Up and down the Kennebec Valley: GAR and Togus

by Mary Grow

The Grand Army of the Republic, or GAR, was responsible for more than organizing the local Posts and Memorial Day observances described in previous articles in this series.

Additional information on this Civil War veterans’ organization, from various sources, says it assisted veterans in many ways, including advocating for legislation and policies, providing financial support to needy members and helping them stay in touch with each other.

The organization also “supported charitable causes such as the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Eastern Branch, and the Maine Military and Naval Children’s Home in Bath,” an on-line source says.

In the spring 2004 issue of Prologue magazine, Trevor K. Plante, then an archivist with the National Archives and Records Administration, wrote an article entitled The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

The National Home was actually more than a dozen homes, established by federal legislation in March 1865. The board appointed to carry out the legislation (originally 100 members, reduced to 12 in March 1866) began looking for sites. The first one they approved was an abandoned resort called Togus Springs, in Chelsea, Maine, about four miles southeast of Augusta on the east bank of the Kennebec River.

According to on-line sources (including the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA), “Togus” is a shortened version of an Indian name, Worromontogus, or “mineral water.” The mineral spring, Henry Kingsbury wrote in his Kennebec County history, had been known to white settlers since 1810; it was called the Gunpowder Spring because it reeked of sulfur, and it was supposed to heal “malignant humors.”

In 1859, Horace Beals, described as “a wealthy granite merchant from Rockland, Maine,” bought 1,900 acres in Chelsea, including the spring. He planned to develop a health resort for the rich, a Maine institution that would rival Saratoga Springs, in New York.

In pursuit of his dream, Beals spent more than $250,00 to build “a 134-room hotel, a race course, bowling alleys, bath house, and other recreational facilities,” with a farmhouse and stables.

Kingsbury wrote that the resort opened in June 1859. The Civil War left it struggling; it closed in 1863. Beals went bankrupt and died soon afterwards, and his spa was locally called “Beals’ Folly.”

Beals’ widow sold the property to the Board of Managers for the planned veterans’ homes for $50,000. The managers liked the site for numerous reasons: because of the mineral spring, presumed to be a health benefit; because of the rural setting and isolation from cities, qualities that were supposed to be soothing and to keep veterans away from urban temptations; because the buildings were almost ready for immediate use; and, the VA website says bluntly, “because it was a bargain.”

An on-line source describes Togus and its fellows as “a place for disabled veterans to live if they could not care for themselves or their pensions did not provide enough financial support.”

James North, in his Augusta history, wrote that at Togus, honorably discharged veterans with war-caused disabilities “were fed and clothed, and given religious and secular instruction to fit them for the callings in life to which they may be adapted.”

After some remodeling, the first veteran moved into Togus on Nov. 10, 1866. Wikipedia identifies him as James P. Nickerson, no rank given, of Company A, 19th Massachusetts Volunteers.

There were about 200 ex-soldiers at the facility by the next summer. Another site says most of the men came from three states, Maine, Massachusetts and New York; over half were “foreign born, including a large Irish community.”

To accommodate increasing need, Kingsbury wrote that in 1867 officials added a brick hospital – probably the 50-by-100-foot brick building that North described – and had plans for a chapel and other additions.

The VA site does not mention the January 1868 fire that North described, which destroyed most of the main buildings. (Your writer cited North’s description in the Nov. 10, 2022, issue of The Town Line.) The extensive new construction in the next few years featured buildings specifically adapted to a veterans’ home, and made of bricks (manufactured on the grounds), so they would be more fire-resistant.

North described in detail the four brick buildings that were started in the spring of 1886. They were each 50-by-150-foot, with a basement, two main floors and a mansard roof that provided space for a third floor; they were arranged in a square around a central courtyard.

The first building faced eastward. It had storage space in the basement; a large schoolroom that could double as a chapel, plus a smaller schoolroom and teachers’ accommodations, on the ground floor; and an open second story “to be devoted to such purposes as may be required.”

Two more buildings extended westward from each end of the first building. North wrote that they housed “accommodations for the officers and dormitories for the soldiers, the dining-room, kitchen, post office, telegraph office and reading-room.”

The building that closed the west side of the quadrangle had an ell extending west. Its basement housed “a bath room, laundry, store rooms, bakery, boiler room and wash rooms.”

The first floor was another dining room, with the kitchen in the ell. The hospital occupied the main part of the second floor, with a dispensary and nurses’ quarters.

Other new late-1860s buildings listed on line include “an amusement hall, barn, workshop, and the Governor’s House.”

The Governor’s House was built in 1869. The two-story-and-a-half story, 22-room brick house is still standing; it has been on the National Register of Historic Places since May 30, 1974. It is described as historically significant as “the sole remaining building of the country’s first Veteran’s [sic] Home.”

North wrote that as he completed his history in 1870, a two-story brick amusement hall and another building that would house a 10-horsepower engine and the machine shop, shoe shop and tailor’s shop that it would serve were under construction.

Another major, and very expensive, project, he wrote, was building a reservoir that would cover an acre and would “furnish an unfailing supply of pure water, which is to be taken from Greely pond.”

By 1870, too, the campus was steam-powered throughout, North wrote: “Steam for warming and raising hot and cold water to every part of the buildings, and for cooking and laundry purposes, is generated by two boilers capable of driving a sixty horse-power steam engine.”

Wikipedia’s list of new buildings in or about 1872 reads: “a bakery, a butcher shop, a blacksmith shop, a brickyard, a boot and shoe factory, a carpentry shop, a fire station, a harness shop, a library, a sawmill, a soap works, a store, and an opera house theatre.”

The store, North said, sold desirable items to the residents, with proceeds going into their amusement fund.

In 1872, Wikipedia says, the name was changed: the institution became the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. On Aug. 13, 1873, according to the same source, President Ulysses Grant came to Togus “to review the men who had served with him during the Civil War.”

Wikipedia says in 1878, 933 men lived at Togus, mostly Civil War veterans and a few from the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. Kingsbury added there were 1,400 residents in the spring of 1883 and 2,000 by 1892; by the 1880s, there were 20 additional buildings. The peak population was almost 2,800 in 1904.

The former soldiers lived under military discipline, North wrote. The VA site adds that some of the housing was like barracks, and the men wore “modified army uniforms” (or surplus uniforms, according to Wikipedia).

The men paid for their room and board with their federal pensions, Wikipedia says. Those who were able worked in the shops or the farm. Another source says they were paid “at a rate fixed by the managers,” getting half their pay at intervals and the other half when they left (if they left).

The farm provided much of the residents’ and staff’s food. Writing in 1870, North said “farming operations…are already quite extensive.” There had been 85 head of cattle over the previous winter, he said, “some of which are choice Devon stock.”

Wikipedia says the three dairy Holsteins brought from the Netherlands in 1871 started “the first registered herd of the breed in Maine.”

Togus was connected to the surrounding towns on July 23, 1890, by the narrow-gauge Kennebec Central Railroad that ran to the Kennebec at either Randolph or Gardiner (sources differ). On June 15, 1901, the Augusta and Togus Electric Railway began service.

After that, the VA site says, the veterans’ home “became a popular excursion spot for Sunday picnics. There were band concerts, a zoo, a hotel, and a theater which brought shows directly from Broadway.”

Wikipedia and other sources add baseball games. Wikipedia said the zoo let area residents see “antelope, bear, buffalo, deer, elk, chimpanzees, and pheasants.”

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The Togus grounds include the Togus National Cemetery, which covers 31.2 acres. According to the VA and other sources, this cemetery has two sections, called the West Cemetery and the East Cemetery. The latter opened in 1936 and closed in 1961.

The beginning of the West Cemetery was laid out in 1867, on a hilltop on the west side of the grounds. A VA website says Major Nathan Cutler, of Augusta (see box), was running the institution then and chose the site “because he preferred that attractive hilltop.”

Beginning on April 20, 1867, Cutler oversaw the reburial in the new cemetery of six veterans who had died in the first few months. The website says: “Major Cutler felt the factors of color, rank and religion were of no importance. They were buried side by side since they had been soldiers together.”

In 1889, the then head of the Eastern Branch, General Luther Stephenson, had the cemetery’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument built. It is a stone obelisk, 26 feet high, on a stepped foundation with four dedicatory plaques; the granite was quarried on the Togus grounds.

Residents did the work. One website names two specific contributors: a Pennsylvania marble worker named William Spaulding, who did the design, and a Massachusetts stone-cutter named Jeremiah O’Brien.

By the summer of 2010, the obelisk had so deteriorated that the VA’s National Cemetery Association had to rebuild it. In the process, workers found an 1889 time capsule. An on-line photo of the contents shows a slender bottle; two newspapers, from Augusta and Boston; and a small pipe.

When the restored obelisk was rededicated in September 2010, a new time capsule was added.

Togus had its own GAR post

Togus had its own GAR Post, Cutler No. 48, honoring Major Nathan Cutler, known on the web as “the man who saved the ‘Cutler Bible.'” Here is the story, as told in a 2007 blog by a historian and author named Dale Cox.

In the Civil War battle of Marianna, Florida (Sept. 27, 1864), Cutler was 20 years old; he had abandoned his classes at Harvard and joined the 2nd Maine Cavalry, led at Marianna by Brigadier General Alexander Asboth and after he was wounded by Colonel L. L. Zulavsky.

Cutler led the first Union charge; his troops were driven back by stubborn Confederate soldiers, including some holed up in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and nearby houses. Zulavsky ordered the buildings burned to dislodge the enemy.

Cutler – or someone else; Cox found the record unclear – refused to burn a church. When the order was repeated, Cutler supposedly “dashed into the burning church and saved the Bible, bringing it through the flames to safety.”

Soon afterwards, “two young members of the Marianna home guard” wounded Cutler badly enough so he was left behind and taken prisoner when the Union forces pulled out the next day.

