Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Dams and Mills

Building Two of the Olde Mill on Main Street in Vassalboro. (photo by Sandy Isaac)

by Mary Grow

The list of old dams on China Lake’s Outlet Stream started last week with dams in Vassalboro, as far downstream as the North Vassalboro dams described below.

In following weeks, your writer plans to finish summarizing the usefulness of Outlet Stream with descriptions of dams and mills in Winslow, between the Vassalboro line and the Sebasticook River; discuss two larger mills on the Kennebec, in Winslow; share rather scanty information about dams and mills on lesser streams and brooks in Winslow; and describe some of the industries supported by Seven Mile Stream, a/k/a Seven Mile Brook, in southern Vassalboro.

Readers who are tired of dams and mills might want to ignore these history articles until 2024.

* * * * * *

In his Kennebec County history, Henry Kingsbury started the North Vassalboro mill story with the arrival of Dr. Edward Southwick, who came from Danvers, Massachusetts, early in the 1800s, bought water rights from John Getchell and by 1820 was running “the largest tannery in New England.” The sheds to store the tree bark used in tanning covered over an acre, Kingsbury said, and “His business was the life of North Vassalboro.”

In her Vassalboro history, Alma Pierce Robbins quoted George Varney’s Gazeteer of the State of Maine as the source for naming Jacob Southwick, not Edward Southwick, as the tannery owner. Kingsbury said Edward and Jacob were brothers, and Jacob had a tannery at Getchell’s Corners (which was one of Vassalboro’s commercial and industrial centers for most of the 19th century).

Peter Morrill Stackpole and his son-in-law, Alton Pope, started their “wool carding and cloth dressing mill” (Kingsbury) on Outlet Stream in 1836 (Robbins).

John D. Lang (1799-1879) was brother-in-law to Stackpole (Kingsbury; Lang’s wife was Anna Elmira Stackpole [1800-1879]), and “an experienced mill executive” (Robbins), who came from Rhode Island and invested capital. Lang, Stackpole and Pope created, by 1836, the woolen mill that Kingsbury called North Vassalboro’s “chief industrial pursuit” for the rest of the century.

They also had a sawmill, which burned in 1848. Peter Stackpole was killed that November during the rebuilding.

(See the Oct. 19 issue of The Town Line for the Lang family’s agricultural contributions.)

Lang bought the Southwick tannery around 1850, and the next year built the first brick mill building on the site. According to Kingsbury, “A brick kiln was built, and after the brick were burned the walls of the mill were built around it.” The remains of the tannery were burned.

This mill was on the west side of Main Street, between the street and Outlet Stream, on the north side of Oak Grove Road, which runs west off Main Street and across the stream.

Kingsbury and Robbins wrote that the mill’s moment of international fame was in 1851, when one of its products was awarded a gold medal at the London World’s Fair.

Robbins said the prize was for “finest Broadcloth or Cassimere in the World.” The fabric was a “beautiful blue color,” mixed by brothers George and Jonathan Nowell.

(The senior George Nowell [1777-1868] moved to Vassalboro in 1806 and later to Winslow, where he farmed. He and his wife, Winifred [Parker] Nowell, had 10 children, according to Kingsbury, including sons George [1818-1904] and Jonathan [1820-1897].)

Jonathan Nowell worked at the mill for 40 years. Robbins called him “a dye mixer,” and Kingsbury said he was “boss of the dyeing works.”

The old Stackpole and Pope mill building on the dam, Kingsbury said, was moved to Main Street, where it served first as a “dry house,” then as a boarding house and by 1892 as a “dwelling and a hall.” (“Dry house,” in this context, might mean the building was used to dry materials used in the woolen mill. It was probably neither a saloon without liquor nor a recovery house for addicts.)

In a major renovation in 1861, Kingsbury said, a 47-by-200-foot building was added to the 1851 one, so close he referred to the two buildings as “practically one.” The result was “the largest woolen mill in New England,” in 1861 and still in 1892.

In the second half of the 19th century, the North Vassalboro mill had several different owners and names. Kingsbury said Lang and Boston partners organized the North Vassalboro Woolen Manufacturing Company before 1856. By 1892, he said, “Boston people” were the only owners. Robbins called the business the Vassalboro Manufacturing Company, until the mill was sold to American Woolen Company in 1899.

To Robbins, one of the significances of the mill was its effect on the population of North Vassalboro. In the 1850s, she wrote, Vassalboro Manufacturing Company began advertising for workers in newspapers in England and Ireland.

“Thus the family names in Vassalboro began to change. Nearly every other family had one or more ‘foreigners’ boarding with them,” she wrote. Immigrants from Canada joined those from England and Ireland.

The contribution to North Vassalboro’s economy was significant. When architectural historian Michael Goebel-Bain, of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, wrote the application for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in March 2020, he included census figures. They showed the mill had 180 employees in 1860; 263 in 1870; 300 in 1883 and “close to 600” before it closed in 1955.

Goebel-Bain pointed out that expansion of the mill was often in response to wartime demand for cloth. He cited new buildings in 1861 and 1863 and expansions in 1917 and 1943.

The historian pointed out that there were also contractions as demand dropped. In November 1888, he wrote, the mill closed briefly, because its owners owed $90,000 to a “Boston cotton mill owner” named T. W. Walker. Walker put up another $75,000 and bought and reopened the mill.

And, Goebel-Bain added, if there were a major drought, Outlet Stream might drop too low to provide power, forcing a – usually short – halt to production.

* * * * * *

Goebel-Bain’s application was for a Vassalboro mill historic district. He described nine separate buildings and one “structure” that were worthy of preservation, plus two related but non-historic buildings on the 6.8-acre parcel.

Parts of the 1851 building survived, Goebel-Bain wrote, but they were “indistinguishable as an entity” because of the many changes and additions between 1861 and 1943. He listed the period of historic significance as 1861 to 1955.

Goebel-Bain divided the buildings into categories, describing the single-story brick office building; a 444-foot section of mill with towers and many original windows; other mill sections; and the single-story Dye House, first built in 1894 and completed between 1903 and 1911. The 444-foot section, he observed, has the same roof height from one end to the other, but “due to the sloping lot two stories are visible at the east and four stories at the west end.”

The contributing structure is described as a 90-foot tall smokestack, built around 1894 of “hollow, glazed structural tile.” Goebel-Bain added, “The associated boiler house and boilers were removed in 1981.”

The application described some of the many physical changes during the life of the woolen mill. Goebel-Bain wrote that a canal from a dam “800 feet north” used to run “directly under several mill buildings and ended as an exposed tail race.” Many of the walkways between buildings “by enclosed corridors and in many cases more substantial connector buildings” had been demolished.

Additions were made at intervals in the 19th and 20th centuries. Goebel-Bain found that one building started out as brick, two stories high, built between 1861 and 1863; acquired a third story, also brick, in 1894; and by 1906 had a wooden fourth floor.

Despite the changes, Goebel-Bain found the mill complex historically valuable. He wrote, “The common characteristics typical of mill construction include brick walls, large window openings, open floor space, heavy wood framing, exterior stair towers, and flat roofs. All or many of these features exist across the major buildings.”

He saw the Vassalboro buildings as an example of “slow-burning construction,” common in mills: construction methods that would hinder spread of fires in buildings with mainly wooden interiors.

Goebel-Bain concluded: “The largest and most significant buildings remain and collectively form a district that has integrity to reflect is [sic] industrial development from 1861 to 1955.”

The Vassalboro mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places on Oct. 5, 2020.

Lombard log hauler exhibit locations

The Lombard log hauler, one of only six remaining, at its home at the Redington Museum, in Waterville. (photo by Roland Hallee)

Local readers who would like to see a Lombard log hauler (introduced in the Oct. 26 issue of The Town Line) will have two local opportunities.

The Fall 2023 issue of the Maine State Museum’s Broadside newsletter reports that when the museum reopens in 2025, a new exhibit will showcase its Lombard log hauler. Museum officials are also helping the Waterville Historical Society upgrade its Lombard log hauler display.

The projects are funded by a grant from the Bill & Joan Alfond Foundation.

Readers might also want to visit the Maine Forest and Logging Museum, in Bradley, northeast of Bangor (website maineforestandloggingmuseum.org), or the Maine Forestry Museum, in Dallas Plantation, with a mailing address in Rangeley (website maineforestrymuseum.org). The Forest and Logging Museum’s website advertises its Lombard log hauler; the Forestry Museum’s says it has a variety of equipment and tools.

Both websites list 2024 event schedules.

The Forestry Museum is closed for the winter, reopening in June 2024. The Forest and Logging Museum is hosting Santa Claus on Dec. 9.

