Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Trotting parks

Trotting park.

by Mary Grow

Your writer intended to deliver the promised article on Charles Hathaway and his shirt company, and more information on Waterville’s historic Main Street buildings, this week. But a reader reacted to last week’s digression on agricultural fairs with a question: what is a trotting park?

Hence another digression, which led your writer to a delightfully illustrated, highly recommended website: The Lost Trotting Parks Heritage Center (see box). This page will share some of the information from this and other sources.

Disclaimer: your writer is not a horse expert. Readers who are, please be kind.

A trotting park, also called a harness racing track, is an oval dirt racetrack, usually a mile long but sometimes shorter. Historically, a trotting park could be public, owned and maintained by an agricultural society of other organization, or privately owned.

On these tracks trotting or pacing horses race, each pulling a sulky with a single human occupant.

Wikipedia says most horses have four “natural” gaits, or “patterns of leg movements.” In order from slowest to fastest, they are called walk, trot, canter and gallop.

The Wikipedia writers describe the gaits in terms of two, three or four “beats.” The trot is a two-beat gait; the horse lifts left front and right rear hoofs simultaneously, then right front and left rear. Average speed is a bit over eight miles an hour.

Wikipedia’s illustrations include a photo of Thomas Eakins’ painting from 1879 or 1880 titled The Fairman Rogers Four-in-hand, or A May Morning in the Park. It shows a group of people in a coach drawn by four brown horses, the two lead horses clearly trotting.

The trot is a comfortable gait that a horse can maintain for hours, Wikipedia says. It is less comfortable for a human rider, who is bounced up and down; riders therefore learn to “post,” to raise themselves up and down in the stirrups in time with the horse’s motion.

The pace, called on another site an artificial gait, is also a two-beat gait, but the two legs on the same side of the horse’s body move together, so that the horse rocks from side to side – even less comfortable for a rider than trotting.

Harness racing could be for either trotters or pacers, Wikipedia says. In the United States, harness-racing horses must be Standardbred. Wikipedia says Standardbreds have shorter legs, longer bodies and “more placid dispositions” than Thoroughbreds.

A sulky, also called a bike, a gig or a spider, is a light-weight, single-seat horse-drawn vehicle with two large wheels.

On-line sites indicate that harness racing is common worldwide. In the United States, there are races for both pacers and trotters. A pacer or trotter who comes in top in each of three sets of races in the same year becomes a Triple Crown winner.

This year’s Windsor Fair program included harness racing. The Windsor Historical Society, headquartered on the fairgrounds, has information and photographs about past horses and races.

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Last week’s story mentioned trotting parks in China, Waterville and Windsor. Henry Kingsbury wrote in his Kennebec County history that China’s, Windsor’s and one of Waterville’s were public. China’s was built in 1868 and abandoned before 1892.

Kingsbury listed six nineteenth-century private parks in the county. Four were still operating in 1892, one in Farmingdale, one in West Gardiner, and two in Waterville, C. H. Nelson’s and Appleton Webb’s.

Palermo native and Civil War veteran Charles Horace “Hod” Nelson (1843 – 1915), of Sunnyside Farm, in Waterville, was an internationally recognized horse breeder; his champion trotter, Nelson (1882 – Dec. 4, 1909) set multiple records and in 1994 was named an Immortal in the Harness Racing Hall of Fame.

Your writer failed to find information on an Appleton Webb she is sure was a trotting park owner. Waterville lawyer and politician Edmund Webb’s son Appleton (Aug. 12, 1861 – Aug. 23, 1911) would have been about the right age; one website says he was admitted to the bar, and none links him with horses.

Other trotting parks in the central Kennebec Valley included one in Albion, three in Augusta (two private) and one in Fairfield (apparently private).

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Albion’s trotting park, according to Ruby Crosby Wiggin’s history, was in Puddle Dock, a locality in the southern part of town on Fifteen Mile Stream. The South Freedom Road crosses the stream there; near the bridge, a dam provided water power for various small industries for years, and Wiggin found the South Albion post office was nearby from 1857 (or maybe earlier) to about 1890.

The 1857 postmaster, she wrote, was D. B. Fuller, who lived “in Puddle Dock just opposite Maple Grove Cemetery and on the same side of the road as the trotting park.”

Maple Grove Cemetery is on the southwest side of South Freedom Road, just north of its eastward turn to cross Fifteen Mile Stream; so the trotting park would have been on the northeast side, between the road and the stream.

Wiggin continued her history of fairs in Albion, summarized last week, by saying that after the records she found ended in 1891, the fairs probably wound down, becoming “mostly horse pulling and a horse trot…held at the Trotting Park at Puddle Dock, just opposite Maple Grove Cemetery.”

To many 1960s Albion residents, she wrote, the park was “the place where they learned to drive their first car.” Not long before her history was published in 1964, the park was converted to a large plowed field (visible in an on-line aerial view).

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Augusta’s principal trotting park appears on old maps on the west bank of the Kennebec River, just south of Capitol Park. Newer maps show the area housing the Augusta police department and the YMCA building and grounds.

An on-line site shows a postcard with the typical oval track. Accompanying text says the trotting park was on a 22-acre lot.

Both James North, in his 1870 history of Augusta, and Kingsbury said the park opened in 1858. That year, North wrote, the State Agricultural Society chose Augusta as the site for its fourth fair. City officials and workers spent the summer getting ready.

North wrote, “A trotting park was graded and fenced at considerable expense, on the ‘Bowman lot,’ adjoining the State grounds, where the fair was opened Tuesday, September 21st.”

The 1858 fair was the Society’s most successful thus far, North said, with more and better livestock than ever before shown in Maine and a fine display of industrial and agricultural products in a 50-by-84-foot wooden addition to the State House. During “the ladies’ equestrian exhibition,” attendance was estimated at up to 15,000 people.

On Thursday evening, North wrote, the fair hosted a guest speaker on agriculture, United States Senator Jefferson Davis from Mississippi. Some auditors praised his agricultural knowledge; others detected a political message. North wrote that the Kennebec Journal called the speech “a bid for the presidency, with an agricultural collar and wristbands.”

Kingsbury wrote that up to 1892, the Augusta trotting park operated “with but few intermissions” under successive owners; in 1892, it was run by the Capital Driving Park Association. At some point, the postcard caption said, grandstands with space for 2,000 spectators were built.

In addition to racing and fairs, the park hosted circuses; and in 1911, the on-line site says, it was the landing place for the first airplane to visit Augusta, described as “St. Croix Johnstone’s Moisant monoplane.”

(Your writer could not resist exploring these names on line. She found that John Bevins Moisant [April 25, 1868 – Dec. 31, 1910] was an American aviator from Illinois who designed the Moisant biplane, which crashed on its first flight in February 1910, and the Moisant monoplane, which Wikipedia says “had difficulty staying upright on the ground and was never flown.” A different article says St. Croix Johnstone [another Illinoisan, born Jan, 2, 1887, and died Aug. 15, 1911] “flew a Moisant monoplane,” described as a United States version of the 1909 French Bleriot XI. Both aviators died in flying accidents.)

The Lost Trotting Parks Heritage Center website says Augusta’s two private trotting parks were on the east side of the Kennebec. George M. Robinson’s, built in 1872, was on South Belfast Avenue (Route 105). Alan (in other sources, Allen) Lambard’s, dating from 1873, was off Route 17. Kingsbury said both were “abandoned” by 1892.

North provided a short biography of Allen Lambard (July 22, 1796 – Sept. 5, 1877). He was by 1870 “in the evening of his days,” but still vigorous and interested in agriculture. His business ventures in Augusta and in Sacramento, California, had made him “the largest individual tax-payer in Augusta.” In October 1870, North wrote, he donated the house at the intersection of Winthrop and Pleasant streets as St. Mark’s Home for Aged and Indigent Women. The institution closed in October 1914.

The on-line Find a Grave site says Allen Lambard is buried in Augusta’s Forest Grove Cemetery. Other sources say Lambard was a grandson of Hallowell midwife Martha Ballard, made famous by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s publication of her diary.

George M. Robinson might be the man found on line who was born in 1823, died in 1888, and is buried in Augusta’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery; and might also be the man who made the March 25, 1876, Portland Daily Press after a gale blew down two of his barns.

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The Fairfield trotting park was located on the west side of town, west of West Street and south of the present Lawrence High School athletic fields. The Fairfield bicentennial history leaves its dates uncertain – it might have existed before 1872, while Fairfield was still called Kendall’s Mills, and it was very popular in the 1890s.

The local historians relied on two sources. One was a 1939 article by G. H. Hatch, who believed Edward Jones Lawrence (Jan. 1, 1833 – November 1918) and Amos Gerald (Sept. 12, 1841 – 1913) built the track “which was active in racing circles for years.”

