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.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Fires were common in 19th century

Mog’sTrough hand tub fire apparatus.

by Mary Grow

Readers might remember that this historical series started at the end of March in reaction to the pandemic, to divert readers’ minds and fill a page in the newspaper. What plan there was at the time included stories about disasters, not only plague and pestilence but fires, floods, wars and other cheerful topics. Given California’s situation, this week seemed appropriate for a story on fires in some of our Kennebec Valley towns.

Fires were common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially mill fires, according to local histories. Specific causes are seldom given. In the days before organized fire-fighting companies, municipal or volunteer, consequences were often severe.

The 200th anniversary history of Fairfield has a chapter titled “Disasters,” with fires a major topic. By the 1830s, the town had multiple mills on the west shore of the Kennebec River behind the present Main Street, by the dam across the river and on Mill Island at the east end of the dam. Three major mill fires occurred before the end of the century.

The first was on Oct. 10, 1853. Three adjoining sawmills in 366 feet of building burned, with several smaller enterprises, including a factory that made curtain-sticks and another, where the fire started, that made pails. Henry Newhall’s saw and grist mill survived.

The town fire department was organized in May 1856. From then on Fairfield, unlike some nearby towns, had increasingly sophisticated equipment and trained people to fight fires.

In 1860 some shops burned. The compilers of the bicentennial history considered the fire noteworthy because it was the last time firefighters used the “Mog’s Trough hand-tub fire apparatus” the town bought some 30 years earlier.

Online photos of the Mog’s Trough show a long shallow tub slung on four large wheels, with overhead piping and other machinery. One photo is dated 1821; another is of a hand-tub that once belonged to the Waterville, Maine, fire department.

In 1861 and again in 1873 the wooden trestle that carried the railroad tracks over the Kennebec between Fairfield and Benton burned.

On July 21, 1882, the second major mill fire took three sawmills, two planing mills, four other businesses and several houses. The weather was dry, the wind was blowing, and for a time it looked as though the entire downtown would go up in flames. The chroniclers say it was in response to this disaster that the town bought an Amoskeag steam fire engine, paying about $4,000 for it.

Amoskeag fire apparatus in Fairfield.

The Amoskeag was invented in the 1850s by a New Hampshire man named Nehemiah S. Bean; it and its rivals soon replaced the hand-tubs. The Fairfield history, published in 1988, says the Amoskeag was still at the Fairfield fire station; a collection of historic photographs found on line under the Fairfield Fire Department shows a steam fire engine in the late 1940s.

On Aug. 21, 1883, some of the wooden stores on Fairfield’s Main Street burned down. The history-writers speculate that this fire led to construction of brick replacements.

On Aug. 21, 1895, the third mill fire started in one mill’s boiler room. The dramatic account in the history describes dry wooden buildings with drifts of bark and stacks of finished lumber, oil-soaked lower floors, a hot day with the mill workers dismissed at noon to attend a big racing event at Fairfield’s trotting park on the west edge of town. Once the flames were spotted, town firefighters were supplemented by mill workers and ordinary citizens who fought the fire or loaded wagons with lumber to save it. Waterville sent a steam pumper and a fire crew; Somerset Mills at Shawmut sent teams and men. The mills burned to the ground anyway, and this time were not rebuilt.

In April 1911, a large sawmill built in Shawmut in 1908 burned. The owners opened a replacement mill on the site in November 1911; it burned within a week.

On Sept. 21, 1907, Lawrence High School opened on High Street, across from the Memorial Park. On Feb. 15, 1925, its interior was destroyed by fire. The brick building was rebuilt; it reopened the next spring and served until supplanted by the new high school on School Street on Sept. 7, 1960. It is now a primary school.

On Jan. 8, 1956, a grocery store with apartments above it at the corner of Main Street and Lawrence Avenue burned.

On March 14, 1966, the last mill building on Mill Island, owned by American Woolen Company, burned.

China is another Kennebec Valley town with a fire-filled history: each of its four villages has suffered at least one major fire.

The 1872 South China fire began around midnight April 24, in Wyman’s store on Main Street. It burned 22 buildings, including Theodore Jackson’s blacksmith shop (and his carriage manufactory on the second floor with a large second-story outdoor platform for new carriages to sit while their paint dried); two other blacksmiths’ shops; a tavern; a hotel; several stores, one of which housed the village post office; and several houses. Most of the giant elms that shaded Main Street were killed.