Tannery owner Jacob Southwick

Tannery owner Jacob Southwick was involved in other businesses in the village near the Kennebec that began as Getchell’s Corners, was called Vassalboro in Kingsbury’s time and is now Getchell Corner. Kingsbury wrote that he had a pail factory an “ashery” and a plaster mill on a brook there.

(Wikipedia says an ashery made hardwood ashes into lye, potash or pearlash. Lye was an ingredient in soap; pearlash, made by kiln-baking potash, was often exported to Britain to be used in making glass and ceramic materials.)

Around 1825, Jacob, his father, Dr. Edward Southwick, and others started Negeumkeag Bank at Getchell’s Corners, with $50,000 capital; it lasted about 15 years. After it closed, Kingsbury said, the “queer old strap, wrought iron safe” went to another tannery the Southwicks owned in Burnham.

By 1836, Kingsbury said, one of the places for posting notices of town meetings was the Jacob Southwick and Company store.

Jacob was a selectman for two years in the 1820s. In 1843, he was innocently involved in what appears to have been election fraud. Whether deliberate or accidental is unclear.

The story is told in an 1843 report of the Maine legislature’s Committee on Elections, reviewing returns from the newly-created Fourth Senatorial District. The district included Augusta and eight nearby towns.

Votes were cast for a total of 11 men, plus “all others.” Four men got more than 3,300 votes each. Three more were closely grouped in the 2,600s. Jacob Southwick was one of four men who each got fewer than 550 votes.

However, the committee found that many voters had marked four names on the ballot, when the instructions said to vote for no more than three. This conduct they condemned as illegal, disorderly and corrupt.

The report concluded, “That a great evil would result from permitting the voter to determine, not only for whom he may vote, but for how many, must be obvious to all.”

The committee therefore rejected numerous ballots, including 323 from Vassalboro – one of the higher numbers, exceeded only by Augusta and Hallowell – and declared the new senators to be none of the four top vote-getters, but the three in the second tier, John Hubbard, Jacob Main and John Stanley.

John Hubbard was Dr. John Hubbard, of Hallowell, later governor of Maine. Jacob Main was from Belgrade; David Stanley was from Winthrop.

Main sources

Goebel-Bain, Michael National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Vassalboro Mill (March 24, 2020), supplied by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Vassalboro dams

by Mary Grow

As last week’s article on the Masse family suggested, from the late 1700s through the 1800s central Kennebec Valley entrepreneurs dammed streams and rivers to provide water power for industry.

Local histories have long lists of dams on streams tributary to the Kennebec River, before people got up the courage to try to control the river itself. Falling water managed by dams and waterwheels provided power, especially for sawmills to convert trees into lumber and grist mills to grind grain into flour.

One website dates grist mills to the first century B. C. Here is an explanation of an American grist mill, mostly from a Texas website:

The mill workings consist of two large stones, one atop the other. One source said four feet in diameter was a common size. The bottom stone, or bed stone, is fixed; the top stone, or runner stone, “rotates on top of the bed stone.” The runner stone has a hole in the top where grain is poured in to be “ground between the two stones.”

Wikipedia says the Romans built water-powered sawmills in the third century A.D. In the Nov. 2 issue of The Town Line, readers learned about the transition in Kennebec Valley sawmills from early up-and-down saws to the more efficient circular saw that William Kendall, Jr., of Fairfield, invented around 1827.

Outlet Stream, which runs from China Lake to the Sebasticook River (which flows into the Kennebec River in Winslow), was an example of a power source. The villages at East Vassalboro and North Vassalboro were established primarily because water power was available.

Your writer found no date for the China Lake Outlet Dam, in East Vassalboro. Henry Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history, described it as a manufacturing hub. John Mower had an (undated) bark mill on the east end; his father, Nathan Mower, and another man named Thomas Sewall ran nearby tanneries; and on the west bank was “Thomas Greenlow’s shop, with its four forges and trip-hammers run by water.”

The Vassalboro Woolen Company, owner of North Vassalboro’s major mill, bought the outlet dam in 1872, so it could control the flow of water to accommodate its mills. The company donated it to the Town of Vassalboro in 1961, according to Herman Masse’s 1977 History of the Old Water Power Grist and Saw Mill.

The Masse mills in East Vassalboro, introduced last week, were not the first on the stream: Kingsbury said East Vassalboro village had a water-powered sawmill before its first houses. He wrote that the original landowners, the Kennebec Proprietors, “probably were instrumental in the erection of the first saw mill here, a few rods below the village bridge, before this portion of their territory was settled.”

Vassalboro was settled around 1760, and Masse’s history says the town had 10 families in 1768, so this first mill must have been in operation before the American Revolution.

Here a succession of owners cut boards for settlers’ houses and to ship down the Kennebec to sell, according to Kingsbury. Later a tannery (for making animal hides into leather) succeeded the sawmill, operating into the 1870s.

Downstream from this mill, Kingsbury wrote, were another sawmill, still operating in 1892, and a grist mill with a stone bottom story (these were the mills the Masse family acquired); and farther downstream, “but within East Vassalboro,” another grist mill.

The East Vassalboro Grist and Saw mill, a/k/a the Masse mill, was owned by Herman Masse when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in January 1982. The Maine State Historic Preservation Com­mission’s October 1980 application was prepared by historian Frank A. Beard and architectural historian Robert L. Bradley.

They wrote, “The East Vassalboro Grist and Saw mill may well be the oldest mill site in Maine continuously operating in its original buildings and still using water power exclusively for the generation of energy.”

The property consisted of two buildings on either side of a dam across Outlet Stream, on the east side of Route 32 toward the north end of East Vassalboro. Outlet Stream runs generally north-south; but just upstream of the Masse dam site it turns sharp left (west), so it runs briefly from east to west. Masse’s two mills were on the north and south banks, the grist mill on the north and the sawmill on the south.

The application provided historical information, most taken from Herman Masse’s 1977 history. Additionally, Stephen Robbins shared with your writer a history of the mill as described by his cousin, Donald Robbins, in a 2015 presentation to the Vassalboro Historical Society.

Donald Robbins said that in 1797, John Getchell deeded half the water rights and 1.5 acres of land to Nathan Breed for a sawmill. Herman Masse added that Getchell reserved the right to build a grist mill and specified that his mill would have preference over Breed’s mill for water rights.

The Historic Preservation application credits Getchell with building the sawmill in 1798, “about 300 yards above its present location,” or, Masse wrote, about where the East Vassalboro Grange Hall now stands. It was described as a story and a half post and beam building, with a gable roof and attached sheds on the east and north.

Both sources say Jabez Dow built the grist mill, in or maybe after 1805. Beard and Bradley wrote that the sawmill was moved to face it across the stream.

The grist mill was also post and beam, story and a half, gable roofed, with one attached shed. The state historians wrote: “The most distinctive feature of the grist mill is its cut granite foundation walls which on the rear (west side) of the building are exposed and fitted with a door and four windows.”

The grist mill was “owned by retired ship captains” – Herman Masse’s history said several from Nan­tucket moved to Vassalboro in 1827 — and “operated, but not owned” by Zachariah Butterfield after 1812. Jacob Butterfield ran the sawmill, and handed it down to his son, Henry Rice Butterfield. The state preservationists could not determine how these two Butterfields were related to Zachariah.

In her 1971 Vassalboro history, Alma Pierce Robbins listed a dozen Nantucketers, most of them Quakers, who settled in Vassalboro. They came, she explained, because they knew the area from trips to the Kennebec to buy lumber to build their houses on Nantucket. Some planned to continue “shipping and shipbuilding” on the river; others were ready to try farming.

The Vassalboro Woolen Company bought both these mills and all water rights in 1872 “in order to control the flowage.” Warren Seward or Seaward leased the sawmill from 1872 to 1890.

The 1879 map of the village, reproduced as part of Donald Robbins’ presentation, shows a large mill pond along the east side of East Vassalboro, behind the houses lining Main Street.

In 1890, Robbins said, Seward bought his mill and half the water rights from Vassalboro Woolen, and Josiah Evans bought the grist mill and the other half of the water rights. After arguing over who should contribute what to dam maintenance, in 1912 they both sold to Louis Masse. From Louis Masse the properties went to his son Herman in the 1920s and then to Herman’s son Kenneth.

In the 1920s, Herman Masse wrote, lumbermen dumped logs into China Lake, where they were gathered inside a chain boom and towed to the Outlet Dam and thence into the mill pond on their way to the mill. It took about two days to bring a boom from South China to East Vassalboro, he said.

After describing some of the 20th-century improvements and updates the Masses made, Donald Robbins’ presentation ends, sadly, with photos from 2010, 2011 and 2015 showing crumbling stone, rotting wood and other deterioration. He mentioned a granite wall that partly collapsed in 2009-2010, damaging a water company pipe, and a floor that rotted out and fell into Outlet Stream in 2015.