Lawrence and Gerald owned and bred horses, according to Hatch. The first “really famous” Fairfield horseman, he said, was J. H. Gilbreth, whose horse named Gilbreth Knox was “a famous trotter of his day.” Gilbreth Knox is listed on line as a sire in the 1870s.

Lawrence acquired “the beautiful Knox stallion, Dr. Franklin,” listed as a sire in the 1880s.

The other mention of the trotting park in the Fairfield history tells readers that on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 1895, there was a “big event” at the trotting park that brought horses and people from miles around. The owners of the lumber mills in the downtown complex on the Kennebec River gave their employees the afternoon off to attend.

That day, for the third time, a fire started in a mill (earlier fires were in 1853 and 1882) and spread through the others. After the destruction, only one mill was partly rebuilt, and it didn’t last long. “Thus,” wrote the Fairfield historians, “the lumber industry in the Kendall’s Mills area of Fairfield, after a century of progress, came essentially to a close.”

The Lost Trotting Parks Heritage Center

The Lost Trotting Parks Heritage Center is a nonprofit organization in Hallowell, founded and run by Stephen Thompson. Its website describes its mission:

“to preserve the stories and images of the 19th century to present day that illustrate the history of Maine’s harness racing, lost trotting parks, fairs, agricultural societies, Granges, and the significance of the horse in society.”

A Kennebec Journal article from October 2021 says Thompson was looking for a space to turn his on-line venture into a physical museum.

Tax-deductible contributions are welcome. The website is losttrottingparks.com; the postal service address is Lost Trotting Parks Heritage Center, P.O. Box 263, Hallowell, ME 04347; and Thompson’s email is listed as lifework50@gmail.com.

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Reviving the China Historical Society

The interior of the China History Museum.

by Bob Bennett

As we all know, it is inevitable that things change over time. Those of us who recall and cherish the past are the ones who can help restore and keep those memories alive. It is with that purpose that I have composed this short article.

For a number of years, the China Historical Society boasted many active members and leaders. For example, as a lifelong railroad fan, I was amazed by the late Mark Johnson’s contributions, as the head of the society in the late 1990s, to the authors of the six volume history of the Wiscasset Waterville And Farmington “two footer,” Narrow Gauge In The Sheepscot Valley. However, in the last few years, numbers have dwindled and we are now down to just a few interested people. Thus, as a follow-up to the excellent turnout that we had at our China Community Days open house, and to hopefully stir up even more interest in the society, we will be having another “meet and greet” on Saturday, September 10, beginning at 1 p.m. There are several reasons for this meeting.

First, the town’s history and relevant artifacts need to be protected as much as possible and as a retired history teacher, I certainly understand the need for this preservation. Lost history can never be recovered. However, the conditions that exist in the present historical museum are not conducive to quality storage. There is no climate control, save for Mother Nature, and pests and rodents are frequent visitors. Electricity is present but basic at best. While the town does deal with the pests, these issues may become even greater down the road. Possibly, some human visitors might have resources or suggestions that could help alleviate this situation.

In addition, to continue to be a viable entity, The China Historical Society needs people and these folks are welcome from all age groups. Older individuals are often more interested in history and its physical aspects. This is largely because they’ve lived and witnessed more of the past and/or have ties to it. But, to keep that interest alive and growing, we also need to inspire younger humans to get interested and involved in learning about the past and keeping it alive. Thus, I am hoping that our get-together on September 10 will attract China residents, and seasonal visitors, of all ages.

As I stated earlier, we’ll shoot for a start time of 1 p.m., in the afternoon. Hopefully, that will allow folks to take care of their weekend chores. I would suggest thinking about bringing folding or lawn-type chairs since in-building seating is not very available or comfortable; the town will likely provide some as well. Several of we members will be there and the OPEN flag will be flying in the newly-installed holder on the ramp railing. I look forward to seeing you!

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Agricultural Fairs

by Mary Grow

Your writer is pleased that she didn’t promise a story about Hathaway shirts this week, because, considering the season, she decided to detour to write about the country fairs our ancestors enjoyed. Some of the historians cited previously in this series mentioned them; your writer will share bits of their information.

Samuel L. Boardman, in his chapter on agriculture in Henry Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history, and Linwood Lowden, in his history of Windsor, summarized development of central Maine agricultural organizations, often sponsors of agricultural fairs.

Lowden’s list:

  • The short-lived Kennebec Agricultural Society, “organized in 1787 and incorporated in 1807,” was the first in New England and the second in the United States. (On-line sources say the first in the country was the 1785 Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, still active.)
  • The short-lived Maine Agricultural Society, incorporated Feb. 21, 1818, “held cattle shows in Hallowell in 1820 and 1821.” The 1820 show was Maine’s first, Boardman wrote.
  • The Winthrop Agricultural Society, incorporated Feb. 28, 1829, and reorganized in 1832 as the Kennebec County Agricultural Society, leased fairgrounds in Readfield beginning in 1856. By 1892, Boardman wrote, it had several buildings, a track and a grandstand; organizers continued “the old custom” of having a prominent Maine man deliver an annual address.
  • The North Kennebec Agricultural Society, headquartered in Waterville, began July 31, 1847. E. P. Mayo (in the agricultural chapter in Edwin Whittemore’s Waterville history) wrote that its first exhibition was in October 1847. Another early action, Mayo wrote with approval, “was to raise $75 for the purchase of standard agricultural works for a library.”
    • This organization bought land in southern Waterville and built a half-mile horse track in 1854. Its annual exhibitions continued into the 1880s, Mayo wrote, until competition from outlying towns cut too deeply into attendance. Its real estate was sold to expand Pine Grove Cemetery.
  • The South Kennebec Agricultural Society, which included Windsor, was incorporated in 1853 and in April 1857 bought three lots in Gardiner for a fairground.
  • The Kennebec Union Agricultural and Horticultural Society was incorporated on March 17, 1860, and took over “all assets” of the South Kennebec Society. Its “active career” ended in 1877, according to Boardman.
  • The Eastern Kennebec Agricultural Society, organized April 4, 1868, “built a half mile race track, and held its fairs on a sixteen acre site at China,” the China Fairgrounds or China Trotting Park, west off Dirigo Road. In 1869, Boardman said, the Society added a 40-by-60-foot exhibition hall. The last fair was in the fall of 1874; Boardman wrote that bad weather on fair days kept income below expenses, and the society gave up in December 1877 and sold its property.
  • A second South Kennebec Agricultural Society was organized March 24, 1888, in South Windsor, and incorporated by the Maine legislature a year later. This Society leased a lot with a trotting park, the earliest part of the current Windsor Fairgrounds. Lowden wrote that in 1973 the Society’s legal name became Windsor Fair.

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Albion historian Ruby Crosby Wiggin was delighted to find secretaries’ records of the Farmer’s and Mechanic’s Club of Albion (the apostrophes are as she placed them), organized Oct. 5, 1863, and sponsor of an annual October fair from Oct. 13, 1863, through at least 1891, when the records end.

The secretaries’ books answered a question that had plagued her research: local residents told her three different locations for the fairs. The records showed everyone was right.

The 1863 fair was in the Temperance Hall, on Bangor Road, with outdoor exhibits near the former Marden’s – later Drake’s – store. After what was first the Public Hall and later the Grange Hall was built in 1873, the fair moved there and used land behind Keay’s store, on Main Street. And after the town house was built in 1888, it hosted indoor displays, with outdoor events in the field behind the Besse building.

Wiggin’s list of animals at the first fair in 1863 totals more than 100 horses, oxen, cows, sheep and swine. Indoor displays featured farm produce, including locally-raised tobacco; cheeses; and buttons, “carpets, quilts, rugs, cloth, yarn” and other handicrafts.

Exhibits became more varied over the years, Wiggin wrote. She listed some she considered unusual: a “collection of stuffed birds”; a 100-year-old chair; an English table cover more than 100 years old; woolen stockings and a patchwork quilt made by women in their 90s; and a “worsted lamp mat” made by a six-year-old boy.

She found no description of baby shows, but, she said, in 1865 the “largest, fattest and best fed baby” won a prize, and in 1879 a committee named the “longest and leanest and poorest fed man.”

Old-time residents told Wiggin the Albion fair sometimes included a merry-go-round “run by two fellows turning it by a crank in the middle.” It was reportedly owned by Stevens Brothers, from Unity, and was a feature of annual Unity fairs.

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Palermo historian Milton E. Dowe, in his 1996 book of memories, included a short description of the annual Branch Mills Grange fair, where, he wrote, “A wonderful time was had by all.” His undated description refers to a time after 1909, when the Grange Hall, in Branch Mills Village, was built after the 1908 fire.