Milton E. Dowe described the Branch Mills fire of June 26, 1908, in his 1954 “History Town of Palermo Incorporated 1804.” It started about 11 a.m., on a pleasant spring day when most men were working in the fields, in the Dinsmore mill in the middle of the village. Sparks spread the fire eastward along the north side of the main street; it turned and came west along the south side.

Hastily assembled residents tried to fight the fire at the mill and to rescue goods from the other buildings. Possessions piled on lawns or in the street burned as the fire reversed. By 2 p.m., Dowe wrote, the wooden bridge across the West Branch of the Sheespcot River and 26 buildings, including a general store, a meat store and a large hotel, were destroyed. Other sources put the number of buildings lost at 16 or 50.

In his later book, “Palermo Maine Things That I Remember in 1996,” Dowe adds two details. Thomas Dinsmore, he wrote, saved his house from the fire by sitting on its roof with a bucket of water and a dipper to douse falling sparks. And the damage to the base of the Old Settlers’ Monument dates from the fire: someone put a rescued mattress there and the mattress burned.

After the fire, people used an alternate route downstream to ford the river until a metal bridge was built. The post office and some of the businesses reopened in scattered buildings on the outskirts of the former town center. Rebuilding began with Elon Kitchen’s new store near the stream, west of the present Grange Hall.

Dowe mentions three other fires that took commercial buildings: around 1885 a blacksmith and a carpenter lost their shops; in April 1916 two stores and a house burned; and on Oct. 1, 1933, Elon Kitchen’s building, by then Cain and Nelson’s store, burned down.

Weeks Mills had two significant fires in the first decade of the 20th century. The first, in September 1901, burned the village’s hotel and two stores. Another fire on May 26, 1904, burned five buildings on the south side of Main Street, including the partly-rebuilt hotel, and two stores at the top of the north side of the street. Another store downhill from the burned ones and mills along the stream escaped.

The hotel in Weeks Mills was rebuilt yet again and operated intermittently as a hotel through the first half of the 20th century, serving traveling salesmen and sometimes Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington railroad crews stranded by winter storms.

On the outskirts of the village a factory canning corn and, in season, apples ran from early in the 20th century until 1931. In 1918 part of the factory burned. The owners invited area residents to help themselves to cans of corn, which were fed to animals and people.

Near the canning factory a former potato house became a general store after World War I. This building also burned, probably in 1932.

China Village’s commercial district in the 19th and 20th centuries was at the north end of Neck Road and the south end Main Street. Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history mentions several 19th-century fires, none as comprehensive as the other three villages suffered.

In the 20th century, a building that had started life as a cheese factory in 1874, been moved to Main Street and converted to a G.A.R. hall around 1899 and later become a garage burned in 1923. A larger fire started in the Jones and Coombs bean-cleaning plant in August 1961 and destroyed the plant and the Fenlason store next door.

Three of China’s four villages have their own volunteer fire departments. Branch Mills depends on the Palermo department, whose fire house is located in the village. South China’s department was organized in the spring of 1934, China Village’s in the spring of 1943 and Weeks Mills’ in the spring of 1949.

In the fall of 1947 many wildfires burned thousands of acres in Maine, destroying or significantly damaging nine towns, the so-called Millionaires’ Row on Mount Desert Island, the Jackson Laboratory and more than 1,000 houses and seasonal homes.

One of the fires was on Church Road in Sidney, which runs west off West River Road and, according to the current Google map, dead-ends east of Interstate 95. Alice Hammond wrote in her history of Sidney that fighting it took a long time, because the town lacked equipment and organization. As a result, some Middle Road residents began talking about the need for a volunteer fire department.

Two years later, on Oct. 14, 1949, a resident named Otis Bacon saw smoke as he drove past a house. He alerted the homeowners and neighbors, but there was still no organized fire-fighting effort, and three families lost their homes.

On March 21, 1950, Hammond wrote, Bacon called a meeting at the schoolhouse on Pond Road to start a neighborhood volunteer fire department. Twenty-one residents organized themselves as the Lakeshore Volunteer Fire Department, raised money, accept a donated lot, cut trees and sawed lumber to build a firehouse.