In 2016 the buildings and the dam were removed as part of the program to restore alewives to China Lake, and also to protect the water company (see the article by Landis Hudson of American Rivers in the July 14, 2016, issue of The Town Line, available on line).

* * * * * *

Stephen Robbins directed your writer to an on-line copy of the 1869 water sites report, which describes 13 dams and dam sites for the lower part of Outlet Stream, from East Vassalboro through Winslow to the Sebasticook River.

Information was based on a report by Ira E. Getchell, Esquire, of Winslow, and “the Statement of the Select­men.” Since the dams are listed under Vassal­boro, though some are in Winslow, your writer assumes the Vassalboro selectmen made the statement.

Lombard dam

The first dam was 120 rods (one rod is 1/320 of a mile, so 120 rods is a bit over a third of a mile) below Outlet Dam, owned by Vassalboro Mills Company and powering a woollen (the report’s spelling) and grist mill “when in operation.” H. R. Butterfield was using surplus water for a sawmill and “shovel handle factory.” He apparently inherited the latter, at least, from his father, because the 1850 census copied in Alma Robbins’ Vassalboro history lists Jacob Butterfield as a maker of shovel handles.

(When Alma Robbins wrote, “In 1833 the shovel handle factory burned,” she must have been referring to an earlier shovel handle factory; where it was, she gave no clue.)

Dam number two, another 120 rods downstream, powered Butterfield’s grist mill. (This was probably what was in the 21st century the Morneau dam, or a predecessor nearby.)

Number three, 200 rods (a little over 0.6 miles) downstream, powered a “shingle mill, wood and iron machine shop” owned by Charles Davies. (Probably the Lombard dam.)

The Ladd Dam in North Vassalboro. (Photo by Roland D. Hallee)

The fourth dam site, immediately below the Davies’ dam, was undeveloped.

Another 440 rods (more than a mile and third) downstream were the dam and canal where the Vassalboro Mills Company made woolen goods and had a wood and iron machine shop and other facilities. This dam, in North Vassalboro, seems to have generated the most power of any on Outlet Stream.

(The history of the North Vassalboro mills is too long to compress into this week’s remaining space. Please see next week’s issue.)

Number six on the 1869 list was “an unoccupied stone dam” beside the canal. (Modern names for North Vassalboro’s dams were Box Mills and Ladd.)

The dams along this stretch of stream were untypical, in that they survived – not all intact and functioning, but visible and with names – into the 21st century.

Box Mill Dam.

In the last decade, the Masse, Morneau and Lombard dams have been removed. At Box Mills, Ladd and Outlet dams, fish ladders have been installed to allow migratory fish to reach China Lake from the Atlantic Ocean, via the Kennebec and Sebasticook rivers.

Main sources

Beard, Frank A., and Robert L. Bradley, National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form, East Vassalboro Grist and Saw Mill (October 1980).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Masse, Herman C., History of the old water power grist and saw mill at East Vassalboro, Maine, 1797-1971 : owned and operated by the Masse family since 1912 (1977).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Robbins, Stephen, Personal correspondence.

Websites, miscellaneous.

* * * * * *


In the November 23, 2023, issue, Kennebec Valley History, on page 10, in the third column, sixth paragraph, it should have read: “Robbins dates the mill complex to 1797.”

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Louis Masse

The Masse Sawmill site on Rte. 32, in East Vassalboro. (contributed photo)

by Mary Grow

When Louis Masse’s name appeared in last week’s article on the Starrett family of China, knowledgeable Vassalboro residents might have been surprised. They thought he was theirs, founder of the family that owned and ran the Masse mill on the Masse dam, in East Vassalboro.

Same man. First he lived and worked in China, building barns and houses and a water company; then he moved to East Vassalboro.

The Find a Grave website and a genealogy Vassalboro Historical Society president Jan Clowes shared both say Louis Zephirin Masse was born Feb. 18, 1876, in Becancour, Québec. The genealogy adds that his parents were born there, too, and he was baptized there on Feb. 20, 1876. Becancour is a town on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River, about halfway between Montreal and Québec City.

(The 1940 census says he was born in Maine. Masse most likely gave that information to the census-taker himself, in a face-to-face interview.)

In reply to an inquiry from Clowes, Stephen Robbins (Louis Masse’s great-grandson) shared and added to a high-school essay written by Masse’s granddaughter, Marion, in 1950. According to these two Masses, Louis, known as ‘Phirin, began working very young, cooking in a logging camp when he was 11 and taking jobs with neighboring farmers and maple sugar producers and in a cheese factory. One summer, he drove a neighbor’s cattle a mile to and from their pasture daily – “for two cents a week.”

Masse got some basic education as a child, Robbins wrote. It was in French, of course; when he moved to the United States, learning English was his first challenge.

Louis Masse followed his half-brothers south across the border when he was 16, Marion Masse said. He joined one half-brother in a mill in Vermont (probably in Newport, Vermont, on the Canadian border, Robbins added), and then another in Fairfield, Maine, where he worked in Totman’s and Nye’s mills.

After the mills burned (they burned several times; this reference is probably to the Aug. 21, 1895, fire described in the Fairfield bicentennial history), Marion Masse wrote that her grandfather went to a mill in Coopers Mills, in the town of Whitefield. By now, Robbins said he was calling himself Louis, not Zephirin.

Soon Van Renssalaer “Rance” Turner hired him to work on his farm on Turner Ridge, in Palermo, and encouraged him to get an education. When he was 19 or 20, Louis started school in Palermo, with much younger local children as classmates.

In the spring of 1897 he entered Erskine Academy, in South China, as a freshman. Within six months, he was in the senior class.

For part of his time at Erskine, Masse boarded with Samuel Starrett, thus meeting Samuel’s daughter, Edith Emily Starrett (niece of Laroy Sunderland Starrett; born Jan. 29, 1880, according to Robbins and Find a Grave, or Jan. 30, 1881, according to an on-line article). The China history describes her as “a lovely young lady of eighteen.”

Masse became a United States citizen on Dec. 31, 1897, and he and Edith were married July 16, 1898. Masse worked as a carpenter in China and Windsor, the China history says.

Robbins wrote that the Masses lived with Edith’s family for a while. In 1903, Louis built the first home for his family, on Windsor Road not far from the Starretts.

The 1940 census says Edith, like her husband, had four years of high school. An on-line article based on her diaries says she taught at Erskine before she met her husband, but gives no dates.

The Vassalboro Historical Society’s on-line collection has a photograph of a China cabinet, or hutch, Masse built. It has two sections, the bottom with vertically-paneled solid doors and the top with three shelves visible behind the glass doors.

The description says it is seven and a half feet tall, a little over four feet wide and 22 inches deep. On it, Masse wrote: “Married July 16, 1898, Made August 11, 1898.”

In 1905 Masse bought the sawmill (which dated from the early 1800s) on the West Branch of the Sheepscot River, in Weeks Mills. In 1907, according to Robbins, he built his family’s second home, in Weeks Mills village.

In September 1916, Masse organized what became the Weeks Mills Water Company, the only village water system in the Town of China.

Masse’s main goal, the China history says, was to improve fire protection (the village had had major fires in 1901 and 1904). He started “by pumping water from the river to about twenty subscribers, each of whom paid $50 to join the system and was responsible for digging from the central water main to his own house; there were also three hydrants in the village.”

The river water wasn’t satisfactory, so Masse “dug out and lined with cement a spring on the east side of the village,” whence water was pumped to a hilltop reservoir and flowed downhill to subscribers. A windmill was the first power source, succeeded by gasoline and then electric pumps.

When the China history was published in 1975, the company had “about fifteen customers, whose bills are based on the number of faucets in the house.”

Weeks Mills Water System is listed on the Maine state government’s Sept. 1, 2023, list of public water systems in China. It is described as a community system, with water coming from a 12-foot spring that produces 25 gallons per minute.

After the Masses moved to Vassalboro, the China history says, he continued area construction projects. Several sources credit him as head builder of China’s first consolidated elementary school. The five-classroom building on Lakeview Drive opened in early 1949 and is still part of China Middle School.

Masse bought an existing mill in East Vassalboro in 1912, according to Robbins (the on-line diary-based article says 1914), to expand his lumber business. Robbins wrote that he paid Warren Seaward $1,800 for it, and his family soon moved to the third house he built for them, on the west side of Route 32 across from the mill complex.

According to Henry Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history, the Masse mill was the second one on Outlet Stream in East Vassalboro village. There were two mill buildings, he wrote, a sawmill, still operating in 1892, and a grist mill with a stone bottom story.

Robbins dates this mill complex to 1797. He wrote that after buying the sawmill, Masse bought the grist mill across the stream, thus acquiring full “water rights and dam privileges.”

