Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Cony Flat Iron Building

Old Cony High School – Flat Iron Building

by Mary Grow

One more former school in the central Kennebec Valley is on the National Register of Historic Places: the original Cony High School, in Augusta, often referred to as Old Cony High School, to avoid confusion with present-day Cony High School, or as Cony Flatiron, for its unusual shape.

Kirk Mohney of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission prepared the National Register application for the building in July1988. The listing is dated Sept. 29, 1988.

The Cony Flatiron is on a 1.5-acre lot, Mohney wrote, on the southeast side of Cony Circle, the traffic circle at the east end of Memorial Bridge across the Kennebec River.

The name comes from the building’s unusual wedge, or flatiron, shape. The slightly curved end with the entrance faces northwest onto the rotary; the sides flare out, so that the building is wider at the back.

High school education has been available in Augusta since 1816. Augusta’s on-line Museum in the Streets says in 1815, Daniel Cony put up a building on his land at the intersection of Bangor and Cony streets, on the northeast side of the present traffic circle. “At first a mystery, it was soon announced to be an academy for girls”; it opened as Cony Female Academy the next year.

The Museum in the Streets says in 1844 the Academy, needing more space, relocated across Cony Street into the former Bethlehem (Unitarian) Church building. The new site was the Flatiron Building lot.

Cony Female Academy closed in 1857. Henry Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history, and Mohney summarized information on other post-primary Augusta schools between the 1830s and the 1880s, apparently located on the west side of the Kennebec.

By 1880 the newest of these schools was overcrowded. Kingsbury wrote that Cony’s grandson, ex-Governor Joseph Williams, proposed that the still-existing Academy Board of Trustees give the school’s trust fund, which by then had grown to almost $20,000, to the city for a new high school.

Augusta officials accepted and built “the present [in 1892] stately edifice” as Cony Free High School on the Flatiron site. The building pictured in Kingsbury’s history resembles a church, with peaked roofs, an arched entrance and a tall, decorated central tower.

Museum in the Streets says the city “controlled the property” by 1908. In 1909 the Cony Free High School building acquired “substantial wings” (Mohney’s words), but by the 1920s it, too, had become too small, and officials replaced it with the Flatiron Building and renamed it Cony High School.

Mohney’s description of the Flatiron said the Colonial Revival style brick building was designed by Bunker and Savage, of Augusta, and constructed between 1926 and 1932 (Museum in the Streets gives the dates as 1929-1930, suggesting most of the work was done then).

The building is three stories tall on a granite foundation, with “rusticated brickwork” on the first level. (Wikipedia explains “rusticated” brick, masonry or stonework as having a rough outward surface that gives a textured appearance.)

The ground-floor front has three bays on its curve, each with an inset doorway with granite moldings around the doors. Brick plinths between bays support the two-story Tuscan columns above them; each bay has three tall windows on each floor.

The second and third floors are “separated by a wide, ornate stringcourse,” Mohney wrote. The stringcourse, a curved granite band, “is decorated with carved swags and an open book bearing the date 1926.”

Above the third floor another stone band has the words “CONY HIGH SCHOOL” in its three sections. A brick parapet with a clock with Roman numerals topped the front of the building.

Both sides were provided with a generous number of tall windows – fourteen to a side since a 1984 remodeling, Mohney wrote, almost twice as many originally. He described the fourth side of the building (the back) as having “two walls that meet at an obtuse angle” and variety in height and arrangement of doors and windows.

Inside, he wrote, the school was minimally decorated and had the wide staircases with landings that were typical of the period. The third-floor auditorium was the fanciest room, with a stage at one end and a balcony at the other and “Colonial Revival style details with classical moldings and pilasters.”

Wikipedia says the school was dedicated Dec. 12, 1930, although the top floor remained unfinished until 1932.

Again the number of students increased to exceed the capacity of the building, and an addition with more classrooms was built farther up the hill in 1963 or 1965 (sources differ). The addition and the enclosed, elevated walkway connecting it to the Flatiron were demolished, Wikipedia says in 2008.

A Cony graduate said she took most of her classes in the addition, but went to the old building for her typing class; she believes business and perhaps shop courses stayed in the Flatiron. The main difference she remembers is that Old Cony’s classrooms had high ceilings.

The present Cony High School at 60 Pierce Drive, next to the Capital Area Technical Center, opened in the fall of 2006, and Old Cony High School closed that year.

Wikipedia says the city used the Flatiron Building to store city property until 2013, when Housing Initiatives of New England leased it (for 49 years at a cost of $1 per year) and converted it to senior housing. The conversion maintained historic features, including stairs, corridors and most of the auditorium. New windows were designed to look like the old ones.

The Daniel Cony clock was preserved. It says on its face: “Presented by Hon. Daniel Cony. Time Is Fleeting.”

An article by reporter Keith Edwards in the July 19, 2015, Kennebec Journal describes the opening of the 48-apartment Cony Flatiron Senior Residence, with former Cony High School graduates among the first tenants.

Daniel Cony

(Emily Schroeder, the archivist for the Kennebec Historical Society, wrote an article on Daniel Cony for the January-February 2020, issue of the Society’s newsletter, Kennebec Current. She was inspired by paintings of Cony and his wife on the wall of the society’s headquarters building. Much of the information on Daniel Cony is from her piece; other on-line sources and Henry Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history have contributed.)

Daniel Cony

Daniel Cony (Aug. 3, 1752 – Jan. 21, 1842) was a Stoughton, Massachusetts, native who studied medicine in Marlboro, Massachusetts, under a doctor named Samuel Curtis. On Nov. 14, 1776, he married his preceptor’s niece, Susanna Curtis.

In April 1775, when the first battle of the American Revolution was fought, Cony was a doctor in Shutesbury, Massachusetts, about 70 miles west of Lexington and Concord. Soon after his marriage, he joined General Horatio Gates’ army at Saratoga, New York, and was there when British General John Burgoyne surrendered on Oct. 17, 1777.

Meanwhile, in 1777, his parents, Samuel and Rebecca (Guild) Cony, moved to Fort Western on the Kennebec River. Daniel and Susanna joined them in 1778, with their first daughter, Nancy Bass Cony, who died that fall at the age of 13 months. They subsequently had four more daughters, Susan Bowdoin, Sarah Lowell, Paulina Bass, and Abigail Guild Cony.

Daniel Cony was among the founders of the Unitarian church, in Augusta. He served Hallowell as town clerk and later a selectman; became a member of the legislature, first in Massachusetts and, after Maine became a separate state, in Maine; was a member of the state Executive Council, a Kennebec County judge and a delegate to the 1819 Maine constitutional convention.

Schroeder found that in the constitutional convention he argued for renaming Maine “Columbus,” in honor of the explorer. An opponent objected that Columbus never got far enough north to know there was such a place as Maine.

Despite – or perhaps because of – his own lack of formal schooling, Cony strongly supported education, including education for women. His creation of and support for Cony Female Academy are cited to explain why Augusta high schools have been named in his honor.

Additionally, he was representative to the Massachusetts legislature when it chartered Hallowell Academy in 1791 (Augusta was part of Hallowell then) and was on the academy’s first board of trustees. He helped found Bowdoin College in 1794 and, Schroeder wrote, was a Bowdoin “overseer” from 1794 to 1797. In 1820 Bowdoin gave him an honorary degree.

And the four Cony daughters:

Susan (Dec. 29, 1781 – May 13, 1851) married Samuel Cony, her first cousin, on Nov. 24, 1803. Their son Samuel (1811-1870) was Governor of Maine from Jan. 6, 1864, to Jan. 2, 1867.
Sarah (July 18, 1784 – Oct. 17, 1867) married Reuel Williams, member of another prominent Augusta family, in 1807. Their oldest child and only son, Joseph Hartwell Williams (1814-1896) was governor of Maine from Feb. 25, 1857 to Jan. 6, 1858, after Hannibal Hamlin resigned to return to the United States Senate.
Paulina (Aug. 23, 1787 – Sept. 11, 1857) married Nathan Weston on June 4, 1809. He was one of the first Maine Supreme Court Justices (1820-1834) and second Chief Justice (1834-1841). Their grandson was United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Melville Weston Fuller (see The Town Line, Dec. 10, 2020).
Abigail (Jan. 17, 1791 – Nov. 29, 1875) married Rev. John Henniker Ingraham, from Portland, on Jan. 28, 1818, and died in Bangor.

Cony Female Academy

In 2002, the University of Maine provided a Women’s History Trail for Augusta that includes a history of Cony Female Academy, now available on line; and Henry Kingsbury summarized the academy’s history in his Kennebec County history.

Daniel Cony established the school to educate “orphans and other girls under the age of 16,” the University of Maine writer said. He speculated that Cony had in mind not only orphans, but also his own daughters, although by then all were adults and three were married.

Kingsbury wrote that Cony gave the 1815 building and its lot to a board of trustees, incorporated Feb. 18, 1818. The legislative act of incorporation referred to “the education of youth, and more especially females.”

Cony also provided Augusta Bank stock “and other gifts.” In 1826, the Maine legislature donated a half-tract of land, which the school sold for $6,000, and a Bostonian donated a $500 lot in Sidney. The school library had more than 1,200 volumes, given by Cony and others, making it one of the best in the area.

In addition to free education for orphans, the school admitted students who could afford to pay tuition, including boys. In 1825, tuition was $20 a year, with the trustees often contributing $10 a year for out-of-town students.

Besides the school building, the academy had a dormitory several blocks away where in the 1820s students boarded for $1.25 a week. Kingsbury wrote it was built in 1826 at the intersection of Willow and Myrtle streets, and was in 1892 Harvey Chisam’s home. The University of Maine writer located the dormitory at the intersection of Willow and Bangor streets, one block farther north.

By 1828, Kingsbury wrote, the academy’s property was valued at $9,795.

Hannah Aldrich, later Mrs. Pitt Dillingham, was the Academy’s first head, and continued her connection with the school into the 1840s. The Kennebec Historical Society has a picture of her when she was 92 years old.

After the school moved to the former Bethlehem Church in 1845, the original building became a house that “survived into the twentieth century” before being replaced by a filling station and later another building.

Kingsbury said the former Bethlehem Church was moved in 1880 to “its present [1892] location on the Fort Western lot at the foot of Cony Street.” The University of Maine writer said it was relocated down Cony Street to “a site near present-day [2002] City Center,” where it burned down in 1902.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).

Websites, miscellaneous

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Schools – Part 1

Hodgkins School

by Mary Grow

There are four school buildings in the central Kennebec Valley that are on the National Register of Historic Places, two in Augusta and one each in Winslow and Waterville.

Winslow’s Brick Schoolhouse has already been described, in the Jan. 28 issue of The Town Line. The old Cony High School, in Augusta, now the Cony Flatiron Building, will be a future subject.

This piece will describe Augusta’s Ella R. Hodgkins Intermediate School, later called Hodgkins Middle School, and the old Waterville High School, later the Gilman Street School.

The Hodgkins School served students in seventh and eighth grades (one source adds sixth grade) from 1958 to 2009. when the students were moved to a new high school building. The application for National Register status, prepared by Matthew Corbett, of Sutherland Conservation and Consulting, in Augusta, is dated Feb. 26, 2015. The building was added to the register the same year.

The former school, now called Hodgkins School Apartments on the Google map, is at 17 Malta Street, on a 20-acre lot in a residential neighborhood. Malta Street is on the east side of the Kennebec River, northeast of Cony Street and southeast of South Belfast Avenue (Route 105).

Originally designated the East Side Intermediate School, when the building was finished it was dedicated to former Augusta teacher Ella R. Hodgkins. She is listed in the 1917 annual report of the Augusta Board of Education as a Gorham Normal School graduate teaching at the Farrington School.

Corbett described the Hodgkins School as significant both for its architecture and because it was “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.”

Architecturally, he described the school as exemplifying the Modern Movement; it illustrated “the most recent trends in design and construction.” In terms of historical significance, Corbett wrote that the school was an element of “community planning and development, specifically the town-wide development of educational facilities.”

Augusta architects Bunker and Savage designed the “sprawling” building, Corbett wrote. It rose a single story above the ground and was almost 440 feet long, shaped like an E without a center bar.

The foundation was concrete blocks. The roof was flat; the windows Corbett called “aluminum ribbon sash and glass block.”

Both wings had full basements, giving them two useable floors, the lower partly below ground level, Corbett wrote. The boiler room and the shop classroom were attached on the northeast.

He described the arrangement of corridors, classrooms, offices, bathrooms and other spaces inside. The school had a combination gymnasium and cafeteria, with a stage, and an adjoining kitchen. The grounds provided space for a basketball court and softball and soccer fields.

In the 1950s, concrete blocks, aluminum and glass block windows were examples of modern materials, Corbett wrote. The Hodgkins School was also modern in its emphasis on “natural light and proper ventilation”; architectural drawings “included detailed ventilation and electrical specifications, large windows and skylights, as well as advanced mechanical systems for heating and cooling.”

Hodgkins was the third of three schools built during what Corbett said was “a decade long school building program that updated and consolidated Augusta’s schools to accommodate the post-World War II baby boom.”

He continued, “As the second intermediate school constructed in the city, the Hodgkins School represents the conclusion of the city’s effort to create modern elementary school buildings.”

The first two schools built under the city’s 1953 plan were Lillian Parks Hussey Elementary School (opened in September 1954) and Lou M. Buker Intermediate School (opened in September 1956).

While the Parks and Buker schools have been substantially altered, “The Ella R. Hodgkins Intermediate School retains historic integrity of location, design, setting, material, workmanship, feeling and association,” Corbett wrote.

* * * * * *

Old Waterville High School

Waterville’s Gilman Street School began life as a high school (Waterville’s second, Wikipedia says; the first was built in 1876). It became a junior high, then a technical college and is currently, like the Hodgkins School, an apartment building.