Meanwhile, residents of other parts of town mobilized to get a warrant article for the March 6, 1950, town meeting requesting $300 for each of three volunteer fire departments, covering Pond Road, Middle Road (the Center Sidney department) and River Road (the West River Road department).

In addition to large fires, our towns have suffered hundreds of individual house fires, costing residents their irreplaceable heirlooms and other possessions, their sense of security and in worst cases the lives of their pets or family members. Esther Bernhardt’s daughter-in-law and granddaughter have immortalized one of these fires in the “Anthology of Vassalboro Tales” Esther and Vicki Schad published in 2017.

Kimberly Bernhardt was the sixth generation to live in the Bernhardt farmhouse on Priest Hill Road; her daughter, Bethany Karen Bernhardt, was the seventh. Bethany wrote that a week before Christmas in 2006 a fire started in the kitchen and the smoke made the building uninhabitable.

It was a dreadful experience, Bethany wrote, but the consequences were heartening. Bernhardt family members in two neighboring houses came to help, of course; and so did dozens of other Vassalboro residents, some friends and some who barely knew the family. They brought food and other necessities; they helped clean up debris and tear down the ruined building; they supervised as a new house went up.

Bethany’s essay is titled, Home Is Where the Heart Is.

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)
Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988)
Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984)
Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992)

Websites, miscellaneous

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Notable citizens

The Blaine House, in Augusta, the formal residence of the governor of Maine.

by Mary Grow

James G. Blaine

James G. Blaine

James Gillespie Blaine was born Jan. 31, 1830, in West Brownsville, Pennsylvania. The town is on the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh; Interstate 40 now runs through it. The current google map shows an area called Blainsburg between the river and the interstate, a major road called Blaine Hill Road and a Blainesburg Bible Church. The 2010 census reported a population of 992; by 2018, it had decreased to 965.

Blaine’s parents were middle-class. His father graduated from Washington College (now Washington and Jefferson College) in Washington, Pennsylvania, less than 30 miles from West Brownsville. Blaine entered Washington College when he was only 13 and graduated as class salutatorian in June 1847, when he would have been 17.

From graduation until 1853, Blaine considered law school without getting there. In the late 1840s and early 1850s (different sources give different dates) he taught at Western Military Institute in Georgetown, Kentucky (mathematics and ancient languages) and later at the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind in Philadelphia (science and literature).

While in Kentucky, Blaine met Harriet Stanwood, born in Augusta, Maine, Oct. 12, 1827. She was a graduate of Cony Academy and a Massachusetts girls’ school and was teaching at a Kentucky girls’ school about 10 miles from WMI. They were married June 30, 1850, in Pittsburgh. Their first son, Stanwood, was born in 1852 in Augusta during an extended visit with Harriet’s family; he died at the age of three.

Blaine’s Augusta connection led in 1853 to his being offered positions as co-owner and co-editor of the “Kennebec Journal,” the Augusta newspaper founded as a weekly in 1825 by Luther Severance, who was retiring. Ernest Marriner wrote in his “Kennebec Yesterdays” that the paper became a daily in 1870; it is still published six days a week.

Co-owners Blaine and a minister named John L. Stevens had been Whigs, but as the Whig Party dissolved and the Republican Party became its successor, they used their paper to promote the new party. Blaine had to borrow money from his wife’s family to buy his share of the paper; it soon became profitable enough to let him start building a comfortable fortune with investments in Pennsylvania and Virginia coal mines.

Although Blaine deserted the “Kennebec Journal” in 1857 to edit the “Portland Daily Advertiser” for almost three years, he kept his residence in Augusta and entered Republican politics from the city, which had been Maine’s capitol since 1827.

In June 1856 Maine Republicans sent Blaine to the first-ever Republican National Convention, held in Philadelphia. The convention nominated John Fremont of California for president, over Blaine’s more conservative preference, Supreme Court Associate Justice John McLean of Ohio. Fremont lost the general election in 1856 to James Buchanan.

Two years later Blaine ran successfully for the Maine House of Representatives. He was re-elected annually through 1861, serving as Speaker of the House in 1861 and 1862.

In 1862 Blaine ran successfully for the United States House of Representatives, where he served until July 1876. In the spring of 1869 he was elected Speaker of the House for the 41st Congress, a position to which he was re-elected twice. Republicans lost the House majority in the 1874 elections.

The first consideration of Blaine as a presidential candidate was at the 1872 Republican national convention. Blaine was at that time not interested and supported Ulysses Grant’s re-election.