Robbins wrote that Masse “built a new dam” and replaced old-fashioned machinery. He started with eight men, Robbins said, paying them $10 a week apiece. In Weeks Mills, he worked alongside his crew when an extra hand was needed; whether he did the same in East Vassalboro, Robbins did not say.

Masse founded the East Vassalboro Water Company in 1914. Robbins wrote that it started with eight customers; installing lines to serve their houses took only four months. By 1950, the company served 55 houses.

An on-line source says in the 21st century, the company owns over 13 acres in three lots; its properties include springs and a 650-foot well.

Another source of information about Louis Masse is Alma Pierce Robbins’ 1971 history of Vassalboro’s first 200 years. One of the people she thanked in her introduction was “my grandnephew, the sixth generations of the Robbins family, Stephen Robbins.”

Alma Robbins traced the Robbins family history back through Stephen’s father, Gerald (see below), Maurice, Ira James and Heman, Jr., to Heman, Sr., the first Robbins in Vassalboro. An on-line genealogy says Heman Robbins Sr., was born in 1735 or 1736 in Harwich, Massachusetts, and died about 1817 in Vassalboro.

Alma Robbins’ first mention of Louis Masse in her Vassalboro history is in 1916, when he “installed hydrants and water mains at East Vassalboro.” In 1935, she said, he added seven more hydrants.

The on-line family history says the China Lake outlet dam was built in the 1930s. “Louis Z. directed the project and the W.P.A. [federal Works Progress Administration] provided six workmen.”

In 1940, the census-taker recorded that Masse was 64 years old, still working as a millwright, putting in 26 weeks in 1940. He shared a home in East Vassalboro with his wife, Edith S., aged 60.

Masse sold the water system in October 1943 to his son Herman, from whom it passed to his grandson, Kenneth Masse. Currently, Donald Robbins is listed on line as co-owner and designated operator, and the company is described as an investor-owned public water utility.

Stephen Robbins told your writer that Donald is his first cousin, son of his father’s brother Wallace.

Louis Masse died Nov. 14, 1959, in Waterville, and Edith died Sept. 17, 1960, also in Waterville. Both are buried in Chadwick Hill cemetery, on Windsor Road, in China.

Louis and Edith had three children Their son, Herman Charles, was born in China Oct. 29, 1904, according to an obituary found in on-line Masonic records. Herman Masse ran Masse Lumber Company in East Vassalboro from 1927 to 1969, and the East Vassalboro water system from 1950 to 1982. He died Feb. 2, 1990.

Louis and Edith’s younger daughter, Agnes Masse Plummer, died in 1989.

Their older daughter, Malvena Pearl Masse, was born July 8, 1899, in South China; graduated from Oak Grove Academy, Class of 1917; and died March 3, 1993, in Vassalboro. On Oct. 15, 1921, she married Maurice Smiley Robbins, who was born in Vassalboro Aug. 22, 1893, and died in Waterville Feb. 6, 1970.

Malvena and Maurice Robbins had three sons and a daughter between 1922 and 1932. Their second son, Gerald Laroy Robbins (Stephen Robbins’ father), was by your writer’s calculation, the great grand-nephew of inventor Laroy Sunderland Starrett, whose work was summarized in the Nov. 2 issue of The Town Line. (Stephen Robbins calls him “2nd-great-nephew”). Gerald’s grandmother was Starrett’s niece, Edith Emily (Starrett) Masse.

Gerald Laroy Robbins was born in Waterville Oct. 13, 1925. He interrupted his high schooling to join the Navy in 1944 and came home to earn a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maine at Orono in 1951.

After a brief stint in New York, Robbins came back to Maine and took a job with Keyes Fibre, in Waterville (the company founded by Martin Keyes, profiled in the Nov. 9 issue of The Town Line).

According to his obituary, he worked at Keyes for 34 years, until he retired in 1988. He died June 5, 2013. The obituary says, “While at Keyes Fibre, he developed a number of improvements for the company’s production machinery and products, and earned two U.S. patents for his designs.”

Main sources

Grow, Mary M. , China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Robbins, Stephen correspondence.

Websites, miscellaneous.

CORRECTION: This article previously said the mill complex was dated to 1897. It should have said instead 1797. This has been corrected. We apologize for the error.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Starrett family of China

There are 20 Starretts and three women whose maiden name was Starrett buried in Chadwick Cemetery, in China.

by Mary Grow

Two weeks ago, this series featured China-born inventor Laroy Sunderland Starrett. As suggested in that story, he was a member of a large family with generations of China connections.

This article will provide information about Laroy Starrett’s family. A warning to readers: there is a fair amount of genealogy, which your writer realizes some people find uninteresting, and a fair amount of contradiction and frustration. The latter are due to lack of information, or at least available and consistent information, about long-dead people who were mostly just ordinary, though of great importance to their families and friends.

Your writer found three sources that should be accurate: a genealogy (spelling Laroy’s name Leroy) included in the China bicentennial history, an on-line transcript of information from the Starrett family Bible and copies of gravestone inscriptions. They do not always agree.

In addition to consistent records, your writer would like more personal information. What did Laroy think of his South China relatives, and vice versa? Did his Massachusetts-born children spend time with their Maine grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins? How did so many 19th-century Starretts get from China to Illinois?

* * * * * *

According to the genealogy in the China history, Abner Starrett and his family were the first Starretts in China.

Abner was born September 28, 1776, in Francestown, New Hampshire. Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history says his father’s name was William, and his grandfather was Hugh Starrett, “who came from Scotland to Dedham.” (Your writer assumes Dedham, Massachusetts. She did not find a Dedham in New Hampshire; Dedham, Maine, was settled in 1810 and incorporated in 1837.)

On September 22, 1800, Abner Starrett married Elizabeth Dane (born in New Hampshire Jan. 23, 1779, the Starrett family Bible transcript says, or July 21, 1779, according to China cemetery records). The couple had four sons and three daughters, born between October 1801 and December 1813. They moved to China in 1814 (Kingsbury’s date).

Abner, Elizabeth and children settled in the area called Chadwick’s Corner on what is now Route 32 South (Windsor Road). Chadwick’s Corner was named for Ichabod Chadwick, who was there by 1797.

Abner Starrett died in China on Aug. 14, 1819, when he was 43 years old. His widow lived until July 21, 1865. Abner and Elizabeth are the earliest of 23 family members buried in Chadwick Hill cemetery, 20 Starretts and three women whose maiden name was Starrett.

* * * * *  *

Abner and Elizabeth’s children were the second generation of Starretts in China, born in the first two decades of the 1800s. The four sons were another Abner (your writer will imitate some, but not all, sources and call him Abner, Jr.), Daniel Dane (Laroy’s father), William and David. All four sons married; at least had three large families, many of whom stayed in China.

Abner, Jr., was born Aug. 14 or Oct. 14, 1801 (the genealogy and the Bible record differ). On Sept. 4, 1823, in China, he married Mary C. Weeks (born March 24, 1802). Mary’s parents – his in-laws – were Abner and Lydia (Clark) Weeks.

Jonathan Clark, Jr., one of the brothers who first settled around China Lake in 1775, and his wife Susanna had a daughter named Lydia (Nov. 4, 1769 – April 8, 1853). An on-line genealogy says Lydia Clark married Abner Weeks (1766 -1846) and had by him two children, Mary Clark Weeks (1802-1889) and Solomon Weeks (1810-1824).

In other words, Abner, Jr., connected himself by marriage to China’s founding family.

Abner, Jr., and Mary had nine daughters and two sons, including two more Marys, Mary Emily and Mary Ann; another Elizabeth; and another Abner. These were the elders of the third generation, born between the 1820s and 1860s; they were Laroy Starrett’s first cousins.

The Bible transcription says Abner, Jr., died in June 1857.

* * * * * *

The first Abner’s second son, Laroy Starrett’s father, was Daniel Dane Starrett, born Nov. 25, 1802 (genealogy) or Feb. 9, 1803 (China cemetery records). On Sept. 25, 1825, he married Anna Crummett or Crummet, born to Joshua and Sarah Crummet(t) of China on Jan. 27 (genealogy) or March 3 (China cemetery records), 1803.

The Starrett genealogy says Daniel and Anna had five sons and seven daughters between Dec. 17, 1826, and Dec. 27, 1848. The Find a Grave website lists only six children, three sons and three daughters. Both include Laroy, born in 1836.

The genealogy says four daughters married men from China and two married men from neighboring Vassalboro. One died before her second birthday.

According to the genealogy and the China history, the only son who definitely remained in China was Laroy’s younger brother, Samuel C. Starrett. Born April 30, 1844, he served in the Civil War and came home to marry Charles Mosher’s daughter, Emily, on Feb. 26, 1869.

Samuel and Emily had five sons and two daughters, the genealogy says. They named their youngest son, born in 1887, Leroy S., presumably after his uncle.