Gilman Street School was added to the National Register in 2010. The application by Amy Cole Ives and Melanie Smith, also of Sutherland Conservation and Consulting, is dated June 11, 2010.

The Maine Memory Network offers an on-line summary of the building’s history. Ives and Smith added details in their application.

The central block at 21 Gilman Street, facing south, was started in 1909 and finished in 1912 as Waterville High School. In 1936, a wing was added on the west side for manual arts classes; and in 1938-1939. a gymnasium and auditorium were added on the east side.

The last senior class graduated in 1963, and the building became Waterville Junior High School.

Meanwhile, Kennebec Valley Vocational Technical Institute (KVVTI), started in the (new) Waterville High School building with 35 students for the 1970-71 school year, rapidly expanded enrollment and course offerings. In 1977, KVVTI rented the Gilman Street building from the City of Waterville; the first courses were taught there in 1978, although some classes stayed at Waterville High School until 1983.

The Memory Network writer said that to save money, vocational students did some of the repairs and renovations the Gilman Street building needed.

KVVTI outgrew its new space, too, and by 1986 had completed the move to its current Fairfield location – a process that took six years, the Memory Network writer said.

The Gilman Street building housed educational offices and served other public and private purposes until Coastal Enterprises Inc. “in conjunction with a developers’ collaborative” turned it into an apartment building named Gilman Place. Its introductory open house was held May 11, 2011, as the first tenants moved in.

Ives and Smith said the original part of the building was designed by Freeman Funk and Wilcox, of Brookline, Massachusetts. The school is one of only a “few known examples of educational architecture” by that group, Wikipedia adds.

Ives and Smith called the school’s architecture “simplified collegiate gothic style.” All three sections are brick with cast stone trim.

The first building, Ives and Smith wrote, is a “symmetrical central three-story five-bay building.” The doors are in the two end bays; the central bays had windows on all three stories.

The doors described in 2010 “had Tudor gothic door surrounds with a four-centered pointed arch, white painted paneled intrados, and flush modern replacement doors with multi-light transoms.” Above each door is an arch over a stone sculpture: on the west, an eagle, wings spread wide, above the City of Waterville seal, and on the east an identical eagle above the Maine State seal.

Centered at the top of the building is a decorative stone rectangle with the words “Waterville High School.”

The 1930s additions were partly financed by the federal Works Progress Administration and were designed by Bunker and Savage of Augusta. Each wing is narrower and lower than the original building, and its front projects out slightly from the main building.

The exterior materials were chosen to match the original building, but Ives and Smith documented stylistic differences.

Of the west wing, they wrote, “Designed with more of the Art Deco influence of the 1920s-30s, the Manual Arts Building was simpler in massing and more streamlined in decoration than the original building.”

The east wing is more elaborate than the west. Ives’ and Smith’s description included a “substantial projecting stylized Tudor gothic tri-partite entrance,” framed by “cast stone quoins,” with its doors “recessed within gothic arched door surrounds” under “three original trios of four-over-six double hung lancet windows.”

They continued, “A cast-stone Tudor arch at the cornice level is elaborated by two round relief sculpture plaques of athletic themes (football and basketball) on either side; the arch fascia is infilled with fancy relief scrolls.”

In this wing, the combination gym and auditorium had an 84-by-68-foor basketball court in the middle; 15 “graduated rows of elevated seating” above the entrance in the south wall; and a 36-by-24-foot stage, with dressing rooms on each side, under a “painted wood Tudor gothic arch” along the north wall. “The aisle-end of each seating row is elaborately carved and painted art deco design,” Ives and Smith wrote.

Showers and locker rooms were in the basement below the stage.

Ives and Smith concluded that the Gilman Street School deserved National Register status for two reasons: its architecture, and its role in illustrating, with its 1930s additions, changes in education, specifically adding courses for non-college-bound students and accommodating increased enrollment.

They concluded, “[T]he property retains integrity of location, design, setting, material, workmanship, feeling and association and has a period of significance from 1909-1940.”

* * * * * *

For readers who wonder when this series will describe the district elementary schools that for years provided all the education many residents got, the answer is, “Not until the next writer takes over.”

The subject is much too complex for yours truly. Many local histories cover it, some writers basing their information on old town reports that contained detailed annual reports on each district.

Kingsbury wrote in his Kennebec County history that what is now Augusta was divided into eight school districts in 1787, 10 years before it separated from Hallowell. Eventually, he found, there were 27 districts.

The China bicentennial history has a map showing locations or presumed locations of schoolhouses in the town’s 22 districts. Sidney started with 10 districts in 1792; lost one to Belgrade in a 1799 boundary change; and by 1848 had 19, Alice Hammond wrote in her history of that town.

Millard Howard found detailed information on Palermo’s 17 districts for his “Introduction to the Early History of Palermo, Maine”. Windsor’s highest number was 15 in 1866-67, according to C. Arlene Barton Gilbert’s chapter on education in Linwood Lowden’s town history.

The authors of the Fairfield bicentennial history didn’t even try to count theirs. Three paragraphs on pre-1966 elementary schools in town included this statement: “There were many divisions of the Town into districts for school management by agents” before state law changed the district system in 1893.

Alma Pierce Robbins summarized the difficulty of describing town primary schools in her Vassalboro history: “In 1839 the School Committee was directed to make a large plan of the twenty-two School Districts. They did, but it was of little value. The next year there were many changes and another school opened.”

Gilman Place

An undated, but recent, online piece by Developers Collaborative begins: “Gilman Place has structurally preserved and bestowed new life into a vacant neighborhood treasure, while repurposing it as affordable workforce housing for area families.”

The article says there are “35 affordable apartments in walking distance from the city’s award winning downtown. Gilman Place is an example of smart growth development simultaneously addressing two concerns many Waterville residents shared: how to preserve and reuse the former Gilman School as well as the need for more quality apartments in Waterville.”

Gilman Place won the 2011 Maine Preservation Honor Award, the piece says. It says state and federal tax credits helped the project, and quotes recently-retired City Manager Mike Roy calling the reuse of the building “one of the best success stories in the city in the last 25 years.”

Correction & Expansion of one of last week’s boxed items

The update on the First Amendment Museum should have said that it was 2015, not 1915, when Eugenie Gannet (Mrs. David Quist) and her sister Terry Gannett Hopkins bought the Gannett family home on State Street, in Augusta, that now houses the museum. The same wrong date was in the account of the Gannett printing and publishing businesses in the Nov. 12, 2020, issue of The Town Line.

The First Amendment Museum website says the Pat and John Gannett Family Foundation bought the building. The foundation is named for Eugenie’s and Terry’s parents, Patricia Randall Gannett and John Howard Gannett.

They met in Florida when he was assigned there as an Army lieutenant during World War II and married July 5, 1943. Patricia Gannett died Feb. 12, 2013, at the age of 91; John Gannett died July 16, 2020, at the age of 100.

[Editor’s Note: The online versions have been corrected.]

Main sources

Corbett, Matthew, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Ella R. Hodgkins Intermediate School, Feb. 26, 2015, supplied by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.
Ives, Amy Cole, and Melanie Smith, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Waterville High School (former), June 11, 2010, supplied by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Tiffany Hill Chapel

by Mary Grow

So far this series has discussed the following churches in the central Kennebec Valley area whose buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places: Waterville First Baptist; Ten Lots Chapel (Baptist-based, now non-denominational); St. Mary’s Catholic, in Augusta; South Parish Congregational in Augusta; St. Mark’s Episcopal, in Augusta; three Quaker (Society of Friends) buildings, China’s Pond Meeting House and South China Community Church (now non-denominational) and Vassalboro’s Sophia Bailey Chapel; and two Universalist, now Universalist-Unitarian (All Souls in Augusta and Waterville’s).

Tiffany Hill Chapel

Remaining to be described is Tiffany Chapel, sometimes called Tiffany Hill Chapel, at 544 Tiffany Road, in Sidney. It was built as a Methodist church in 1881 and added to the National Register on Oct. 4, 2018.

The Methodists were prominent in Maine from the late 1700s. They were briefly mentioned earlier (see the piece on Fairfield in The Town Line, April 16, 2020).

Jesse Lee, the famous Methodist preacher who led meetings in Fairfield Center and Kents Hill in 1794, also stopped in Sidney. Kingsbury wrote in his Kennebec County history that Lee “planted” Methodism in Sidney on Jan. 29, 1794.

Methodists were active in Sidney from then on. Michael Goebel-Bain, now the Maine Historic Preservation Commission’s Historic Preservation Coordinator for the National Register, wrote in his 2018 National Register application for Tiffany Chapel that because Sidney Methodists were less numerous than those in nearby towns, they were often part of the Fairfield (1837 to 1845, according to Kingsbury) or Readfield (1847 to 1850) circuits, or combined with North Augusta (1860 to 1874) or Oakland (1874-1904) congregations.

There were, however, two early Methodist churches in Sidney, mentioned by Kingsbury and Goebel-Bain and in Alice Hammond’s history of Sidney.

The first was built in 1815 in southern Sidney, Goebel-Bain wrote. Hammond located it at Bacon’s Corner.

The second Sidney Methodist church was the 1828 building that Kingsbury described as ‘the largest house of worship ever in town.” That church was “about three miles north” of the Bacon’s Corner one and had a Paul Revere bell, according to Hammond.
The 1828 building was moved about a mile in 1845 and became a Union church, Kingsbury said. Hammond repeated the story that the big building “was attached to two long skids” and moved by 100 pairs of oxen, 50 to a skid.

Its new site was on land whose owners or heirs were allowed to reclaim it when the building was no longer used for religion. The owners exercised their right around 1880, Kingsbury said.

Hammond retold an interesting story of the Sidney Grange being frustrated in its effort to buy the building when one of its own members, planning to use it for a hay barn, bought the pew-holders’ rights for himself. He was expelled from the Grange.

Not long afterwards, Hammond wrote, the Revere bell was stolen from the barn, allegedly by two men, maybe Grangers, driving a double-horse team pulling a sled with a blanket-wrapped burden. Later, two men, with a similar team and sled, chopped a hole through the ice on the Kennebec River and dumped a blanket-covered object.

In 1892, Kingsbury wrote, the 1815 building was still a church but no longer Methodist: a Congregationalist minister, Rev. Henry Loring, had been preaching there for a year, “greatly to the satisfaction of the people in that section.”

Goebel-Bain, however, wrote that by 1880 both early churches had been “sold for other uses or destroyed.”

Sidney services were sometimes held in schoolhouse, Kingsbury said, including, Goebel-Bain wrote, Tiffany School (no longer existing) near the present chapel site.

Goebel-Bain and Hammond credited Oakland pastor Rev. M. E. King with inspiring Sidney Methodists to build their own church. Hammond referred to a revival; she and Goebel-Bain wrote that in August 1881 the Sidney Methodists incorporated as an independent parish, with King preaching in both towns.

On Aug. 13, church members appointed a three-man building committee consisting of Laforest Ellis, D. H. Goodhue and Zalmon Sawtelle (Goebel-Bain called Sawtelle a “housebuilder”).

Henry Goodhue donated the land, Hammond wrote – the lot is about one-third of an acre. The committee, meeting in Tiffany School, agreed on a plan by Aug. 20, according to Hammond, and the new church was dedicated Dec. 11. Goebel-Bain added that the school continued to be used “as an auxiliary support building for church events.”

(Kingsbury dated King’s tenure in Oakland as 1882 to 1884, and dated Tiffany Chapel to 1882.)

The school and the church were named for Tiffany Road and Tiffany Hill, which in turn were named for “a local farm family,” Goebel-Bain wrote.

He identified the building as historically significant both in its original 1881 form and after major alterations in 1911. Throughout his application he emphasized its small size, lack of ornamentation and other characteristics of a building designed for a small, rural, low-income congregation.

The original building, he wrote, is an example of one of the designs the Methodist Church Extension Service sent out in the latter half of the 19th century, when new congregations were being established in many places. It represents “the smaller type of modest rural church building.”

The major 1911 change was the installation of pressed metal interior walls. Goebel-Bain wrote that the original wall material is not recorded.

The new walls he considered “compatible with the original construction period.” He continued: “[T]he overall 1911 appearance reflects the small modest church of a small rural congregation.”

Later changes he described included reducing the height of the chimney, installing a tile ceiling below the original ceiling and adding asphalt roof shingles and aluminum storm windows.

Goebel-Bain described a single-story, east-facing, one-room wooden building on a granite foundation, with a steeply-pitched gable roof, no steeple and a brick chimney. It is 28 feet wide and 36 feet deep. The cornices above the front door and window “are vaguely reminiscent of the Italianate style, but the building is otherwise devoid of architectural detail on the exterior,” he wrote.

The narrow front door is wooden on the bottom and has two tall, slender windows in its top half. There is a rectangular window on either side of the door; a similar window in the gable above has been filled in with clapboards.

Each side of the buildings has two windows. Goebel-Bain called the back (west) wall “a mirror image” of the front except there is no door, and because the land slopes downward to the west, more of the foundation is visible.

The front door leads into a small “trapezoidal plan vestibule” with wooden doors set in angled walls and a nine-foot ceiling. The doors open into the single room that is the body of the chapel, with a 14-foot ceiling, painted wooden floor and “painted pressed metal” walls and ceiling.

The metal walls are sectioned, for example by a chair rail at the height of the bottoms of the windows, and have “three colors and two designs,” Goebel-Bain wrote.

In the west end of the room is a carpeted platform raised eight inches above the floor. It has a wooden railing across the front, with breaks at either end before lower metal railings covered with cloth connect to the wall on either side.

When Goebel-Bain wrote his description, the room had rows of “open back benches” facing the platform; whether they were original, he did not know. He deduced from the lack of marks on the floor that there had never been fixed seating, in the body of the room or on the platform.