Behind the building, Dowe wrote, was a hitching rail where people left their horses for the day. On the grounds were cattle exhibits and the horse pulling competitions that were “the highlight of the Fair day.”

Inside, Dowe wrote, people admired “displays of handiwork, arts, crafts, vegetables, etc.” There was an afternoon baby show. The noon dinner included “baked beans, brown bread, biscuits, casseroles, pickles,…various kinds of pies…[and] always plenty of coffee.”

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Alice Hammond’s history of Sidney credits the Sidney Grange with starting the Sidney Agricultural Fair in 1885; it continued well into the 20th century. Kingsbury said its specialties were fruit –Sidney had many apple orchards – and “working cattle.” One year, he wrote, 75 yokes (pairs) of cattle paraded in a line.

Hammond included a report that the fair’s treasurer, Martin L. Reynolds, put in the 1890 town report “[o]wing to the inquiry of some of the townsmen” about the use of town funds.

From 1887 through 1890, taxpayers gave the fair $25 annually. In 1887, fair organizers spent $24.62. The largest expenditure was $9 to E. A. Field for “lumber and hauling same.” The two smallest were 30 cents each for two dozen hooks from O. Williamson and “Swifel Eye to machine” from J. S. Grant (Hammond wondered what a swifel eye was; your writer suggests a misspelling for swivel eye).

In 1888, A. E. Bessey chipped in $1 (he was probably, despite the spelling difference, Dr. Alden Edward Besse [Jan. 1, 1838 – June 15, 1903], born in Hebron, living in Sidney in 1880, died in Waterville, buried in Pine Grove Cemetery). Lumber was again the most costly item; total expenditures were $23.65.

The 1889 expenditure totaled $12.10. Joseph Field earned $2 for “care of lumber” – Hammond noted that the wooden animal pens were dismantled after each fair, stored and rebuilt the next year – and Badger and Manley charged $3.50 for posters (up from $2.50 in 1887).

In 1890 three individuals added $21.94 to the $25 appropriation. The account was nonetheless overdrawn for the first time, mostly because the Oakland Band, making its first appearance, cost $20. Because of earlier frugality, however, treasurer Reynolds reported a balance in the fair treasury of $12.91 at the end of four years.

The year 1890 was also the first year that fair organizers bought a police badge, for 75 cents. Hammond wondered if the crowd was getting rougher, or if the organizers were merely being extra careful.

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Alma Pierce Robbins focused her Vassalboro history on agricultural organizations, mentioning fairs only incidentally. The Vassalborough Agricultural Society was organized in 1820, she wrote. The town had three Granges, Oak Grove (1875, moved to Getchell’s Corner in 1883), Cushnoc at Riverside (1876) and East Vassalboro, organized in 1895 and still flourishing.

The Agricultural Society must have sponsored fairs, because Robbins wrote of spring “preparations to exhibit at the Fall fairs.” She also wrote about “premiums” for “wheat, corn, hemp, flax and silk,” and “prizes” for “cattle, sheep and swine,” and mentioned oxen-pulling and later horse-pulling.

Robbins specifically referred to Cushnoc Grange fairs “with fine exhibits of hand work, farm produce and stock.” She added memories of “the oyster stew suppers on cold snowy nights, the baked bean and brown bread dinners with great jars of home made pickles and dozens of apple pies,” where all the neighbors gathered.

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Windsor’s extensive fairgrounds are at 82 Ridge Road (Route 32), not far north of the intersection where Route 32 joins Route 17. The site includes a dozen historic buildings restored and maintained by the Windsor Historical Society, multiple exhibition halls for everything from livestock to jams and jellies, an oval racetrack and large parking areas.

Lowden wrote that the first Windsor Fair was held Oct. 3 and 4, 1888, before the South Kennebec Agricultural Society was organized and legislatively incorporated in the spring of 1889. There is some confusion about whether a formal racetrack was used that year; Lowden said “a firmly held local tradition” is that horses ran on the road that is now Route 32, across a bridge that “stood high above” Gully Brook. But he found an Oct. 5, 1888, newspaper report saying there was a race track by 1888, so he inferred the in-the-road races must have been earlier.

Lowden wrote that the horse races have always been the most popular attraction and “the financial backbone” of the fair. Other features he described included displays of and competitions among other farm animals. In 1888, the exhibition of horses and colts drew a local reporter’s praise; the reporter was even more enthusiastic about the displays of fruit, vegetables and “artistic needle and fancy work.”

The fair introduced inventions and new practices for farmers and their families, like a new parlor stove and a new kitchen stove in 1893; an automobile in 1900; a hot air balloon in 1902; and an airplane in 1917. The midday featured varied entertainers, simple games, food vendors; the first merry-go-round appeared in 1916.

Main sources

Dowe, Milton E., Palermo, Maine Things That I Remember in 1996 (1997).
Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Lowden, Linwood H., good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Upcoming fairs

Although Maine’s 2022 fall fair season is winding down, there is still time to take in some that aren’t too far from the central Kennebec Valley.

  • Windsor Fair began Aug. 28, and runs through Monday, Sept. 5. See the website windsorfair.com for daily programs.
  • The Clinton Lions Agricultural Fair, on the fairgrounds at 1450 Bangor Road (Route 100) opens at 3 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 8, and runs through 5 p.m., Sept. 11. Details are on Clintonlionsagfair207.com.
  • Litchfield Fair, at the 44 Plains Road fairground, opens Friday, Sept. 9, and runs through Sept. 11, with free admission for seniors on opening day. See litchfieldfair.com.
  • Farmington Fair runs from 10 a.m., Sunday, Sept. 18, through Saturday afternoon, Sept. 24. The fairground is at the intersection of Maple Avenue and High Street, on the northwest (right) side of Routes 2 and 27 coming from New Sharon. See farmingtonfairmaine.com.
  • The annual Common Ground Country Fair runs from Friday, Sept. 23, through Sunday, Sept. 25, in Unity, at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) education center, 294 Crosby Brook Road (off Route 139 in southeastern Unity). See mofga.org.

CORRECTION: The building in the photo in last week’s issue is the Clukey Building, located on the corner of Main and Silver streets, location of the Paragon Shop today. It was an editing error.


LIFE ON THE PLAINS: The formative years at St. Joseph School

The only photo that could be found of the St. Joseph School was taken in 1944. Maybe you have some relatives in the photo. These were the Cadets (grades 5-8). Front row, left to right, Arthur Belanger, (?), Donald Bouchard, Edwin Daigle, Norman Pilotte, Louis Champagne, Norman Giroux, Gid Talbot, Armand Giguere, Alex Cormier, Robert Bourget, Roger Corbin and Arnold Trahan. Second row, Donald Carpentier, Denis Labonte, Arthur Routhier, Lionel Cabana, Bob “Satch” Maheu, Bertrand Lacroix, Jerome Hallee, Donald Pelletier, Gene Gagne, Reginald Porter, Francis Poirier, Robert Champagne, Thomas Michaud, Richard Duperry, Robert Trahan, Raymond Carpentier and Edmond Martin. Rear, going up the steps, Brandon Rancourt, Roger Ouellette, (?) Champagne, Reg Pelletier, Robert Lessard, Reginald Roy, Francis Poirier, Kenneth Rancourt, Francis Hallee, Richard Carrier, Donald Vachon, Gerald Mathieu, Jerome Poirier, Wilfred Viens, Fernand Michaud, Reginald Trahan, Bernard Bolduc, David Bolduc, Roger Hallee, Marcel Jalbert and Donald Maheu. (photo courtesy of E. Roger Hallee, published in Paper Talks, 1984.)

by Roland D. Hallee

Like any other phase of life, growing up on The Plains also meant school days.

Although the first five years of my school days were spent at St. Francis de Sales Parochial School, there came a time when I had to go to a different school.

St. Francis only accommodated boys until the fifth grade. Girls could stay until the eighth grade. At the time I was there, the “brothers” school across the parking lot had been shuttered. The only occupants were from the Lebanese community, who were using the building as a temporary school while awaiting the completion of their own building, St. Joseph Maronite School, on Appleton St. For some reason I don’t recall, we were mostly segregated from them, and didn’t get to meet them until high school, some of whom became good friends.

So, the boys had to go to St. Joseph Catholic School, on Silver Street, to continue their parochial education, or enroll in a public school. My parents chose to enroll me at St. Joseph’s.

St. Joseph School was located between Preston and Kimball streets, the present site of Notre Dame Catholic Church. It was a one-story, white, clapboard-sided building that sat way back from the street. It resembled your standard-looking school building. It also included a field across Preston St. where we had formulated a crude softball field. The site of the school actually had three softball fields. The other two being in front of the school, one on the south side of the yard, and the other on the north side.