He survived, however, because Cox recounted later interviews in which Cutler agreed someone, not necessarily himself, had argued for saving the church, and did not claim to have rescued its Bible, perhaps through modesty.

However, in a Sept. 19, 2014, article in the Tallahassee Democrat, in anticipation of the 150th anniversary of the Union raid into Marianna, senior writer Mark Hinson repeated the tale and said:

“It’s a romantic story but it never happened. Cutler was badly wounded before the kerosene torches ever touched St. Luke’s. The Bible was saved by someone else because it was returned to the sanctuary of the new St. Luke’s, where it remains on display to this day.”

Main sources:

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Memorial Day – Part 3

Grand Army of the Republic hat insignia worn by the Horse soldiers.

by Mary Grow

GAR posts Fairfield, Windsor, China, Albion & Sidney

Continuing with central Kennebec Valley GAR Posts in the order of their formation, the next after Billings Post #88, in Clinton, was Fairfield’s E. P. Pratt Post #90 (in Somerset County, therefore not on the Kennebec County list in Henry Kingsbury’s history). According to Barbara Gunvaldsen, of the Fairfield Historical Society, this Post was organized Oct. 18, 1883.

Records at the FHS History House (the 1894 Cotton-Smith House) include a summary biography of Elbridge P. Pratt, in whose honor the Post is named. He was born in 1841, son of a farmer, Jesse Pratt, and his wife Hannah (Hubbard) Pratt.

On July 23, 1862, Pratt enlisted in Fairfield; he was mustered in July 25 (Wikipedia says Aug. 25) in Bath as a private in the 19th Maine Infantry, for three years. On July 27, his unit went to Washington, where it was stationed until September 1862. In October, the 19th was assigned to the Army of the Potomac.

Battles in which the 19th fought included Fredericksburg, Virginia (Dec. 11-15, 1862); Chancellorsville, Virginia (April 30 – May 6, 1863); and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (July 1-3, 1863).

Pratt was killed on July 2, 1863, one of 232 men – more than half the regiment’s total – the 19th lost at Gettysburg. He is buried in Gettysburg National Cemetery.

E. P. Pratt GAR Post was still active in early 1918. A paragraph in the Tuesday, Jan. 10, 1918, issue of the Fairfield Journal announced the Wednesday, Jan. 16 (either day or date must be a misprint) installation of officers of the E. P. Pratt Relief Corps (the GAR ladies’ auxiliary) at the GAR Hall. Post members and wives, Corps members’ husbands and Sons of Veterans and their wives were invited.

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South China’s James Parnell (or Parnel) Jones Post #106 was organized April 23, 1884, with 25 charter members, Kingsbury said. At first members met in the AOUW (Ancient Order of United Workmen) hall; in 1885, according to the China bicentennial history, they built their own hall (demolished in 1964) at the crossroads where South China’s Memorial Park now stands.

Kingsbury said the GAR building was “complete in itself, containing a large hall, offices, rooms for Sons of Veterans and a Woman’s Relief Corps, and suitable banquet hall.”

Major James Parnell Jones (May 21, 1835 – July 12, 1864) is locally famous as “the Fighting Quaker.” Born in China, son of Quaker missionaries Eli and Sybil Jones, he was educated at the State University of Michigan and Haverford College, Pennsylvania.

On Sept. 15, 1857, he married Rebecca Maria Runnels (1836 – April 14, 1899).

When the Civil War began in April 1861, Jones was principal of China Academy, in China Village. He and Rebecca had lost their first son, James Lecky, in 1859, at the age of six months; their second, James A. “Jamie,” had been born Feb. 16, 1861. Nonetheless, Jones promptly helped raise and became captain of the unit that became Company B, 7th Maine Infantry.

In September 1862 he was slightly wounded. In 1863, he was promoted to major. In 1864 he was wounded again, at the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-7); and on July 12, 1864, he was killed at Crystal Springs, Virginia, outside Washington D. C.

Sometime in 1863 Jones had home leave, because his and Rebecca’s daughter, Alice, was born Aug. 6, 1864. She lived five days, dying on Aug. 11; and on Aug. 14, three-year-old Jamie died.

Parents and children are buried in China’s Dudley Cemetery, on Dirigo Road, with James P. Jones’ mother, Sybil. His father Eli’s grave is in the nearby Dirigo Friends Cemetery.

Rebecca remarried on Sept. 29, 1867, to Rev. Moses W. Newbert.

An undated obituary from the Lincoln County News says Newbert was born in Waldoboro and died May 6, 1898; the accompanying picture of his tombstone shows he was aged “64 yrs. 3 mos. 14 dys.” The obituary writer praised his “natural ability” as a preacher and said, “His success in the ministry was remarkable.”

The obituary says he began preaching about 1856 “under the direction of the Methodist Conference.” Starting in Palermo, he moved to North Vassalboro, China and Southport; to Wisconsin for two years; and back east to serve in several Maine towns, including Waldoboro.

A period of ill health led to a change to an unspecified 15-year “business career…in China and Camden.” He then returned to the ministry, with posts in “Cushing, Caribou, Hodgdon and Linneus, Sprague’s Mills.” Ill health led to retirement to a farm in China for his last two years, the obituary says.

Newbert’s first wife was Helen Augusta Washburn (Oct. 6, 1829 – May 11, 1866), daughter of Zebah and Susan Washburn of China; they were married March 6, 1860. Newbert is buried in Zebah Washburn’s family plot in the China Village Cemetery.

The newspaper obituary says his second wife was “Mrs. Maria R. Jones, of China, whose first husband was Maj. Jones, who was killed during the war of the Rebellion.” A Methodist yearbook found in line adds that in his last years Newbert was “tenderly cared for by his faithful and devoted wife.”

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Grand Army of the Republic badge.

In her research into the history of Albion, Ruby Crosby Wiggin found that Albion’s first Memorial Day observance was in 1885. She wrote that Civil War veterans from Albion and adjoining China organized Grand Army Amos J. Billings Post #112 on May 17, 1884, in China Village.

Kingsbury gave June 17 as the date and said there were 20 original members.

The two towns jointly financed the 1885 Memorial Day celebration, with Albion’s March 1885 town meeting raising $25 for the holiday observance and for decorating solders’ grave.

Kingsbury listed commanders of this Post as Llewellyn Libbey, John Motley, B. P. Tilton, J. W. Brown, Henry C. Rice, Robert C. Brann, A. B. Fletcher and John Motley.

Amos Judson Billings was born Jan. 20, 1833, to Benjamin Allen Billings (1799-1870) and Sarah (Tenney) Billings (1801-1882). On May 1, 1853, in Waldo, he married a woman named Bacon, perhaps Elizabeth A. Bacon (the on-line census record is unsure).

Billings rose to the rank of lieutenant in Company G, 24th Maine Infantry. Census and town records agree that he died of disease in Arkansas on July 28, 1863. His grave is in Albion’s Libby Hill Cemetery.

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Sidney’s Joseph W. Lincoln Post #113 honors Lieutenant Joseph Warren Lincoln, who was born in 1835 and died at Falmouth Virginia, April 8, 1863. His gravestone in the Lincoln Cemetery on Quaker Road says he served in Company F of the 20th Maine; a GAR note on the Find a Grave website, dated 2016 (after the GAR ceased to exist), says Company I, 20th Maine.

In 1857, according to Find a Grave, Lincoln married Laura Ann Whitman McPeak (Jan. 4, 1837 – Sept. 20, 1869). Born in Douglas, Massachusetts, she died in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Sidney Post first met May 24, 1884, according to Kingsbury. Starting with 11 charter members, it had 26 members in 1892.

Meetings were held in the Grange Hall, Kingsbury wrote; GAR members had “contributed considerable labor” to help build it. In her 1992 history of Sidney, Alice Hammond said meetings of both the Post and the Women’s Relief Corps were “in the Town Hall for many years.”

Kingsbury’s list of Post commanders included, in order, Nathan A. Benson, A. M. Sawtell, Thomas S. Benson, John B. Sawtell, Simon C. Hastings, James H. Bean, Silas N. Waite and Gorham K. Hastings. Hammond said Bean was in charge for many years, and his wife, Vileda Bean, was the longest-serving president of the women’s auxiliary. Kingsbury listed Vileda A. Bean among charter members when the Women’s Relief Corps was organized July 29, 1890.

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Windsor’s Marcellus Vining GAR Post honors Lieutenant Marcellus Vining (May 2, 1842 – May 19, 1864).

Kingsbury wrote that Marcellus Vining was the grandson of Jonathan Vining, who came from Alna to Windsor about 1805, and son of Daniel Vining (April 27, 1810 – Feb. 10, 1890). A farmer, Daniel had 12 or 13 children by two wives; Marcellus was his oldest son by his first wife, Sarah Esterbrook (or Esterbrooks) of Oldtown.

Marcellus Vining became a private in the 7th Maine Infantry on Jan. 25, 1862. Kingsbury wrote that the 19-year-old’s “ability and courage soon pointed him out as one especially fitted to a more important place among his comrades.”

Vining received two promotions before his two-year enlistment ended. When he reenlisted Jan. 4, 1864, it was as a sergeant in Company F of the 7th Maine.

He was promoted twice more that spring, to second lieutenant, Company A, on March 9 and to first lieutenant, Company A, on April 21. Wounded at the May 12, 1864, Battle of Spottsylvania, Virginia, he died May 19 in Fredericksburg, before, Kingsbury said, receiving the federal government’s notice that he had been promoted to captain. He is buried in Windsor Neck Cemetery.

Kingsbury wrote that as Vining awaited death, he wrote his father a letter in which he said that “it was preferable for him to die in the defense of his country’s flag than live to see it disgraced.”

Vining GAR Post #107 was organized June 2, 1884, Kingsbury said. Before then, Lowden wrote, residents celebrated Decoration Day at the National Soldiers Home in Togus.