A wood stove near the vestibule provided heat.

Goebel-Bain described the ceiling he saw as “covered with square acoustic ceiling tile in poor condition.” Four lights hung down from it, he wrote. He twice mentioned plans to redo the ceiling to make it more compatible with the historic building.
Despite the modern additions, Goebel-Bain saw Tiffany Chapel as well worth a place on the National Register. “Both interior and exterior are in good condition and retain a high degree of integrity,” he wrote.

And, he concluded, “Compared to other local churches the integrity of design, materials and workmanship is high. Location is intact and setting is largely unchanged from 1881. Although the house to the east is modern, the general setting remains open fields and woods with two farm residences nearby. Feeling and association are high as well.”

In 1967, Hammond wrote, Tiffany Hill Chapel and Oakland’s Dunn Memorial Church merged to create the Oakland-Sidney United Methodist Church. Tiffany Chapel was used only for summer services by the time her history was published in 1992.

Additional information on earlier topics

1) The First Amendment Museum in Augusta (see The Town Line, Nov. 12, 2020), based in what was once the Guy Gannett house, on State Street, has been awarded $249,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to expand its exhibit space. An early-August notice said the grant will help turn the house “into a 21st-century museum,” according to the museum website.

Genie Gannett, Guy Gannett’s granddaughter, and her sister bought the house late in 2015 and started the museum. Genie Gannett, now president of the board of directors, expressed gratitude to the Institute.

“This major grant will help us create a visitor experience that is unique, interactive, and relevant,” she said.

The website firstamendmentmuseum.org offers more information on the museum’s history, activities and staff, an invitation to sign up for a e-newsletter and instructions for making donations to this 501(3)(c) non-profit organization.

2) At a recent open house in Victor Grange in Fairfield Center (see The Town Line, May 13), members showed off recent improvements, especially the new parking lot, and talked about their next projects. The latter include insulating the building, which dates from 1903; restoring the canvas stage curtain; and restoring the colored tin ceiling.

Victor Grange welcomes new members. Grange meetings are held in the hall the second Monday of each month, following a 6 p.m. potluck meal.

People looking for more information or wanting to assist with the on-going fund-raising are invited to e-mail Victorgrange49@gmail.com, or to call 453-9476. The Grange also has a Facebook page.

3) For people interested in helping fund maintenance of Asa Bates Memorial Chapel (see The Town Line, Aug. 5), Kay Marsh offers the following rare family-published books of interest to Mainers:


by Fred Coolidge Crawford 1964

Ancestors of the Waterville area Lot Sturtevant family with ties to the Thomas Burgess and Richard Warren, Mayflower families, includes family charts and recent photos.


by Grace Davenport Winslow 1967

The oldest grandchild of John and Martha (Sturtevant) Coolidge recalls her memory of things past. This book contains “Memories of my childhood”, a biographical sketch of Martha (Sturtevant) Coolidge, presented to a group in Watertown, MA, in 1896. She grew up on Ten Lots Road, in West Waterville, now Oakland. Her birth house still stands, 200 years later.


by Fred E Crawford (her husband) 1945

Several of Mattie’s beautiful watercolor paintings, including one of Lot Sturtevant’s house, period family photos, some early Coolidge family history in Watertown, MA, and Mattie’s role in her many causes are discussed.

Donations for these books will be dedicated to the Asa Bates Memorial Community Chapel Call Kay Marsh, 1-207-465-7458, or email grammy.kay.cee@gmail.com for further information.

[Editor’s Note: This section has been updated to correct the date on which Genie Gannett, Guy Gannett’s granddaughter, and her sister bought the Gannett family house to 2015, not 1915.]

Main sources

Goebel-Bain, Michael National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Tiffany Chapel (June 18, 2018), supplied by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.
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: Samuel F. Smith – Composer of America

Samuel Francis Smith

by Mary Grow

Writer’s note: Samuel Francis Smith is mentioned in enough local histories that writing a few paragraphs about him seemed obligatory, even though his connection with the central Kennebec Valley was brief.

Samuel Francis Smith (Oct. 21, 1808 – Nov. 16, 1895) is best known as the man who in 1831 wrote America, also called My Country ‘Tis of Thee. The song was one of the United States’ unofficial national anthems, especially popular during the Civil War as “a rallying hymn for the north” (Earl Smith’s words, in his history of Colby College).

Other unofficial anthems included Hail, Columbia, (music by Philip Phile in 1789, words by Joseph Hopkinson in 1798), for many years the president’s personal anthem and still the vice-president’s personal anthem; America the Beautiful (music by Samuel A. Ward in 1882, words by Katharine Lee Bates in 1895); and God Bless America, written by Irving Berlin in 1918.

Francis Scott Key’s The Star-Spangled Banner became the official anthem by President Woodrow Wilson’s 1916 executive order and President Herbert Hoover’s 1931 approval of a Congressional Resolution.

The chapter in Whittemore’s 1902 Waterville centennial history on churches and ministers, written by George Dana Boardman Pepper (who was one of the ministers) says Smith was born and died in Boston. Educated at Boston Latin School and Harvard (Class of 1829), he graduated from Andover Theological Seminary in 1834.

It was while a student at Andover that Smith wrote America. In different articles that do not precisely match, Wikipedia says:

Composer and musician Lowell Mason (Jan. 8, 1792 – Aug. 11, 1872) asked Smith to translate or to write American words for some German songs, which included the tune to which America is set.
Smith wrote the words spontaneously and gave them to Mason to set to music, and Mason chose the German tune.

Earl Smith’s history gives this version: Samuel Smith did translations for Mason, who asked him to find “something striking” for a July 4 observance. Smith took a German song called God Bless our Native Land, and “in one afternoon” wrote the English words and called his song America.

Mason was an organist, a choir director and a composer of church and school music. Wikipedia’s biography credits him with several well-known songs, including Mary Had a Little Lamb, but does not mention America.

The Wikipedia article on Smith says the song was first sung publicly “on July 4, 1831, at a children’s Independence Day celebration, at Park Street Church, in Boston,” where Mason was organist and led the choir. Mason published it in 1832.

After a year (or less) as an editor of the Baptist Missionary Magazine in Boston, Smith came to Waterville in 1834 as pastor at Waterville Baptist Church and modern languages professor at Waterville College. His pay as a beginning professor was $100 a year, Earl Smith wrote.

Pepper called Smith’s arrival on Jan. 1, 1834, “the beginning of a new era” for the church and the town. He and Wikipedia agree that Smith was ordained a Baptist minister in Waterville, on Feb. 12, 1834. (These dates, if accurate, mean Smith probably came to Waterville before graduating from Andover, and they seem to contradict sources saying he spent at least part of a year in Boston.)

Pepper quoted from Smith’s own account of his Waterville years, describing the character and the growth of his congregation, and commented that it was not surprising that church members and townspeople “have ever given him a large place in their affections.”

Several authors said he taught his song to Sunday School children.

Although officially Waterville First Baptist’s pastor, Smith preached in other churches, including the first chapel at Ten Lots, in western Fairfield (see last week’s issue of The Town Line). Dean Marriner mentioned in Kennebec Yesterdays the time Messalonskee Stream flooded and kept him from returning from Ten Lots for his evening service in Waterville.

The history of Fairfield includes quotations from an 1896 “biographical sketch” by Martha Sturtevant Coolidge, identified as the granddaughter of Ten Lots settler Lee Sturtevant. Coolidge wrote that when she was in school, the members of the “school visiting committee” were always local ministers and lawyers.

She continued, “It was my good fortune during a part of my school days, that Dr. S. F. Smith, the well known author of America [,] was on the visiting school board. He seemed to bring the very sunshine with him, he had such a bright happy way in greeting us.”

In 1839, Marriner wrote in his Colby College history, what was then Waterville College was so short of funds that the president and one of the four faculty members quit. Another faculty member, George Washington Keely (Mathematics and Natural Philosophy) persuaded two more, including Smith, to stay on. Marriner pointed out that since Smith’s position was secondary to his preaching job, he had no compelling reason to desert the college.

The college trustees let Keely try to raise money, Marriner wrote. They did not appoint a new president in 1840, because they knew they couldn’t pay him.

Keely, with help from long-time college supporters, and from his two colleagues – all three donated half a year’s salary to the fund drive, despite years of back pay the college owed them, and went scrounging for money between terms – raised more than $50,000, enough to keep the school open.

After the crisis was over (temporarily), Smith’s annual salary as a part-time professor was $275, Marriner wrote. Smith left the church and the college in 1841.

When what was by then Colby College moved to the Mayflower Hill campus in the past century, historian Smith wrote that one of the many mementos from the old campus that came to the new one was a “tablet” honoring Reverend Samuel Smith that was hung on a wall in Lorimer Chapel.

After Smith left Waterville, Wikipedia says, he moved to Newton, Massachusetts, for the rest of his life. He continued to write song lyrics; he served as pastor of the First Baptist Church, in Newton Center; and he worked for the Baptist Missionary Union, editing its publications and later becoming its editorial secretary, a position he held for 15 years. His history of Newton was published in 1880.

Smith died Nov. 16, 1895, on his way to preach in Readville, a Boston suburb. Wikipedia says he left a wife and five children. His gravestone in the Newton Cemetery conspicuously identifies him as author of My Country ‘Tis of Thee.

In addition to the Colby memorial plaque, other reminders include his former home in Andover, “now a Philips Academy dormitory named America House.” Efforts to preserve his Newton home were thwarted by damaging fires in 1968 and 1969, but a monument and garden mark the site.

America – the words, American version

An on-line article from the Library of Congress says Smith was not the first to use the British melody for an American patriotic song. It quotes two stanzas sung at President George Washington’s first inauguration in 1789:

Hail, thou auspicious day!
For let America
Thy praise resound.
Joy to our native land!
Let every heart expand,
For Washington’s at hand,
With glory crowned.

Thrice beloved Columbia, hail!
Behold before the gale
Your chief advance.
The matchless Hero’s neigh;
Applaud him to the sky,
Who gave you liberty,
With gen’rous France.

(“Hero’s neigh” does not refer to a talkative horse; “neigh” is apparently an obsolete spelling of “nigh,” meaning near. Washington’s favorite warhorses were named Blueskin and Nelson. They were retired to Mount Vernon after the war ended.)

The first four verses of the current song were Smith’s original composition. There was a fifth verse in the original; Earl Smith wrote that its author deleted it because “it was sharply anti-British.” Earl Smith quotes it:

No more shall tyrants here,
With haughty steps appear,
And soldier-bands;
No more shall tyrants tread,
Above the patriot dead,
No more our blood be shed,
By alien hands.

Samuel Smith added a new fifth verse for the April 30, 1889, New York City celebration of the centennial of Washington’s first inauguration. That verse is as follows:

Our joyful hearts today,
Their grateful tribute pay,
Happy and free,
After our toils and fears,
After our blood and tears,
Strong with our hundred years,
O God, to Thee!

The familiar version of “America” has four verses:

My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From ev’ry mountainside
Let freedom ring!

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills,
Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

Our fathers’ God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King!

America – the music and words, British version

Wikipedia’s long history of God Save the King (currently God Save the Queen) emphasizes its age and uncertain origin. The article says it is the unofficial anthem of the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth and other British-related countries and territories; there is no official British national anthem.

The original music might have been a traditional plainchant (church music); or a dance tune; or a 1619 tune by composer John Bull (1562 or 1563 –1628); or a piece by Henry Purcell (1659 — 1695); or a Scottish carol; or a work by French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632 — 1687) that was adapted to fit the British monarchy by George Frederic Handel (1685 — 1759).

An on-line article from the Library of Congress says “God Save the King” became popular in London in September 1745, as support for King George II.

The words, too, vary, not only depending on whether the monarch is a king or a queen. The first verse is almost always the same, but, Wikipedia says, “Since its first publication, different verses have been added and taken away and, even today, different publications include various selections of verses in various order.”

The standard version of the first verse in 2021 is as follows:

God save our gracious Queen!
Long live our noble Queen!
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen!

Three of the 10 longest-reigning British monarchs have been women, according to an on-line list from The History Press. The current Queen, Elizabeth II, is at the top of the list; she ascended the throne Feb. 6, 1952, and was formally crowned at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953. This writer calculates she has reigned for 68 years and more than two months, so far.

Second on the list is Queen Victoria, who ascended to the throne June 20, 1837 (she was 18 years old) and was crowned at Westminster June 28 1838. She reigned for 63 years and 216 days.

Tied for eighth place is Elizabeth I, who ascended to the throne Nov. 17, 1558, and was crowned at Westminster Jan. 15, 1559. The History Press piece says she reigned for 44 years and 127 days.

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Marriner, Ernest Cummings, The History of Colby College (1963).
Marriner, Ernest Cummings, Kennebec Yesterdays (1954)
Smith, Earl H., Mayflower Hill A History of Colby College (2006).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Churches – Part 6

Asa Bates Memorial Chapel

by Mary Grow

The Asa Bates Memorial Chapel, also called the Ten Lots Chapel, in the southwestern part of Fairfield, was built between 1916 and 1918 and added to the National Register of Historic Places on Oct. 31, 2002.


Ten Lots is the name given to an area in northern Oakland and southwestern Fairfield that was settled in 1774 by families from Massachusetts, including Sturtevants (spelled Sturdifent in the 1790 federal census, according to Jack Davidson’s 2007 history of the Asa Bates Memorial Chapel) and Bateses.

An on-line Oakland history says Quaker Elihu Bowerman, one of the first settlers in North Fairfield (see The Town Line, April 16, 2020, p. 11), was “agent” for the Ten Lots settlers. The New Plymouth Colony had granted 8,000 acres that Bowerman “surveyed, charted and explored” for them. Later, the history says, the grant was expanded by 2,000 acres simultaneously with the arrival of another 10 families who each got a 200-acre lot – thus the name.