Every day, I would walk up Summer St., actually passing the site of my dad’s old market, and down Kimball St. I only attended that school two years (1960-1962), going on to junior high school my eighth grade year. That is a whole different story.

The teachers at the school at the time was Brother Eugene, Mr. Roberge and Mrs. Pelletier. I only had the two former as teachers, in sixth and seventh grades, respectively. My cousin, E. Roger Hallee, began teaching their my eighth grade year, but I never had him because I had moved on to junior high.

My first experience was strange, because so far my entire school life had been spent with the same kids, most of whom lived in my neighborhood, so we were very well acquainted. Now, I was thrust into an environment where I met other boys, mostly from Notre Dame Parochial School, that was located between King and Water streets, at the time, where the KVCAP main building is now.

There was nothing exceptional that stands out in recollecting those years, except the highly-competitive softball games during recess and lunch hour in fall and spring. The South End was home to some of Waterville’s best athletes, and competing against them, or with them, was an excellent learning experience.

Of course, most of the school year took place during winter months, and nothing much went on outside, except an occasional chance to go to the nearby South End Arena to play some hockey.

I could name some of the guys I went to school with there, but it wouldn’t be fair to those I don’t remember. But I do remember one, who shall remain nameless, who was a left-handed hitter, that could hit the ball all the way to Silver St. – on the fly – something no one else could do. Sometimes in the fall, we would organize touch football games. We also played some soccer.

For those of us growing up in the area of The Plains, those years at St. Joseph School were formative years that prepared us for the next phase in our lives – high school.

Read more of this series here.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Waterville historic district – Part 2

The Clukey Building, located on the corner of Main and Silver streets, location of the Paragon Shop today.

by Mary Grow

This week’s description of Waterville’s Main Street Historic District begins where last week’s left off, with the Common Street buildings on the south side of Castonguay Square, and continues down the east side of Main Street. It adds a summary of the separate Lockwood Mill Historic District, across the intersection of Spring and Bridge streets at the north end of Water Street (see also the May 7, 2020, issue of The Town Line.)

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Continuing with Matthew Corbett and Scott Hanson’s 2012 application for the Waterville downtown historic district, on the south side of Common Street, the building at the east end (closest to Water Street) is the brick Haines Building at 6-12 Common Street. Built four stories tall in 1897, after a 1942 fire destroyed the top three stories only one was rebuilt.

Next west is the 1890 “Romanesque Revival style Masonic Block,” a four-story brick and granite building. Adjoining it is the three-story Gallert Block, which the application says was built in 1912 to replace wooden stores that had burned in 1911. Corbett and Hanson describe it as blonde brick with granite and brick trim and an example of Commercial Style architecture.

The building on the corner of Common and Main streets is the Krutzky Block (57-59 Main Street), also built a year or so after the 1911 fire. The building “combines elements of the Arts and Crafts and the Spanish Colonial Revival styles.” The façade has two bays that face Common Street; four bays that “begin to turn toward Main Street”; a single narrow bay with the main entrance facing “the corner of Common and Main Streets”; and two bays on Main Street.

Materials in this building include stucco, stone, metals and brick. The brick is “laid in Flemish bond which provides a subtle pattern to the brickwork.”

The next two properties south, the GHM Insurance Company building and the pocket park, are post-1968, too new to count as historic.

Next south of the park, the 1936 three-story Federal Trust Company Bank building at 25-33 Main Street was designed by architects Bunker & Savage, of Augusta, in Art Deco style, the only Art Deco building in the district that was designated in 2012. The original part on the north end “is of limestone construction with later expansions in stone or ceramic tiles and stucco with varied marble and brick storefronts,” Corbett and Hanson wrote.

The bank later absorbed two buildings south, a 19th-century brick one and an undated section, also brick, taken over from the Levine Building. The application says the southern building dated from the early 19th century and “appears to have been a two story brick block with granite piers and lintels at the storefront level and a side gable roof.” By 1875, it was three stories high.

The Levine’s Clothing building dated from 1880. Four stories, brick, it was remodeled in 1905 and again in 1910 before being demolished recently to make room for Colby College’s Lockwood Hotel.

Crescent Hotel

Corbett and Hanson name the hotel on the Levine building’s upper floors the (earlier) Lockwood Hotel. Frank Redington’s chapter on businesses in Whittemore’s history calls the southernmost “pretentious building” on the east side of the street the R. B. Dunn Block, with the Bay View Hotel above the street-level store. The Town Line editor Roland Hallee wrote that the Levine building “expanded in the 1960s to the site of the former Crescent Hotel,” on the then-existing traffic circle at the foot of Main Street. (See the June 9, 2022, issue of The Town Line for Hallee’s memories of Levine’s in the 20th century.)

The historic district application describes the building at 9-11 Main Street as separate from, but by 2012 part of, Levine’s. Built before 1875 as “a two-bay, two-story Italianate style brick commercial building,” it acquired a “third story and new cornice” between 1889 and 1894, “apparently as part of change of use from a grocery store to small restaurant and saloon.”

Your writer and Hallee both remember the Silver Dollar tavern, which Hallee locates overlooking the Kennebec River on the east side of the traffic circle. Whether the Silver Dollar is the “saloon” Corbett and Hanson mentioned is not clear. Hallee wrote that the tavern building was demolished when the rotary was eliminated.

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Lockwood-Dutchess Textile Mill complex looking from Winslow

The Lockwood Mill Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 8, 2007. The application was completed in January 2007 by Roger G. Reed, an architectural historian with the Portland architectural firm of Barba and Wheelock, and Christi A. Mitchell, of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

The district at “6, 6B, 8, 10 and 10B Water Street” includes three large mill buildings numbered 1, 2 and 3; a 1918 power house and the “Canal Headworks/Forebay Canal”; and a power house too new to count as contributing to the historic value.

Reed and Mitchell’s summary calls it a “complex of brick textile factory buildings and associated water-retaining and hydro-electric generating structures”; and “the only major nineteenth century textile complex constructed in Waterville.”

The three main buildings “represent all the surviving buildings associated with the textile factory except for the Lockwood gasometer building on the west side of Water Street,” too much changed to be included.

The northern building, Number 1, has a long extension northward (once called the Picker Building) paralleling the canal and the Kennebec River and a wheelhouse on its east end. Since 1883, Number 1 has been connected to the central building, Number 3. Number 2 stands alone parallel to the other two.

Prominent Rhode Island industrial designer Amos DeForest Lockwood (Oct. 30, 1811 – Jan. 16, 1884) designed the buildings and machinery, and, since local financiers had no expertise in the textile industry, provided essential financial advice as well.

Reed and Mitchell wrote that Mill Number 1 was started in 1873 – the Hallowell granite cornerstone was laid Oct. 17 — and finished in 1875; the wheelhouse gained a second floor in the first decade of the 20th century, and there were alterations in 1958. Mill Number 2 dates from 1881-82, with alterations in 1957. The middle of Mill Number 3 was built in 1883; the structure was extended westward in 1889 and eastward in 1894 and extensively modified in 1957 and 1958.

Described as brick buildings on granite foundations with granite trim, their architectural style is listed as Late Victorian/Italianate. Reed and Mitchell found that the brick was made in a brickyard in Winslow; the granite came from the famous Hallowell quarries.

The builders provided granite windowsills, and inset the windows and spandrels one brick deep, “creating the appearance of pilasters running the full height of the buildings.” The reason, the application explains, was that Lockwood wanted large windows for maximum natural light, but needed thick walls to withstand the stress caused by the vibrating machinery.

(Spandrels are the near-triangular corners between the tops of arches and the surrounding frame. Pilasters are vertical ornamental columns on walls that look like supports, but are only decorations.)

The application quotes the local newspaper writing in 1874 that Waterville’s large French-Canadian population (21 percent in 1880, 44 percent in 1900, Reed and Mitchell found) provided a good labor supply.

“The construction of a new city hall and opera house in 1901 and a Carnegie library in 1902 were symbolic of the prosperity initiated in large part by the Lockwood Mill,” Reed and Mitchell wrote.

Henry D. Kingsbury, describing mill operations in 1892, wrote that by then $1.8 million had been invested. In the first half of the year, he wrote, the Lockwood Company produced “8,752,682 yards of cotton cloth, weighing 2,978.000 pounds.” Twelve hundred and fifty people worked 10 hours each weekday at the looms and spindles; 50 to 75 “skilled mechanics” were “constantly employed, capable of reconstructing any machinery in use.”

Mill Number 1 is about 70 feet wide and four stories tall, with a five-story tower in the middle of the south side. The tower did not mark the main entrance, Reed and Mitchel found; it was called the “back tower” on early plans, and the mill office, which they imply was the main entrance, was “on the north side facing Water Street.”

