 1900, according to the history on the WW&F’s Alna museum website, Leonard Atwood bought the Wiscasset to Albion and the Weeks Mills to Winslow lines, three engines and 60 or more cars, mostly freight cars. He renamed the line the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railroad, though no one cites evidence he aimed for either Waterville or Farmington.

(An on-line genealogy says Atwood was born in Farmington Falls in 1845, and served two years in the Union navy during the Civil War. His mechanical interests led him to invent elevator machinery that he installed in hotels in the 1870s. After selling his patents to Elisha Graves Otis [founder of the Otis Elevator Company], he moved to Nova Scotia and organized a narrow-gauge railroad south from Yarmouth in the early 1890s, before he became president of the WW&F. He died in 1930.)

By 1902 the WW&F line to Winslow was finished and the new company had a new Forney engine, a new passenger car and a new combination passenger/mail car. In the next few years, as North Vassalboro mills expanded, the Winslow route became the main line. But, Moody wrote, the railroad failed to generate enough income to repay debts, keep up with maintenance and show a profit.

In 1906, W. W. Woolworth Company Vice-President Carson Peck bought the WW&F for $93,000, “after spirited bidding,” the museum’s website says. Peck renamed the company the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway (not Railroad); paid off its debts; and bought three classy engines, a Forney from the Bridgton & Saco and two new Baldwins, one designed for freight and one for passenger cars, that were bigger than any the WW&F had owned before.

For another two decades, Peck and after his death in 1915 his heirs ran a slowly-declining business. The decline was partly because cars and trucks took over passenger and freight movement.

The museum history says after the owners started asking for dividend payments in the early 1920s, maintenance and service began to suffer. The line was discontinued from North Vassalboro north to Winslow, passenger service from Weeks Mills to North Vassalboro ended and Wiscasset to Albion was again the main line.

1922 Portland.

By 1926 the Peck heirs were ready to sell the railway. Local people raised the $60,000 asking price, and, Moody wrote, long-time General Manager Sam Sewell continued to run the business. But with profits small or non-existent and service and maintenance still being cut, in 1930 a Palermo lumberman named Frank Winter was able to buy the company for $6,000 (Moody said there was $5,000 in the till, so Winter actually got it for $1,000).

Winter’s main interest was to keep trains running to ship timber from his land. Moody wrote that maintenance focused on engines (including the defunct Kennebec Central’s), flatcars for lumber and the mail car that generated $9,200 a year.

The final trip on the WW&F was on June 15, 1933, when the remaining useable engine, heading coastward from Albion, left the track in Whitefield and slid down the bank toward the Sheepscot. Engineer Earl Keefe and the other three crewmen were unhurt; they continued to Wiscasset on what the museum history calls a motor railcar.

Winter continued to transport the mail and a postal clerk in a rented truck until October 1933. He did not abandon the idea of selling the railway for another three years, during which vandals and souvenir-hunters damaged stock and buildings. Eventually, most that remained was sold for scrap metal or allowed to fall down.

Next: what the railroad that didn’t get to Québec did for the central Kennebec Valley area; and what’s left in 2020.

Main sources

Marriner, Ernest , Kennebec Yesterdays (1954).
Moody, Linwood W., The Maine Two-footers: The Story of the two-foot gauge railroads of Maine (1959).
Websites, miscellaneous.

PAGES IN TIME: Remembering China Village’s two-room schoolhouse

China Village two-room schoolhouse, 1888-1949. It was located across from the Albert Church Brown Memorial Library. (photo courtesy of David Fletcher)

by Richard Dillenbeck

I attended grammar school in a two-room schoolhouse in the village of China at the northern end of the lake. It had two rooms, each with four grades, the younger kids on the ground floor and the older children on the second, each room with its own teacher.

The rooms were arranged by rows of desks, each row having children in the same grade, and each row a different grade. The teacher would move from row to row while keeping an eagle eye on the other rows. In the rear left corner, there was a large wood-burning stove, the only heat source in winter; a bank of single pane windows on the right side of the room admitted light to the whole room, supplementing the bare light bulbs on the ceiling. The teacher’s desk was at the front, with a large blackboard behind it with the United States’ flag in one corner. Every morning, we children stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, to which “under God” had not yet been added. (Those two words were added in 1954 during a time when we were locked in a cold war with the Soviet Union and we wanted “them atheistic Russkis” to know we were a God-fearing nation.) In winter, the older boys would go down the back stairs and bring up a large “junk” (Mainer-speak) of wood to fill the fuel box.