Kay Marsh, a trustee of the Asa Bates Memorial Chapel and unofficial historian, has a map superimposing the boundaries of the ten lots on an area map. The long, narrow lots run from north-northwest to south-southeast, with number one on the north and number ten on the south.

The Ten Lots area was initially part of Winslow. Waterville separated from Winslow in 1802; Oakland, originally West Waterville, separated from Waterville in 1873.

Waterville and Oakland are in Kennebec County. Fairfield, incorporated on June 17, 1788, is in Somerset County. The present dividing line between Fairfield on the north and Oakland on the south, and their respective counties, runs through lot number five of Ten Lots.

Early settlers included Revolutionary War veteran Lot Sturtevant; his descendants included two Reward Sturtevants. The first Bates family members also arrived early in the area’s history; they included Thomas, Samuel and Seth, and there were at least three Bates named Asa. The families intermarried, and both names remained common in Ten Lots for generations.

Despite the Bowerman connection, which has misled some historians, the early Ten Lots families were not Quakers, but Baptists. Ernest Cummings Marriner wrote in his history of Waterville’s Colby College that the first college president, Baptist Jeremiah Chaplin (who served from 1818 to 1833; see last week’s issue of The Town Line), used to “take walks with his students along the bank of the Kennebec or out to the thriving new settlement of Ten Lots in the western part of the town.”
(Marsh says the walk would have been about five miles one way.)

The intersection of Ten Lots and what is now Gagnon roads seems to have been the center of a distinctive 19th-century community. One source described area residents as very musical, with an instrument in almost every home and frequent song-fests.


Davidson wrote that Ten Lots residents were at first members of Waterville’s First Baptist Church that Chaplin organized in 1818. Services were held part of the time in the village and part of the time in a schoolhouse in or near Ten Lots.

In 1830, Davidson wrote, one of several revivals that started in Ten Lots brought in ten new church members, including seven surnamed Bates. Another revival in 1838, he wrote, included Rev. Samuel Francis Smith baptizing 17 “young people” from Ten Lots in Messalonskee Stream – in December.

In 1836, the Oakland history says, the Ten Lots community built a Union Church where the present chapel is. The site is on the east side of Ten Lots Road, which runs north-south, on the south side of the intersection with Gagnon Road. It is about as close to the middle of Ten Lots as possible.

The 1836 date does not match information Davidson had from two sources, who said 44 people left the Waterville Baptist Church in 1844 (on Jan. 15, one source said) and established a congregation in West Waterville. Another source said services were held in a Ten Lots schoolhouse, which was later moved to Reward Sturtevant’s property.

Davidson dated the Union Church, probably erroneously, to 1846. He suggested two reasons for the split: the differences between the in-town residents, including college students and professors, and the mostly farmers from Ten Lots; and the travel distance from West Waterville to the village.

A picture of the Union Church, a plain rectangular wooden building, hangs in the entry of the Asa Bates Memorial Chapel.

After Milton LaForest Williams (see box) offered to fund a new chapel, the Union Church building had to get out of the way. Davidson wrote that it was disassembled, loaded onto oxcarts, and taken as a gift to Rome, where men from Ten Lots put it back together and added a steeple.

He summarized a Dec. 12, 1915, letter from Rome’s Baptist Church members thanking Ten Lots residents for the building and their help. The church was still standing when he finished his paper in May 2007.

Until completion of the new chapel, a nearby schoolhouse again did temporary duty for Ten Lots church services. This schoolhouse later became a summer kitchen at Asa Bates’ house, according to the Oakland history.


The Asa Bates Memorial Chapel is so close to the town and county lines that although the building is in Fairfield, part of the driveway is in Oakland.

Christi A. Mitchell, the Maine Historic Preservation Commission historian who wrote the application for National Register listing, called the chapel “an extraordinary example of small scale Classical Revival Architecture in a rural setting.”

(Readers might remember Mitchell’s name from earlier articles that used material from her thoroughly-researched applications; see The Town Line, March 11, March 18 and April 15, 2021).

The story-and-a-half building set on a brick foundation, with four Doric columns across its front, is “similar to a Roman temple in form,” Mitchell wrote. She further commented on its “crisp Roman lines” and compared it with Thomas Jefferson’s 20 Pavilions at the University of Virginia.

The chapel sits among mostly well-maintained mid to late 20th-century residences (a few older farms and 19th-cenury houses are interspersed). Mitchell wrote that “no other structure in the neighborhood commands such a presence.”

The chapel’s architect is unknown, Mitchell wrote. In George Bryant’s speech at the Aug. 13, 1918, chapel dedication, Bryant said the late E. T. Burrows (husband of a cousin of Williams) managed “the planning and erection of the building.”

Marsh speculates that Williams had a say in its appearance, perhaps, for example, in the choice of a ceramic-tile roof, which seems more California than local. She also says that his wife’s brother was an architect.

(This writer’s on-line search found three architects surnamed Andrews active in the early 1900s, but none was born in New York City, none had a father associated with stagecoaches and only one practiced, briefly, in any part of New York.)

Above the Doric columns, the triangle under the roof has a half-circle window – Christie called it a fan window. Behind each column is what Christie called a gray marble pilaster.

Cement steps – now covered by wooden steps – lead to the center of a cement porch and the double front door, with marble panels on the sides and a rectangular window with a “diamond pattern grill” above.

On each side of the front, visible between the columns, is a marble plaque with a square window, similarly patterned, above it. Each plaque has an incised inscription.

The north plaque donates the chapel “to the religious literary and social purposes of this Ten Lots community,” and says that Rev. Samuel Francis Smith preached in the building between 1838 and 1842. The south plaque says Williams gave the chapel and library in 1916 “in grateful memory of his grandfather and benefactor Asa Bates born 1794 died 1878.”

The front doors open into a small vestibule and then the main room, high-ceilinged, with tall sliding doors, wood on the bottom with glass above, that allow it to be divided. Christie wrote that the doors are custom-made of mahogany.

At the far (east) end of the room is a stage. The stage is under a flat arch decorated, Christie pointed out, with triglyphs and metopes. It has a trapdoor in the floor, but no wings.

(Wikipedia says: “Triglyph is an architectural term for the vertically channeled tablets of the Doric frieze in classical architecture, so called because of the angular channels in them. The rectangular recessed spaces between the triglyphs on a Doric frieze are called metopes.”)

The north and south walls each have three tall nine-over-nine windows. Pastor Gene McDaniel recently repaired the windows, along with his father, Gary McDaniel, who did the reglazing. Chapel trustee Kay Marsh did the painting, and Howard Hardy offered encouragement.

To the right of the entrance is Williams’ library, a small room with bookcases on east and west walls. The books there now are a mixture of non-fiction – histories of the United States and of England and an enormous dictionary, for example – and fiction, including novels by Winston Churchill (the American writer, not the British statesman), Zane Grey, Gene Stratton Porter and Kate Douglas Wiggin.

The basement provides space for community meals, served from a generous-sized kitchen that shares the east end with the furnace room. There are three large windows on each side, below the corresponding windows on the main floor.

Building and furnishing the chapel cost $6,000 (Bryant) or $8,000 (Davidson). In addition, Williams gave $5,000 (Bryant) to be used to benefit the neighborhood and/or $10,000 to help maintain the chapel (Davidson).

When the chapel was finished, Williams donated it to the Ten Lots Union Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor, which on July 22, 1918, gave it in trust to the United Baptist Convention of Maine.

When the Christian Endeavor Society became inactive in the 1930s or 1940s, Davidson wrote, the United Baptist Convention became responsible for choosing three chapel trustees. Marsh says she and Hardy are currently the only two.

After years as a community center and chapel, hosting suppers, parties, plays, wedding and funerals, the chapel is now seldom used. Since the late 1960s it has been rented, mostly to religious groups who use it one or two days a week.

Marsh says the remainder of Williams’ trust fund pays for insurance on the building, and rental fees cover heat and lights. The current tenants have repainted the interior.

Asa Bates

Asa Bates

Ten Lots resident Asa Bates (1794-1878) married Fannie Stillman in 1818. One of their daughters, the Oakland history says, was Frances Diana, who married Henry Williams.

The Williams couple lived in what was then Petersburg (or Petersburgh), New York (near Plattsburg) where Fannie had been born in 1801. Asa Bates’ grandson Milton LaForest Williams (known as LaForest to his friends) was born there Aug. 20, 1851. In 1857, Marsh says, he, his mother (who died in 1864) and his two-years-younger sister came to Ten Lots to live with Asa Bates (his father’s fate is unknown).

Among documents Marsh has assembled is the text of a speech at the dedication of the Asa Bates Memorial Chapel by George Bryant, who had known Williams since the latter was 16 years old.

Bryant wrote that Williams worked on Ten Lots farms, where “with his bright and happy disposition, he was a general favorite.” He had jobs in at least two Oakland stores, one when he was 13 years old and later one Bryant established. His formal education ended after one term of high school.

After a brief time in Pennsylvania, Bryant wrote, homesickness brought Williams back to Maine in 1869. He learned telegraphy and began working for the Boston and Maine Railroad, in Portland, and points south, becoming head of the Union Station ticket office in 1888 and also treasurer of the Old Orchard Beach Railroad Company.
In 1893, Bryant wrote, Williams married Alice Maria Andrews, in New York City. He did not say, and Marsh does not know, how they met. Marsh found that Williams’ father-in-law had become rich in the stagecoach business.

Williams’ wife was not well, Marsh says. The couple had no children, and they moved to Pasadena (for her health?). Bryant wrote that she died there on Nov. 10, 1907.

After his wife died, Williams became a philanthropist. Bryant wrote that he had “honestly gained considerable wealth” “with no material assistance from any one” through his “natural ability and successful business management.” Marsh believes his wealthy father-in-law contributed.

Bryant’s dedication speech said Williams decided to have the chapel built to do something for the Ten Lots neighbors he remembered affectionately and to honor “the memory of his grandfather, The Grand Old Man, as he called him, who in kindheartedness, had been more than father and mother to him in his orphanhood.”

In addition to building the Asa Bates Memorial Chapel, the Oakland history says Williams helped pay for a fence and fountain at Lakeview Cemetery, and left $25,000 for education that was used to build Oakland’s Williams High School (1925 – 1969; now the oldest section of Milton LaForest Williams Elementary School, according to an on-line source).

Davidson recounts another example of Williams’ generosity to old friends. After the Civil War, he wrote, Lot Sturtevant’s grandson Reward Sturtevant learned that Williams owed $13 for groceries and wanted to clear the debt before he went away (perhaps to Pennsylvania?). Reward Sturtevant bought Williams’ 13 sheep for a dollar each.

Williams died May 5, 1919. In his will, he left $13,000 to Reward Sturtevant.

Main sources

Davidson, Jack, The Complete History of the Asa Bates Memorial Chapel (May 2007)
Marsh, Kay conversation and loan of documents.

Websites, miscellaneous.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that the people responsible for repairing the large windows were Pastor Gene McDaniel and his father, Gary McDaniel, who did the reglazing. Kay Marsh did the painting, and Howard Hardy offered encouragement.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Coburn Classical Institute

Coburn Classical Institute

by Mary Grow

The school that in 1883 became Coburn Classical Institute started in 1821 as the first of what later became four (according to Ernest Cummings Marriner) or five (according to an anonymous website author) college preparatory schools (also called grammar schools, academies, or institutes) associated with what is now Colby College (see box number 1).

Marriner wrote in his history of Colby College that for many years four schools served as feeders for the college: Coburn in Waterville, Hebron in Hebron (founded in 1804 and today a private school for grades six through 12), Charleston, later Higgins, in Charleston (apparently still in operation as a Christian school) and Houlton, later Ricker, in Houlton (founded in 1848, closed).

Colby’s first President, Jeremiah Chaplin (see box number 2), found a shortage of students prepared for college-level work. He therefore got approval from trustees to establish a “grammar school,” at no cost to the college itself.

Classes started in 1821, in the President’s House (also called Wood House, in the triangle where current College Avenue and Upper Main Street meet), at that time the college’s only building. The first teacher/principal was a sophomore named Henry Paine.

When the first campus building opened farther north in 1822, Waterville Classical Institute, also called the College Grammar School or the Latin School, was given space. Albion native and later anti-slavery martyr Elijah Parish Lovejoy (see The Town Line, Aug. 13, 2020), then a student at the college, was teacher/principal from 1824 to 1826.

The new school provided enough qualified college students to impress the trustees. On August 27, 1828, they voted to spend not more than $300 for a separate academy building.

Marriner wrote that Timothy Boutelle, treasurer of the college, had donated land for the Waterville Baptist Church, still standing at the intersection of Elm and Park streets (see The Town Line, June 24, 2021). On the south side of Park Street, where Monument Park has been succeeded by Veteran’s [sic] Memorial Park, was a cemetery. South of that was another lot Boutelle owned (now the site of Elm Towers).

Boutelle donated his south lot for the new building. College President Chaplin raised money to supplement the $300, and Marriner wrote that the final cost, $1,750, had been paid in full when the building opened in the fall of 1829.

During Coburn Classical Institute’s 75th anniversary celebration (June 19-25, 1904), historian and graduate (class of 1875) Edwin C. Whittemore quoted an editorial from the Nov. 4, 1829, Waterville Watchman describing the 42-by-34-foot (plus porch) two-story brick building with a cupola as “a beautiful orna­ment of our village, not surpassed, we believe, by any other Academy building on the Kennebec.” The editorial also commended the availability of local higher education for families who could not afford, or did not want, to send children away for schooling beyond the elementary level.

The school became Waterville Academy. Mariner wrote that it remained “an adjunct to the College,” dependent on college faculty and on college financing to supplement “very low tuition fees.” The Watchman said tuition was $2.50 for each of the four terms in a year. By 1831 it had risen to $3 a term, and French classes were being added, Whittemore wrote.