Samuel served as a China selectman from March 1876 to March 1878 and again from March 1881 to March 1883. (His father, Daniel, had been a selectman in 1840.) In 1882 and 1883 he was among the founders of Erskine Academy, South China’s private high school near Chadwick’s Corner, and served as the school’s first treasurer.

Kingsbury wrote that Samuel Starrett was the second commander of South China’s James P. Jones G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) Post, organized in April 1884. In the summer of 1885, he helped organize the South China lodge of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, serving as its first “master workman.”

In April 1890, Samuel and Daniel Starrett were among seven men – two others were Chadwicks –the China history lists as founders of the Chadwick Hill cemetery association, created to care for the cemetery. The only Daniel in the genealogy is Laroy and Samuel’s father, Daniel Dane; in 1890, he would have been in his late 80s.

About 1900, the China history says, Samuel Starrett and Louis Masse built “a store with an apartment above it” on the north side of South China’s Main Street (then the Augusta to Belfast highway), near the church. The first man to live in the apartment and run the store was Samuel and Emily’s son, George (Laroy’s nephew), born Jan. 7, 1882.

According to the genealogy (but not to any other source your writer could find), Laroy and Samuel’s youngest sister, Mary (born in China Dec. 27, 1848), was a doctor, who married another doctor, Dr. Horace W. Sibley, of Vassalboro, on Jan. 27, 1870. (See box.)

Laroy’s mother, Anna, died March 3, 1875, the genealogy says. Daniel died Feb. 9, 1896, aged 93 (genealogy) or February 1897, aged 94 (Bible).

By March 1875, Laroy’s meat chopper had become popular. He was either still in Newburyport, or had moved to Athol, where his wife Lydia died in February 1878, leaving him with a teen-age son and three younger daughters.

Laroy founded L. S. Starrett in 1880; various sources say the company expanded quickly. By the time his father died in the 1890s, Laroy must have been fairly well-known as a Massachusetts businessman.

The genealogy in the China history says four of Samuel’s sons (Laroy’s nephews) moved to Athol to work in the factory. Ernest (born Nov. 30, 1876) spent more than 50 years there before coming back to South China, where he and his wife Aurie (Austin) lived in “the brick house” until their deaths in the 1960s.

* * * * * *

The first Abner’s third son was named William. The printed genealogy and the China cemetery records agree on William’s dates (Sept. 28, 1804 – March 29, 1841) and his wife’s name and dates (Mary Ann Calder, March 20, 1805 – Dec. 21, 1890).

The Bible record says William died April 29, 1841. An on-line genealogy gives his wife’s name as Mary Ann Thurlow and says they married on April 21, 1827. This source says they had at least three sons and a daughter – more of Laroy’s cousins.

* * * * * *

After William, Abner and Elizabeth had three daughters, Elizabeth (June 6, 1807), Lucinda (Jan. 28, 1809) and Sarah (Aug. 28, 1810). Elizabeth married a South China Chadwick; Lucinda married Thomas Giddings, almost certainly from Weeks Mills village in China; and Sarah married Edward Emerson, whom your writer has been unable to trace.

* * * * * *

Abner and Elizabeth’s fourth son, David (born Dec. 1, 1813), married on Sept. 23, 1838, Sarah D. Chadwick (born Aug. 6, 1820). David and Sarah had seven sons, born between 1840 and 1864 – more (younger) cousins for Laroy.

According to the genealogy, the oldest boy, born July 16, 1840, was named David. The Find a Grave website calls him Pvt. David Chadwick Starrett and says in the Civil War he served as a private in the 67th Illinois Volunteer Infantry.

An on-line genealogy calls him Pvt. David Chedwick Starrett. He lived in Orono in 1850 and Alna in 1860, this source says, citing census figures; he “registered for military service in 1862.”

This genealogy does not say where he was in 1862. Its earliest mention of Chicago is his marriage there, on Oct. 24, 1895 (when he was 55); and it says he died and is buried in Chicago.

David and Sarah’s second son died when he was 14, in November 1861. The next boy, Edwin Burnham Starrett, lived to be 90, residing in Massachusetts, Missouri and Wisconsin and dying in Elgin, Illinois.

Son number four, Adrian Frank Starrett, born in 1851, married a girl from Vassalboro, and lived for a while in Alna, but he, too, went to Chicago, where he died May 29, 1931.

David and Sarah’s next two children both died before their second birthdays. Moody Thurston Starrett was born in the fall of 1856 and died in the summer of 1858 (exact dates differ). His sibling, born in April 1860 and died in June 1861, was either a son named Winfield Scott Starrett (genealogy) or a daughter named Winnie Starrett (China cemetery records).

The youngest son, Dr. Carlton Elmer Starrett, was born May 15, 1864, in Alna, and died May 1, 1908, in Chicago. His gravestone in Bluff City cemetery in Elgin, Illinois, says he was a major and a surgeon in the Illinois National Guard’s Third Infantry and was a veteran of the Spanish-American War (1898).

Back to Laroy’s uncle and aunt, David and Sarah Starrett: the China bicentennial history uses them to show how bad China roads were in the 1830s. The history cites town records reporting a July 8, 1834, meeting at which voters recommended giving the couple $125 “for damages by them sustained in consequence of a bridge being out of repair (as they say).”

The vote needed endorsement by the spring 1835 town meeting. On March 23, 1835, voters created a committee to review and settle the Starretts’ claim. The history says town records do not include the outcome.

Attentive readers will have noted that the China history dates this episode about four years before the genealogy in the same book says David and Sarah got married. Your writer can offer no explanation.

The on-line genealogy says David (and presumably Sarah) lived in Alna for about 10 years and in Chicago for about 20 years; another on-line source says Sarah was in Illinois in 1900.

Sarah Chadwick Starrett died Aug. 25, 1903, and David Starrett died either Jan. 13 or Aug. 13, 1907, both by then back in Maine, according to on-line sources. They are among the family members buried in Chadwick Hill cemetery.

The Wall Cemetery

Speaking of the frustrations of limited research:

A long Sibley genealogy found on line says Horace W. Sibley (perhaps Laroy Starrett’s brother-in-law) was born in Augusta in 1845, son of William H. Sibley (Oct. 29, 1818 – Dec. 8, 1901) and his first wife, Judith W. Lowell (Sept. 5, 1809 – Sept. 1, 1878). It says nothing about Horace’s wife.

The genealogy lists William as a farmer in Vassalboro in 1850 and an Albion resident in 1860. It says he and Judith are buried in the Wall cemetery, in Vassalboro.

The comprehensive section on cemeteries on the Vassalboro website does not list a Wall cemetery.

In the Wall cemetery on the west side of Riverside Drive, in Augusta, about three miles south of the Augusta-Vassalboro line, Find a Grave lists seven Sibleys, including William (1815 – Dec. 8, 1901) and Judith Lowell (1811 – Sept. 1, 1878), but no Horace.

Main sources

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

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Inventors – Part 3

by Mary Grow

Martin Keyes

Here is Earl H. Smith’s introduction to Martin Keyes in Smith’s Downeast Genius, beginning with a comparison to the inventor profiled in this series two weeks ago.

“Like Alvin Lombard, Martin Keyes (1850–1914) was blessed with an inquisitive and clever mind, but unlike his burly tractor-making neighbor, Keyes was a diminutive and fastidious man. He kept a diary every day, and it was his thorough way that led him to claim an invention that established one of Maine’s most successful international industries.”

Keyes’ profile in the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame, in Appleton, Wisconsin, says he was born Feb. 19, 1850, in Lempster, New Hamp­shire. Smith wrote that he first worked in his father’s sawmill, then established his own business making “sleighs and carriages.”

The Hall of Fame and other sites credit young Keyes with designing a furniture line (called “exquisite”) and “a new type of fishing reel” that he used the rest of his life. An on-line site says he kept a pad and pencil by his bed in case he thought of an invention during the night.

Smith and the Hall of Fame disagree on where Keyes got the inspiration for his major invention, and neither provides a date. Smith wrote that while working at “a veneer mill in upstate New York,” he saw workmen eating lunches off thin scraps of veneer and came up with the idea of making disposable plates out of molded pulp.

His first efforts using veneer failed, Smith wrote. Later, Keyes became superintendent at Indurated Fiber Company, in North Gorham, Maine; it was there, the Hall of Fame writer said, that he got the idea of making the plates from molded pulp.

Both sources agree he began figuring out how to manufacture his disposable plates at Indurated, “with the support of his employer,” Smith added. After “several years of experimenting,” he designed a machine that would make the plates.

The section on the Keyes Fibre Company in the Fairfield history offers a third version of the story. According to that writer, Keyes became Indurated’s superintendent in 1884, and the North Gorham company already made “tubs, pails, and small pressed pulp ware.” When the North Gorham mill burned, Keyes transferred to another Indurated facility in northern New York, which was where he saw workmen eating off veneer chips from nearby plants.