Photo of students at China Village Schoolhouse sometime in the mid-1930s. (Contributed by Robin Adams Sabattus.) Picture includes: Carolyn James, Paul Boivin, Frances Black, Paul Fletcher, Muriel Harding, Richard Starkey, John McKiel and Donald Black.

On the first floor, attached to the school’s northern side, was a divided girl/boy outhouse with a built-in plank with three holes for the girls and a three-holed plank for the boys. In the dead of winter, no one enjoyed sitting there when the icy wind blew up through the hole, but when we had to go, we would raise two fingers and the teacher would either nod to us or signal for us to wait. (One raised finger meant we needed to use the pencil sharpener installed at the front of the room.) I don’t know how she did it, but Mrs. Stewart handled it all with aplomb and kept us in our places. We wouldn’t think of misbehaving.

That is until one day there suddenly was a loud commotion in the rear corner of the room and all heads shot up and turned in time to see Mrs. Stewart slam one of the biggest boys in the room up against the stove. She admonished him to, “Sit down and don’t do it again!” He meekly went back to his desk and sat down, and we didn’t hear a peep out of him for the rest of the school year. We never knew what he had said or done, but we sure knew how Mrs. Stewart, who probably weighed no more than 110 pounds, handled it. Our respect for her soared even higher.

The school day included a daily recess when we all had to go outside. Dodge ball and hide and seek were popular. Most of us, except the kids who lived in China village and walked to school, were transported by buses and everyone brought a lunch box. It was always fun to compare lunches with what others brought and to sometimes trade. My favorite sandwiches, a different kind made by my mother every morning, were either a baked bean sandwich or a Spam sandwich with lettuce and ketchup. It always seemed a long time since the small bottle of milk we received mid-morning.

At some point in the seventh grade, we started getting hot soup for lunch, at least those who paid for it did. It was made down the village street by a woman at her home, and two of the bigger boys would be sent to her house to bring back a bucket of soup between them.

Once a week, we were allowed to go to the China library, which was directly across the street. I got hooked on the Tarzan books and read every one in the library, enjoying the description of the jungle, Tarzan’s animal friends and enemies, and his exciting adventures. I can still recall how thrilling it was to later see Tarzan come to life in movies starring Johnny Weissmuller, the former Olympian swimmer, who portrayed Tarzan in the movies for many years, even long after he had aged and lost his svelte shape. His jungle-call in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels could carry for miles through the jungle and was used when he needed to exult about some kill or to summon help from his animal friends. Each movie managed to put that jungle call in every movie more than once. I was amused to hear it recently on the internet – just look up “Tarzan yell.”

In 1948, we learned a new combined community school would be built for the Town of China, halfway between the villages of China and South China. Construction of the first classrooms was completed by the spring of 1949. We were all excited and perhaps a bit anxious because attending a bigger school with kids we didn’t know led to much discussion. Mrs. Stewart gracefully handled it by letting us ask questions and verbalize our feelings, and she assured us the new school would be much nicer and would have real bathrooms – with running water, real toilets and a real furnace for heat. The school in China Village was converted to rearing chickens rather than children and then it burned down. (No one seems to know how the chickens fared.)

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Railroad and trolleys

An early 19th century train.

by Mary Grow

Maine began building railroads in the 1840s. They did not replace stagecoaches, however, because the latter continued to connect railroad stops and stations to other population centers. The China history, for example, says that in the 1850s people wanting to go to China from the south or west could take the train to Augusta or Waterville and complete the journey by stagecoach.

According to Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history, in 1836 Maine chartered the Portland and Kennebec railroad, and in 1845, two more railroads to serve the central Kennebec valley. The Androscoggin and Kennebec, the first to become operational, came to Waterville via Monmouth, Winthrop, Readfield and Belgrade. Ernest Marriner’s Kennebec Yesterdays includes a dramatic verbal picture of Waterville residents boarding the first Androscoggin and Kennebec train to visit the city on Nov. 27, 1849, and riding to Readfield to meet a train from Portland.

The group came back to Waterville on what he says is the first Portland-to-Waterville run. Their arrival was followed by a celebration that lasted into the evening, with cannon-fire, fireworks, a banquet, speeches (including one by U. S. Senator Wyman B. S. Moor, of Waterville) and a ball where the old-fashioned reel alternated with the newly-fashionable waltz.