The tower housed the freight elevator and bathrooms.

Three curving wooden staircases in the main building were surviving in 2007. They were enclosed between the outside walls and interior walls that also housed sprinkler pipes.

Here is Reed and Mitchell’s description of the interior of the main part of Mill Number 1: “the basement sections (separated by brick fire walls) were allocated for weaving, the storage of mill supplies, and carpentry and machine shop. The first floor was allocated for weaving, the second floor for spinning, the third floor for carding and warping, and the fourth floor for sizing, spooling and spinning.”

The building remained a textile mill until around 1979.

Mill Number 2, the southernmost building, is the largest, about 100 feet wide and in its main section five stories high. It had on the east a “four story wheel house and harness shop” and on the west a four-story wing with a one-story addition on the south. There were “two brick entrance vestibules on the north side.”

Reed and Mitchell wrote that the single-story wing was much changed, both outside (windows and entrance) and inside, in 1957, when it became the C. F. Hathaway Shirt Company. The new entrance and its surroundings were Colonial Revival style. Inside, the building acquired elevators and part of the open space was partitioned to make offices, a third-floor cafeteria and other rooms.

Mill Number 3, dating from 1883, was between and parallel to the other two buildings, and in its early life connected to each at the second-floor level. Of the same original style and materials, it was the most extensively changed in the 1950s.

Reed and Mitchell wrote that the original use was “packing, boiling, rolling and folding on the first floor, and weaving on the second floor.” The extensions in 1889 and 1894 provided more room for weaving.

After Central Maine Power Company moved into the building in 1958, the “brick shell” remained, with replacement doors and windows and “major interior alterations.”

Reed and Mitchell’s application includes descriptions of the canal, replacing earlier wooden cribbing “to channel the water and power the mill,” and the associated Lockwood Powerhouse. The concrete powerhouse, through which water runs “through turbines to power the generators,” is in two sections. The larger north side is open from top to bottom; the south side has “a mezzanine with two floors of rooms.”

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The Hathaway Shirt Company deserves a section of its own, but, as usual, your writer has run out of space. As Vassalboro School Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer often says, “Stay tuned.”

Main sources

Corbett, Matthew, and Scott Hanson, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Waterville Main Street Historic District, Aug. 28, 2012, supplied by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892, (1892).
Reed, Roger G., and Christi A. Mitchell, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Lockwood Mill Historic District Jan. 11, 2007.
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Waterville historic district – Part 1

Waterville City Hall

by Mary Grow

As sources cited in this and the following articles say, Waterville’s downtown business district was in the 19th and 20th centuries (and still is in the 21st century) an important regional commercial center. Buildings from the 1830s still stand; the majority of the commercial buildings lining Main Street date from the last quarter of the 19th century. Hence the interest in recognizing and protecting the area’s historic value by listing it on the National Register of Historic Places.

Waterville’s original downtown historic district, according to the initial application for historic listing in 2012, includes 22 historic buildings and three others too new to count as historic; two “objects” (in Castonguay Square) one “structure” (the information kiosk in the square, too modern to count) and two public parks, Castonguay Square and the Pocket Park on the north side of the Federal Trust Bank building.

The district runs from the intersection of Temple and Main streets south to the connector to Water Street at the south end of Main Street, covering both sides of Main Street. It includes both sides of Common Street, encompassing the Opera House and City Hall building that had been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976.

In 2016, the district was extended northward on the east side of Main Street for another block, from Temple Street to Appleton Street. This additional section of the historic district will be described in a later article.

The 2012 application for historic register listing was prepared by Matthew Corbett and Scott Hanson, of Sutherland Conservation and Consulting, in Augusta. The document lists Main Street buildings from north to south on the east (river) side of the street, with a detour down Common Street, and from south to north on the west side. The names of some of the businesses will be familiar to those who knew Waterville 11 years ago and earlier.

Almost all the buildings share common walls to form a solid façade. Most extend directly to the sidewalk, creating what the application describes as a “canyon effect” that was destroyed north of Temple Street by the demolition of west-side buildings in a 1960s urban renewal project.

Because so many of the street-level entrances have been modernized over the years, the more historically interesting parts of the building facades are from the second floor upward. Corbett and Hanson listed details of windows, trim and other features for each building.

Arnold-Boutelle-Elden Block

On the east side of Main Street, the northernmost building in the original district, on the south corner of Main and Temple streets, is the Arnold-Boutelle-Elden Blocks (103-115 Main Street, according to the application). It consists of six store fronts with common walls, the first four built in 1886 and 1887 and the last two in 1893. The application describes the three-story buildings as Queen Anne style and describes in detail the decorative elements in granite and brick. Names and dates are carved in granite plaques “in the pediments of the second, third, and fifth blocks.”

Next south was what was in 1912 the Hanson, Webber & Dunham Hardware store, built in 1894. Four stories high, brick with granite sills and brick arches, topped by a “decorative cornice flanked by two small corbelled brick piers,” the application says it was once owned by Central Maine Power Company.

In 1902, according to Frank Redington’s chapter on businesses in Edwin Carey Whittemore’s Waterville history, the blocks from Arnold to Hanson, Webber & Dunham, inclusive, had been remodeled to form “an unbroken front.” From there to Castonguay Square there were only wooden buildings in 1902.

The wooden buildings were succeeded by the three-story brick Montgomery Ward Department Store building at the corner of Main Street and Castonguay Square, originally built in 1938 and expanded northward in 1967 (when it took over what the application calls the Stearns commercial block and your writer remembers as Sterns department store). The building is Georgian Revival style; Corbett and Hanson’s application says Montgomery Ward used it from 1933 to 1948.


Corbett and Hanson wrote that what is now Castonguay Square was part of a parcel deeded in 1796 from Winslow (which until 1802 included Waterville) “to be used for church/meetinghouse and school house.” Both buildings were put up, and the meeting house later became the town hall, with an adjoining area of open space with trees, “at one point, bounded by a wooden fence.”

Redington wrote that local boys used to call the square “the hay scales.” He did not explain.

In the early 20th century the town hall became City Hall and the park became City Hall Park. It became Castonguay Square in 1921 to honor First Sergeant Arthur L. Castonguay, killed in World War I.

Stephen Plocher wrote in his on-line Waterville history that more than 500 men from Waterville served in World War I, and Castonguay was the first to die. Another on-line source suggested that he was among National Guard members who became part of the 103rd infantry, a unit that fought in major battles in France.

The two historic objects in the square are unrelated. An inscription on a round boulder, a 1917 gift from Silence Howard Hayden Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, commemorates Benedict Arnold’s 1775 march to Québec. A “German 15 cm heavy field howitzer model 1893” is probably one of the captured weapons distributed nation-wide by the United States Department of Defense in the 1920s.

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On the north side of the square stands the combined Opera House and City Hall, with an address of 1 Common Street. This building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since the beginning of 1976; the application for listing was prepared in October 1975 by Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., and Frank Beard of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

The application calls the building “a good representative example of the multi-purpose civic buildings erected in Maine at the turn of the century.” The idea came from a May 1896 citizens’ petition to the Waterville mayor and board of aldermen.

City officials chose George G. Adams, of Lawrence, Massachusetts, as architect, and in February 1897 signed a building contract with another Massachusetts firm, Kelly Brothers, of Haverhill.

The building was supposed to be finished by July 1, 1898, but it was delayed until early 1902, “partially due to litigation with the architect over fees,” Shettleworth and Beard wrote.

Apparently the builder changed, because in William Abbott Smith’s chapter in Whittemore’s history the builder is Horace Purinton and Company and its spokesman referred to construction contracts signed July 12, 1901. The June 13, 1890, issue of the Waterville Mail, found on line, has a front-page ad for Horace Purinton & Co., contractors and builders specializing in brickwork and stonework, with headquarters in Waterville and brickyards in Waterville, Winslow and Augusta.

The 1975 application for historic recognition calls the building’s architectural style Colonial Revival. The basement and lower floor are stone, the two upper stories “brick with wood and stone trim.” The front features arched doorways and windows, Doric columns and decorative brick features and is topped by “an elaborate wooden cornice composed of a dentil molding, a series of modillions and an ornamental crest at the center bearing the inscription ‘City Hall.'”

Smith quoted from Horace Purinton’s remarks at the June 23, 1902, dedication of the new city hall. Purinton told his audience that material for the building came from as far away as Michigan and Indiana, with two exceptions. Some of the wood was logged and milled in Maine; and “The material for the brick was in its natural state in the clay banks within our borders.” (From the context, Purinton probably meant the borders of Maine, not of Waterville.)