Kingsbury listed the Post commanders, to 1892, as H. A. N. Dutton, Francisco Colburn, George E. Stickney, G. L. Marson, Cyrus S. Noyes and Luther B. Jennings.

Lowden said Windsor’s Post members met every Saturday night in the GAR Hall, the second floor of the town house. The Hall accumulated memorabilia; Lowden wrote that in 1886, “a Mr. Bangs presented a picture of Marcellus Vining,” and Kingsbury added that the Vining family donated Marcellus Vining’s army sword, a life-size portrait and a flag.

Lowden believed Vining Post continued “well into the twentieth century.” Windsor voters helped fund the organization, usually at $15 a year, he wrote. In 1929, however, “$30.00 was appropriated for G.A.R. Memorial and paid to the Sons of Veterans,” the successor organization to the GAR.

After local Memorial Day observances began, they typically included a speech, Lowden said. Windsor’s first was in 1887, and “must have been appreciated since a $13.00 honorarium was paid to the speaker who to this day has remained anonymous.” Lowden did find names of several ministers who delivered memorial addresses in the next decade.

Gustavus B. (G.B.) Chadwick

One of Windsor’s Memorial Day speakers, according to Linwood Lowden’s history, was G. B. Chadwick, in 1892. Though not listed as a minister, he almost certainly was: Rev. Gustavus B. Chadwick, a member of a prominent South China family. In the China bicentennial history (where he is consistently referred to simply as G. B. Chadwick), he is mentioned as a school committee member, head of the Masonic Lodge, in South China, and in 1872 among the people who bought the Chadwick Cemetery, where he is buried.

Information from the on-line Find a Grave site says Chadwick was born July 24, 1832, in China. On Aug. 27, 1864, he enlisted in the navy and served as a Landsman on the USS Rhode Island until honorably discharged June 3, 1865. He was a member of China’s Amos J. Billings GAR Post.

Gravestones in China’s Chadwick Hill cemetery list Rev. G. B. Chadwick (did he so dislike the name Gustavus?) and dates; his wife Clara M. (1851-1934) (probably born Clara Erskine); their son Wallace W. Chadwick (1892-1930) and Wallace’s wife Martha Francis (Gardner) Chadwick (1891-1947).

Main sources

Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984).
Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Lowden, Linwood H., good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Holidays: Memorial Day

by Mary Grow

GAR posts Augusta, North Vassalboro and Clinton

Waterville’s W. S Heath GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) Post #14, described last week, was the second founded of the eight in the part of Kennebec County covered in this series, according to Henry Kingsbury’s county history. It was the third of 19 in the whole county, Kingsbury wrote.

Kingsbury’s list begins with a post in Gardiner, followed by Augusta’s Seth Williams Post #13, organized July 25, 1872. Then came Waterville’s, organized Dec. 29, 1874.

Kingsbury then listed:

  • Richard W. Mullen Post #33, North Vassalboro, no date given;
  • Billings Post #88, Clinton, organized Oct. 9, 1883;
  • James P. Jones Post #106, South China, organized April 23, 1884;
  • Vining Post #107, Windsor, organized June 2, 1884;
  • Amos J. Billings Post #112, China Village, chartered June 17, 1884;
  • Joseph W. Lincoln Post #113, Sidney, mustered May 24, 1884.

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Brevet Major General
Seth Williams

Brevet Major General Seth Williams (March 22, 1822 – March 23, 1866), for whom the Augusta GAR Post was named, was an Augusta native, Kingsbury wrote. James North, in his Augusta history, said his parents were Daniel and Mary (Sawtelle) Williams; Mary was from Norridgewock. Daniel and his brother Reuel were prominent in Augusta business and politics.

Seth Williams graduated from West Point July 1, 1842, and served in the United States First Artillery (Kingsbury; North says it was the Second Artillery), either entering as a brevet second lieutenant (North) or attaining the rank in 1844 (Kingsbury).

(The word “brevet” means someone promoted to a higher rank, especially as a reward for outstanding service, without the higher pay that normally accompanied the new rank.)

An on-line article by Charles Francis added that among Williams’ “minor” posts in his first three years in the military was Hancock Barracks, in Houlton, Maine.

Williams was promoted to first lieutenant in 1847, during the Mexican War (April 25, 1846 – Feb. 2, 1848). North wrote that he was in battle at Palo Alto (May 8, 1846) and Resaca de la Palma (May 9, 1846), and during the latter “his gallant bearing attracted the notice of a distinguished general officer, who invited him to become a member of his military family.”

(The officer was General Robert Patterson [Jan. 12, 1792 – Aug. 7, 1881], an Irish-born Pennsylvanian, veteran of the War of 1812. He was wounded at the April 18, 1847, Battle of Sierra Gordo, not seriously enough to keep him from becoming a successful businessman and serving in the Civil War.)

When Williams visited Augusta in July 1847, North said, Colonel James L. Child hosted a party at the Arsenal and townspeople gave Williams an inscribed sword.

Kingsbury wrote that Williams was brevetted captain the day of the Battle of Sierra Gordo in recognition of his “gallant and meritorious conduct.”

After the Mexican War ended, Williams served in other minor posts until he became adjutant at West Point from September 1850 to August 1853. Francis wrote that he “was held in the highest esteem, and was remembered with affection” by the cadets he supervised.

Next he became a captain and assistant adjutant general in Washington, where he remained until the Civil War began in April 1861.

Williams served in both staff and battlefield positions. Kingsbury’s account of his service includes membership on General George McLellan’s staff in the early days; becoming a major in August 1861; and later that year becoming “adjutant general of the Army of the Potomac” and “brigadier general of volunteers.”

Although these were challenging jobs, North and Kingsbury wrote that Williams’ performance was approved by the various commanders he supervised. Francis wrote that Williams was made a brevet colonel for his gallantry in the July 1, 1863, Battle of Gettysburg.

In November 1864 (North) or on Jan. 12, 1865 (Kingsbury), failing health led to his reassignment as Inspector General on General Ulysses Grant’s staff. In this position he inspected parts of the army in Virginia before taking part in the final Civil War campaign and the negotiations for General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, in April 1865.

Williams remained in the army after the war ended, serving on General George Meade’s staff. Kingsbury said his final “special service” was as a member of a January 1866 commission that investigated charges brought by the government of Prussia about “the enlistment of some of its subjects into our army.”

Sources differ on how Williams became a brevet general. Kingsbury and North imply he was promoted before his death in March 1866; they wrote he became a major general as of August 1864 (North) or effective March 13, 1865 (Kingsbury). Wikipedia says President Andrew Johnson nominated him to the two ranks on April 10 and July 17, 1866, with both appointments retroactive to March 13, 1865.

Kingsbury praised Williams as a man who did his duty even if he thereby hurt others, but was in private “one of the most lovable of men.” Kingsbury’s adjectives for him included courteous, tactful, beloved, admired and respected. North concurred. He called Williams “modest” and “unassuming,” with “sterling qualities of mind and heart that won the respect and confidence of acquaintances and associates.”

When General Grant heard that Williams had died in Boston, Massachusetts, he telegraphed sympathy to Williams’ father and asked that the body be buried at West Point. The family chose Forest Grove Cemetery, in Augusta.

Williams’ body came to Augusta “by special train,” North wrote. There was a service at St. Mark’s Church and another at the graveside, but at the family’s request, the only military ceremony was a 15-gun salute at the Arsenal.

Afterwards, North wrote, Williams’ father commissioned a memorial stained-glass window in St. Mark’s Church.

Francis mentioned one more memorial to Seth Williams: Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, named on April 13, 1899, honored the Augusta soldier. The fort was active through the two world wars and beyond; it was closed on June 30, 1962, Wikipedia says, and since July 1979 has been Fort Williams Park.

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Richard W. Mullen Post #33, in Vassalboro, honors the man identified in Alma Pierce Robbins’ Vassalboro bicentennial history as one of the first officers in the 14th Maine regiment when it assembled in Augusta in 1861.

From its position on Kingsbury’s list, the Post must date from mid-January, 1881. Kingsbury said it had 18 charter members and by 1892, 42 members.

Kingsbury located Post #33 in North Vassalboro, but he was probably in error. The Vassalboro Historical Society owns a black and silver DAR ribbon with the Post’s name and number that plainly says “East Vassalboro, ME.”

Writing in 1971, Robbins said, “All older citizens will recall that the Richard W. Mullen Chapter, G.A.R., was active in Vassalboro for many years until they turned their records over to the American Legion Post #126 (1942).”

Over those years, she reported, the town donated to the Women’s (or Woman’s) Relief Corps (the GAR’s ladies’ auxiliary) to decorate veterans’ graves and hold Memorial Day services. The Legion and Auxiliary took over those responsibilities.

Capt. Richard Wright Mullen, son of Richard Mullen, was born April 19, 1831, in Amesbury, Massachusetts, and died May 14, 1875, in New Orleans, Louisiana, according to the Find a Grave website.

The Maine Adjutant General’s Report for the year ending Dec. 31, 1861, lists Richard W. Mullen, of Vassalboro, as the captain of company B, 14th regiment. When the report was compiled, the 14th was in camp at Augusta.

(The regimental commander was Colonel Frank S. Nickerson. Col. Nickerson, born in Swanville, Maine, became a brigadier general and survived the war, dying in Boston in 1917.)

Wikipedia says the 14th Maine was mustered into active service Dec. 31, 1861, and mustered out Jan. 3, 1865. Attached to General Benjamin Butler’s New Orleans expedition, the men took ship from Boston Feb. 6, 1862; they were in Mississippi from early March to mid-May, got to Louisiana early in July and fought in the Aug. 5, 1862, Battle of Baton Rouge.

Mullen is buried in the North Vassalboro cemetery. On his gravestone above his name is the Latin phrase “In hoc signo vinces,” commonly translated as “In this sign, thou shalt conquer” and a cross.