The Penobscot and Kennebec, also chartered in 1845, was to leave Augusta and head northeast through Vassalboro and Winslow. In Waterville it was to connect with the Androscoggin and Kennebec and continue through Benton and Clinton to Bangor.

The Waterville train terminal, off College Ave., before its demolition in the 1960s.

The Portland and Kennebec had not started building in 1845, but by 1849 it was heading up the Kennebec. On Aug. 27, 1850, Augusta voters agreed to lend $200,000 to help build “the railroad from Portland to Augusta,” Kingsbury wrote (without naming the railroad). The first locomotive came to Augusta Dec. 15, 1851. On Dec. 29, a crowd of thousands greeted the first complete train (Kingsbury does not specify a freight train, passenger train or combination); on Dec. 30 the first train to Portland left Augusta.

Reuben Wesley Dunn’s chapter in the Waterville centennial history, published in 1902, put the Androscoggin and Kennebec’s arrival in Waterville in December, rather than November, 1849. Soon afterward, he wrote, the company opened its first repair shop there.

The Androscoggin and Kennebec merged with the Penobscot and Kennebec, Dunn wrote (without giving a date) to form the earliest version of the Maine Central. This railroad absorbed others, including the Portland and Kennebec, and in the 1880s its leaders decided to consolidate Maine repair shops. They chose Waterville, and in 1887 opened what was then the best repair facility in the country. The brick buildings covered almost four acres and had electric lights. The shops generated power with two boilers, an engine and an air compressor. The 250 workers built and repaired both passenger and freight cars.

Hammond wrote in her history of Sidney that by 1850, the Androscoggin and Kennebec railway linked Portland and Augusta. In 1850, she wrote, a line was added to connect Augusta and Waterville. Although the center of Augusta and all of Waterville are on the west side of the Kennebec, the railroad ran through Vassalboro, necessitating two bridges across the river.

Hammond offers two theories for the detour: Sidney orchardists were afraid soot from train engines would harm their apple crop, or Sidney farmers wanted so much money for a right-of-way that the bridges were cheaper. However, Hammond prefers the explanation given by Alma Pierce Robbins in her Vassalboro history. Robbins wrote that Vassalboro mill owner John D. Lang used his national railroad connections to have the tracks laid on the east side of the Kennebec to serve his woolen mill in North Vassalboro.

The railroad, Robbins wrote, moved farm products to market and by 1900 gave farmers previously unheard-of security and prosperity. It transported people on business and for pleasure and, as tourism developed, brought in the summer people. It carried the mail. It provided good jobs, in terms of both pay and prestige.

The railroad turned out to have one drawback that Robbins thought worth mentioning: frequent trackside fires. In 1906, a fire destroyed most of the buildings at Getchell’s Corner, and a spark from a train was suspected as the cause, although Robbins said the case was never proved.

The Penobscot and Kennebec was extended to Fairfield in 1852. The town history records that on Jan, 24, 1854, leading businessman Henry C. Newhall sold land to the railroad (for $1,500) where what became the downtown – then Kendall’s Mills – railroad station was built. The railway line continued to Bangor the next year.

At some point a railway bridge was built across the Kennebec from Fairfield to Benton, because the Fairfield history says it burned in May 1861, was rebuilt and burned again in 1873. After that fire, the replacement bridge was built at Waterville and the main line rerouted through Benton, including Benton Station. A new steel bridge, built in 1917 and first crossed by a passenger train Jan. 13, 1918, put Fairfield back on the main line to Bangor.

In 1853, according to the Fairfield history, the Somerset and Kennebec (later the Somerset branch of the Maine Central) connected Augusta to Skowhegan via Kendall’s Mills. This line presumably served stations listed at Shawmut (then Somerset Mills), Nye’s Corner (then Fowler’s) and Hinckley (then Pishon’s Ferry). By 1988, the line ended at the Scott Paper Company plant.

Beginning in 1873, a separate railroad, the Somerset, passed through the western edge of Fairfield on its way from Oakland to Norridgewock and, by 1907, to Moosehead Lake. In 1988 it ran only as far as Anson.

The Maine Central tracks in 1892 crossed Benton diagonally, from Benton Station in the southwest (where the station was) to the middle of the northern boundary. The station was on a knoll where, according to Kingsbury, Dr. Ezekiel Brown was buried. He was a surgeon who served during the Revolutionary War and an early Benton settler; he died about 1820.