Waterville Academy admitted girls from the beginning. Then-Principal Franklin Johnson wrote in his chapter in Whittemore’s 1902 Waterville history that the first class had 63 students, 47 male and 16 female. The 1830 catalog listed two teachers and 61 students, 25 of them girls. One of the girls was Jeremiah Chaplin’s daughter Marcia.

In 1831 college trustees hired a new head man for the academy, the same Henry Paine who had been its first head. In the interim, Marriner said, he had earned a good reputation as head of Monmouth Academy for four years.

Marriner wrote that after Paine left in 1835, Waterville Academy was unable to keep a permanent principal, and, Whittemore wrote, most of those who tried the job were young and inexperienced. College officials lost interest in the academy.

The Waterville Universalists opened the Waterville Liberal Institute, which Whittemore said attracted “many” would-be Waterville Academy students. He wrote that the academy was “wholly suspended” for most of 1839 and 1840. By the winter of 1840-41, Waterville Academy had so few students it closed and let a district school use its building.

Waterville residents were not pleased to lose the school, and an “aroused citizens’ committee” (Marriner’s description) reacted by asking the college to hand over the academy. On Feb. 12, 1842, the state legislature rechartered Waterville Academy with a new town-based board. The new board ran the school, but the college kept title to the real estate, Marriner wrote.

After Nathaniel Butler’s one year in charge, in September, 1843, James Hobbs Hanson, of China, Waterville College ’42, became Waterville Academy principal (see box number three). Marriner wrote that the trustees promised they would have the building repaired, but they offered no salary and guaranteed no students.

Hanson started with six students, increased enrollment to 28 by December and spent $40 more than he took in during his first term, Marriner wrote. Over the next 11 years, enrollment rose to a high of 308 in 1852; but income never sufficed to pay staff and maintain the building.

Whittemore said the first preceptress, Roxana Hanscom, of Waterville, was hired in 1844 and the second story of the building became the girls’ classroom.

Constantly struggling to keep the school solvent, “Hanson broke under the strain and resigned in 1854,” Marriner wrote.

The next 11 years saw Waterville Academy decline steadily, partly because of the Civil War, which, Marriner wrote, was the death of many other Maine private high schools.

In August 1864, the Academy Board of Trustees had many vacancies, and Colby President James T. Champlin suggested the remaining members return the lower school to the college. The college trustees agreed to re-assume control of the preparatory school, which in 1865 they renamed Waterville Classical Institute, and handed the responsibility to the faculty.

According to Whittemore, Champlin further persuaded James Hanson to return as principal, a post he held until he died April 21, 1894.

In 1874, former Maine Governor Abner Coburn (1803-1885) offered $50,000 to Waterville Classical Institute as part of a plan that saw Colby establish official ties with Houlton and Hebron academies (Charleston was added in 1891). He required the school to match his gift, and directed that $40,000 become a permanent endowment fund, with only the interest to be spent.

In 1883, Coburn gave the Institute a new building to replace the one built in 1829, as a memorial to his younger brother Stephen and his brother’s son Charles, Colby ’81, who had died July 4, 1882.

On July 3, 1883, Colby trustees voted to change the Institute’s name to Coburn Classical Institute, to recognize Coburn’s generosity. The formal dedication was part of the 1884 college commencement.

In all, Marriner wrote, Coburn donated or willed more than $200,000 to the school.

The family generosity did not end there. During the 1904 75th anniversary celebration, Principal Franklin W. Johnson’s summary of the events included the announcement of a $25,000 matching grant from the family of Stephen Coburn, to strengthen the school’s endowment.

The 1904 principal further commented the Institute had until recently been in sound financial shape. But he, said, in recent years a combination of increasing expenses – he mentioned more and better-paid teachers and more equipment, especially for science classes – and decreasing income due to low interest rates placed Coburn and similar schools “in a precarious position.”

The Coburn family’s gift was therefore vital, Johnson said. Others had been generous during the anniversary, and he and a colleague were in charge of matching the gift within a year.

Back to 1882: The new building on Elm Street was brick. Marriner referred to “spacious rooms, “high ceilings” and an “impressive tower.” It cost more than $50,000, Whittemore said; he added that it took over the site of the 1829 building, which was moved to the back of the lot and later taken down.

An undated on-line photograph shows a three-story building on a basement. Its entrance is from Elm Street, beside a protrusion with two-story columns under a peaked roof at right angles to the main roof.

Two smaller extensions break the front façade on either side of the larger one.

On the south end of the building is a four-story tower with windows in the basement as well as the three stories. A round cupola has either six or eight large arched windows under a round dome.

The smaller central dome on the main roof suggests the photograph was taken after 1893, because, Whittemore wrote, a dome was added that year, after Massachusetts resident Mary D. Lyford and her son donated “a six-inch equatorial telescope” in memory of husband and father Moses Lyford, who taught astronomy at Colby for 30 years.

By the early 20th century, the campus included Libbey field. The City of Waterville owns a poster advertising a Saturday, May 7, baseball game between Coburn and Hebron Academy. Admission was 50 cents.

(This poster creates a minor puzzle. The Waterville website listing this and other historic posters says they date from 1924, 1925 and 1926; but May 7 did not fall on Saturday in any of those years. It did in 1927.)

(Athletics were not new at the institute, though this writer has found few records of organized sports. In a paper prepared for the 1904 anniversary celebration, 86-year-old William Mathews, Class of 1831, remembered snow forts and snowball fights, swimming in the Kennebec River and Messalonskee Stream and running games [a reference to goals suggests football or soccer] on the grounds and, more dangerously, over and around the headstones in the adjacent cemetery.)

In 1901, Whittemore wrote, the Maine Legislature approved separating Coburn from Colby again, organizing the Trustees of Coburn Classical Institute. The main reason for the change was to give the school’s board, instead of the college, control of financial management.

Coburn’s building housed Coburn Classical Institute until it burned on Feb. 22, 1955. After the fire, Marriner wrote, Coburn gave up all but its college preparatory classes and became a private day school. Ancestry.com offers a 1968 yearbook, which it says has 36 pictures of 345 students (an unusually high number for a single year), and lists yearbooks from 1957, 1964 and 1965.

A website says the Institute’s graduates included three United States Senators, eight U. S. Representatives, five governors of Maine, ten justices of the Maine Supreme Court and eight college presidents.

The five governors were Alonzo Garcelon (No. 36); Sebastian Streeter Marble (No. 41); and three other men who served as governor and as a member of Congress: Israel Washburn, Jr. (No. 29), Nelson Dingley (No. 34) and Llewellyn Powers (No. 44).

Whittemore listed four of the college presidents: Colby’s Nathaniel J. Butler, Jr. (1896 to 1901); Colgate University’s George William Smith (1895 to 1897; Colgate is in New York State); Shaw University’s Charles Francis Meserve (1894 to 1919; Shaw is in North Carolina); and Yokohama Theological Seminary’s John Lincoln Dearing (1894 to 1908; Yokohama is in Japan).

In 1970 Coburn Classical Institute merged with the well-housed Oak Grove School, in Vassalboro (see last week’s issue of The Town Line). The combined co-ed school served students from sixth grade through high school until 1989.

The Oak Grove-Coburn student body included day students from Waterville, Vassalboro and other area municipalities and up to 50 boarding students. Boarders came from other parts of the United States and from foreign countries, including Germany, Japan and Spain.

Central Maine newspapers reporter Greg Levinsky quoted former student Jennifer Briggs as appreciating the opportunity to meet people from different places and cultures.

Oak Grove-Coburn was not a religious school, despite its beginnings. Wikipedia says it was noted for “its diversity, community atmosphere and close student-faculty relationships. It was also known for its innovative curriculum.”

The latter included the Wednesday Program, which featured interdisciplinary courses, and Project Week, “offering opportunities for non-academic learning experiences.”

During its 19 years it had four headmasters, whom Wikipedia lists as Andrew C. Holmes (1970-9173), Fred B. Steinberg (1973-1979), Dan Fredricks (1979-1981) and Dale Hanson (1981-1989).

Oak Grove-Coburn’s highest enrollment was 175 students, Levinsky wrote. By the late 1980s enrollment was down to around 100, not enough to pay the bills. Financial failure forced the school to close in 1989.

1 – Colby College

Original Colby Campus on College Ave., in Waterville

The school that is now Colby College on Mayflower Hill (and, returning to its roots more than 300 years ago, in downtown Waterville) received its original charter as the Maine Literary and Theological Institution in the spring of 1813, from the Massachusetts legislature. It is Maine’s second oldest college, after Bowdoin, chartered in June 1794.

Most of Colby’s founders were Maine Baptists. However, from its beginning the Institution was non-denominational in practice, accepting other Christians as faculty and students.

In the spring of 1815, Ernest Cummings Marriner wrote in his history of Colby College, a legislative committee gave the Institution a land grant – Township Three, west of the Penobscot River, north of what is now Old Town. By September, the school’s trustees had visited the area and found it unsuitable for building an educational institution.

They invited towns closer to what were then European-inhabited parts of Maine to offer sites, and in October 1817 chose Waterville. Having decided on the town, they next decided on a site: the west bank of the Kennebec on the road running north from Waterville to Fairfield.

Earl Smith, another historian of the college, said the site was about half a mile north of what was then downtown Waterville. The original 179-acre plot was later reduced as land was sold to raise money.

In those days, Marriner wrote, much of the road to Fairfield ran through woods. He described volunteer residents cutting down trees to make space for the first two college buildings in 1821 and 1822; and quoted from a letter describing the “candles in the students’ rooms…glimmering on the dense forest.”

Meanwhile, the Institution had been re-chartered by the new legislature after Maine became a state on March 15, 1820, and authorized to grant degrees. Legislators also promised $1,000 a year for seven years, on condition that at least a quarter of the grant be used to reduce tuition. On Feb. 25, 1821, Marriner wrote, the Maine legislature renamed the Institution Waterville College.

The first brick building, South College, was finished in the fall of 1821, and the first two students graduated in August 1822.

Marriner listed three significant changes during Jeremiah Chaplin’s presidency, from 1818 to 1833: Waterville College opened a medical school, discontinued the theological branch and started a student aid workshop.

The medical school, in conjunction with a similar Vermont school, was dissolved in 1833; Marriner said no explanation was provided.

The theological department lost students steadily, as Baptists who resented the post-1820 emphasis on a secular curriculum sent their sons to the new Newton (Massachusetts) Theological Institution, founded in November 1825. The last five theological graduates completed their studies in 1825.

The workshop was just that, a place where students earned part of their tuition by building wooden house fittings and furniture to be sold. Started in 1828, it consistently operated at a deficit, and was discontinued in the spring of 1841. Chaplin favored it, and his support might have been one reason it lasted as long as it did.

For most of the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s, while preparatory school and college were separate, the college struggled with low enrollment, unpaid tuition and mounting bills. By 1864, as the Civil War ended, there was talk of closing Waterville College, Smith wrote.

One Sunday that winter, Gardner Colby, a Boston-area man who had made a fortune selling the woolen cloth his company made to the Union Army, heard his preacher recall a meeting 40 years earlier with President Chaplin, who was trying to raise funds for Waterville College.

Colby had lived in Waterville as a youth, in extreme poverty, and Chaplin had helped him and his mother and siblings. When the first college building opened in 1821, Colby was there, and he never forgot the celebratory candles glowing from the windows, lighting up the woods.

At the 1864 college commencement, Colby announced that he would donate $50,000 to the school if the school would match it with $100,000. Smith described the announcement as a total surprise to all but the college president: “The audience sat in stunned silence and then erupted into wild cheering and stomping.”

The matching money was raised, Colby became a college trustee and on Jan. 23, 1867, the state legislature rechartered the school as Colby University.

In 1871, trustees voted to admit women, in an effort to increase enrollment. The school remained coeducational until 1890; by then, Smith wrote, “growing uneasiness over the academic dominance of women students” led the trustees to retreat to what Smith called “a coordinate university.”

When Nathaniel Butler, Jr., came from the University of Chicago to become Colby President in 1896, Smith wrote that, “he knew a university when he saw one. Colby was no university.” Butler promptly started a campaign to change the name, with the result that on Jan. 25, 1899, the Maine legislature renamed the school Colby College.

The move from the closely-hemmed-in College Avenue campus to Mayflower Hill began after Colby graduate Franklin Winslow Johnson became President in 1929. Interrupted by the Depression and World War II, it took more than 20 years to finish.

Smith wrote that teaching continued on the College Avenue campus until May 1951, and the Class of 1956 was the first whose members had spent all four years on the Hill. Robert Frost was their commencement speaker.

2 – Jeremiah Chaplin

Jeremiah Chaplin (Jan. 2, 1776 – May 7, 1841) was born into a Baptist family in Rowley, Massachusetts. He graduated in 1799 from Brown University, which Ernest Cummings Marriner wrote was “the only Baptist college in New England,” studied theology in Boston and in 1802 began preaching and teaching would-be preachers in Danvers, Massachusetts.

Marriner surmised that one reason the trustees of the Maine Literary and Theological Institution invited Chaplin to become its first Professor of Divinity was that he had seven students in Danvers – seven new students for the Waterville school.

Marriner described in detail the June 1818 trip Chaplin, his wife Marcia and their five surviving children, aged from five months to 11 years, made from Boston to Waterville. As far as Augusta the family traveled up the Kennebec on a sloop named “Hero”, whose replica tops the tower of Miller Library on Colby’s Mayflower Hill campus.

The last miles, from Augusta to Waterville by longboat (half an hour by car when Marriner wrote in 1962), took from 2 p.m. one day to 10 a.m. the next. The family spent the night in a farmhouse that Marriner thought was likely at Getchell’s Corner in Vassalboro.