A long inscription says he was “severely wounded” at the Battle of Baton Rouge. Despite only partially recovering, he was “called into public service” and when he died was collector of customs in Franklin, Louisiana, a town west of New Orleans.

(State records say 86 members of the 14th Maine were killed or died from their wounds, and 332 died of disease.)

* * * * * *

Billings Post #88, organized in Clinton on Oct. 9, 1883, had 19 charter members and 23 members in 1892, Kingsbury wrote. Meetings were held in Centennial Hall.

Capt. Charles W. Billings

The Post honors Clinton native Captain Charles Wheeler Billings (Dec. 13, 1824 – July 15, 1863), son of Abijah (or Abaijah) Munroe Billings (1797-September 1881) and Rhonda (or Rhoda) (Warner) Billings (1798-1836).

An on-line article by Paul Russinoff, a Marylander who collects Civil War photographs, says that Abijah Billings ran a wool carding mill and was postmaster in Clinton. He sent his son to a private school; when Charles was 22, he bought a half-interest in his father’s mill.

In 1849, Charles Billings married Ellen Libby Hunter (July 1, 1833 – 1924), daughter of a prominent local family whose patriarch was in the lumber business. They had three daughters, Isadore Margaret (Billings) Timberlake (1850 – 1897), Alice Warner Billings (1856-1860) and Elizabeth W. “Lizzie” Billings (1860 – Dec. 7, 1863).

By the outbreak of the Civil War, Billings was an established businessman and active in town affairs, holding office as a selectman and as town clerk. He did not volunteer for military service in the excitement of 1861, but did on Aug. 9, 1862.

Russinoff quotes from a letter to his father suggesting his motivation: he saw the war as a choice between protecting liberty and “let[ting] the sword of despotism and ignorance sweep over our fair country.”

In the fall of 1862, as a second lieutenant in Company A of the 20th Maine, Billings started keeping a diary, which Russinoff said ended in April 1863. Also that month, he returned to Clinton for the last time on a 15-day-furlough.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 7, 1863, Russinoff wrote, he had been transferred to Company C and promoted to captain.

Billings was wounded in the left knee at the Battle of Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. His wife got word, and with his younger brother, John Patten Billings, came to Gettysburg; they arrived on July 15, a few hours after Billings died in the Fifth Corps field hospital at Gettysburg.

The 20th Maine monument at Gettysburg lists him as the highest-ranking officer in the regiment to die as a result of the battle.

Ellen had his body brought back to Clinton. She did not remarry; Russinoff found that she later lived with daughter Isadore, in Lancaster, New Hampshire.

Where she was between Isadore’s death and her own, Russinoff did not say. Ellen is buried with Charles, their daughters and his parents in Clinton’s Riverview Cemetery.

On the Men of Maine Killed in the Victory of Baton Rouge, Louisiana

(A poem by Herman Melville, 1866)

Afar they fell. It was the zone
Of fig and orange, cane and lime
(A land how all unlike their own,
With the cold pine-grove overgrown),
But still their Country’s clime.
And there in youth they died for her –
The Volunteers,
For her went up their dying prayers:
So vast the Nation, yet so strong the tie.
What doubt shall come, then, to deter
The Republic’s earnest faith and courage high.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971)

Websites, miscellaneous

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: May holidays

Nearly 50 years after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, Civil War veterans marched down Main Street, in Waterville, on May 30, 1913, in the annual Memorial Day parade. The decades since the war had thinned the ranks of these members of the GAR, who fought in the war.

by Mary Grow

The month of May hosts two well-observed national holidays in the 21st-century United States: the second Sunday is Mother’s Day, and the last Monday is Memorial Day.

There will be no story about Mother’s Day; it’s too new (but see the box). Nor will your writer trouble you with details about the many other May holidays listed on line.

May 11, for example, is National Eat What You Want Day, National Twilight Zone Day, National Foam Rolling Day and National Technology Day. The seven May 12 observances include National Limerick Day, National Nutty Fudge Day and National Odometer Day.

Later in the month, those so inclined can celebrate National Frog Jumping Day and National Fruit Cocktail Day (May 13); National Sea Monkey Day (May 16); Pack Rat Day and World Baking Day (May 17); International Red Sneakers Day and World Bee Day (May 20); World Turtle Day and National Asparagus Day (May 23); National Paper Airplane Day and World Lindy Hop Day (May 26); National Paperclip Day (May 29); and on May 31, National Flip-Flop Day, World No Tobacco Day and World Otter Day – and those are from only two lists.

Memorial Day, celebrated this year on Monday, May 29, had its origins almost 150 years ago. The day was first called Decoration Day, and it honored soldiers who died in the Civil War.

Local groups in former Confederate states and in Pennsylvania started putting flowers on soldiers’ graves each year soon after the war ended in April 1865, leading to debate about who started what became national recognition of deceased veterans.

Wikipedia says as of last year, the National Cemetery Administration (part of the Department of Veterans Affairs) gave credit to Mary Ann (Mrs. Charles J.) Williams, of Columbus, Georgia. She was president of a group who, in March 1866, began a newspaper campaign to persuade people to decorate both Confederate and Union soldiers’ graves in the South. Their chosen day was April 26.

The national holiday began May 30, 1868, when, Wikipedia says, General John A. Logan called for decorating Union soldiers’ graves. After the 20th-century world wars, the holiday expanded to honor all veterans.

Congress officially named it Memorial Day in 1967, and in June 1968 passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, effective Jan. 1, 1971. This law moved Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day to Mondays and created Columbus Day as another Monday holiday.

(In 1978, Veterans’ Day was moved back to Nov. 11, the date World War I ended. Labor Day was a Monday celebration before 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was added in 1986.)

General Logan was in 1868 commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Union veterans founded in 1866 in Springfield, Illinois. The GAR held its first national meeting on Nov. 20 that year in Indianapolis, Indiana. It dissolved in 1956, after its last member died.

Several local town historians included information about Memorial Day. Linwood Lowden, commenting on his research in the history of Windsor, said that Decoration Day, Independence Day and Christmas were “the holidays that seemed to be of the greatest importance.”

Lowden wrote that the GAR’s Department of Maine, established in 1867 or 1868, was “instrumental” in persuading the Maine legislature to make Memorial Day a legal holiday in 1874.

Two on-line sources say that in 1885 Maine had 130 GAR posts with 8,235 members and in 1888 150 posts with 9,345 members. It was in June 1885 that Portland hosted the 19th National Encampment, attended by 20,000 Civil War veterans including, Lowden wrote, Abram Choate, of Windsor.

From the 1860s into the 20th century, most municipal Memorial Day celebrations were led by local GAR posts.

* * * * * *

Gen. Isaac Bangs

Waterville’s W. S. Heath Post #14 was chartered Dec. 29, 1874, with 26 members, according to charter member General Isaac Sparrow Bangs’ chapter in the Waterville centennial history.

The Post’s name honors Lieutenant Colonel William Solyman Heath, Colby 1855. Born March 13, 1834, in Belfast, he married Maria E. Moor (born 1838) in Waterville in 1856, soon after he graduated from Colby.

The couple had three children, Ethel Maud Heath (born Sept. 1, 1857, in Minneapolis, according to an on-line genealogy, and died in 1898 in the state of Washington); Sidney Moor Heath (born Aug. 27, 1859, in Waterville, died April 3, 1919, in Hoquiam, Washington); and William Francis Heath (born Oct. 13, 1861, in Waterville, and died there April 26, 1863).

When the Civil War began, Heath raised and captained a company of Waterville volunteers, who joined the 3rd Maine Volunteers. He became a colonel in that regiment and later a lieutenant-colonel in the 5th Maine.

Heath was killed in the June 27, 1862, Battle of Gaines (or Gaine’s or Gaines’) Mill in Hanover County, Virginia, where, Bangs wrote in 1902, “for forty years he has slept under the grass and flowers in an unknown grave.”

Another charter member of W. S. Heath GAR post was William Heath’s younger brother, Francis “Frank” Edward Heath, Colby 1858. Joining the 3rd Maine with his brother, he later became lieutenant-colonel, then colonel and finally brevet brigadier-general in the 19th Maine, Bangs wrote. Francis Heath survived the war and died in Waterville on Dec. 20, 1897.

The Friday, June 3, 1881, issue of the Waterville Mail (available on-line through Colby’s digital commons, which your writer has previously praised as a valuable resource) had several articles about Memorial Day observances on Sunday, May 29, and Monday, May 30, 1881.

Sunday evening, the newspaper reported, Baptist church pastor Rev. W. H. Spencer addressed Waterville’s W. S. Heath GAR Post, the Waterville Light Infantry and interested residents. Vassalboro’s R. W. Mullen Post members were invited, but because of rain only a few men came.

Post and infantry members “marched to the tap of the drum” to the church, where they sat “giving good attention to a soldier speaking to soldiers.” The paper explained how Rev. Spencer compared military soldiers to soldiers of Christ.

The next day, Memorial Day, about 50 Post members, again escorted by the infantry regiment, took donated wreaths and set out for Pine Grove Cemetery, by way of Monument Park where they put a long wreath on the monument.

Monday was rainy, too, and before the veterans got to the cemetery a “copious shower” made it “advisable to double-quick for shelter in the hearse house.” After waiting out the heaviest rain, they went into the cemetery, heard a prayer by Congregational pastor Rev. E. N. Smith, distributed the wreaths and marched back to their (unspecified) assembly point.

Monday evening, the Baptist Church ladies put on a program that raised $104 for the Post, to be used “to aid needy soldiers and their families.” The Mail gave the program, which included war songs, reminiscences and a group of young women performing the “Waiters Drill,” which the anonymous writer said was “so prettily done, and so gratifying to the large audience that long continued applause compelled its repetition.”