Each valley town and city had at least one railroad station, usually with long sheds for freight and a smaller area for passengers. Augusta’s was toward the south end of Water Street, a long brick building. Waterville’s was on the west side of College Avenue near the present underpass; a photo estimated to have been taken around 1900 shows a long wooden building with a three-story rectangular tower atop the passenger area. An undated on-line source lists 10 Maine Central stations in Fairfield; a photo elsewhere on line shows one, a small wooden building labeled Good Will Farm.

The Lewiston, Augusta and Waterville Street Railway had 153 miles of service trackage. Here, the trolley is crossing the bridge between Waterville and Winslow.

In some towns, street railways and trolleys competed with the locomotive-drawn long-distance railways. Local histories provide bits and pieces of information about central Kennebec Valley lines.

Kingsbury wrote that a street railway with horse-drawn cars started running between Waterville and Fairfield in 1888. In July 1892, as he was finishing his Kennebec County history, the Waterville and Fairfield Power and Light Company electrified the railway. It was the second electric railway in the county; the seven-mile Augusta Hallowell & Gardiner Electric Street Railroad Company had started in 1890.

Citing a talk by Philip Bowker, the Fairfield history says early in the 1900s, the corner of Main and Bridge streets in downtown Fairfield was the meeting place of three street railways, the Waterville, Fairfield and Oakland, the Benton and Fairfield and the Fairfield and Shawmut.

By 1894 the Waterville and Fairfield provided transportation to Island Park on Bunker Island (identified as Libbey Island on the current Google map). Amos Gerald, who founded the Electric Light Company in 1886 and five years later built a Mill Island generating station, created the park to promote business for the street railway, the history says.

Island Park had a bandstand and a roller-skating rink. Gerald built another rink at Emery Hill, north of downtown, that the history says was lighted and heated. Large groups could charter a separate trolley-car to get to his attractions.

(Gerald [1841-1913] was a Benton native who made a modest fortune as an inventor and became heavily involved in Maine electric railways. He and his wife, Caroline Rowell, had one daughter who married Maine author Holman Day, born in Vassalboro.)

Bowker said the trolley-cars had four wheels under the middle of the car. They ran on metal rails laid over wooden ties like the larger trains. Some cars were closed, with an entrance at the front; others were open, so that people could get on and off from the sides. He remembered crowded cars with passengers standing in the aisle and on the outside and rear platforms, which were intended as pathways for the conductor to collect fares. Despite such periods of discomfort, the trolley was popular for business and pleasure trips, he said.

A trolley-car was supposed to have a two-man crew, a conductor and a motorman. However, Bowker said, on the run to Shawmut there was often only a motorman. When a passenger got aboard an open car from the side, the motorman would let the train run by itself while he went back to collect the fare.

The Fairfield history mentions the Benton and Benton Falls Electric Railroad, started in December 1898 and extended to Fairfield in July 1899; and the Fairfield and Shawmut Railroad, started in 1906. The Benton line was owned by the United Boxboard and Paper Company, which used it to move pulp to its Benton Falls paper mill to be made into wrapping paper. During a sleet-storm about 1920, the history relates, a car loaded with heavy rolls of paper was parked on ice-coated tracks; it slid downhill, hitting a trolley-car and then the Benton end of the bridge, which sustained considerable damage.

The Waterville, Fairfield and Oakland line was the last in the area to be replaced by bus service, in 1937.

In Vassalboro, the Lewiston, Augusta and Waterville Street Railway bought a right of way over town property, location unspecified, in 1907, for $175, according to town report information compiled by Alma Pierce Robbins. Materials to build the railway were shipped over the Maine Central line; Italian laborers did much of the work.

The Kennebec Light and Heat Company put up poles along the electric car tracks in the Webber Pond area. The trolley’s motive power came from electricity carried through overhead wires. The still-standing brick power house at the end of Webber Pond was part of the electric railway.

The railway opened in 1909 and 1910 and, Robbins wrote, became competition for Maine Central. It also caused local changes; for example, Robbins wrote that elementary students who had been transported by road from the Pond Road to Riverside School instead took the cars to East Vassalboro School.

James Schad wrote in Bernhardt and Schad’s Vassalboro anthology that the first cars left East Vassalboro for Waterville at 6 a.m. and for Augusta at 7 a.m. daily. A trip from North Vassalboro to Waterville cost five cents in 1910.