In Waterville, welcoming residents escorted them to college treasurer Timothy Boutelle’s home. Later they moved into the house formerly owned by the late James Wood, rented by the college for the family and the seven students. The house was on the north edge of town, where Elmwood Primary Care now stands, at the junction of College Avenue, Upper Main Street, Elm Street and Main Street.

Chaplin’s early responsibilities included nagging the trustees to raise money for current expenses – including his promised salary of $600 a year; in the first year he was paid $490, and generously offered to forget about $100 of the arrears – and for the planned college buildings. He was also eager to get a literary professor on staff, a position filled in October 1819.

When Waterville College was chartered in February 1821, the trustees realized they needed a college president. After one man turned them down, they elected Chaplin president in May 1822.

They further authorized the new president to take as much time off as he wanted to solicit funds for the college, and appointed one of their own board members to serve as Professor of Theology while Chaplin was away.

In 1829, in a vain effort to resurrect the studentless theology department, the trustees appointed Chaplin Professor of Divinity again. He taught no courses and resigned the title in 1831, remaining college President and Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy.

The events that led Chaplin to sever his Waterville College connection started on July 4, 1833, when a noisy student gathering created the Waterville College Anti-Slavery Society.

Chaplin was not pro-slavery and he was not anti-organization, Marriner wrote; but he objected to “anything which marred the sober decorum that must be observed in any institution of which he was the head,” especially one educating future ministers. On July 5, therefore, he publicly dressed down the students in terms that infuriated them. He also expelled two students and gave half a dozen others long suspensions.

After heated exchanges and a failed attempt by the trustees to reconcile Chaplin with the students and the faculty members who sided with them, the trustees accepted Chaplin’s resignation as professor and president on July 1, 1833. They promptly elected him a member of the board, a position he held until 1840; and Marriner wrote that he remained a Colby supporter the rest of his life.

In addition to organizing the Literary and Theological Institute, Chaplin founded the First Baptist Church of Waterville and led what Marriner said was “a vigorous but unpopular temperance movement” in the town.

After leaving Waterville, Chaplin preached in Massachusetts and Connecticut. He died in Hamilton, New York.

3 – James Hanson & wife

James Hobbs Hanson (June 26, 1816 – April 21, 1894) was a China (Maine) native who came from China Academy to Waterville College, where he graduated in 1842. Kinsgbury wrote that he began teaching in 1835, while still at China Academy, and taught the rest of his life. He took over the management of the Waterville academy in 1843, resigned in 1854, and returned to hold the post from 1865 until he died.

Between 1854 and 1865, an on-line source says he spent three years as Eastport High School principal, six more years as Principal of Portland High School (Boys’ High School, according to Edwin Whittemore) and two years running a private boys’ school in Portland.

Historians of the academy uniformly credit Hanson with all its successes, and do not blame him for its financial difficulties. Whittemore wrote in his chapter in the history of Waterville that Hanson headed the school for 41 of its first 65 years: “in fact, he was the school.”

In addition to teaching – “When other men wrought six hours in the classroom, he wrought twelve,” Whittemore quoted from George B. Gow’s address at the 1879 semi-centennial celebration – Hanson was continuously involved in fund-raising. Whittemore quoted more of Gow’s words:

“Too poor to employ the needed assistance, too conscientious to lave anything undone that might be of use to the most ungrateful pupil, he toiled on seeking no reward but the satisfaction of doing his whole duty.”

In 1854, after the death of his first wife, Hanson married Mary E. Field, from Sidney, who had been preceptress since 1852. When the Hansons returned to Waterville in 1865 she became one of the Institute faculty, reportedly popular and, like her husband, willing to take on whatever job needed to be done.

Hanson somehow found time to write the “Preparatory Latin Prose Book” (1861) that the on-line source says was widely used. He was one of the editors of a “Handbook of Latin Poetry”, published in 1865. Whittemore wrote that his reputation as a classical scholar brought “large numbers” of students from other preparatory schools to spend their senior year at the Waterville institution.

In 1862 Hanson was elected a trustee of Waterville College. In 1872, Colby University gave him an honorary L.L.D. Kingsbury commented that Colby “honored itself” by conferring the award.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Marriner, Ernest Cummings, The History of Colby College (1963).
Smith, Earl H. , Mayflower Hill A History of Colby College (2006).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Oak Grove School

The Oak Grove-Coburn school today, serving as the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

by Mary Grow

We now digress – for a change – from descriptions of churches on the National Register of Historic Places to the Oak Grove School, because of its association with the Sophia D. Bailey Chapel discussed last week (and also known as the Oak Grove Chapel).

According to Raymond Manson and Elsia Holway Burleigh, whose history of the school was often cited last week, the Vassalboro and Fairfield Friends started Oak Grove School in February 1848. The authors provided a detailed description, with dialogue, of the crucial meeting.

They said wealthy mill-owner John D. Lang (1799-1879), of Vassalboro, hosted fellow residents Ebenezer Frye and Alton Page, Samuel Taylor, from North Fairfield, and Alden Sampson, from what is now Manchester. The men agreed to pay Lang’s son-in-law, Charles Osborne, $50 for about an acre of land.

Alma Pierce Robbins, in her Vassalboro history, said the year was 1840 and listed the men who bought land from Charles Osborn (without a final e) as Frye, Lang, Pope and Elder Sampson, all from Vassalboro, plus Taylor, from Fairfield.

Rufus Jones’ chapter on the Society of Friends in Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history listed the founders as Frye and Lang, from Vassalboro, Taylor, from Fairfield, and from Manchester Alden Sampson and Alton Pope; Jones dated their effort from “about 1850.”

The original school at left, and a three-story student boarding house.

The site of the school, as Jones described it, included a grove of oak trees on top of a hill – hence the name. From the hilltop, one could see down the Kennebec River to Augusta and beyond. Across the river, Mt. Adams and Mt. Washington rose above the lesser mountains of western Maine.

In addition to the view being a “constantly inspiring influence,” Jones wrote, the new school would be adjacent to the Friends Meeting House, and close to the wealthy men who each pledged $1,000 to start it.

Manson and Burleigh wrote that Frye was in charge of construction. He oversaw spending $2,500 for a 40-by-60-foot three-story wooden building on the hilltop above the Friends burying ground. The school’s first 16-week term began in December 1850, with William H. Hobby as the first principal.

The Manson and Burleigh history has a sketch of the building, surrounded by trees, with a steep roof topped by what looks like an eight-sided windowed cupola. A flight of at least a dozen steps runs all the way across the 40-foot end, leading to the front wall with a door at either end and a window between (the same pattern as China’s Pond Meeting House; see the photo in the July 8 issue of The Town Line).

Originally meant only for the children of Quaker families, Oak Grove School quickly allowed all students to attend. Nonetheless, it did not attract enough to cover costs – because there were too few nearby homes where students could board, Manson and Burleigh said – and Oak Grove School closed in 1856.

Immediately, another group of Friends led by Eli Jones, from China, began working to re-open the school. They raised $15,000 from Friends all over Maine, got a new legislative charter in April 1857 for Oak Grove Seminary, bought another acre of land on the south side of the road and built a three-story student boarding house and opened the new school in December 1857, with Eli Jones serving as principal for the first year because the oversight committee could not agree on anyone else.

From 1873, the year the Maine legislature required towns to provide high schools, until July 31, 1918, Oak Grove officials usually contracted with the town to be its high school. In 1873, Kingsbury wrote, Vassalboro appropriated $500 for a high school at East Vassalboro, but because of Oak Grove Seminary did not need to spend it.

In the fall of 1862 a gymnasium was added near the boarding house. The school building burned down in 1880; classes were moved to the boarding house until a new school was built beside it, across Oak Grove Road from the original, and dedicated Nov. 24, 1885.

An arsonist burned down the school building and the boarding house on Aug. 31, 1887. The 14-year-old nephew of Principal Charles H. Jones died when he went back to retrieve a watch his father had just given him.

Principal Jones promptly oversaw conversion of the gymnasium into makeshift classrooms. On Sept. 18, 1887, that building was also torched.

Manson and Burleigh described how the arsonist, a 15-year-old boarding student, was traced, arrested, tried and convicted. His motives: he was not allowed to take the courses he wanted and he didn’t like the Oak Grove food or the Town of Vassalboro.

A new and larger school building was dedicated Sept. 5, 1888, including classrooms and laboratories, offices, a library, a kitchen and dining room and housing for students and for the principal. Manson and Burleigh specifically mention the central heating and the “bathrooms with hot and cold running water.”

Photos show an enormous wooden building in several interlocking sections. Much of it was three stories high on top of a full basement with large windows (one photo shows three stories throughout, another looks as though one section had two full stories plus a windowed attic above the basement rooms). A new gymnasium was built nearby.

Charles M. Bailey, of Win­throp, paid for the construction; money raised by Quakers throughout Maine became an endowment fund. The building was named Bailey Hall, and in 1888 the school became Oak Grove Seminary and Bailey Institute.

Oak Grove Seminary seems to have prospered until World War I, under the ownership of the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends. It ac­quired additional land and more buildings – a power plant in 1906, a new gymnasium in 1908 after the one built in 1888 collapsed under its snow-weighted roof on March 17, 1907.

Enrollment declined beginning in 1914. Manson and Burleigh blamed the war, and also quoted from a 1915 report by the State of Maine Supe­rintendent of Schools saying more students were opting for public high schools.

In the winter of 1917 the school’s “board of managers” (Manson and Burleigh’s undefined terminology) voted to “lay down” (close) the school, apparently without consulting staff. Staff persuaded them to reconsider until they explored options.

Top, Robert Everett Owen and Eva Pratt Owen when they took over the school while in their 20s, and, above, in later years.

One option was new management. In 1918, Manson and Burleigh wrote, the Board of Trustees hired Robert Everett Owen and Eva (Pratt) Owen, who became joint principals and served until 1968.

Aware of the school’s history, one of the Owens’ many achievements was building the fire-proof brick buildings that form what is now often called “the castle.” When the central building was finished in 1941, the school’s trustees voted to recognize their long-time principals by naming it Owen Hall. The Owens were pleased, but asked the trustees not to publicize the decision, and the new building was called the Administration Building.

On June 7, 1975, after both Owens had died, the trustees of what was by then Oak Grove-Coburn School held a ceremony in Bailey Chapel to publicly rename the building Owen Hall. As part of the observance, Betsy Palmer Eldridge, O.G. ’55, wrote a summary of the Owens’ lives and service.

The Owens were in their twenties when they took over management of the declining school. They had both graduated from Oak Grove, where they met, in 1910 and gone to Colby College, in Waterville. Robert graduated from Colby in 1914 and later got a master’s degree in education from Harvard.

Eva had to leave college to save her failing eyesight. She held brief principals’ jobs at South Thomaston High School and at Erskine Academy, in South China, before she and Robert were married in the summer of 1914.

Eldridge wrote that they spent the next four years at Erskine, Robert as the principal and Eva as the girls’ dean, before they came to Oak Grove in 1918. They promptly began sprucing up Bailey Hall and soliciting students.

In 1925, the Board of the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends accepted an education committee’s recommendation that Oak Grove become a girls’ school (and Moses Brown School in Rhode Island become a boys’ school). The goal was to make them specialized schools, distinguished from the co-ed public high schools that were increasingly numerous.

The Owens supported the change, Eldridge wrote. They reported at the end of the first year that enrollment was larger than expected, and “the girls are high-minded and wholesome, and it has been a joy to work with them. They are more contented and doing finer school work than the girls did during the seven years of co-education.”

The Owens’ building project began in 1928 with the dormitory named Briggs Hall (Eldridge gave no explanation for the name). It was followed by the 1938-39 Recitation Building, connected to the east end of the dormitory by a small arcade.

The Administration Building and a second dormitory, later called Senior House, were added in 1940-41, connected by a second, longer arcade students called “the tunnel.” These new buildings provided enough space so that the 1888 Bailey Hall could be demolished in 1942.

Smaller additions were made on the grounds in the 1950s. One was a new cinder-block barn; Eva Owen had always supported the Oak Grove riding program, which she herself taught for some years.

In 1962, Eldridge wrote, the Science Building “completed the Quadrangle by filling in the gap between the Administration Building and Senior House.”

A gymnasium and auditorium were also added in 1962. Eldridge summarized that over 50 years, the Owens had developed Oak Grove from “three buildings on twenty-eight acres to eleven buildings on more than five hundred acres of woods, ponds, lawns and gardens.”

Eldridge called the financing of so many buildings “a mystery” and attributed it primarily to Eva Owens’ enthusiastic sharing of school life with parents, alumnae and others interested. She was famous for writing long friendly letters that did not ask for money, but motivated people to donate anyway.

After their retirement, the Owens continued to live in their apartment in the Administration Building, Eldridge wrote. Robert Owen died July 11, 1973; his wife died Sept. 20, 1974. Both are buried in Green Lawn Rest Cemetery, in Clinton, her home town.

The last sentence of Manson and Briggs’ 1965 history reads, “There will never again be a question of the ‘laying down’ of the [Oak Grove] school.”

However, as mentioned last week, the Owens lived to see the 1970 merger of Oak Grove School with Coburn Classical Institute, a co-ed high school in Waterville, with a history going back to the 1820s. Oak Grove-Coburn School in turn closed in 1989, and the state bought the Owens’ buildings and now uses them as the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

Main sources

Eldridge, Betsy Palmer Owen Hall Pamphlet June 1975.
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Manson, Raymond R., and Elsia Holway Burleigh, First Seventy Years of Oak Grove Seminary ((1965).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Churches – Part 5

River Meeting House

by Mary Grow

Sophia Bailey Chapel and Oak Grove School

Returning to the list of churches on the National Register of Historic Places, the next to be discussed is one that readers met briefly last week. The Sophia D. Bailey Chapel, at Oak Grove School, (the school had several names; Oak Grove School is simplest) was originally known as the River Meeting House. It was where China Quakers worshipped before the East Vassalboro meeting house and then China’s own Pond Meeting House were constructed.