After the program, those present enjoyed cake and ice cream and conversation in the vestry, decorated with flags and pictures and with war memorabilia on display. The writer added a bit of editorializing:

“The ranks of the veteran soldiers are thinning every year, and they will not long remain with those for whose benefit they fought and suffered. Do them good while they are alive and can appreciate your grateful service, and do not content yourselves with building monuments to their memory, or helping to decorate their graves after they are dead.”

The origin of Mother’s Day

Wikipedia dates holidays recognizing mothers and motherhood to the ancient Greeks and Romans and early Christians. In the United States, Wikipedia credits West Virginian Anna Maria Jarvis (May 1, 1864 – Nov. 24, 1948) with starting Mother’s Day observances.

Jarvis’s mother, Anna Maria (Reeves) Jarvis (Sept. 30, 1832 – May 9, 1905), founded groups called Mothers’ Day Work Clubs. Before the Civil War, club members focused on public health issues, helping families improve sanitation, reduce infant mortality and control disease, including, Wikipedia says, creating milk inspection programs “long before there were state requirements.”

Anna Jarvis

During the Civil War, the western part of Virginia where the Jarvises lived was so split between North and South that part of it became the separate, pro-Union state of West Virginia. The older Anna Jarvis insisted that her clubs be neutral; members helped provide food, clothing and medical care to Union and Confederate soldiers alike.

Wikipedia describes the 1868 Mothers Friendship Day she organized in Pruntytown, West Virginia, attended by veterans from both armies and their families, with bands playing Dixie and The Star-Spangled Banner and everyone singing Auld Lang Syne at the end.

The younger Anna Jarvis remembered that her mother often wished there were a national holiday honoring mothers. Another proponent was Julia Ward Howe (May 27, 1819 – Oct. 17, 1910, best known as the author of The Battle Hymn of Republic), who in 1870 combined two causes when she called on all mothers to cooperate to promote peaceful resolution of disputes.

On the morning of May 10, 1908, Jarvis organized, and Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, in Grafton, West Virginia, hosted, the first public Mother’s Day celebration in the United States. Jarvis also organized a larger celebration – 15,000 attendees, Wikipedia says – that afternoon in Philadelphia.

Her idea spread, and she lobbied to make the day a nationally-recognized holiday. Congress considered it in 1908, Wikipedia says, and rejected it amid jokes about Mother-in-Laws’ Day. Within three years, however, a day honoring mothers was celebrated nation-wide and was officially a holiday in some states, including West Virginia.

Wikipedia says: “In 1912, Anna Jarvis trademarked the phrase ‘Second Sunday in May, Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, Founder’ and created the Mother’s Day International Association…. She specifically noted that ‘Mother’s’ should ‘be a singular possessive, for each family to honor its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.'”

On May 11, 1913, members of the United States House of Representatives wore white carnations in honor of mothers, complying with a May 10 resolution sponsored by Representative James Heflin (D-Alabama; later a United States Senator). In 1914, Heflin followed up with legislation making the second Sunday in May officially Mother’s Day.

Heflin’s bill directed that the United States flag be flown on Mother’s Day “as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.” The House approved promptly; Senator (former Representative) Morris Sheppard (D-Texas) led Senate supporters.

President Woodrow Wilson received the bill on May 8, 1914, and signed it that day.

Carnations are not in the law, but remain associated with the holiday, along with cards, flowers and candy – a commercialization that Anna Jarvis deplored.

Two buildings related to the founding of Mother’s Day are on the National Register of Historic Places: the Anna Jarvis House in Webster, West Virginia, where Jarvis was born; and the International Mother’s Day Shrine, at 11 East Main Street, Grafton, West Virginia.

The Shrine, according to its website, was incorporated in 1962 in the 1873 Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church as “an international shrine to all mothers and as a memorial to Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day.”

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Lowden, Linwood H., good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: Main St., revisited

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

by Roland D. Hallee

A couple of weeks ago we took a stroll down the west side of Main St., in Waterville, and I fore warned you there maybe a few gaps along the way I didn’t remember. Well, thanks to some readers, who obviously have a better memory than I, gave me calls to fill some of those spaces.

So, here we go again, up the west side of Main St.

There were a few stores missing after we passed Barlow’s Shoe Store, and A. W. Larsen Co., around the same area with Emery Brown Dept. Store and Dunham’s of Maine. There was Butler’s Dept. Store, more geared toward the ladies. Also in that area was Squire’s Store – don’t quite remember to whom they catered. Also in there were two specialty stores, Richard’s Women’s Clothing Store, and France’s Clothing Store, with a theme more toward teenage girls and young women.

But, the one glaring omission on my part, since this landmark enterprise has been in existence a long time, and only recently closed, is Tardif’s Jewelers. That one I can’t figure how I forgot about it since I went to school with the brother and sister who inherited the store following the death of their parents. The son, Lionel, ran the store since his sister Anne Marie, married and moved out of state.

Also, along that stretch was Dexter’s Drug Store. That one I definitely don’t remember, and I’m wondering if it was the original site of the Dex­ter’s Drug Store that moved across the Ticonic Bridge, in Winslow, near the railroad tracks? They had the same name, so it’s only an assumption.

Further down at the corner where Key Bank drive through is now, was an Army-Navy Store named Kilroy’s, which I remembered was there but couldn’t recall the name. But prior to that, it was Corey’s Music Store, before they moved across the street and a little further south on the east side of Main St.

On the opposite corner, before Diambri’s Restaurant, was Bea’s Candy Store, which featured Fanny Farmer chocolates.

Off on a side street, Silver St., actually, once you got by Atkins Printing, there was a pool hall, and then the State Theater – now Cancun’s Restaurant. Next was the “Green Front” store – another name for the state liquor store, and that was followed by the Majestic Restaurant. The last store before the Jinjine Hill was Farrar’s, which was an industrial parts store.

Across the street, on the north side of Silver St., was the Morning Sentinal Building. Now walking toward Main St., you had a bakery, a hardware store, don’t recall the names, and then Spaulding’s Bar, and another store before you were back in front of Barlow’s Shoe Store.

Lots of activity in the Main St. area in those days.

CLASSIC CARS OF YESTERYEAR: From near demise to American classic

1955 Corvette

The Chevrolet Corvette (C1) was the first generation of the Corvette sports car produced by Chevrolet. It was introduced late in the 1953 model year and produced through 1962. This generation is commonly referred to as the “solid-axle” generation, as the independent rear suspension did not appear until the 1963 Stingray.

The Corvette was rushed into production for its debut model year to capitalize on the enthusiastic public reaction to the concept vehicle, but expectations for the new model were largely unfulfilled. Reviews were mixed and sales fell far short of expectations through the car’s early years. The program was nearly canceled, but Chevrolet decided to make necessary improvements.

The secretive effort was code-named “Project Opel” (after GM’s German division Opel). The result was the hand-built, EX-122 pre-production Corvette prototype, which was first shown to the public at the 1953 General Motors Motorama at the Waldorf-Astoria, in New York City, on January 17, 1953. When production began six months later, at an MSRP of $3,513 ($35,580 in 2021 dollars), it had evolved into a considerably costlier car than the basic $2,000 roadster Harley Earl originally had in mind.

To keep costs down, GM executive Robert F. McLean mandated off-the-shelf mechanical components. The new car used the chassis and suspension design from the 1949 through 1954 Chevrolet passenger vehicles. The engine was a 235 cu. in. (3.85 L) inline six engine that was similar to the engine that powered all other Chevrolet car models, but with a higher-compression ratio. Output was 150 hp . Because there was currently no manual transmission available to Chevrolet rated to handle 150 HP, a two-speed Powerglide automatic was used. The 0–60 mph time was 11.5 seconds.

Three body variants were created. The roadster was built as the Corvette, the Corvair fastback variant never went into production, and the two-door Nomad station wagon was eventually built as the Chevrolet Nomad.

During the last half of 1953, 300 Corvettes were to a large degree, hand-built on a makeshift assembly line that was installed in an old truck plant in Flint, Michigan, while a factory was being prepped for a full-scale 1954 production run. The outer body was made out of then-revolutionary glass fiber reinforced plastic material. Although steel shortages or quotas are sometimes mentioned as a factor in the decision to use fiberglass, no evidence exists to support this.

Some doubt was expressed that they should build the 1954 model of steel. People seemed to be captivated by the idea of the fiberglass plastic body. Furthermore, information being given by the reinforced plastic industry seemed to indicate the practicality of fabricating plastic body parts for automobiles on a large scale.

With many improvements to the engine and drive train, sales continued to decline. The Chevrolet division was GM’s entry-level marque. Managers at GM were seriously considering shelving the project, leaving the Corvette to be little more than a footnote in automotive history, and would have done so if not for three important events. The first was the 1955 introduction of Chevrolet’s first V8 engine since 1919. Late in the model year, the new 195 hp, 265 small-block became available with a Powerglide automatic transmission, until the middle of the production year when a manual 3-speed became available, coupled to a 3.55:1 axle ratio, the only one offered. This helped the “rather anemic Corvette into a credible if not outstanding performer”. The second was the influence of a Russian émigré in GM’s engineering department, Zora Arkus-Duntov. The third factor in the Corvette’s survival was Ford’s introduction of the 1955 two-seat Thunderbird, which was billed as a “personal luxury car”, not a sports car. Even so, the Ford-Chevrolet rivalry in those days demanded GM not appear to back down from the challenge.

The original concept for the Corvette emblem incorporated an American flag into the design, but was changed well before production since associating the flag with a product was frowned upon.

1960 Corvette

The 1953 model year was not only the Corvette’s first production year, but at 300 produced it was also the lowest-volume Corvette. The cars were essentially hand-built and techniques evolved during the production cycle so that each 1953 Corvette is slightly different. All 1953 models had red interiors, Polo white exteriors, and painted blue engines (a reference to the three colors represented on the Flag of the United States, where the Corvette was assembled), as well as black canvas soft tops.