The building’s interior is in two sections, Shettleworth and Beard wrote. City offices occupy the first two floors, with a main entrance on the south (Castonguay Square) side and another entrance on the east (Front Street) side. The upper part of the building is the large auditorium, originally called the “Assembly Rooms.”

The applicants described the auditorium in 1975 as still looking much as it did in 1902. They wrote that “The balcony and proscenium arch are ornamented with elaborate Baroque style plasterwork,” and the “original painted curtain bearing a large scenic landscape” was still there.

The first event in the Opera House was a dairymen’s exhibition, Shettleworth and Beard found – they gave no date. Later it hosted amateur shows and touring acting companies. Well-known artists who performed there included Australian actress Judith Anderson, American contralto Marion Anderson, singer and actor Rudy Vallee and cowboy actor Tom Mix, whose horse was “hauled up the outside of the building” to join him on stage.

After World War II, movies displaced live shows and the auditorium served as a movie theater. Beginning in 1960, Shettleworth and Beard found the venue resumed live productions – “plays, musicals, and recitals.”

“This kind of activity carried on in a 1900 theatre in a relatively small city is extremely unusual in this day and age,” they commented.

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Alas, your writer has, as so often happens, run out of space before she ran out of information. She hopes readers will find this description of a small part of Waterville’s history interesting enough to look for continuations in following weeks.

Main sources

Corbett, Matthew, and Scott Hanson, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Waterville Main Street Historic District, Aug. 28, 2012, supplied by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.
Plocher, Stephen, Colby College Class of 2007, A Short History of Waterville, Maine, Found on the web at Waterville-maine.gov.
Shettleworth, Earle G., Jr., and Frank A Beard, National Register of Historic Places inventory – Nomination Form, Waterville Opera House and City Hall, October 1975.
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: A pictorial look at The Plains

Water St. looking north. Notice the row of tenement buildings on the right. Those were built on the river bank, and were supported by stilts. They were removed in the 1960s and 1970s. (photo courtesy of E. Roger Hallee)

by Roland D. Hallee

Water St. looking south. Beginning with Poissonnier’s Market in right foreground. The Maine Theater marquis can be seen in the middle of the photo. On the left is a home that is still there today. (photo courtesy of E. Roger Hallee)

The Hose 3 substation of the Waterville Fire Department was located across the street from the Second Baptist Church. The building remains, but is now a residence. (photo courtesy of E. Roger Hallee)

The Grove St. playground in the 1950s. The tenement building in the background, burned several years ago and is no longer there. (photo courtesy of E. Roger Hallee)

Read more from this series here.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Kingsbury’s people

“Nelson” and his breeder Charles Horace Nelson, in a photo that appeared in The Centennial History of Waterville, 1802-1902, by Rev. Edwin Carey Whittemore. The chapter on agriculture was written by E. P. Mayo.

by Mary Grow

This article is for people who enjoy an occasional glimpse into someone else’s life – nothing scandalous or earth-shaking, just odds and ends about the ordinary lives of people in another time. The main source is Henry D. Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history.

The Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 was first published in 1892, after what editor Kingsbury described as “two years of labor.” Simeon L. Deyo is listed as co-editor and there are 18 “Resident Contributors.”

In the introduction, Kingsbury thanks “twenty writers whose names these chapters bear,” “more than twenty hundred” people who contributed through correspondence or interviews or both and “the good people of Kennebec who have so kindly and faithfully cooperated with us.”

The initial edition, by H. W. Blake & Company, 94 Reade Street, New York, was limited to 1,600 copies. The last page is number 1273, and that number does not count the introduction, illustrations or instances in which pages have the same number followed by a or b. The result is a volume that measures 11 inches high, eight inches deep and almost four inches wide – a worthy companion to the family Bible that would have been conspicuous in many Kennebec Valley homes in 1892.

Although there is no evidence of other editions until recently, there are references on line to two-volume versions. In 2018 a 956-page paperback was published.

Kingsbury divided the work into two sections. Each of the first 15 chapters covers a specific topic, like land titles, military history, courts and the law and the medical profession. The rest of the book describes individual towns, giving most a single chapter, Waterville two chapters and Augusta three chapters.

Kingsbury and his contributors were not infallible. Later historians have corrected some of his information, probably because they have more resources and more time than he had. Nonetheless, the Kennebec County history is a valuable starting point. Many on-line displays quote the same comment: “This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.”

Each chapter on a city or town ends with what Kingsbury labeled “Personal Paragraphs.” These profile an individual, or occasionally a family, who lived in the municipality in the 18th century. The number of profiles per chapter varies, depending partly on the size of the municipality.

The vast majority of those Kingsbury chose were men – your writer has not reviewed towns outside the central Kennebec Valley, but within the area has found only two women who deserved mention. Some were prominent citizens; at the end of the chapters on Augusta, publisher Edward Charles Allen (1849 – 1891) was described as “the wealthiest man of Augusta…[who] paid the largest personal tax.” (See the Nov. 12, 2020, issue of The Town Line for information on Allen’s publishing empire and its impact on Augusta’s growth in the 1870s and 1880s.)

James G. Blaine (1830-1893; United States Representative and Senator, Secretary of State, unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1884, called the Plumed Knight by his friends and the Continental Liar from the State of Maine by his opponents) got eight and a half pages of fine print, contributed in April 1892 by “his townsman and former business partner, Hon. John L. Stevens, United States Minister Resident, Honolulu, Hawaii.” (Blaine was profiled in the Aug. 20, 2020, issue of The Town Line.)

The majority of people to whom Kingsbury gave a few sentences or a few paragraphs were less exalted. Many were farmers, blacksmiths, small businessmen and the like. As a city, Augusta offered a choice of educated professional people, some of whose stories he told.

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Sidney native Henry Pishon, born in 1833, attended Vassalboro and Waterville academies and served as an acting ensign in the Navy for two years of the Civil War. In the 1860s and 1870s he served two short stints as chief clerk in the Maine secretary of state’s office.

When the Augusta post office and courthouse were built on Water Street between 1886 and 1889, Kingsbury wrote, Pishon was the “clerk of construction.” A United States treasury disbursement list for July 1889 found on line lists four local men involved in the project: Thomas Lambard clerk, Pishon foreman, Herbert G. Foster disbursing agent and Melvin S. Holway superintendent of construction.

If “p.d.” in treasury records means per diem, Lambard earned $6 a day, Pishon and Foster earned $4 and Holway was paid some (illegible) fraction, perhaps one-half “of 1 p. ct.” of an unknown amount.

Sereno Sewall Webster (1805 – 1893) was the descendant of four Nathan Websters and two John Websters. The first John Webster was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1605. The second, Sereno’s father, was born in 1777 or 1778 and died in 1828.

(Kingsbury’s source called the 1605 John Webster a “free-man,” leading your writer to wonder if he was a former Black slave. Not necessarily; in colonial Massachusetts, a free man was anyone who had full civil rights. Some colonies, not all, required membership in the established church; land ownership was not necessary.)

Sereno was born in Gardiner, according to an on-line genealogy on the Find a Grave website. John Webster moved his family to Vassalboro in 1806, according to Kingsbury. Sereno held a “clerkship” in Washington, D. C., for nine years; in 1845, he married Mary A. Hayes (1821 – 1893) from Dover, New Hampshire. Kingsbury said the couple had three children; the on-line genealogy lists four, born between 1846 and 1857, Helen, Emeline, Sereno and Otis.

Sereno Clifford Webster, Sereno number three, was born in 1850 and died in 1919, according to the genealogy. He married Alice Etta Tracy; they named their first son Sereno Sewall Webster (1889 – 1980). Most members of the family are buried in Augusta’s Wall Cemetery, at 422 Riverside Drive.

The on-line search for Sereno Webster turned up yet another man with the same name: an obituary for Sereno Sewall Webster, Bowdoin Class of 1943, who died April 12, 2006, in Brunswick. The obituary says he was born in Augusta Aug. 9, 1920, graduated from Cony High School and after World War II service had a career as an engineer and surveyor. His wife, Eula Willetta (“Billy”) German, died in 1999; he was survived by a daughter Anne and a son Clifford Sewall Webster, Bowdoin Class of 1972.

A sad story: J. Albert Bolton, of Augusta, was born in 1820 and was still alive in 1892. He and his wife Priscilla (Merrill) had only two children. Their daughter “died in infancy” and their son, William A. Bolton, a Cony High School and Boston Commercial College graduate and “a young man of great promise,” died at 21.

J. Albert was the grandson of Savage Bolton, first settler on Augusta’s Bolton Hill. Charles Nash, in his Augusta history, quoted from Martha Ballard’s diary for Oct. 21, 1789: “Savage Bolton and his wife were taken with a warrant for breaking the Sabath.”