In 1876 Blaine was again suggested for the Republican presidential candidate, and this time he sought the nomination. After a drawn-out contest at the national convention, he lost to Rutherford B. Hayes, who went on to win a contested election. It was at the 1876 convention that an Illinois Republican referred to Blaine as a “plumed knight,” a nickname that lasted for years.

In June 1876, Lot Morrill, one of Maine’s two United States Senators, joined President Grant’s Cabinet as Secretary of the Treasury. On July 10, 1876, Maine Governor Seldon Connor appointed Blaine to succeed Morrill in the Senate.

Blaine was again a leading presidential contender in 1880, and lost to James A. Garfield, who was elected president. Garfield chose Blaine as his Secretary of State; Blaine therefore resigned from the Senate on March 4, 1881. When Garfield was assassinated on July 2, 1881, in Washington’s Sixth Street railroad station, Blaine was with him, seeing him off on a summer vacation. Vice-President Chester Arthur succeed Garfield and chose a new Secretary of State effective in December 1881.

In 1884 Blaine was finally nominated as the Republicans’ candidate for president, running against Grover Cleveland. Cleveland won the popular vote by a narrow margin, the electoral college vote handily.

Part of the reason for Blaine’s loss in 1884 goes back to his 1850s interest in investing money to make more money. In the 1870s, his reputation was damaged by repeated accusations of bribery and other illicit financial actions. In 1876, opponents obtained business-related letters that Blaine had asked the recipient to burn.

One result was the Democrats’ still-famous political chant from 1884: “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, continental liar from the State of Maine: Burn this letter!”

The Republican men who gathered daily at the general store in South China, Maine, in Rufus Jones’ youth admired Blaine greatly. Jones wrote in “A Small-Town Boy” (one of his autobiographical works referenced in the July 30 “Town Line” story about his early life) that the store-sitters repeatedly elected Blaine president in the 1870s and 1880s, though they never got the rest of the country to agree with them.

One day, Jones wrote, the great man came from his Augusta home to South China, stopped at the store and asked the Quaker boy to water his horse. After Jones fetched the water, Blaine had a brief conversation with him about the weather and the scenery, making the youngster a temporary neighborhood celebrity.

Blaine had started writing his two-volume memoir, “Twenty Years of Congress,” in the late 1870s. After the fall election in 1884, he used his forced retirement to complete the second volume and to visit Europe with his wife and daughters.

As the 1888 election neared, there was yet another movement, in Maine and nationally, to nominate Blaine for president. He absolutely declined. Republican Benjamin Harrison was nominated, partly because Blaine supporters believed Blaine liked Harrison, and became president.

Harrison promptly appointed Blaine as Secretary of State again; he served from 1889 until he resigned for health reasons in June 1892. At the 1892 Republican convention he yet again received votes for the presidential nomination, despite his repeated statement that he would not accept it.

James G. Blaine died in Washington, D. C., on Jan. 27, 1893. Three of his and Harriet’s children died earlier that decade, Walker and Alice in 1890 and Emmons in 1892.

During Blaine’s years in the District of Columbia, he owned a house there, but maintained his Augusta ties. In 1862 he bought the house that is now the Blaine House, official residence of Maine’s governor, as a birthday present for Harriet. After his death, she moved from Washington to the Augusta house and spent much of her last decade there. She died July 15, 1903.

Blaine Memorial Park

Harriet Blaine’s will left the Blaine House to the three surviving children, son James and daughters Harriet (Beale) and Margaret (Damrosch), and two grandsons (sons of daughter Alice Coppinger). The younger Harriet’s husband Truxton Beale bought out the other heirs and gave the house to his son, Walker Blaine Beale. After Walker Beale was killed in France in 1918, his mother (who lived until Jan. 28, 1958) gave the building to the state as a memorial and governors’ mansion.

James and Harriet Blaine were first buried in Washington’s Oak Hill Cemetery, by Walker’s and Alice’s graves. After the State of Maine created the Blaine Memorial Park in Augusta in 1920, they were reburied there. The three-acre park is beside Forest Grove Cemetery; visitors can get to it from the cemetery or from Blaine Avenue, which runs from Western Avenue to Winthrop Street along the north side of the cemetery.