The quality of the fiberglass body as well as its fit and finish were lacking. Other problems, such as water leaks and doors that could open while the car was driven, were reported with the most severe errors corrected in subsequent units produced, but some shortcomings continued beyond the Corvette’s inaugural year. By December 1953, Chevrolet had a newly-equipped factory in St. Louis ready to build 10,000 Corvettes annually. However, negative customer reactions to 1953 and early 1954 models caused sales to fall short of expectations.

In 1954, a total of 3,640 of this model were built and nearly a third were unsold at year’s end. Chevrolet debuted its 265 cu. in. (4.3 L) small-block, 195 hp V8 in 1955 and the engine was available for the Corvette. Early production 1955 V8 Corvettes continued with the mandatory-option Powerglide automatic transmission (as did the few 6-cylinder models built). A new three-speed manual transmission became available later in the year for V8 models, but was not popular with about 75 equipped with it. A total of 700 1955 Corvettes were built, making it second only to 1953 in scarcity. The “V” in the Corvette emblem was enlarged and gold colored, signifying the V8 engine and 12-volt electrical systems, while 6-cylinder models retained the 6-volt systems used in 1953-54.

1962 Corvette

Although not a part of the original Corvette project, Zora Arkus-Duntov was responsible for the addition of the V8 engine and three-speed manual transmission. Duntov improved the car’s marketing and image and helped the car compete with the new V8 – engined Ford Thunderbird, Studebaker Speedster and the larger Chrysler C-300, and turned the Corvette from its lackluster performance into a credible performer. In 1956 he became the director of high-performance vehicle design and development for Chevrolet helping him earn the nickname “Father of the Corvette.”

Although the C1 Corvette chassis and suspension design were derived from Chevrolet’s full-size cars, the same basic design was continued through the 1962 model even after the full-size cars were completely redesigned for the 1955 model year. This was due to the combined factors of the relatively high reengineering and retooling costs for this low-volume production vehicle, the continued potential for cancellation of the car, and the increased size and weight of the all-new suspension design for the full-size cars, which made it unsuitable for use in the lighter weight Corvette.

With a new larger engine the 1962 model year Corvette was the quickest to date. Displacement of the small-block V8 increased from 283 cu. in. (4.6 L) to 327 cu. in. (5,360 cc), which was rated at 250 hp in its base single 4-barrel carburetor version. Hydraulic valve lifters were used in the standard and optional 300 hp engines, solid lifters in the optional carbureted 340 hp and fuel-injected 360 hp versions. Dual 4-barrel carburetor engines were no longer available.

By 1962, it was the last solid-rear-axle suspension, that had been used from the beginning. Rocker panel trim was seen for the first time, and exposed headlights for the last, until 2005. This was the last Corvette model to offer an optional power convertible top mechanism.

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: My life with history

The interior of the China History Museum.


by Bob Bennett

In all of the lives of human beings, the one factor that can never be changed is our history. It is there in all of its glory or shame. The deeds of those who came before us, and ourselves from the moment they are carried out, are forever in place. So, if it can’t be altered why is history important? The short answer to this question is that knowledge of the past, if used as a learning experience, can and should have a positive impact on those who are still alive and all of those who follow in our future. We should accept, but not repeat mistakes, live with the results but attempt to repair errors, and without question try and ensure that the faults and mistakes of our predecessors are not blessed or repeated. And yet, we all know that these ideas do not always occur; a perfect world does not and will never exist.

I have revered history throughout my entire life. This means that I started with the stories my dad told me when I was a toddler. He loved Zane Grey’s novels and knew a lot about the old west. When I was a couple of years older, my parents bought a full set of Colliers Encyclopedias, including the yearly update volumes, and I was really off and running. I would spend hours paging through those heavy books reading anything that caught my attention. Maybe this is a little over the top, but I loved every moment and learned tons of stuff.

Starting my secondary education in South Portland Junior High School in 1961, I was fortunate to have great history teachers all the way through high school. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions and at a time when many kids were bored with learning names, dates and places, I was in heaven. My freshman history teacher, Charles Cahill, had been in the OSS (pre-CIA) during World War II and even though he told us that he couldn’t really tell us what his actions involved, he could always keep us awake with his stories. Other teachers in high school were good, too, but it was in my college career at the University of Maine in Orono that I really “hit it big.”

My advisor and professor in a number of classes was Clark G. Reynolds. Dr. Reynolds had taught at the U.S. Naval Academy before arriving at UMO. He was the ultimate example of the teacher who knew the stories relating to history that made the classwork incredibly interesting. He had been closely involved with major World War II figures like Admirals Halsey and Nimitz and knew all of the details of their decisions and actions. He had also met many other players in the war. On December 7, 1970, he marched into our classroom with a Christmas card he had just received from a former Japanese naval officer, Minoru Genda, who had largely put together the attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7,1941); talk about timing! We’ll talk more about Dr. Reynolds later.

After college graduation in 1971, I began a 38-year career in education as a history teacher and also a 20-year semi-career in the 195th Army Band of the Maine National Guard. In both of these lives I was exposed to history in different ways. As a teacher, I was very consistent in relating what I was presenting to my students to events that had similarity to both the past and present. I tried to begin every single class session with at least a couple of current events, including something that had some relation to the history we were covering. Some days those events might take more time than I anticipated but I managed to get most everything on the day’s agenda addressed. As a member of an extremely well-regarded army band, I had the opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico, Canada and a number of American states. As a drum major leading a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, meeting and talking with Canadian World War II veterans at Gagetown, NewBrunswick, and seeing Robert E. Lee’s first Corp of Engineering project at Ft. Monroe, Virginia, were all great and eye opening experiences.

I moved from one school system to another, Portland to SAD #3 in 1978, got married in 1984 and it was at Mount View High School, in Thorndike, that I reconnected with Dr. Reynolds. One morning during a prep period I looked him up on line and found that he was at the College of Charleton, in South Carolina. On a whim I called the college, charging the cost to my home phone back then, and discovered that he was coming to Orono for a seminar in the following week. I set up a time to meet on campus. When I arrived at the building I went down the appropriate hallway, following the sound of his great, booming voice. When he concluded his presentation, we drove downtown to Pat’s Pizza and had a fantastic, several hour discussion about everything historic. This meeting helped confirm everything I felt about the value of history in one’s life and the need to keep up with all of its pieces.

As my teaching career continued, another opportunity arose and I switched to Erskine Academy, in South China. The location is just around the corner from where we live in South China; I walked to work most days rather than driving 50 mile round trips to Thorndike. While at EA, I was able to see a lot of history in a new part of the world. I chaperoned on five trips to Europe in my seven years teaching mostly Advanced Placement U.S. History. There really isn’t anything like walking through the U.S. Cemetery, in Normandy, and exploring Omaha Beach. The Colosseum, in Rome, is neat, too. When I retired in 2012, my formal teaching was done but I am a firm believer in “once a teacher, always a teacher.” I substitute taught and continued to pass on my knowledge ’till COVID arrived. I volunteered at the Boothbay Railway Museum and enlightened visitors with my wealth of railroad history.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I am a nearly life-long model railroader. One of the best aspects of this hobby for me is the research into railroad history to build accurate models and scenes. To help other modelers, I have written more that 100 articles for various national publications, This has helped me stay active intellectually and to continue to share my ideas and passions, Also, in a rail-related venue, I was a summer conductor for 14 years on the Belfast and Moosehead Lake R.R. I shared tons of history with thousands of passengers during those times.

And so, this is my life exploring, enjoying and passing on history. The past is such a vital part of everyones’ existence and I really feel that ignoring it is almost inhuman. For parents, teach your kids about your past and experiences. For students, listen to your history teachers. Ask questions about what intrigues you and get involved in organizations that highlight learning about, and memories of what, has come before. It is absolutely true that once the ideas and memories of long ago are forgotten, they can never be recovered. It is our task to help preserve them forever.

This essay was composed to help inspire continued interest in and growth of the newly-resurrected China Historical Society.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Plagues

Fairfield Sanatorium circa 1940. One of the scourges of the late 19th century through the mid 20th century was Tuberculosis. According to Wikipedia, Tuberculosis (or TB), is an infection caused by bacteria. Typically, it affects the lungs, but can affect other parts of the body. In 90% of cases, the infection remains dormant and goes undetected. In about 10% of cases, the infection goes active. Common symptoms of the active infection include fever, night sweats, and weight loss. Because of the weight loss, the disease was often called “consumption”. Back when it was a major health crisis, those who were infected were often quarantined in sanatoriums. This was common practice across the United States, even here in Maine. The idea was that these sanatoriums would not only separate the sick from the people they could infect, they would also treat the TB. The thought was that they would treat them through good nutrition and fresh air.

by Mary Grow

Note: “The first article in this Kennebec Valley series appeared in the March 26, 2020, issue of The Town Line. Having completed a three-year run, your writer intends to take a few weeks off.”

Since this historical series started in the spring of 2020 as a way to distract writer and readers from the Covid-19 pandemic, part of the plan has always been a survey of past local disease outbreaks.

Someone at the Maine State Museum had the same idea. The museum has a one-page document uploaded in 2020 and headed Maine’s Historic Pandemics.

(The difference between an epidemic and a pandemic is that an epidemic is localized to a country or region; a pandemic affects multiple countries or the whole world. Since this article is focused on the State of Maine, your writer reserves the right to use “epidemic” even when the disease described sickened people outside Maine.)