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Moving up-river to Sidney, Kingsbury profiled many farmers. Some were descendants of first settlers still occupying family homesteads, others more recent incomers. Quite a few had second occupations. Examples follow.

Frank Abbott, who was born in 1853, was the great-grandson of Joseph Abbott (1743-1833), who in 1804 came from Massachusetts and bought 1,000 acres on the Pond Road. Kingsbury did not specify whether Frank still farmed the original family land.

James H. Bean (1833 -??) combined farming with wagon-making and blacksmithing. He was probably an ancestor of the James H. Bean for whom Sidney’s elementary school, opened Sept. 6, 1957, on Middle Road, is named.

(Sidney historian Alice Hammond wrote that the Bean for whom the school is named was honored for his many contributions to education in Sidney “and is still remembered [in 1992] with love and respect.”)

Civil War veteran Thomas S. Benson moved from Augusta to Sidney in 1876 and was a farmer and deputy sheriff.

Albert Black was the grandson of a former Palermo, Maine, resident who moved to New York State in 1820. Black came back to Maine in 1863, at the age of 23. His agricultural specialty was apples, Kingsbury wrote – he grew them and bought other farmers’ and for 16 years had been making cider vinegar, 10,000 gallons in 1891.

James D. Bragg, a third-generation Sidney farmer born in 1821, and Charles H. Burgess, born in 1861, served as postmasters in two different Sidney post offices beginning in the late 1880s. Hammond wrote that Bragg served for only one month, in 1887. Burgess, whose farm Hammond located on Middle Road, was also a harness maker, Kingsbury said.

Atwood F. Jones, who moved from Mercer to Sidney in 1849 at the age of 27, was a teacher as well as a farmer until 1872, when he became “a dealer in nursery stock.”

Charles H. Lovejoy, the fourth generation of his family in Sidney, “has been messenger in the state senate since 1878.” He had also been a Sidney selectman for 12 years. (Charles’ great-grandfather, Abial Lovejoy [1731-1810], came to Sidney in 1778; see the Feb. 3, 2022, issue of The Town Line for more information on this prominent citizen.)

Stilman S. Reynolds, born in 1818, farmer and mechanic, “has worked on the river twenty years and carried the mail eight years from Sidney to Riverside” (presumably by ferry across the Kennebec).

Oliver C. Robbins (1817-1891) was a butcher and lumberman as well as a farmer. Kingsbury wrote that his widow, Mary (Weeks), and younger son Edwin were continuing the farm after Oliver’s death.

De Merrit L. Sawtelle was the third generation of his family on the same farm, previously owned by his father, Asa, and grandfather, Nathan. His specialty was “breeding and training horses.”

In addition to long family histories in Sidney and multiple occupations, many Sidney farmers had two other things in common. They were Civil War veterans; and, not surprisingly, they tended to marry neighbors and relatives, creating a town full of interrelated families.

For the most part the families were not large. Kingsbury often lists four or five children, but seldom more – with two exceptions your writer thought worthy of note.

Flint Barton (1749-1833; moved to Sidney from Massachusetts in 1773) and his wife Lydia (Crosby) Barton had 12 sons. The 10th, whom they named Anson, was born in 1799; he married Rhoda Sisson and they had 13 more Bartons.

Another man who started a large clan was Thomas Bowman, the second of that name, who moved from Massachusetts to Sidney. Kingsbury did not give dates nor mention Thomas’s wife’s name, but he said Thomas had eight sons, including a third-generation Thomas, and two daughters.

Kingsbury gave brief biographies of five male descendants, all farmers in Sidney. Grandson Isaac had farmed the land formerly his grandfather’s, where “the family burying lot is,” until he died on May 16, 1890, leaving his widow, Phebe (Richards), and oldest son, Isaac N., running the farm.

Correction to August 4 article

Benton historian Barbara Warren wrote to point out an error in the Hinds genealogy in the Aug. 4 piece on natural resources, the section on Augustine Crosby (1838-1898), who invented a gold dredge and married Asher Hinds’ daughter, Susan Ann Hinds (1837-1905).

This writer incorrectly identified Susan Hinds’ father as Asher Crosby Hinds, known as “the Parliamentarian.” Her father was actually Asher Hinds (1792- 1860), whom Warren calls “the builder” (he sponsored the building of the Benton Falls Meeting House in 1828 and in 1830 built the Benton Falls house in which Warren now lives). Warren describes him as “a prosperous farmer and merchant,” War of 1812 veteran and delegate to the Massachusetts General Court.

Susan Ann (Hinds) Crosby was Augustine Crosby’s third cousin and Parliamentarian Asher Crosby Hinds’ aunt. Her brother, another Asher Crosby Hinds, was born in 1840 and died in 1863 in the Civil War. The Parliamentarian’s father was Susan’s brother, Albert Dwelley Hinds (1835-1873).

The confusion is understandable, Warren wrote. For four generations, the Hinds family included an Asher; and Hinds and Crosbys often intermarried.

Update on the Aug. 4 update on the Kennebec Arsenal in Augusta

Kennebec Journal reporter Keith Edwards wrote in the paper’s Aug. 7 edition that Augusta City Councilors voted at their Aug. 4 meeting to declare the historic Arsenal property dangerous. They gave the private owner another 90 days to “address concerns,” and authorized the city codes officer to extend the time to 150 days.

Main sources

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

Websites, miscellaneous

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Natural resources – Part 5

From left-to-right: Gold, Pyrite and Tin Ore.

by Mary Grow

Previous articles have talked about some of the natural resources in the central Kennebec Valley, notably clay and granite. Renewables, like timber, fur-bearing and other game animals and fish, have been ignored – would an enterprising reader like to tackle one or more of those topics?

This piece will cover a varied assortment of other resources. As with those discussed before, information from local histories is scanty.

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Gold is unusual in Maine but not completely lacking. The Maine Geological Survey has on its website a list of streams, all but one in Franklin, Oxford or Somerset county, worth panning for gold. (The outlier is the St. Croix River, separating the United States and Canada; gold has been found in Baileyville, in Washington County.)

Locally, there might have been gold in the Albion-Benton area. One of the personal paragraphs in Henry Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history is about Augustine Crosby (1838 – 1898).

Born in Albion, son of Luther and Ethelinda Crosby and grandson of Robert and Abigail Crosby, Augustine spent 10 of his early years in Massachusetts; came back to Benton and went into lumbering; served in the Civil War (as did his father) and as of 1892 was in “the South” building sawmills.

While in Benton, Crosby married Asher Crosby Hinds’ daughter, Susan A. Hinds. And, Kingsbury wrote, “He invented a dredge for gold dredging and spent some time operating it.”

According to a Crosby family diary found online, Augustine fell ill in September 1898 and died Sept. 28. He was buried Sept. 30 in what the diarist wrote “was called Smiley burying ground.” The funeral was well attended, with 23 teams, the diarist believed, following the hearse. His wife survived him; the diarist mentioned several times her visits to and sympathy for Sue.

(See the website called Winslow Maine Crosby Diary for additional excerpts. The diarist was Elizabeth B. Hinds Crosby (1892-1912); the hand-written diary was transcribed by Clyde Spaulding, her great-grandson.)

(Asher Crosby Hinds [1863-1919] was a Benton native and Colby College graduate, Class of 1883. After newspaper work in Portland, in 1889 he got a position as clerk to the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. He served in clerkship positions until 1911, editing the Rules, Manual, and Digest of the House of Representatives [1899] and Hinds’ Precedents of the House of Representatives [1908]. In 1911 he was elected to the first of three terms as a Republican Representative from Maine. He died in Washington, D.C., and is buried in Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery.)

In China, Indian Island (previously Round Island or Birch Island) in the east basin of China Lake was reported – inaccurately, it appears — to have gold deposits. Several sources cite prominent Quaker Rufus Jones’ memoir of his boyhood, in which he wrote that people dug over the whole island and found only pyrite, an iron sulphide often called “fool’s gold” because it is yellowish.

One more hint of local gold is found in Milton E. Dowe’s Palermo Maine Things That I Remember in 1996. Dowe wrote: “It’s known that there was a gold mine east of the Marden Hill Road [in north central Palermo]. I have been there to the site but never heard the facts of it.”

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Tin, described by Wikipedia as “a soft, silvery white metal with a bluish tinge,” that does not occur as “the native element” but has to be extracted from other ores, is another resource Kingsbury mentioned.

Mixing tin with copper creates bronze, as people discovered some 3,000 years B.C. Wikipedia does not list the United States as a source of tin. But Kings­bury related a story about tin in Win­slow, Maine.