Main sources

Web sites, miscellaneous

Memories of Windsor during the 1940s and 1950s

Priscilla’s Diner in Windsor. (Contributed photo)

by Gerald Day

Let me give you an idea of what it was like living in a small town in Maine in the early ‘40s and ‘50s. This was a long time before computers, cellphones and TVs in every home. I was in high school before we had a TV and they were nothing like we watch today. I have some vivid memories of that time.

In those years, each town had individual schools in each area of town and ours was called Windsor Neck Grammar School. The reason we had so many schools was because we didn’t have transportation like we have now. Students had to be able to walk to school. The ratio of teachers to students back then was six to one. Teachers of today would love to have that kind of ratio.

Our teacher, Mrs. Jones, knew each student, as she had seen us grow up from cute children to brats as we got older. Nowadays, they would call myself and my brother troublemakers. We just had busy hands and minds so the teacher gave us projects to do.
One of the first tasks I was assigned was to erase the blackboard. (Remember, there were no computers back then.) I did a good job doing that. So good that she thought I might be able to start the wood burning stove in the morning, as that was how we heated the school. Everything was going fine until hunting season, a time when all the boys old enough carried some ammunition around with them.

We were so young the grown ups only let us use .22 low caliber rifles, which contained about 20 grains of powder and were better suited to target practice than to hunting.

One morning while I was starting the fire, my brother threw a .22 caliber bullet into the fire. Well, in a short time there was a small bang and a “ting” sound, that was all.

A couple of weeks later my brother came to school with a .30-.30 caliber hunting rifle cartridge, which has about seven times the gun powder of the .22 caliber. While I was reaching for more wood, he threw the .30-.30 round into the stove. It didn’t go off like the .22 had. We thought it was a dud. Mrs. Jones took roll call, which didn’t take that long with only six students, and there was still no explosion from the stove. I thought I had escaped my brother’s antics unscathed. Mrs. Jones began the morning lessons. Suddenly, the stove covers jumped up and back down with a clatter and sparks flew everywhere. Not phased, Mrs. Jones stood up from her desk and calmly walked over to examine the damage and the dent in the side of the stove. Without saying a word, she returned to her desk.

Then she looked at me. I knew I was in trouble when she motioned me over to her desk. She sent me to the storage room to sit facing the wall. She must have heard me going through stuff in the closet because she decided I needed to be where she could see me and soon had me stand in the corner facing the wall instead.

My brother started snickering at the trouble he had gotten me into. She told him to stop or he could stand in another corner. So he stopped.

I was not allowed to start the fire anymore.

Shortly after that we moved to the new consolidated grammar school. I was in the sixth-grade or seventh-grade, maybe age eight or nine. That was 1946, 74 years ago. When Mrs. Jones and her sister retired from teaching, they opened a restaurant on Route 17. It is still in operation today under the name of “Priscilla’s Diner.” Maybe you have eaten there.

We would do anything to get money for school clothing. Daily, I worked on a farm, milking cows at 4 a.m. and again at 4 p.m., seven days a week. It took about two hours for each milking. Every six weeks, when a farm needed help cleaning out their chicken barns, I’d help there, also. They raised 6,000 chicks, called broilers, and they kept them for six weeks until fully grown. Then the chickens were picked up for processing. The week after they were picked up and prior to the arrival of the next batch, the barns had to be cleaned and made ready for the new chicks. When Gray’s or Scott’s blueberry fields needed blueberry rakers, we did that, too.

By my second year in high school I was tired of small jobs and having no money. I went to the Edwards Cotton Mill, in Augusta, to get a job working from 4 to 11 p.m. I continued to go to school until I started falling asleep in class. The school found out I was working in the mill so they called and made the mill let me go.

When I was 17-1/2 years old, and could go into the military with a parent’s consent, my mother signed for me and away I went to the U.S. Air Force to make it a career.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Notable citizens – Conclusion

The Old Meeting House, built in 1834, still stands in St. Louis County. Elijah Lovejoy preached there before moving to Alton, Illinois, in 1837.

by Mary Grow

Elijah Parish Lovejoy

Elijah Parish Lovejoy was born Nov. 9, 1802, in Albion. His grandfather, Francis Lovejoy, was one of the town’s first settlers. His father, Daniel, was a Congregational preacher who, according to extracts from the sermon preached at his funeral, was a good man and a good minister, but was sometimes too carried away by enthusiasm to be tactful and was subject to periods of depression.