The museum website lists five diseases, three too recent to qualify for your writer’s attention in this article:

  • Smallpox was at its height from 1600 to 1800; the worst epidemics had a 30 percent death rate; and it was especially severe among Native Americans (who, unlike Europeans, had no previous exposure to give them a chance to develop immunity).
  • Cholera was most frequent in Maine between about 1830 and 1850, with seven separate outbreaks, the museum’s chart says. The death rate is put at 50 to 60 percent.
  • Tuberculosis became epidemic from 1900 to 1950, with a 25 percent death rate. One of Maine’s three tuberculosis sanatoriums was in Fairfield – see the Sept. 22, 2022, issue of The Town Line.
  • Maine’s polio epidemic ran from 1900 to 1960, mainly affecting children. The death rate is listed at 5 to 15 percent; many who survived were paralyzed or lamed for life.
  • Influenza is listed as a pandemic in 1918 and 1919, when the disease spread world-wide. The death rate was 2 percent.

Abandoned Fairfield Sanatorium today

Some Maine local historians frequently mentioned epidemics; others ignored them. Diseases most often noted were smallpox, scarlet fever and diphtheria.

In a 1995 paper for Maine History (reprinted on line in the University of Maine’s invaluable Digital Commons series), John D. Blaisdell called smallpox “one of the most frightening of all diseases.” Often fatal, especially to children, the virus left survivors with permanent scars; the Maine State Museum website says it also caused blindness.

A National Park Service (NPS) website discusses the development of inoculation, the practice of deliberately sharing smallpox by transferring pus from an infected person to a healthy one. Doctors discovered that the person being inoculated would usually have a mild case and would seldom develop the disease again.

The website uses colonial Boston as an example. In a 1721 smallpox outbreak, Puritan minister Cotton Mather heard about inoculation from his African slave, Onesimus, and talked Dr. Zabdiel Boylston into trying it.

The website calls this trial inoculation “incredibly controversial.” People got so angry that someone bombed Mather’s house. Many feared the health consequences, and clergymen insisted that smallpox was “God’s punishment for sin” and therefore inoculation “interfered with God’s will.”

Boylston, undeterred, took the experiment seriously and followed up. He found that the 1721 outbreak killed 14 percent of the people who accidentally caught it from others, versus only two percent of those who were deliberately inoculated.

People slowly accepted inoculation, including George Washington, who promoted it regularly during the Revolutionary War to keep his army healthy enough to fight. In 1777, he ordered soldiers inoculated, “the first medical mandate in American history,” the NPS website says.

Inoculation was succeeded by vaccination, a process using a weakened or altered version of the pathogen against which immunity is desired (an on-line site says today the terms inoculation and vaccination are used synonymously). Blaisdell wrote that the earliest smallpox vaccine was developed in Great Britain by Edward Jenner in 1798; the idea came to Boston in 1799 and was “quickly accepted by the American medical community.”

The earliest local reference to smallpox your writer found was in James North’s history of Augusta. He mentioned an October 1792 outbreak among Hallowell residents; “Mr. Sweet and two of his children died with it,” he wrote.

In 1816, Vassalboro historian Alma Pierce Robbins said in her chapter on schools, there was enough fear of a smallpox outbreak that, she quoted (from town records), “a sum was voted to insure the Inhabitants against small pox.”

The earliest disease outbreak Wiggin mentioned in her Albion history was in 1819.

Smallpox was spreading among townspeople, and there was agreement on what to do about it, so voters created a committee to “use every effort to prevent the further spread of small pox.”

Wiggin added that there was no further information on the committee’s success or failure in town records, and neither she nor Robbins gave any hint as to the method(s) used. Wiggin wrote that she found records of another outbreak years later.

Also in 1819, Blaisdell referenced a Penobscot Valley outbreak, starting in Belfast and moving up the river. He said that Hampden doctor Allen Rogers used vaccination as one method of fighting it.

Blaisdell noted another outbreak in early 1840 in Winterport and Bangor.

Linwood Lowden wrote in his history of Windsor that an 1864 town meeting warrant asked for money to compensate Patrick Lynch “for damage received on account of being fenced up [quarantined] for the public safety in the case of small pox.” On May 14, 1864, voters approved paying Lynch’s doctor’s bill.

Lowden found a record of a smallpox vaccination – probably not the first one in town, he wrote – on Thursday, Nov. 12, 1885, when a Dr. Libby, from Pittston, vaccinated Orren Choate.

Another 19th-century method of controlling smallpox, diphtheria and other contagious diseases was fumigating the premises with a gas like chlorine, cyanide or formaldehyde, Lowden wrote.

Cholera, an intestinal disease characterized by severe diarrhea, is caused by a bacterium that is usually transmitted through contaminated water or food. The disease is often fatal unless it is promptly diagnosed and treated.

The major way to prevent cholera is adequate sanitation. It is now uncommon in developed countries, but epidemics still occur in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Cholera vaccines are available and are recommended for residents of and travelers to areas where the disease is common.

Your writer found no records of cholera in the Kennebec Valley, but it could well have killed residents here, because it has been documented elsewhere in Maine. An on-line site, citing an April 2020 article in the Bangor Daily News, mentions outbreaks in Bangor in 1832 and in 1849, and one in Lewiston in 1854 that caused 200 deaths.

The article says the cause of the 1832 Bangor outbreak was a trunk of clothing that had belonged to a sailor who died of cholera in Europe. When his belongings were sent home and shared among family members and friends, the disease was shared, too.

The history article in the Dec. 1, 2022, issue of The Town Line mentioned an 1883 case of scarlet fever in East Machias that was attributed to contaminated clothing brought from an infected area.

Closer to home, Martha Ballard’s diary recorded scarlet fever in Hallowell in the summer of 1787. Entries in June, July and August describe patients with “the rash” or “canker rash” (an old name for “a form of scarlet fever characterized by an ulcerated or putrid sore throat,” according to the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary).

Captain Henry Sewall’s son Billy died June 18, a week after Ballard was first called to see him because he was “sick with the rash.” By the end of July Rev. Isaac Foster had it and was unable to preach. (Last week’s history article summarized relations between Sewall and Foster.)

Early in August, Ballard was back and forth among several households with sick children, some she explicitly said had scarlet fever and others so ill they must have had it too. All the McMaster children caught it, and William McMaster died; Ballard sat up all night with him before his death, and wrote of her sympathy for his pregnant mother.

On Aug. 7, Ballard started at Mrs. Howard’s where her son James was “very low”; went to see Mrs. Williams, who was “very unwell”; to Joseph Foster’s to check on the children there; and to her back field to gather some “cold water root” that she took to Polly Kenyday for a gargle, “which gave her great ease.” When she got home, she found her husband with a very sore throat; he too benefited from the cold water root and “went to bed comfortably.”

The 1899 Windsor Board of Health report, cited in Lowden’s town history, recorded eight scarlet fever cases.

Local historians mentioned two diphtheria epidemics in the second half of the 19th century.

During the 1862-63 school year, according to a town report Wiggin cited, 17 students in Albion schools died of diphtheria – she found no record of infant or adult deaths. (That was a sad winter, she pointed out; it was during the Civil War, from which, according to one report she found, only 55 of the 100 Albion men who enlisted returned.)

The 1988 history of Fairfield mentioned a diphtheria epidemic in 1886.

Lowden listed repeated outbreaks of typhoid fever in Windsor. He wrote that it killed four residents in 1850 and “three young men” in 1877; and the 1899 Board of Health report recorded two more cases.

Biographical sketch of Fairfield’s Dr. Frank J. Robinson

The context for the mention of the Fairfield diphtheria epidemic was a biographical sketch of Dr. Frank J. Robinson (Jan. 23, 1850 – February 1942).

A native of St. Albans (about 30 miles north of Fairfield), Robinson taught school before enrolling in Maine Medical School (later Bowdoin College) in January 1874 and graduating from Long Island College of Medicine in 1875 (the writers of the Fairfield bicentennial history do not explain how he did this; they do say he took numerous post-graduate courses).

Robinson practiced in Fairfield for 65 years, in an office in the Wilson block on Main Street until 1936 and thereafter from his 71 High Street home. The Wilson Block was evidently a medical center; the Dec. 16, 1902, issue of the Fairfield Journal, found on the Fairfield Historical Society’s website, reported that “Dr. Austin Thomas, who has come here from Thomaston, is not as has been reported, associated with Dr. I. P. Tash but has leased the offices in the Wilson block, formerly occupied by Dr. Goodspeed.”

Robinson treated people in Benton, Clinton and as far away as Norridgewock, according to the history.

He was still active at a public commemoration of his 89th birthday, the occasion on which the history says he remembered the diphtheria outbreak that infected 44 Fairfield residents.

The Fairfield historians added that he was again honored on his 92nd birthday, the month before his death, recognized as “one of the oldest practicing physicians in Maine, if not in the country.”

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Lowden, Linwood H. good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).
Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Augusta families – Part 5

Henry Sewall

by Mary Grow

Henry Sewall, part two

Last week’s article on Henry Sewall (Oct. 24, 1752 – Sept. 4, 1845) omitted (or rather postponed) an important aspect of his life: he was a deeply religious man.

James North, in his history of Augusta, summarized: “He was upright, conscientious, pious and rigidly orthodox in his religious views. Towards the close of his life his religious rigor was much softened.”

Sewall’s diary is a main source for North’s history into the 1790s, and fellow Augusta historian Charles Nash excerpted it from 1830 to 1842. Sewall wrote where he went to church and who preached almost every Sunday, and there are frequent references to weekday services and religious organizations.

Especially in his earlier years, Sewall often had public disagreements with whatever minister the town hired.

In 1784, North wrote that the preaching of Rev. Nathaniel Merrill “was not acceptable to Capt. Henry Sewall, who soon discontinued his attendance.”

The next year, voters hired Rev. Seth Noble from September 1785 to mid-March 1786. Sewall disapproved of Noble’s doctrines, too, and joined other dissatisfied residents who gathered Sundays for worship at Benjamin Pettingill’s (sometimes Pettengill).

Despite having contracted with Noble, North wrote, when voters got a recommendation to hire Rev. William Hazlitt, they named Sewall, Cony and North as a committee to hire him for two months. On Nov. 13, Sewall heard his morning sermon, declared him an “Armenian” and probably an “Arian” and went to Pettingill’s for the afternoon.