When the trolley line began carrying coal to the woolen mill in North Vassalboro, Schad wrote, the coal trains ran at night, because “there was more power at night” and to avoid competing with passenger service.

In the winter, deep snow was a recurrent problem. Robbins describes residents along the line joining the motorman, conductor and passengers in shoveling drifts so the train could get through.

An on-line source says the railroad went into receivership in December 1918 and became part of a new Androscoggin and Kennebec Railway Company on Oct. 1, 1919.

The new company ran into an unusually severe winter, with over six feet of snow in one month and what the on-line writer calls “the storm of the century” in March 1920. Nonetheless, and despite increasing competition from automobiles, it remained profitable for a decade, partly because it did a good freight business.

In 1931, two bad things happened. The nation-wide Depression deepened, and the State of Maine decided to rebuild Route 201, which was very close to the rails as road and railroad left Augusta. Rather than incur the expense of moving track and overhead lines, the railroad quit: the last trolley-cars through Vassalboro ran on July 31, 1932. Schad wrote that the infrastructure was torn up soon afterwards.

Main sources

Bernhardt, Esther, and Vicki Schad, compilers/editors, Anthology of Vassalboro Tales (2017)
Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988)
Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992)
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed. Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892)
Marriner, Ernest, Kennebec Yesterdays (1954)
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971)
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902)

Web sites, miscellaneous

Next: The railroad that started in Wiscasset and never did get to Quebec, or even Farmington.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Stagecoach routes in central Kennebec Valley

Buckboard wagon with passengers.

by Mary Grow

Early public transportation in the central Kennebec River valley came in three forms: the ferries and other riverboats previously mentioned (see The Town Line, April 23 and April 30, and for China Lake, June 4); stagecoaches; and railways.

On land, horses and oxen were the earliest movers, for people and goods, individually and corporately. Ruby Crosby Wiggin’s history of Albion includes a photo of what she labeled the town’s first school bus, horse-drawn. The photo is undated, but the bus and a group of students are standing in front of the Besse building, which was built in 1913 as a high school and now houses the town office.

(In addition to horse- and ox-power, Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history, added rum power: he wrote that the military road between Fort Western, in Augusta, and Fort Halifax, in Winslow, opened in 1754, could be used in winter only by soldiers hauling supplies on sleds, and an officer reported needing quantities of rum to keep the men going.)

Stagecoaches made their first appearance around 1800, Kingsbury wrote. By 1806 a coach was making two trips a week between Brunswick and Augusta.

Extension farther inland came soon afterward, as roads improved. Dean Marriner wrote in Kennebec Yesterdays that by 1827 two of Maine’s five principal roads went along part of the Kennebec, the road from Portland to Bangor and the road from Augusta to Anson.

Kingsbury described a weekly route from Augusta to Bangor that started in 1812 and by the 1840s was a major link, carrying passengers and mail. The coach left Augusta at 7 a.m. and reached Bangor in about 12 hours; the next day, the driver left Bangor at 7 a.m. and reversed the route.

A January 30, 1826, advertisement found on line offers the following description of a Hallowell, Augusta and Bangor mail stage.

Every Thursday, the coach left Hallowell at 3 a.m. and reached Bangor at 6 p.m., via Augusta, Vassalboro (then spelled Vassalborough), China, Albion, Unity, Joy, Dixmont, Newburg and Hampden. On Friday, it left Bangor at 3 a.m. and went south only to Augusta, arriving at 6 p.m.

(The town that is now Troy, Maine, was initially Bridge’s Plantation. It became Kingville in 1812, Joy in 1815, Montgomery and then Troy in 1826.)

Every Sunday and Tuesday, the run was from Augusta, starting at 3 a.m., to Bangor. Monday’s return was only to Augusta, Wednesday’s to Hallowell. Despite the longer trip to Hallowell, the times were constant, 3 a.m. to 6 p.m.

(This advertisement has the names Burley and Arnold at the bottom, identified as the “proprietors” of the business. Kingsbury, in his chapter on Albion, wrote that partners Burleigh and Arnold started the Augusta to Bangor run in 1820, and added that the Burleigh involved was the grandfather of Maine’s 42nd governor, Edwin C. Burleigh, who served from 1889 to 1893. A web search for “Burley” in Maine turned up only Burleigh references.)