Elijah Lovejoy

Lovejoy was the oldest of nine children born to Daniel and Elizabeth (Pattee) Lovejoy, seven boys and two girls. Three boys had died by early 1832. Elijah’s sisters were Sibyl and Elizabeth, named in an Aug. 18, 1833, letter of condolence Elijah wrote after the death of their father.

Younger brother Joseph Cammett, born in 1805 and the next brother, Owen, born in 1811, wrote a memoir about Elijah, published in 1838 by the New York Anti-Slavery Society. It consists mainly of collections of his writings, including long poems (which he wrote from an early age), letters and newspaper pieces.

Joseph was a pastor in Old Town and later in Massachusetts. He is listed on line as author of several other works, including other biographies and a collection of speeches against alcohol consumption.

Owen joined Elijah in Illinois and was present when his brother was killed. He became an active abolitionist, guiding escaping slaves along the underground railroad. Friends with Abraham Lincoln, he helped create the Republican Party and represented it in the state legislature in 1854 and in the U. S. House of Representatives from March 4, 1857, until his death March 25, 1864.

John Ellingwood, youngest of the brothers, was born Oct. 13, 1817. He too was in Alton with Elijah in the mid-1830s; whether he was present when his older brother was killed is unclear. An on-line genealogy says he went to Clay City, Iowa, in 1839, and later to Scotch Grove, Iowa. He married twice to women born in Manitoba; his first wife, Margaret Livingston, died in 1869, and in 1871 or thereabouts he married Joanna or Johana McBeath. The genealogy describes him as a farmer, postmaster, U. S. consul in Peru and, in the 1880 census, the railroad depot agent in Scotch Grove.

The senior Daniel Lovejoy supported education for his sons. Biographer John Gill said Elijah taught himself to read from the Bible when he was four; he was able to read and memorize with unusual speed. He attended the local district school, Monmouth Academy, China Academy and from 1823 to 1826 Waterville (later Colby) College. While attending college, he was simultaneously headmaster of the college’s preparatory Latin School (later Coburn Classical Institute).

After graduating in September 1826 as class poet and class valedictorian, Lovejoy spent the winter as a China Academy teacher and then decided to move west. He spent part of 1827 in Boston and New York trying to earn money for the trip; asked for and got help from Jeremiah Chaplin, then president of Waterville College; and by the end of 1827 was settled in St. Louis, Missouri.

There he taught briefly before switching to the newspaper business, a website says because editors appreciated the poems he sent them. As a newspaper writer and editor, he met community leaders and especially anti-slavery activists.

Missouri was a state in which slavery was legal, a so-called slave state. It had been admitted to the United States in 1820. Maine, where slavery was not recognized, was admitted simultaneously to maintain the equal balance of slave and free states in Congress.

In 1832 Lovejoy had a religious conversion. He came back east to study at Princeton Theological Seminary, was ordained a Presbyterian minister in April 1833, and was promptly offered support if he wanted to open a Presbyterian newspaper in St. Louis.

A copy of Elijah Lovejoy’s St. Louis Observer.

The St. Louis Observer began publication in November 1833. From the beginning it served partly as an outlet for Lovejoy’s views. Early issues attacked the Catholic Church and objected to tobacco and alcohol use. His anti-slavery writings began by 1835.

As opposition became more violent, Lovejoy repeatedly expressed his conviction that he was doing God’s will. Therefore, he believed he should not, indeed could not, retreat, even when threats against his life became direct and immediate.

Though opposed to the practice and principle of slavery, Lovejoy made it clear that he thought immediate and unconditional freedom for all slaves a bad plan that would be cruel to them. He sympathized with gradual emancipation and with colonization projects that had been sending free Black people to Liberia since the 1820s.

By the mid-1830s, biographer Gill wrote, mob violence was becoming an increasingly common way for anti-abolitionists in the northern states to express their outrage at abolitionists. Victims included black and white people, especially those who spoke or wrote publicly in favor of abolition. Lovejoy condemned mobs and extra-legal acts on both sides, and sometimes criticized abolitionists for provocative speeches and actions.

On Nov. 5, 1835, Lovejoy returned from an out-of-town trip to write an open letter to his fellow citizens rebuking them for a series of resolutions passed at an October public meeting, including one to ban anti-slavery messages. He insisted on free speech and a free press and announced that he would not amend or retreat from his principles even to save his life.