(The Encyclopedia Britannica defines Arminianism as a Protestant doctrine that denied predestination and said the idea free will did not contradict belief in a sovereign God. The same source says Arianism “stresses God’s unity at the expense of the notion of the Trinity.”)

There were at least two ministers who did meet Sewall’s standards. In 1785, he once “went nineteen miles to Jones’ plantation” (later China) to hear a Rev. Kinsman (North gives no first name), who also preached in Hallowell, including at Thomas Sewall’s house (Thomas and Henry were brothers). That same year, Sewall praised Rev. Ezekiel Emerson when he came from Georgetown to preach in Hallowell.

In 1786, a 15-man committee including Sewall (and James Howard and Daniel Cony) recommended a salary for a new young minister named Isaac Foster, from Connecticut. Foster began preaching in July; North quoted from Sewall’s diary: “preached poor doctrine”; “preached rank Arminianism.”

In August, according to Sewall’s record, he met twice with Foster, but failed to “convince him of the impropriety of his doctrines.” As most of the rest of the townspeople prepared to ordain Foster their minister on Oct. 11, 1786, Sewall remained opposed, even preparing written objections to Foster’s beliefs.

A council of ministers approved Foster as Hallowell’s minister and a “public tea­cher,” after an all-day debate at Daniel Cony’s house. North surmised that Sewall skipped Foster’s sermons and went to Pettingill’s on Sundays, where he “probably officiated to the few who sympathized with him.”

At some point, Sewall called Foster a liar. As a result, he and his brother Thomas (who “was in some way connected with the charge,” North wrote) were brought to court, convicted and fined. Thomas Sewall paid his 12 shillings; Henry Sewall appealed his fine of “fifteen shillings and costs.”

He claimed to have proof of his accusation against Foster, but apparently the corroborating witness was unavailable when the appeal was heard in June 1787, and the higher court refused to allow a continuance (because the parties couldn’t agree on where it should be held). Lacking evidence, Sewall gave up and paid his fine – “wisely,” North commented.

Foster (who had been accumulating enemies and detractors) on May 9, 1788, sued both Sewalls. North said he demanded 500 pounds from each man.

The Sewalls sent a friend to Foster’s previous ministerial post to find evidence against him. Thomas Sewall again ducked out of the case, trusting a three-man committee to rule on his role.

Henry Sewall’s case was initially scheduled in June and postponed to January 1789. But in the fall of 1788, after long and acrimonious debates, Hallowell fired Foster, and apparently the case died.

After the Foster affair, North wrote, some Hallowell people got together with a group from Chester Plantation (now Chesterville, some 35 miles northwest of Augusta; Henry and Thomas Sewall’s brother Jotham lived there) and in 1790 formed the Chester Church. On March 15, 1791, these members met at Sewall’s house and renamed themselves “A Congregational Church of Christ in Hallowell.”

In June that year, Sewall found – met in a tavern on his way to visit another minister, North claimed – Rev. Adoniram Judson, who preached briefly in Hallowell to the “new” – Sewall’s – church but was spurned by all but one member of the “old” Hallowell church.

In the fall of 1792 the two Hallowell churches tried to merge, but agreed only to invite three outside ministers to help them. In mid-January 1793, the outsiders drafted a merger agreement.

But, North quoted (from Sewall’s diary, your writer suspects), the “new” church people (specifically, Henry Sewall, your writer suspects) “had weighty objections…to several members of the other church on account of doctrines and moral character.”

After a private session, the objectors agreed to the merger on condition that it could be undone at the request of a majority of either church. In June 1794, North wrote, after some former members of the “old” church had been disciplined “on account of doctrine and unbecoming conduct,” the former Chester church again became a separate entity. North did not name Sewall in describing the split, though he based his description on Sewall’s diary.

The original single congregational parish in Hallowell became three in 1795. When Augusta became a separate town in 1797, what had been Hallowell’s middle parish, with its 1795 meeting house, became Augusta’s south parish.

By the time your writer was able to pick up Henry Sewall’s story again at the beginning of 1830, he was regularly attending “Mr. Tappan’s church” (Rev. Benjamin Tappan) in the south parish, where a series of visiting ministers preached on Sundays. Sewall often attended more than one Sunday service, as well as weekday meetings.

From June 22 through June 24, 1830, he (and on June 23 and 24 his wife) were at the Maine Missionary Society’s general conference in Winthrop, with enough delegates from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Kentucky to fill the meeting house.

From Sept. 14 through 16, the Sewalls were at the County Conference of Churches, where he was a delegate. The conference was in Chesterville, so he visited Jotham, but the Sewalls stayed with a non-relative who lived nearer the meeting-house.

In October 1830 he was gone for almost two weeks to Boston for the annual meeting of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. He went to Boston by steamboat from Portland; the ocean was rough when the meeting ended, so he came all the way home by stagecoach, via Portland and Brunswick.

Sewall went to another A.B.C.F.M. meeting in Portland in September 1838. His diary does not explain either time whether he was a delegate or an observer.

On May 4, 1831, Sewall noted that Tappan began a four-day meeting. Each day’s schedule had an hour of morning prayers at 5:30, prayer meetings and preaching at intervals all day and a 7 p.m. lecture that lasted up to two hours.

Sewall mentioned his personal opinions in two contexts: he opposed Masonry (the fraternal organization, not the building-trade skill he practiced), and he supported temperance.

He noted in his diary that on Jan. 7, 1830, he responded to a request for his “views of freemasonry.” On Jan. 28, he wrote, “My Renunciation of Freemasonry appeared in a Boston anti-Masonic paper.”

The July 29, 1831, publication of a new anti-Masonic newspaper in Hallowell was worth mention; and he sent to “Gen. Crosby” in Houlton a letter and “4 anti-masonic Almanacs.”

On July 4, 1832, Sewall noted the Anti-Masonic state convention at the “new courthouse,” whose members nominated candidates for governor and for U.S. president and vice-president. They attended Tappan’s church in the afternoon.

In mid-October, Sewall wrote about going to Wiscasset and after discussion with “Major Carlton,” advising the anti-Masons to join the National Republicans on a “union ticket” for presidential and vice-presidential electors, “provided there should be no adhering Masons thereon.”

Sewall sometimes attended temperance lectures, and on March 31, 1841, wrote in his diary, “A remarkable reformation among the intemperate here, and through the country in general. Hope and pray it may not prove a failure, as some other reforms have done.”

Less than a month later he recorded the formation of a Washington Temperance Society in Augusta by the local rum drinkers. By May 14, he wrote, 150 local men had pledged abstinence.

The inscription on Sewall’s tombstone in Augusta’s Mount Vernon Cemetery reads: “An officer in the Revolutionary War. Major General of Militia in Maine; yet more honorably known as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, and a faithful officer in the Christian Church.”

Rev. Benjamin Tappan

Rev. Benjamin Tappan

Rev. Benjamin Tappan, D.D. (Nov. 7, 1788 – Dec. 22, 1863), was pastor of Augusta’s South Congregational Church from 1811 to 1849.

A plaque in the church at 9 Church Street, Augusta, is dedicated “to the glory of God, and in memory of” Rev. Tappan. It reads: “His children here reverently record their undying gratitude and love for a Father in whom wisdom, integrity and a large-hearted benevolence were joined to steadfast faith in Christ, and untiring activity in His service.”

Tappan, son and grandson of Congregational ministers, was born in West Newbury, Massachusetts; graduated from Harvard College in 1805 (before his 17th birthday); taught in Massachusetts; and in 1809 became a tutor at Bowdoin College. He was later vice-president of Bowdoin’s board of trustees.

In October 1811 he was “ordained over” the Augusta church, where he stayed until 1849.

Adjectives North applied to Tappan include “active, industrious…zealous, devoted, benevolent, learned and pious…humble and accessible to the lowly.” An on-line biography describes him as “an immense worker,” “noted for his hospitality and generosity” and “an effective preacher…[with] a remarkable gift in prayer.”

In June 1814 Tappan married Elizabeth B. T. Winthrop, from a wealthy Boston family; they had seven children. North wrote that he gave so much to charity that by the time he died his wife’s fortune was reduced, but “she was as charitable as she was kind, and encouraged his giving.”

Tappan was an early supporter of the temperance movement; the biography says his first sermon on temperance was in 1813.

Henry Sewall noted in his diary that on Sunday, July 4, 1830, Tappan’s sermon was on slavery, and he “had a contribution in aid of the Colonization Society.”

(The American Colonization Society was founded in 1816 to help ex-slaves and other free blacks emigrate from the United States to Africa, especially to Liberia. Many African-Americans and many abolitionists opposed it. Its activity declined after the Civil War, but Wikipedia says it was not officially dissolved until 1964.)

While supporting colonization, Tappan appears to have been an abolitionist. Nash wrote that when the Maine Anti-Slavery Society was organized in Augusta in October 1834, Tappan hosted British abolitionist George Thompson.

Tappan left the Augusta church in 1849 to become secretary of the Maine Missionary Society, a position he held until his death.

The biography says his honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees came from Waterville College (now Colby College) in 1836 and from Bowdoin in 1845.

The church in which Tappan preached was not the present Gothic Revival building, but the second of three churches on the site, built in 1809 and struck by lightning and burned in 1864 (see the Nov. 10, 2022, issue of The Town Line).

Main sources:

Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).

Websites, miscellaneous.

LIFE ON THE PLAINS: The Plains, circa 1950s; southern end

by Roland D. Hallee

Legend: 1. Intersection of Summer and Gold sts.; 2. The former Notre Dame church and school, now KVCAP; 3. South End Arena; 4. The southern tip of “the island”; 5. Site of Picher’s Furniture Store; 6. Silver St.; 7. South Grammar School, now the Muskie Center.