As the coach headed for Bangor, horses were changed frequently, including in Vassalboro (Marriner lists the Revere House, still standing at the four corners in East Vassalboro, as a stage stop in the mid-1800s), China and Unity. Kingsbury wrote 17 horses were kept in Vassalboro. In China Village, there were usually 15 to 18 horses, according to the China bicentennial history. The same book lists a stop called Stage Tavern between East Vassalboro and China Village by 1830, its exact location unknown.

In China Village, General Alfred Marshall and his successors in the business hosted many travelers in the hotel on the northeast corner of the Main Street-Neck Road-Causeway Road intersection between June 1827 and 1864. The building was used intermittently as a hotel until 1946, and is now a private home.

Kingsbury referred to the stagecoach stopping at an Albion tavern. Wiggin repeated the story that John Wellington opened a hotel at Albion Corner soon after the route to Bangor began running through Albion in 1820.

(The first Wellington Inn burned in 1860. Charles Wellington, John’s son, built another, to which he added a store and post office. The Albion history has a photo of the second Wellington Inn, a handsome three-story Federal building with an open porch along the ell. It burned down in 1898.)

Concord stagecoach with six horses. (photo from the Tombstone Daily Epitaph)

The stagecoach driver usually had either four or six horses in front of him, and Kingsbury wrote that men capable of handling six horses and staying on schedule were much admired. Drivers were also repairmen; they provided first aid to horses and when necessary passengers; perhaps most important, they carried the latest news from stop to stop.

At first the Augusta-Bangor line used old-fashioned thoroughbrace coaches, with the body suspended on leather straps or thoroughbraces. Soon, Kingsbury wrote, the more comfortable Concord coach, invented in Concord, New Hampshire, became standard. Wikipedia explains that the Concord coach had a longer suspension system that better cushioned the ride and lessened stress on the coach body.

Wiggin described two stagecoach routes through the southern part of Albion, one without dates, one late in the 19th century. (As mentioned in the Albion history in the June 11 issue of The Town Line, Wiggin and Kingsbury both found confusing references to “South Albion,” which seemed to be two or three different places at different times.)

The undated stagecoach route was an Augusta to Bangor run that went through an especially deep muddy hollow. Depending on weather and road conditions, the stage driver would use four or six horses. When he had six, he could not easily reach the lead team with his whip. A local boy was kept on watch: when the coachman blew his horn as he approached the mudhole, the boy would run to the roadside and flick his whip to encourage the lead horses, while the driver handled the others.

The second stage route Wiggin described was actually either an express wagon or a buckboard route. (Wikipedia says the buckboard is an American invention, a cart designed for passengers as well as goods. Suspension is in the form of flexible floorboards plus a leaf spring underneath the seat.) It ran from Puddle Dock in southern Albion to Fairfield in the mid-1890s, with Martin Witham the driver.

Witham made two trips a day, six days a week, with one or two horses as conditions dictated. Wiggin’s history says his route went through Albion Corner, East Benton, Benton Falls (earlier in the 19th century the Falls had a hotel called the Reed House, Marriner wrote), Benton and Benton Station to Fairfield. Marriner added that even on this short route, Witham would change horses in bad weather.

The stage carried mail and passengers. Wiggin reported an (undated) letter from southern Albion residents to the U. S. Postmaster General asking him to restore the twice-daily runs, which had been reduced to once a day. She did not know whether the request was granted.

While Witham waited in Fairfield he would buy groceries and other items requested by people along the route. Marriner says this courtesy was common among stage drivers. Since they hadn’t time to stop to pick up a list, roadside residents would shout out their needs and the drivers would remember what to get and where to deliver it.

In the 1840s another stagecoach line operated briefly between Vassalboro and Newport, running through Benton, according to Kingsbury. Also, he wrote, from about 1841 until 1849 a one-horse cart functioned as a stage from Waterville through Benton and Unity to Bangor. After the railroad reached Waterville in 1849 (Kingsbury’s date), a larger coach drawn by four horses made the trip the rest of the way to Bangor, until the railroad was extended and supplanted it.

Farther north along the Kennebec, Kingsbury mentioned two stage routes that ran through Clinton. One, established about 1830, went from Waterville to Canaan. In its early years it crossed the Kennebec at Noble’s Ferry; later the route continued another two miles along the west shore to Pishon’s Ferry. In Canaan this route and the route from Skowhegan to Bangor met.