The River Meeting House was built in 1786; Wikipedia says it was the first religious building in Vassalboro. When they nominated it for the National Register in early 1977, historians Robert L. Bradley and Frank A. Beard listed two reasons it deserved recognition:

It is “an unusual architectural adaptation”; and
It is a “link with the Quaker heritage” of the Oak Grove-Coburn School, of which it was a part in 1977, and of the Town of Vassalboro.

The chapel was listed on the National Register on Sept. 19, 1977.

According to Bradley and Beard, the 1786 River Meeting House was a T-shaped wooden building, clapboarded, with gable roofs and a single doorway. It faced south onto what is now Oak Grove Road (previously North Vassalboro Road), they wrote.

Betsy Palmer Eldridge wrote in 1975 that the original building was a typical Quaker chapel, “a very plain building of white clapboard with few and simple windows.” It had no steeple or bell tower.

The building had no cellar. Inside, congregants sat in straight-backed wooden pews facing the pews from which the elders led the meeting.

Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history, wrote that in 1892, Vassalboro Friends “have a large burial place in rear of their church, near the seminary,” and had also used the Nichols Cemetery, on the north side of Oak Grove Road a few miles eastward.

Vassalboro resident Susan Briggs, one of the leaders of a group seeking to preserve the chapel, wrote in an email that “there is a cemetery East of the Chapel now.” Early Vassalboro maps show two cemeteries on opposite sides of the road, she said.

“You can see where a road used to be on the north side of the present cemetery,” she continued, leading her to assume the road was relocated years ago.

There might be other Quaker graves outside the present cemetery, Briggs added. Since Quakers commonly used small, simple grave markers, “lost” graves are certainly possible.

In their detailed and often entertaining history of the Oak Grove School’s first 70 years, published in 1965 by the Vassalboro Historical Society, Raymond Manson and Elsia Holway Burleigh explained that the River Meeting House and the nearby Quaker school were separate entities until September 1895. By then, the Vassalboro Friends were too few to maintain the building, which needed major repairs.

On Sept. 19, 1895, the Vassalboro Monthly Meeting of Friends gave the chapel to what was then Oak Grove Seminary. Sophia D. Bailey, wife of Charles M. Bailey, offered to pay to have the building repaired and remodeled.

According to an undated copy of Harrie B. Coe’s Maine Biographies found on-line, Charles M. Bailey (1820-1917) established in 1844 Charles M. Bailey’s Sons & Company in Winthrop. The company manufactured floor coverings; Coe wrote that it produced some 30,000 rolls annually and had on average 65 employees. Bailey was a Quaker; his wife, also born in Winthrop, was Sophia D. (Jones) Bailey.

Kingsbury’s version is that Charles Bailey was one of two sons who, with his brother Moses (1817-1882) took over the oilcloth business his father Ezekiel started. Oilcloth, invented in Scotland in the mid-1800s, was used as an inexpensive floor covering into the 20th century, before more durable linoleum supplanted it.

A 2017 newspaper article about the effort to preserve the chapel identified Charles M. Bailey, husband of Sophia Bailey, as one of the headmasters of Oak Grove School. Manson and Burleigh’s list of Oak Grove Seminary Principals from 1850 to 1918 does not include a Bailey. (It does include eight different Joneses.)

Bradley and Beard described in some detail the 1895 “architectural adaptation.”

It resulted in a Shingle-style building with all the windows changed and relocated, two entrances and a square tower in the southeast angle of the original T. The tower was designed as a bell-tower, but no bell was provided.

The building they described in 1977 had the main doorway in the base of the tower with a partly enclosed porch with columns and arches. A second doorway at the far end of the south side had a flat arched window above it. A four-section south-facing window in the main building and a larger one in the base of the tower were also topped by arches.

Manson and Burleigh added that the work included adding a cellar to house a heating plant. The bricks for the cellar walls had been chimneys in wealthy manufacturer (and Quaker) John D. Lang’s Vassalboro mansion, donated by Hall Burleigh after he tore down the building.

Bradley and Beard wrote that there were two cellar windows on the west side, none on the east side.

The two-story tower is square, with four large arched openings in the second story above what the historians called bowed balconies. In the south side below the window and balcony is a small rose window.

Manson and Burleigh said the inside was changed dramatically, although several newer sources mention that the original ceiling survives. The traditional double row of pews that seated the group of elders facing the rest of the congregation was removed and a pulpit built.

Cane-seated chairs replaced the other pews (contemporary interior photos show that the pews are black). A carpet was laid and an organ purchased. Space was provided for a “combined Sunday school and lunch room.”

By 1895, the Quakers had given the chapel to the Oak Grove School. The renovations were designed by William H. Douglas (or Douglass), of Lisbon Falls; after Sophia Bailey funded the work, the name was changed to Sophia D. Bailey Memorial Chapel, dedicated Dec. 8, 1895.

For almost a century after 1895, the fate of the chapel was intertwined with the school’s rising or falling fortunes, which will be summarized in next week’s article in this series. Eldridge mentioned one change: in 1949, the entrance was again relocated, the driveway eliminated, and the inside repainted.

In 1970, Oak Grove School merged with Coburn Classical Institute, in Waterville, to create a high school called Oak Grove-Coburn. In 1989, the school closed for good.

In 1990 the school buildings, but not the chapel, were sold to the State of Maine and became the site of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. Proceeds from the sale created the Oak Grove School Foundation, which assumed ownership of the chapel.

Preserving a building was low on the Foundation’s priority list. Its purposes are support of education and educational innovation, especially at the high school level, and aid to charitable and religious groups.

The chapel was used for religious gatherings, graduations and other school-associated events, and after the school closed hosted weddings, reunions and other celebrations.

By 2015, the Sophia D. Bailey Chapel was on Maine Preservation’s list of critically endangered historic buildings. The Yarmouth-based nonprofit organization’s explanation for the listing said that “The Chapel is underutilized with deferred maintenance, and is falling into disrepair.”

The report cited water entering the building through both the roof and the cellar, and said that the Foundation had considered demolishing the building. In response, the Maine Preservation report said, an alumni group organized the Friends of the River Meeting House and Oak Grove Chapel to try to preserve it.

Current leaders of the effort include Vassalboro residents and Oak Grove-Coburn alumnae Susan Briggs, Jennifer Day and Jody Welch (mentioned as East Vassalboro Grange Master in the April 29 issue of The Town Line; she and her husband Bernard, who wrote part of the April 29 story, were married in the chapel in 1981).

In 2017, the Maine Community Foundation’s Belvedere Historic Preservation Grant Program provided a $7,500 grant to repair the foundation and stop further water inflow.

By 2020, the alumnae group was planning to remedy the chapel’s major deficiency, no running water and no toilet facilities. Their proposed remedy, as they explained it to Morning Sentinel reporter Greg Levinsky in November, is to build a nearby caretaker’s cottage that will provide these amenities to any group using the chapel.

They foresee renting the cottage, so it will support itself financially. In addition to providing restrooms, they plan a small kitchen available for events at the chapel and probably additional space for meetings.

Cost of the project was estimated at around $160,000 pre-pandemic. It has increased since. Last fall, Levinsky reported, an anonymous donor offered $80,000 if the Friends group could raise a matching amount.

Day said in an email that the pandemic suspended active fundraising. She now looks forward to getting a more firm estimate of construction costs and resuming activities, including small-group chapel tours.

Day pledges to “keep reinforcing the historic value of the chapel and the future relevance of the building for community events, private celebrations and cultural gatherings.”

Restoration fund information

People who would like to help fund restoration of the historic Sophia D. Bailey Chapel may make donations through Paypal to oakgrovechapel@gmail.com or send checks, made out to Friends of the Rivermeetinghouse, to Sue Briggs, 593 Main Street, Vassalboro ME 04989.

More information is available from Briggs, whose email is briggsusan@gmail.com.

Main sources

Eldridge, Betsy Palmer, Owen Hall Pamphlet June 1975.
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Manson, Raymond R., and Elsia Holway Burleigh, First Seventy Years of Oak Grove Seminary ((1965).BOX
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Personal correspondence, Susan Briggs and Jennifer Day.

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Rufus Jones houses

Rufus Jones home on Jones Road, in South China Village.

by Mary Grow

Moving sideways (as this series so often does) on a temporary detour from churches on the National Register of Historic Places, this article will describe three National Register properties in the Town of China recognized for their association with Rufus Jones or members of his family, plus China’s other two National Register properties (one demolished, the other mostly intact).

In the National Register nomination sheet architectural historian Gregory Clancey prepared in April 1983 for China’s two Quaker meeting houses (see the July 1 issue of The Town Line), he described two houses in which Rufus Jones lived, the Abel Jones house on Jones Road, in South China Village, and Pendle Hill, off Lakeview Drive. Both were added to the National Register on Aug. 4, 1983.

Abel Jones (1781-1853), Rufus Jones’ grandfather, built the South China house in 1815 for his wife Susannah (1784-1877) and their children. Their oldest son was Eli, who married Sybil Jones; the youngest was Rufus Jones’ father, Edwin (1828-1904), who married Mary Hoxie in 1852.

Clancey called the Abel Jones house a “typical Maine Federal farmhouse.” It is two-and-a-half-stories tall, facing west toward Jones Road, with a long story-and-half ell on the north side. Clancey wrote that the large barn farther north on the lot dates from the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century.

The historian summarized the major interior changes late in the 19th century that relocated the front entrance and stairs and rearranged rooms on the first and second floors. Original features surviving in 1983 included some of the Federal-style mantels and the pumpkin-pine floorboards.

Edwin and Mary’s son Rufus was born in Abel Jones’ house on Jan. 25, 1863, and lived there until he went to a Friends’ boarding school in 1879. He was named in memory of his father’s younger brother, who had died the year before.

His grandparents and his parents spent the rest of their lives in the house, and Clancey wrote that after he became a Haverford College professor and world-renowned religious leader, Rufus Jones frequently came home for long periods.

In 1983, Clancey wrote, the Jones family still owned the house. The South China Library Association is the present owner.

Pendle Hill was the summer home for Rufus Jones and his family. The cottage, as Clancey called it, is on a hill on the west side of Lakeview Drive, a short distance north of South China Village.

Wikipedia says Jones designed Pendle Hill. Local carpenter George Marr started work in 1909, and Jones and his brother Herbert, four years his junior, finished the project by 1916.

The main building was a story-and-a-half Shingle style structure with a generous porch facing the lake. The whole center of the building was open, with a stone fireplace on one wall. Doors on each side provided access to bedrooms, the kitchen and other areas.

The walls were pine boards; the roof beams were exposed, Clancey wrote. Except for the front door with its “oval light and beaded courses about the panels,” the building was undecorated.

The National Register property consists of the main building, “offering a dramatic view of the lake,” a smaller building and the grounds sloping down to the shore. Clancey also included the “long row of mature pines” separating Pendle Hill from the adjoining Jones family property to the south.

In January 1984, Frank A. Beard and Roger G. Reed successfully nominated the Eli and Sybil Jones house on Dirigo Road, in the southwest corner of the intersection with Belfast Road (Route 3). It was added to the National Register on March 22, 1984.

Eli (1807-1890), and Sybil (1808-1873) Jones were Rufus Jones’ uncle and aunt, and like him were known nationally for their faith. They were a major influence on their nephew; the first of the many books he wrote was a biography of the couple.

Eli and Sybil married in 1833 and promptly moved into their newly-built home east of South China Village. From 1840 on, they spent much of their time spreading the Quaker doctrine over a large part of the world.

“In a time when the 12-mile wagon ride from South China to Augusta was a day’s project,” Beard and Reed listed areas they visited: “Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the British Isles, Scandinavia, Western Europe, Greece, Egypt, the Middle East, and Liberia.” They had an audience with the Liberian President, and in the Middle East Sybil Jones talked with women in harems.

The Historical Register nomination form describes their home as a small, one-and-a-half-story wooden building on a granite foundation, facing north onto the main highway. The historians wrote that in 1983, the China Historical Society recognized Eli and Sybil Jones on the then-annual Day of Remembrance and put a commemorative plaque on the house.

In addition to the early homestead described in the March 18, 2021, issue of The Town Line and the buildings associated with China’s famous Quakers described last week and above, the Town of China has had two other National Register listings.

Dinsmore Grain Mill, in Branch Mills, before its demolition.

The Dinsmore Grain Company Mill, as it was called when it was listed on Nov. 17, 1979, was a large building over the West Branch of the Sheepscot River in Branch Mills. It had been built in 1914, last in a succession of grist mills and sawmills on the dam that backed up the river to create Branch Pond.

Wikipedia says the earliest mill on the site dated from 1817 and belonged to Thomas Hacker. Later, Hacker’s son took over, and in 1879 he took as a partner his son-in-law, Thomas Dinsmore (1824-1916).

Thomas Dinsmore left the business to his son, James Roscoe Dinsmore (1858-1937). Wikipedia says this James Dinsmore built the 1914 building that was listed on the National Register, after the 1808 fire that burned the entire village center, and operated it as a gristmill.

James Kenneth Dinsmore (1907-1984, James Roscoe’s son) owned the mill by 1935 and added a sawmill. Wikipedia says the mill remained active until the 1960s.

By 2010, neighbors, Branch Pond landowners and state environmental regulators were unhappy with the deteriorating building and barely-functional dam. The owners of the property were unable to make needed repairs.

In 2017, Wikipedia says, the Atlantic Salmon Federation bought the mill and dam. The Federation oversaw demolition of the building and added a fish passage at the dam.

What was lost?