The former Keyes Fibre Co., in Waterville/Fairfield, now Huhtamaki.

Two historians again offer conflicting views of what happened when Keyes tried to patent his machine. In the version in the Fairfield history, a “large paper manufacturer in eastern New York” offered him $100,000 to build a machine to make plates from pulp.

In 1902, Smith said, Keyes had the first machine manufactured, at Portland Iron Works (in Gorham, he had worked with a man associated with the company). Smith described it: “With flailing arms that hissed and groaned as they rotated through a process of dipping, drying, ejecting, and packaging, the finished apparatus resembled the complicated contrivances of the cartoonist Rube Goldberg.” (See box.)

The Fairfield history say the upstate New York paper company “tried to claim the patent.” Smith’s version is that when Keyes applied for a patent, he learned that another worker had “stolen his idea” and already patented it.

The two versions reach the same conclusion: Keyes went to court and, after extended litigation, won. In Smith’s book and in an undated on-line history of the Keyes Fibre Company, written by the eminent local historian Dean C. Marriner, Keyes’ daily diary provided the evidence to convince a jury that he had done the work to design the machine and therefore earned the patent.

His next problem, the Fairfield historians wrote, was to find capital to start a factory. Eventually he connected with a Fairfield company, Lawrence, Newhall and Page, which ran lumber mills. This company had at Shawmut “one grinder installed already for the production of mechanical pulp.”

Keyes built “a small shack” on the side of the grinder building and built one experimental machine (Smith wrote that he rented space in the Shawmut plant). On Nov. 2, 1903, the Fairfield history says, the company he named Keyes Fibre started production, with that single machine.

The Hall of Fame writer said the first shipment of “pulp molded pie plates” went out in 1904 (other writers add that this sale led local residents to call the manufactory “the pie plate”).

Multiple sources credit a local man named Bert Williamson with helping Keyes get his plant up and running. Marriner wrote, “Williamson was at the inventor’s side when the first shipment of a carload of molded pulp pie plates, for the use of bakers, left the Shawmut plant on June 24, 1904.” Williamson remained with the company for two decades after Keyes’ death.

In 1905, the Fairfield history says, Keyes built “a small plant” with four machines. Smith wrote that early production was 50,000 plates daily, without explaining whether he was talking about one machine or four.

However, the Hall of Fame site says, Keyes’ plates were priced higher than competing products, described on-line as “stamped paper plates.” In early 1905, Keyes closed his plant for several months.

He acquired new investors, including his landlords, Lawrence, Newhall and Page, added more of his own money and reduced prices to restart production. After the April 18, 1906, San Franciso earthquake and fire, demand increased – one buyer ordered an entire carload of plates.

But then, Marriner wrote, Lawrence, Newhall and Page sold the pulp mill. The new owners let Smith continue to use their facility, but they sold within a year to another company not interested in wood products, forcing Keyes to relocate.

Keyes considered sites in Maine and elsewhere. Marriner said he and Williamson checked out possibilities in upstate New York over the 1907 Labor Day weekend, attending a parade in which many of the marchers were drunk.

Keyes, a Prohibitionist, reportedly said to Williamson, “Bert, you and I could never use that kind of labor.” (Smith located this incident in Portland, writing that when Keyes visited the city, “he was dismayed to find many drunken workers.”)

Keyes moved to Waterville, buying “a site immediately north of Lombard’s tractor factory” (per Smith) on the east side of what is now College Avenue.

Here he built what Marriner called “a modest brick building, which turned out its first plates on Sept. 20, 1908, and is still the nucleus of the giant plant that now stretches half a mile along the roadway,” partly in Waterville and partly in Fairfield. The plant, since 1999 owned by and called Huhtamaki, produces “a variety of pulp-molded products.”

Keyes died Nov. 18, 1914, in Fairfield. By that time, according to a Dec. 2, 1914, obituary in a New York weekly journal of the pulp and paper industry called simply Paper (found on line), Keyes Fibre could produce almost two million pie plates every 24 hours, providing an estimated “four-fifths of all the pie plates used in the United States and Canada.”

Your writer was unable to find personal information about Keyes except in the obituary. It recapped his career and said that survivors included his mother, Mrs. L. A. Gilmore, of Holyoke, Massachusetts; his widow, Jennie C. Keyes; two brothers, in Minnesota and New York; a sister in Holyoke; and a daughter, Mrs. George G. Averill.

Another source says Mrs. Averill’s first name was Mabel. Keyes’ son-in-law, Dr. George Goodwin Averill (1869 – 1954), took over the management of the company.

Keyes is recognized by Keyes Memorial Field (now Keyes Memorial Athletic Fields), on West Street, in Fairfield. The Fairfield history says his widow gave it to the town on Oct. 1, 1938.

* * * * * *

If Frank Bunker Gilbreth’s name sounds familiar, it might be because two of his 12 children, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr., and Ernestine Moller (Gilbreth) Carey, wrote a “semi-autobiographical novel” titled Cheaper by the Dozen, published in 1948. Cheaper by the Dozen was made into a movie in 1950 and has been variously adapted since.

The real Frank Bunker Gilbreth was born July 7, 1868, in Fairfield. He was the son of John Hiram Gilbreth (born in Augusta in 1833, died in Fairfield in 1871) and Martha (Bunker) Gilbreth (born in Maine about 1834, died in Montclair, New Jersey, about 1920), and the brother of Mary Elizabeth Gilbreth, born in Fairfield in 1864 and died in Brookline, Massachusetts, Aug. 8, 1894.

His main claim as an inventor, in Smith’s view, was as an efficiency expert. An on-line site called him “The Father of Management Engineering.”

Gilbreth started, Smith wrote, by graduating from Boston English High School and declining to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology in favor of becoming a bricklayer’s apprentice.

After 1895, Smith wrote, Gilbreth was “a self-employed general contractor” who built “mills, dams and power plants” in the United States and Europe. “Along the way, he invented a number of building tools and machines including a safety scaffold for bricklayers, conveyors, and an improved concrete mixer.”

Managing so many projects “led him to formulate the first cost-plus-fixed sum contract and to develop a number of systems to reduce waste, monitor work progress, and improve the productivity of his workers.”

In 1904, Gilbreth married a psychologist, Lillian Evelyn (Moller) Gilbreth (1878 – 1972). She worked with her husband on time and motion studies; the two “built a reputation as efficiency experts.”

Gilbreth died June 14, 1924, in Montclair, New Jersey. His body was cremated and the ashes scattered over the Atlantic.

A gravestone in Fairfield’s Maplewood cemetery has his and Lillian’s names and dates. His parents and sister are also buried there.

Rube Goldberg machine

The expression “Rube Goldberg machine” means a very complicated way of doing a simple task. It recognizes the inventiveness of cartoonist, engineer and movie-maker Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg.

Born in San Francisco July 4, 1883, Goldberg earned an engineering degree at University of California, Berkeley, Class of 1904. He began his career as a sports cartoonist in California and moved to New York City in 1907, where he earned fame as a cartoonist for various newspapers and other publications.

Goldberg and his wife, Irma Seeman (married in 1916) had two sons, Thomas and George (who both changed their last names to George). Goldberg died Dec. 7, 1970.

Goldberg’s cartoons won several awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1948. Wikipedia says he was one of the founders and the first president of the National Cartoonists Society (1946), whose annual award is named the Reuben Award.

On-line sites say the 2023 Reuben Award winner is Bill Griffith (full name William Henry Jackson Griffith), of New York City, best known as the creator of the “Zippy” comic strip.

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Smith, Earl H., Downeast Genius: From Earmuffs to Motor Cars Maine Inventors Who Changed the World (2021).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Agriculture & Inventions – Part 2

Above, a sawmill using a circular saw blade. Below, vintage circular saw blades.

by Mary Grow

Colby College historian Earl H. Smith found four more local inventors besides Hanson Barrows and Alvin Lombard, whose work was last week’s topic. They were William Kendall, of Fairfield, and Waterville; Laroy Starrett, of China and Newburyport, Massachusetts; and in the 20th century, Martin Keyes and Frank Bunker Gilbreth.

An on-line genealogy says Captain William J. Kendall, Jr., was born Jan. 2, 1784, in Kendall’s Mills. Kendall’s Mills, named after William, Jr.’s, father, was until 1872 the name for the part of Fairfield that is now the business district.

The Fairfield bicentennial history says the senior William Kendall was a Revolutionary War veteran. He is referred to as “General” Kendall, and Smith called him a “Revolutionary War general”; your writer found military records consistently say he was a private during the Revolution.