The second stagecoach through Clinton, Kingsbury wrote, was an Augusta to Bangor run that was started about 1850 and went through Waterville and Clinton. He listed three drivers’ names, but unfortunately provided no information about ownership or relationship to the earlier companies connecting the Kennebec Valley to Bangor.

Marriner’s history lists multiple stage lines running from Waterville. In his order, they were:

  • N. D. Pinkham’s Waterville and Bangor U. S. Mail, operating in 1855, which ran two stages a day in each direction by slightly different routes;
  • Morse and Mitchell’s Belfast stage that went through China and Freedom;
  • a run to Dexter and Dover that went up the Kennebec as far as Pishon’s Ferry and crossed there to Clinton;
  • D. D. Blunt’s twice-daily Skowhegan run, which extended to Moosehead Lake several days each week;
  • a daily run to Norridgewock; and
  • a twice-weekly run to The Forks.

In the history of Fairfield there is a passing reference to a stage stop at Nye’s Corner, which was a good-sized village until the 1840s. It had a church, stores and various small manufactories (making hats, coats, shoes, carriages, barrels and the like) and a hotel. The hotel included the post office and stables for stage horses, to rest and feed them on the trip from Waterville to Skowhegan. The writer added that the drivers, too, probably appreciated a chance for a break and perhaps a drink.

Stagecoaches from Augusta went not only upriver toward Waterville and on to Bangor, but east to Belfast and other parts of the coast and northwest toward Farmington.

South China, where there were several taverns along what is now Route 3 and at least one hotel in the village for much of the 19th century, was on the stage route from Augusta to Belfast.

Milton Dowe’s 1954 history of Palermo describes the stagecoaches that ran through that town, without giving dates or routes. They carried passengers and mail, Dowe wrote; the driver sat up high with baggage and mail behind him. From two to six horses were used, and because the stagecoaches were big and heavy, there were frequent stops at roadside taverns to change horses.

Millard Howard’s later (2015) history mentions stagecoaches between North Palermo and Montville. After the Sheepscot was bridged in 1826 about where Route 3 now runs, Arnold and Whittier opened an Augusta-to-Belfast route that carried mail and passengers.

Howard found its advertisement: the stage left Augusta at 8 a.m. Fridays and Sundays and “Eastman’s” at an unspecified time Wednesdays and reached Belfast the same day. Passengers coming west from Belfast “will have conveyance” from Palermo to China.

(Eastman’s was probably Thomas Eastman’s tavern and inn, which was probably near the east boundary of Palermo. The main road was at first called the Eastman Road. According to Howard and an on-line genealogy that almost certainly describes the same man, Eastman (1771-1840) was one of Palermo’s representatives to Maine’s 1820 constitutional convention, a legislator and an Associate Justice of the Waldo County Court of Sessions.)

The history of Windsor does not include transportation. Mentions of taverns and hotels in South Windsor and at Windsor Corner suggest stagecoaches might have run east from Augusta on what are now Route 17 in the southern part of town and Route 105 in the north.

An on-line document names five stagecoach lines that had stop-overs in Augusta in 1826: the Augusta and Bangor, Augusta and Belfast, Maine Stage’s Augusta and Waterville line, Maine Stage’s Portland and Augusta line and the Portland, Hallowell and Augusta line.

Alice Hammond wrote in the history of Sidney that by 1827, a Maine almanac listed five designated stagecoach routes in the state, including one linking Augusta with Anson that went through Sidney and Fairfield.

Kingsbury added another stagecoach line between Augusta and Farmington that went through West Sidney and made the settlement there the largest commercial center in town up to 1892, when his Kennebec County history was published. The village had several stores and taverns, two blacksmiths and a cooper, he wrote, and farmers shopped there not only from the west side of Sidney but from adjoining parts of Augusta, Belgrade and Readfield.

Main sources

Dowe, Milton E. History Town of Palermo Incorporated 1884 (1954)
Grow, Mary M. China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984)
Hammond, Alice History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992)
Howard, Millard An Introduction to the Early History of Palermo, Maine (second edition, December 2015)
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed. Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892)
Marriner, Ernest Kennebec Yesterdays (1954)
Robbins, Alma Pierce History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971)
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964)
Web sites, miscellaneous

Next: If you sought a (somewhat) smoother ride than the stagecoach provided, by the mid-19th century there were trains, and by the early 20th century trolleys and street railways.