As he told it, about 1870 Charles Chipman noticed “[i]ndications of tin ore” in the rocks along a brook on J. H. Chaffee’s property. He and others, including Thomas Lang (a prominent citizen of Vassalboro) and a doctor from Boston, concluded it might be worth mining.

They organized a company and dug more than a hundred feet down, finding more tin as the shaft went lower, but not enough to cover costs, never mind make a profit. Kingsbury wrote that they gave up around 1882.

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One rather unusual resource is a mineral spring. Mineral springs are similar to ordinary springs, areas (often hillsides) where groundwater naturally comes to the surface because the ground slopes below the water table.

Wikipedia says a mineral spring contains dissolved minerals, especially salt, lime, lithium, iron and sulfur compounds, and sometimes harmful components like arsenic.

For generations people have believed some mineral springs are healthful. “Taking the cure” or “taking the waters” was popular, especially in 18th and 19th century Europe for upper-class Europeans and Americans. Spas have been developed around mineral springs as destinations for people seeking better health; Wikipedia’s illustrations include mineral spas in Europe, India and Iran.

Major mineral springs that have been developed in Maine include Blue Hill Mineral Spring near Blue Hill, in Hancock County, and especially Poland Spring, in Poland.

The spring in Blue Hill was “well-known” before a company was organized in 1888 to exploit its supposed healing properties, according to the Maine Memory Network. Blue Hill’s mineral water was sold nation-wide, including being available on Pullman cars on many eastern railroads. The company folded after a November 1915 fire destroyed its processing buildings.

In 2014, three former University of Maine professors wrote a short article on two mineral springs in Baxter State Park that contained potassium and sodium and served as salt licks for deer and moose.

Poland Spring, in Poland, is by far the best-known Maine spring. According to Wikipedia, the spring is on the lot where Jabez Ricker opened an inn in 1797. In 1844, Jabez’s grandson, Hiram Ricker, said drinking water from the spring had cured his chronic indigestion.

The inn was enlarged, more guests heard about the alleged properties of the water and the Rickers started bottling and selling it. The elaborate Poland Spring House opened in 1886.

There is still a hotel at the spring, Poland Spring Resort. Bottled water now sold under the Poland Spring label comes from more than one part of Maine.

Locally, there are records of mineral springs in Augusta and China.

James North wrote in his Augusta history that in 1810 there were two prominent mineral springs in the area. The Togus Mineral Spring, also called the Gunpowder Spring (North did not explain why) in Chelsea had become well-known as the enthusiasm for mineral waters spread. It was in a meadow; its water had been compared to water from a similar spring in Bowdoin.

Wikipedia adds that the name “Togus” probably came from a Native American word, worromontogus, which can be translated as “place of the mineral spring.” In 1858, a granite dealer from Rockland built the Togus Spring Hotel, with “a stable, large pool, bathing house, race track, and bowling alley.” The venture was unprofitable, and in 1866 the United States government bought the building for a veterans’ home.

According to North, a newly discovered spring in downtown Augusta, close to the Kennebec, was even more popular in 1810 than the Togus spring. He described the location by naming the owner of a nearby house that was on Water Street “opposite Laurel Street,” information that puts the mineral spring in the northern end of the business district, north of the Calumet bridge.

The mineral spring in China, according to local historian Clinton Thurlow, was northwest of South China village, on the west side of China Lake’s east basin. In one of his histories of the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington narrow-gauge railroad, Thurlow provided information on the branch line from Weeks Mills to Winslow that ran trains for a few years, beginning on July 9, 1902 (the tracks were removed about 1915, he wrote).

There was a dance pavilion in South China then, on the western edge of the village, and Thurlow wrote that the railroad would run excursions from Winslow to South China, taking passengers to the pavilion early in the evening and bringing them back to Winslow around midnight.

There was another popular place on the WW&F line to Winslow, not far north of the pavilion. Thurlow wrote: “A mineral spring between the Pavilion and Clark’s Crossing provided the occasion for many an unscheduled stop while train crews and passengers alike refreshed themselves.”

Clark’s Crossing was presumably the place where the tracks crossed the still-existing Clark Road that runs toward China Lake from what is now Route 32 North (Vassalboro Road). Your writer has found no other reference to this spring, but does not doubt its existence, because Thurlow talked with several former WW&F employees.

Update on Victor Grange

Victor Grange

Victor Grange #49, in Fairfield Center, organized in 1874, first was profiled in this series on May 13, 2021. This year’s July 14 issue of The Town Line reported that Grange members were about to have the hardwood floors downstairs refinished, probably for the first time since the building opened in 1903.

Grange Lecturer Barbara Bailey reported on July 31 that the floors are done! Grange members intended to spend the first day of August cleaning up dust from the sanding and washing windows before they rehung curtains.

Wednesday, Aug. 3, is the scheduled day to move furniture – including two pianos – back in.

Bailey invites anyone interested in this building preservation and restoration work to contact her at 453-9476 or email baileybarb196@gmail.com. The Grange email address is victorgrange49@gmail.com.

Update on the July21 update on the Kennebec Arsenal

Kennebec Arsenal

Augusta’s Kennebec Arsenal, a group of eight granite buildings dating from 1828-1838 and designated a National Historic Landmark District, has been discussed in two earlier articles in this series, in the Jan. 21, 2021, and Feb. 10, 2022, issues of The Town Line. The buildings have been privately owned since 2007; when the owner bought them from the state, he agreed to keep them in repair and maintain their historic value.

This writer’s July 21 update, citing a story by Keith Edwards of the Kennebec Journal, reported that the Augusta City Council was considering declaring the property dangerous. A declaration would let councilors have repairs made and bill the owner, or have the buildings demolished.

The council postponed a decision until its July 28 meeting, Edwards wrote. In the July 29 Kennebec Journal, he reported that after almost four hours of discussion, councilors again delayed a decision. They plan to continue the hearing at their next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 4, at 5:30 p.m.

Edwards wrote that Augusta Codes Enforcement Officer Rob Overton told council members the buildings were in deplorable condition inside and out. He estimated the cost of making them usable again at around $30 million.

The owner, accompanied by his lawyer, pointed out that he had reroofed all the buildings – Overton had exempted the roofs from his criticism – and made other repairs. He said he intends to ask for local permits to renovate five buildings by the end of August, planning to complete the work within two years.

The owner estimated the cost for that part of renovations at $1.76 million. For another $3.5 million, maximum, he said he could convert what Edwards called “the large Burleigh building” into upscale apartments.

Correction to above article

Benton historian Barbara Warren wrote to point out an error in the Hinds genealogy in the Aug. 4 piece on natural resources, the section on Augustine Crosby (1838-1898), who invented a gold dredge and married Asher Hinds’ daughter, Susan Ann Hinds (1837-1905).

This writer incorrectly identified Susan Hinds’ father as Asher Crosby Hinds, known as “the Parliamentarian.” Her father was actually Asher Hinds (1792- 1860), whom Warren calls “the builder” (he sponsored the building of the Benton Falls Meeting House in 1828 and in 1830 built the Benton Falls house in which Warren now lives). Warren describes him as “a prosperous farmer and merchant,” War of 1812 veteran and delegate to the Massachusetts General Court.

Susan Ann (Hinds) Crosby was Augustine Crosby’s third cousin and Parliamentarian Asher Crosby Hinds’ aunt. Her brother, another Asher Crosby Hinds, was born in 1840 and died in 1863 in the Civil War. The Parliamentarian’s father was Susan’s brother, Albert Dwelley Hinds (1835-1873).

The confusion is understandable, Warren wrote. For four generations, the Hinds family included an Asher; and Hinds and Crosbys often intermarried.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Thurlow, Clinton F., The WW&F Two-Footer Hail and Farewell (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

China history to be available at China Historical Society

Location of the China Historical Society collection, in the old town house directly opposite the present Town Office (and above The Town Line office) on Lakeview Drive.

by Bob Bennett

The China Historical Society’s collection will be open to the public on Saturday August 6, during China Community Days. These artifacts are located in the old town house found directly opposite the present Town Office on Lakeview Drive, and may be viewed between roughly 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Historical Society has very few active members and the intent of this opening is to try and entice many more town residents, both seasonal and year-round and young and old, to become involved in learning about and preserving the town’s past. This past weekend the building’s interior was extensively cleaned up by members Neil Farrington and Bob Bennett. Floors were vacuumed, displays were dusted and straightened and glass cases were carefully “windexed.” The exhibits are likely as neat as they have ever been. There is adequate parking available in the Town Office lot, the building is handicapped accessible via the ramp at the front and everyone is welcomed.

Hopefully with the numerous events available to the public during Community Days, plenty of folks will be enticed to stop by this vintage structure and pace its old, wide board floor to view and savor great pieces of China’s unique history. We look forward to seeing you.