In 1780, he bought most of the area that is now downtown Fairfield and “took over” a saw and grist mill started two years earlier by Jonas Dutton. With it he acquired the first Fairfield dam that Dutton built between the west shore of the river and the westernmost island (now Mill Island).

The senior William Kendall married Abigail Chase on Christmas Day 1782. The Fairfield historians wrote that she lived upriver at Noble’s Ferry (near the present Goodwill School); Kendall paddled his birch-bark canoe to the ferry, where they got married, and let the current bring them back to Kendall’s Mills.

William, Jr., was born Jan. 2, 1784, probably in William Sr., and Abigail’s first house, “a log house near the river” close to the present intersection of Main Street and Western Avenue. An on-line genealogy lists the younger Kendall’s occupations as “millwright & mill owner, inventor.”

His first mill, according to the multi-authored chapter on businessmen in Edwin Carey Whittemore’s history of Waterville, was on Ticonic dam, south of the Waterville-Winslow bridge. No date is given.

A list of early patents found on line says Kendall’s patent for a “reciprocating sawmill” was issued Dec. 31, 1827. He was then from Waterville.

Smith agreed with the location, but not with the date. He wrote that there is disagreement over the first inventor of the circular saw, but probably the first one in Maine was “around 1845 in Waterville,” and was Kendall’s work.

Whittemore’s history accepts the 1827 date. Actually, 1827 might be late: another on-line source dates the patent to 1826, and Whittemore quotes a Jan. 4, 1827, Waterville newspaper article describing the Jan. 1 presentation of a gold medal to Kendall “in approbation of the improvement he has made in the circular saw.”

The newspaper report said Mayor Bolcom made the medal, which looked like a circular saw. (This statement makes sense only if “Mayor” is a first name rather than a title, as Waterville did not become a city until January 1888.)

The Waterville history says Kendall’s saw “was six feet in diameter, built of boiler plates riveted together; and the steel teeth, about three by four inches, were fastened in proportion by fifteen or twenty rivets for each tooth.”

Smith and the Fairfield historians agree on the importance of this invention. Smith said the circular saw “doubled the speed” of making logs into boards, with one circular saw doing the work of four up-and-down saws. Whittemore added that the saw turned a single pine log into “3310 feet of clear boards.”

Whittemore told the story of workers from a traveling “caravan” that charged 25 cents admission: the workers came to Kendall’s mill and contributed 25 cents each for a visit, “saying that it was more of a show to see the saw walk through a log than it was to see their own exhibition.”

The Fairfield historians wrote that the invention of the “circular log saw blade” “revolutionized the industry.” They added, “It is a sad commentary to note that General William Kendall did not live to see the success of his son’s invention, as he died that same year [Aug. 11, 1827, according to on-line sources].”

The Fairfield history says two generations of Kendalls ran the mills into the 1830s, when the family sold them.

In later years, Whittemore said, Kendall made “an invention pertaining to the casing of water wheels, which he patented” and installed in Fairfield and Waterville mills.

The on-line genealogy says Kendall married Sarah Chase, who was born Nov. 22, 1787, in Andover, New Hampshire, and died in Gardiner in January 1822, when she was only 34. The couple had seven children. Whittemore located the Kendall home “near the west end of Ticonic bridge.”

Kendall died Nov. 27, 1872, in Fairfield, according to the genealogy.

* * * * * *

With China-born inventor Leroy S. Starrett, the factual disagreements start with his name. Smith called him Leroy S. Starrett; a reproduction of patent number 47,875, issued May 23, 1875, calls the inventor “Le Roy S. Starrett.”

The China bicentennial history and on-line sources say Laroy S. Starrett. The Davistown Museum website lists him as “Laroy (often incorrectly recorded ‘Leroy’) S. Starrett.” (The Davistown Museum website says the museum in Liberty and Hulls Cove, Maine, that specialized in hand tools has closed.)

Find a Grave says his full name was Laroy Sunderland Starrett.

There is general agreement that Starrett was born April 25, 1836, in China, Maine. Find a Grave lists his parents as Daniel Dane Starrett (born Nov 25, 1802, in Francestown, New Hampshire; died Feb. 9, 1896, in South China), and Anna Crummett Starrett (born Jan. 27, 1803, in Boothbay; died March 3, 1875, in South China).

There is further agreement that one of Laroy Starrett’s job descriptions is “inventor.” Others include farmer, businessman, carpenter and tool manufacturer.

The China bicentennial history says when he was 17, Starrett began working for nearby farmers to earn money to help pay off the mortgage on the family farm. In 1855 or soon thereafter, he moved to Newburyport, Massachusetts, where he either worked for a local widow on her farm or rented a farm (sources again differ).

Though he was a successful farmer, winning prizes at the local fair, he soon turned his attention to inventing metal gadgets.

The Find a Grave website has a 28-item list of his patents. Some are specific, like his first and best-known, the meat chopper or meat cutter for which he received a patent on May 23, 1865. It is followed by “shoe studs and hooks,” Jan. 28, 1868, and a “combination square”, with the patent dated Feb. 26, 1879.

The Newburyport, Massa­chusetts, history website adds “a washing machine and a butter worker.” In all, Starrett received 100 patents, many for precision tools, a lot of which are still used today.

The “combination square” is probably the invention Smith credited to Starrett, describing it as a “combination square and ruler with a sliding head.” Smith added, “The tool, essentially unchanged, is still routinely found in toolboxes of woodworkers everywhere.”

The Newburyport website writer believed Starrett’s invention of the meat cutter in 1865 led the family to move from rural to downtown Newburyport. Citing city directories, the website says Starrett made and sold meat cutters from an address on Merrimac Street (shown on contemporary maps as paralleling the Merrimack River).

In 1867 and 1868, Starrett “was advertising the meat cutter/chopper a lot in the local newspapers,” the website says.

The story continues, “He was so successful that he left Newburyport to manufacture his inventions…in Athol, Massachusetts, which is in the upper western part of the state near Gardner.”

There, Wikipedia says, Starrett founded L. S. Starrett in 1880, so he could manufacture the combination square he had patented two years earlier “and other precision tools.” The company has steadily grown and expanded into an international business; websites list Douglas Arthur Starrett as the current CEO and president.

Douglas Arthur Starrett lives in Athol, Massachusetts; he is 72 years old, according to the most up-to-date site your writer found. Patient genealogical research suggests that he is the great-great-great-grandson of Laroy Sunderland Starrett.

Laroy Starrett and Newburyport resident Lydia Webb Bartlett (Sept. 4, 1839 – Feb. 3, 1878) were married in 1861. They had five children, a son born in 1862 and a second, born in 1869, who lived only 13 months, according to Find a Grave.

The youngest daughter was born Jan. 10, 1878, in Athol. Lydia’s death less than a month later left Starrett with a 15-year-old son and three daughters, one an infant.

The China history says Starrett was deaf from about 1904 on. Widowerhood and deafness did not end his career, or “his generous concern for others,” the history says. He supported charitable projects in Athol, and in South China gave the Chadwick Hill cemetery a $1,000 gift in 1916, another $600 in 1917 for perpetual care of the Starrett family lots “and an even larger sum in 1920.”

Starrett died April 23, 1922, in Saint Petersburg, Florida. He and Lydia are among several generations of the Starrett family buried in Athol’s Silver Lake cemetery.

* * * * * *

Next week: a bit of information about Martin Keyes and Frank Gilbreth.

Up and Down sawmills

The Fairfield historians explained that sawmills in the 1700s and early 1800s used an up and down saw. Milton Dowe, in his 1954 history of Palermo, gave a more complete description of such a saw.

He wrote that water coming over a dam powered a water wheel. Attached to the water wheel was a crankshaft connected to an “arm” connected to the saw frame.

The saw frame was rectangular, “about six feet long and eight feet wide…with the saw fastened in the center.” The saw itself was similar to an ice-cutting saw and was “about six feet long and seven inches wide.”

Dowe continued, “The frame holding the saw was set in guides in an upright position in such a way that the short arm from the crankshaft, as the waterwheel turned, would push and pull the frame up and down.”

A carriage held a log that was pushed forward “by a rachet on a feed wheel” each time the saw blade came down. Each log was sawed into boards about an inch at a time, Dowe wrote.

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Grow, Mary M,. China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984).
Smith, Earl H., Downeast Genius: From Earmuffs to Motor Cars Maine Inventors Who Changed the World (2021).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Inventions, agriculture & others

The Lombard log hauler, one of only six remaining, at its home at the Redington Museum, in Waterville. (photo by Roland Hallee)

by Mary Grow

Previous articles have talked about how agricultural work changed from the 1700s through the 1800s, as manpower was replaced by animal-power and then machines.

Other changes, too, helped farmers produce more or expend less effort or both. One example is the development of wire for fences. (Barbed-wire fencing was mentioned in the Sept. 7 issue of The Town Line, in the account of the skaters who burned part of a farmer’s stump fence for bonfires and redeemed themselves by putting up barbed wire as a replacement).