According to Maine Historic Preservation officials Beard and Bradley, who prepared the 1979 National Register application with student intern David E. Fortin, “The Dinsmore Grain Company Mill is a remarkable survival which is a model for small businesses which may in the future seek to return to water power as a relatively inexpensive and reliable source of energy.”

Another listing in the Town of China is the China Village Historic District. It consisted of 47 buildings when it was added to the National Register on Nov. 23, 1977.

The district extends from the north end of Main Street, at the intersection with Routes 9, 202 and 137, south on Neck Road to what was then the Brown Farm, set well back from the west side of the road, and the Bubar house on the east side of the road. It jogs eastward to include buildings on Peking and Canton streets and Water Street (now Causeway Street) as far as the end of China Lake’s east basin.

(The Bubar house was the home of Benjamin Calvin Bubar, Jr. [1917-1995], a Blaine, Maine, native who moved to China in 1952 to work for the Christian Civic League of Maine, which he directed from 1954 to 1984. In 1976 and 1980 he was the national Prohibition Party’s candidate for President of the United States.

Three other Maine residents have been Presidential candidates, all for major parties: Republican James G. Blaine in 1884, Re­publican Mar­garet Chase Smith in 1964 and Democrat Edmund Muskie in 1972. Each got more votes than Bubar did; none got enough votes to be elected.)

In the 19th century, China Village had a significant business district at the south end of Main Street and extending out Neck Road and down Water Street. Stores and small manufacturing establishments – blacksmiths, carriage shops, harness-makers, shoemakers, tailors, hatters, furniture-makers – served area residents.

The China bicentennial history includes an anecdote about one of the shoemakers, George Wentworth. One Fourth of July (a holiday that, like Halloween, “was an occasion for mischief-making,” the history explains), local boys put Wentworth’s cobbler’s bench atop the roof of the shop. The next morning, Wentworth opened the shop, “put on his cobbler’s apron, climbed up on the roof, sat down at his bench, and went to work.”

From 1843 to 1927, Main Street had a Methodist Church on the west side, north of the Grange Hall. A private high school, China Academy, operated from 1828 to 1887 in its second and final home, a brick building on the east side of the street across from the library.

Most of the buildings in the District were in 1977 and are in 2021 private homes. They represent a variety of architectural styles and dates. Historian Beard and graduate assistant Stephen Kaplan, who prepared the nomination form, dated the earliest houses from 1809 and 1810 (families still live in and maintain both these Federal-style buildings).

The non-houses in the Historic District in 1977 were:

The concrete-block China General Store, built in 1961; now a private home.
Silver Lake Grange Hall, built in 1908; now a vacant former Grange Hall (see The Town Line, April 15, p. 10).
The China Village Post Office, a single-story Federal-style wooden building constructed in 1960 by local residents William Foster and Karl Wilson; still the village post office.
The Albert Church Brown Memorial Library, since 1941 in the Fletcher-Main House, a two-story wooden Federal building dating from about 1837.
The Alfred Marshall – Benjamin Libby Block, known then as the Masonic Hall, a large, Federal style, two-story brick building dating from about 1825 that had seen many changes of use; now demolished and the lot used for parking.
The Farnsworth Boat Shop, described as a two-and-a-half-story Greek Revival building built in or before 1836; still standing.
The Woodsum Building at the top of Water Street, a two-story wooden Greek Revival building built in or before 1839 that housed stores and shops, briefly the library and later the American Legion Hall; now demolished.
The two-and-a-half story hotel barn just north of the large Brackett (later Adams) house on the north side of the top of Water Street, built sometime in the 19th century when the house was a stagecoach stop and an inn; now demolished and the new Masonic Hal on the site.
The China Village Volunteer Fire Department headquarters, a single-story wooden building dating from about 1955, with additions; still in use.
The China Baptist Church, a single-story Federal building with a tower and steeple, dating from 1835, remodeled in 1900; still in use.

Beard and Kaplan described the district as a “cohesive, homogenous grouping of 19th and 20th century architecture.” Over almost two centuries, they wrote, “the predominent [sic] characteristic has been a simple forthright interpretation of the current architectural mode. The structures are well-designed vernacular examples of their period, with no pretensions.”

The result, in their view, was a “villagescape” that, despite scattered unobtrusive modern buildings, “retains the fabric and flavor of Maine’s 19th-century era of prosperity.”

Main sources

Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed. Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892. (1892)

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Churches – Part 4

South China Meeting House.

by Mary Grow

Two churches in the Town of China were added to the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 4, 1983. The earlier is the Pond Meeting House, on Lakeview Drive, built in 1807. The South China Meeting House, now South China Community Church, on Village Street, dates from 1884. Both were originally houses of worship for the Quakers, or Society of Friends.

The present Town of China’s first settlers, two generations of the Clark family, came in 1774 and established their homesteads around China Lake’s east basin. Originally named Jones Plantation after surveyor John Jones, the area was Harlem from 1796 to 1822 and became China in 1822, with various boundary changes along the way.

In his chapter on the Society of Friends in Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history, Rufus Jones, China’s most famous Quaker, wrote that Miriam Clark, wife of settler Jonathan Clark, and her sons Andrew and Ephraim were Quakers; her husband and two other sons were not.

Andrew and Ephraim Clark made their homes on the east shore of the lake. For the first few years, the nearest Quaker meeting was 40 miles away in Durham.

In 1780, the Vassalboro Friends established the earliest meeting in Kennebec County, Jones wrote. The first Vassalboro meeting house, built in 1785-86, was near the Kennebec River, about 10 miles from the Clarks’ China home. In 1797 the East Vassalboro meeting house opened, an easy ride across China Lake.

Enough other Quaker families arrived in the next two decades to justify a China meeting, which began in 1802 in Lemuel Hawkes’ house. Jones quoted from February (2nd month, to Quakers) 1807 minutes of the China Friends meeting, at which they voted to share the cost of building a 30-by-40-foot meeting house on land bought from Jedediah Jepson. They appointed Jepson, Reuben Fairfield, Isaac Hussey and James Meader as the building committee, instructing them to work as they thought best and report when necessary.

Pond Meeting House

The Pond Meeting House is about three miles south of the north end of the lake. Gregory Clancey, the architectural historian who wrote the application for National Register recognition in April 1983, described it as “a modest but pleasing post and beam structure, devoid of all ornament or stylistic claim, save for the concern with regularity and proportion characteristic of Federal buildings.”

The building is a story-and-a-half high with a steep roof. The equally tall entranceway, attached at right angles on the west side of the building, has separate entrance doors with a window between them.

Although Quakers always accepted women as entitled to speak at meetings and to act as preachers, inside a meetinghouse men sat on one side and women on the other, usually with a moveable partition between them. They would be together for worship, separated for business meetings.

Update on Victor Grange

The May 13 history article was about Victor Grange in Fairfield Center, the oldest continuously operating Grange in the central Kennebec Valley area. Since then, Barbara Bailey, the Grange member who contributed so much to the story, has sent out the Grange’s summer newsletter.

One theme is continuing work on the grounds and building. The new parking lot beside the Grange Hall is finished and in use. Interior work has run into unexpected problems, as so often happens with old buildings (readers will remember, of course, that the hall was built in 1902 and 1903).

The section headed “The Insulation Saga” explains that Grange members are fund-raising to insulate the building. The first step, finished in May, was “to get all the critter droppings cleaned out and disinfected” to protect the ceiling.

An insulation vendor explained that insulating required adding ventilation. Grangers are now seeking someone who can ventilate and insulate the top of the building, as they continue to raise funds to pay that person. Suggestions, volunteers and donations are welcome.

The mailing address is Victor Grange, c/o Roger Shorty, 118 Oakland Road, Fairfield, Maine 04937; the email address is Victorgrange49@gmail.com. The Grange has a Facebook page that includes information on coming events, the second theme of the newsletter.

These include hosting the Fairfield Historical Society’s annual Quilt Show on Saturday, July 10, and Sunday, July 11, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 to view more than 50 antique and new quilts. Grange members will provide lunches and snacks.

On Saturday, July 31, from 9 a.m. to noon, Rita Fortin, President of the Clinton and Somerset County extension services, will host a free workshop on canning green beans. She is scheduled to return on Saturday, Aug. 28, same hours, to talk about canning tomatoes. Interested area residents can sign up at the Grange email address above or by contacting Fortin directly at 453-2945 or ritafortin2@gmail.com.

The Pond Meeting House originally had two rooms separated by what Clancey called “a shutter-door attached to the ceiling with iron hooks.” The interior was a single room by 1983, except that in 1930 a corner had been partitioned off to make a kitchen.

Clancey described the interior with its exposed beams and hand-hewn pine floorboards and roof timbers. The meeting house was by then, as it is in 2021, part of the China Friends Camp, founded in 1953 under the auspices of the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends.

What is now the South China Community Church was initially a Friends meeting house also, built in 1884 on the north side of Village Street.

The first church building on the lot, Jones wrote, was the Second Baptist Church’s brick meeting house, built in the 1820s or 1830s. On May 10, 1856, church members approved selling the building. It was moved, and in 1862, they put up a larger wooden building on the lot.

The South China Baptists were active in the prohibition movement in the 1860s and 1870s. On Oct. 1, 1869, Jones wrote, “a liquor man” burned down their church. The Friends later bought the lot for a dollar on condition that they build a house of worship.

The China bicentennial history names the building committee for the new meeting house: five men, one surnamed Philbrook and four surnamed Jones.

The earliest section of the meeting house, Clancey wrote, was a single room in a minimally-decorated, clapboard-sided story-and-a-half building with a pitched cedar-shingled roof, its gable ends on the north and south. There were three windows on each of the long sides and a small vestibule on the south (street) side

About 1900, Clancey wrote, the vestibule was extended across the gable end and four street-facing windows were added. At the west end of the vestibule a square tower not much taller than the building was constructed, with a south-facing door in the base. Another door was added to the east end of the enlarged vestibule.

At that time, the upper part of the tower was shingled rather than clapboarded and was “painted a darker color than the rest of the church,” Clancey wrote. Later (undated) additions included a room behind the tower attached to the original west wall and a small shed that Clancey wrote was a kitchen in 1983.

The interior was remodeled repeatedly. The change Clancey mentioned specifically was the 1970s addition of a stained-glass window parishioners bought from Whittimore Associates, of Needham Heights, Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, the building was home to weekly Friends meetings until the 1930s, when the congregation became too small to support a pastor. In 1935, the bicentennial history says, the Friends proposed uniting village residents in the South China Community Fellowship, which continues active today.

The Friends own the church building. Fellowship members retain their individual religious affiliations, but they cooperate to maintain the building, select a minister and organize and finance community religious and social activities. Current Pastor Paul Harwath has served since 2012, according to the church website.

Clancey’s 1983 application for National Historic Register listing included three other buildings associated with Rufus Jones, who was profiled in the July 30 and August 6, 2020, issues of The Town Line.

Two residential buildings gained individual listings and will be discussed, with a third, in the next article in this series. The third nominee, the South China Public Library across Village Street from the church, was rejected by the keepers of the National Register.

The square story-and-a-half library building was built in 1900, Clancey wrote, with donated materials and local labor. It housed books for a library originally incorporated in 1830. Library association members have described the South China Library as the oldest continuously functioning library in Maine, but not the oldest library (see box).

The first library in the State of Maine (before Maine was a state)

Blue Hill Library

The Blue Hill library, in Hancock County, was organized in 1796 in the local grocery store, with the grocer as the librarian. According to an on-line history, “Overdue fines were six cents a week, with additional fines of two cents per page for spilled drops of oil or tallow.”

The library’s bookplate, which the history site says is still used, was designed by the first Congregational minister in town, Jonathan Fisher (1768-1847; in Blue Hill from 1794 to 1837). Fisher, one of the founders of Bangor Theological Seminary, was also an artist (his self-portrait is on his Wikipedia page), a writer (including local newspaper reporting) who could bind his own books, a scientist, mathematician and surveyor. He built his house and designed and built furniture.

The Blue Hill Library history page explains that lack of interest caused the library to close before the Civil War. After almost 20 years, a new group reorganized it in the 1860s as the Ladies Social Library of Blue Hill.

The ladies met once a week to swap and discuss books over dishes of ice cream. By 1895, Blue Hill had a new town hall and the library had two rooms on the ground floor. The first professional librarian, a Colby College graduate named Anne Hinckley, was hired in or soon after 1930.

In the 1930s, the library had a car that was its bookmobile, used to bring books to remote residents and to students in Blue Hill’s seven elementary schools and George Stevens Academy. The history site says library services included party planning.

Besides Hinckley, two other women are associated with the 20th-century Blue Hill Library, according to the history site.

Adelaide Pearson was responsible for hiring Hinckley and was the driving force behind the first separate library building, a brick structure designed by Augusta architects Bunker and Savage and opened in March 1940. She and Hinckley persuaded the federal Public Works Administration, created to combat the Depression by funding big public works projects, that a library in Blue Hill, Maine, qualified.

An on-line photo shows the ground-breaking for the building, Dec. 19, 1938, with the comment, “It was 12 degrees below zero.”

Dorris Parker was the first full-time Blue Hill librarian. She started as head librarian in 1944 and retired in 1981. An on-line photo, from the 1950s, shows a small, dark-haired woman behind a large, rather cluttered circulation desk that has three panels across the front and two more on back-folded side wings, each with a scene that appears to depict a historical event. Well-filled bookshelves rise on either side of the desk and the office area behind it.

The Blue Hill Library remains active today, in space that was doubled by a $2 million expansion in 2000 and 2001. The expansion provided a children’s room and a community meeting room. The website says the library building typically hosts 450 meetings and 400 library-sponsored events annually.

Clancey had the library building on his nomination list because, he wrote, “Rufus Jones served as library president 1919-1948, the only civic activity with which he was associated.”

Main sources

Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).