In the final paragraphs, he asked those who disagreed him with to respect the other people and the property associated with his paper. “I alone am answerable and responsible for all that appears in the paper, except when absent from the city,” he wrote.

And “If the popular vengeance needs a victim, I offer myself a willing sacrifice.”

Meanwhile, on March 10, 1835, Lovejoy sent his mother a letter that began: “I am married.” Apparently he had not told her previously about Celia Ann French, who was originally from Vermont and lived in St. Charles, northwest of St. Louis, because he described his new wife’s appearance and personality.

After pro-slavery mobs had destroyed his printing press three times, in the spring of 1836 Lovejoy moved the paper’s headquarters across the Mississippi River from Missouri to Alton, Illinois.

Although Illinois was a free state, many Alton residents were pro-slavery, so Lovejoy’s Alton Observer was as unpopular as the Missouri version. Here, too, mobs repeatedly smashed his printing press, while he continued to be outspoken in his defense of gradual abolition and of freedom of the press, insisting on his right to publish the paper as he saw fit.

The Alton Observer was not merely a propaganda piece, according to Gill; it was a real newspaper, with a multi-state circulation of more than 2,000. Lovejoy welcomed contributions from area writers and took articles from other papers. He discussed world news and history and provided useful information for local farmers, their wives, their children and their pastors. Sometimes he included humorous pieces; Gill quoted a description of a fight between a spider and a grasshopper on the planet Saturn, allegedly viewed through the latest improved telescope.

Lovejoy was also minister at the Presbyterian church in Alton. There he organized the first Illinois Antislavery Congress on Oct. 26, 1837.

Less than two weeks later, on Nov. 7, a pro-slavery mob attacked the warehouse where Lovejoy had stored a brand-new replacement printing press. There are many dramatic accounts of the scene. Lovejoy and a few supporters were inside; gunfire was exchanged, with casualties on both sides, including Lovejoy. He was buried quietly two days later, on what would have been his 35th birthday.

News of his death made him an instant martyr to the anti-slavery cause and to supporters of press freedom. Gill said among others inspired were John Brown, leader of the 1859 raid on the U. S. arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, and Wendell Phillips, whose speech at the Dec. 8, 1837, abolitionist meeting in Boston’s Faneuil Hall brought a divided audience unanimously to support a free press and to condemn the Alton mob.

Celia Ann Lovejoy was devastated by her husband’s death; she could not attend his funeral. By then she had a son, Edward Payson Lovejoy, and was again pregnant. The second child apparently did not live, although one on-line genealogy lists (without dates) a daughter named Charlotte.

John J. Dunphy, of Alton, wrote in 2013 that Celia and Edward lived with the Maine Lovejoys briefly. She reconnected with Royal Weller, a supporter of her husband’s paper who had moved to Detroit, and they were married, in Michigan, in December 1841.

Weller started a lawsuit against Owen Lovejoy that turned the Lovejoy family against him and Celia, and Celia’s mother had never approved of her daughter’s first marriage to an abolitionist, so Celia and Edward ended up estranged from both families. She separated from Weller, and mother and son moved to Iowa and later to California, where Celia died July 11, 1870, with Edward by her side.

There are monuments to Elijah Lovejoy in Albion and in Alton. Colby College has a Lovejoy building and since 1952 has given an annual Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award to a reporter, editor or publisher who continues Lovejoy’s heritage of courage and independence.

Main sources:

Gill, John Tide without turning: Elijah P. Lovejoy and Freedom of the press, 1958

Lovejoy, Joseph C. and Owen A Memoir of the Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy; Who Was Murdered in Defence of the Liberty of the Press, at Alton, Illinois, Nov. 7, 1837. 1838

Tanner, Henry The Martyrdom of Lovejoy. An Account of the Life, Trials, and Perils of Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy Who was Killed by a Pro-Slavery Mob, at Alton, Ill., on the Night of Nov. 7, 1837. By an Eye-Witness. 1881

Wiggin, Ruby Crosby Albion on the Narrow Gauge, 1964

Web sites, misc.

Next: the story of a Pennsylvanian who moved north to start his political career, and because he chose to settle on the bank of the Kennebec instead of the Merrimack or the Winooski, gave his opponents a slogan that’s familiar after more than 130 years.