In his history of Windsor, Linwood Lowden wrote, “As early as the year 1861, it had been modestly estimated that an old-fashioned wood or stone fence takes a strip of land at least four feet wide out of cultivation.”

Losing a four-foot strip was not a problem while a farmer was battling to clear trees and rocks to make fields to grow food for his animals and his family. When he intended to sell some of what he raised, and when wood became scarce, he needed different fencing material.

Wire fences were the solution, Lowden wrote. Citing an 1882 Maine Board of Agriculture report, he said the first fence wire might have might have been made as early as 1815.

The industry was “still in its infancy” in the 1820s, with an individual worker “able to produce but from 15 to 40 pounds of fence wire per day.” By 1882, new technology made it possible for a single worker to “produce between 1,000 to 2,500 pounds per day.”

(There is an on-line controversy about who invented wire. The candidate list begins with Thomas Malham, Sheffield, England, in 1830; Jean Francois Martin, of France, about the same time; and other contemporary foundry owners, unnamed. Another historian calls their nominations “manifest nonsense.” He says Egyptians in the time of the pharaohs [3,000 B.C. and following centuries] made wire from gold, silver and copper, and wire made from iron “was achieved about 1450, in Augsburg [Germany].”)

Barbs came later. Wikipedia says Lucien B. Smith, of Kent, Ohio, got the first patent for barbed wire in 1867 and “is regarded as the inventor.” In 1874, Joseph F. Glidden, of DeKalb, Illinois, made enough “modifications” (or, another source says, “invented a practical machine for its manufacture”) to get his own patent.

The Board of Agriculture report said in 1874, the United States had 10 miles of three-strand wire fence (in 37 states). By 1882, there were 166,000 miles (in 38 states; Colorado was added in 1876).

* * * * * *

The invention of wire fencing, unlike the use of it, had nothing to do with any part of Maine. However, Maine had its share of inventors, including some from the central Kennebec Valley area.

Vassalboro historian Alma Pierce Robbins named two Vassalboro inventors who helped with farm and other outdoor work. One was the comparatively well-known Alvin Lombard (see below).

The other, more obscure, was Hanson G. Barrows, who, she wrote, invented a mowing machine & a snowplow; models extant in 1971 “go to prove what a true genius he was.”

(On-line sources on the origin of the mechanical reaper [which the web discusses in reply to requests for mowing machines] do not mention Barrows, focusing instead on the competition between Obed Hussey [1792-1860] and Cyrus McCormick [1808 or 1809 – 1883 or 1884] in the 1840s and 1850s. Colby College historian Earl H. Smith included both these inventors in his 2021 book, Downeast Genius: From Earmuffs to Motor Cars Maine Inventors Who Changed the World.)

Hussey was born in a Quaker family, in Hallowell; they moved to Nantucket, Massachusetts, when he was a child, and his work was done in Maryland and Ohio. Smith commented that Hussey realized Maine was an unfair place to test his reaper – not only was Maine farmland “hilly and difficult to plow, the real curse was the rocks, which often broke the shafts and blades of his machines.”

Smith connected Virginia-born McCormick with Maine only through his “War of the Reapers” with Hussey, which covered much of the United States; in 1851 was part of London’s Great Exhibition, “the first world’s fair”; and later moved to France and elsewhere in Europe.

Robbins wrote that Hanson Barrows (1831-1916) was the oldest of three sons and two daughters of Caleb Barrows and his wife (whose name your writer cannot find). She called Caleb an early settler in Vassalboro; Henry Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history, said he moved to Vassalboro from Camden in 1830.

Hanson Barrows spent his life on the farm he inherited from Caleb, named Twin Oaks, on Barrows Road (Kingsbury said the farm was “on the pond road,” probably meaning Webber Pond Road). In 1971, Robbins wrote, the Barrows family home still stood, with a view across the golf course to Webber Pond.

(Barrows Road ran west from Webber Pond Road to the section of Old Route 201 named Holman Day Road. On May 13, 2010, the Vassalboro select board ordered the road discontinued, without retaining a public right-of-way. Voters at the June 7, 2010, town meeting ratified the decision.)

Hanson Barrows and his wife, Julia E. (Wood) Barrows (1854-1942), are buried in Vassalboro’s Union cemetery. Their son, Leon Martell Barrows (Oct. 24, 1888 – March 5, 1956), in 1911 married Bertha May McCloud (1892-1913).

(Hanson’s brother Edwin [April 2, 1842 – April 20, 1918] was profiled in the article on Civil War veterans in the March 31, 2022, issue of The Town Line.)

* * * * * *

The Lombard house in Waterville, today, across from the public library. (photo by Roland Hallee)

Alvin Orlando Lombard was born June 15, 1856, in Springfield, Maine. Various sources say by the age of eight he was at work in the family mill – a shingle mill, in Lincoln, Maine, Smith wrote, where the “[s]toutly built, inquisitive, and energetic” boy “quickly mastered every woodland task from lumberjack to river driver and from stacker to mill sawyer.”

The child also built machines. Several sources mentioned his miniature water-powered sawmill (or wood-splitter – sources disagree) that he demonstrated by cutting up cucumbers.

Later, Lombard and his younger brother Samuel operated a blacksmith shop, in Waterville. Wikipedia said Alvin designed “sawmill and logging equipment” and Samuel supervised manufacturing.

Smith wrote that in the summer of 1899, Lombard, age 43 and already known as an inventor, shared a streetcar ride with his wealthy Fairfield friend, E. J. Lawrence. Lawrence “bemoaned the cost and cruelty” of using horses to haul harvested trees out of the Maine woods in the winter and asked Lombard if a machine could be used instead.

Two days later Lombard showed Lawrence a wooden model of a tracked vehicle. Lawrence liked it. The two built a full-size sample at Waterville Iron Works, “and on May 4, 1901, U. S. Patent #674,737 was issued for the Lombard Log Hauler, arguably the most significant invention ever to come from the State of Maine.”

Lombard’s machine was powered by “a steam engine with an upright boiler” and ran on steerable front skis and rear caterpillar treads. Here is Smith’s description: “A continuous belt of hinged steel lags (treads) was fitted over two pairs of geared wheels, allowing the heavy machine to pull itself along on a rolling carpet of steel…, like a caterpillar.”

These machines replaced “the work of 50 lumber-pulling horses,” one source said. Another called the log-hauler the model for “every snowmobile, tank and bulldozer ever built.” Even after trucks succeeded tractors in the Maine woods in the 1930s, the caterpillar tread continued to expand its uses world-wide.

The Maine Forest and Logging Museum website lists the six known Lombards remaining of the 83 built between 1900 and 1917. Two are at the museum in Bradley, the website says.

In addition to the log hauler for which he is best known, Smith wrote that Lombard’s commercially successful inventions included “a device for tossing (de-barking) pulpwood, and an apparatus that separated knots and sawdust from ground pulp.”

Smith said Lombard was most proud of an 1893 invention, “an automatic mechanical device…that maintained the speed and power of water turbines.” Lombard made and sold this useful regulator for six years before selling the patent and, according to Smith, dividing his time between his house in Waterville, where he had a basement workshop, and his country house in Vassalboro.

An online genealogy says Lombard and Mary Etta Bates (Sept. 8, 1856 – April 13, 1931) were married June 13, 1875, in Webster Plantation. They had one daughter, Grace Vivian Lombard Vose (Dec. 8, 1876-Aug. 24, 1947).

Alvin Lombard died Feb. 21, 1937. He, his wife and their daughter are buried in Waterville’s Pine Grove cemetery.

Online sources list two memorials to Lombard. Mount Lombard, in Antarctica, recognizes his contribution to driving over snow; and his Waterville house, now an apartment building, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Your writer, and Vassalboro Historical Society president, Janice Clowes, add Lombard Dam, on Outlet Steam, in Vassalboro, recently removed to allowed alewives to migrate into China Lake, and Lombard Dam Road.

Who invented the snowmobile?

Earl Smith nominated O. C. Johnson, of Waterville, who, inspired by Alvin Lombard’s log hauler, “is said to have built one of the first snow machines in 1909. It was ten feet long and powered by a ‘one lung’ engine.”

Your writer failed to find additional information on O. C. Johnson. On-line sources say early versions of the snowmobile were invented in 1911 by Harold J. Kalenze, of Brandon, Manitoba, Canada; in 1915 by Ray H. Muscott, of Waters, Michigan; in 1917 by Virgil D. White, of Ossipee, New Hampshire; in 1922 (much improved by 1935) by Joseph-Armand Bombardier, of Valcourt, Québec, Canada; and in 1924 (patented in 1927) by Carl Eliason, of Sayner, Wisconsin.

A snowmobile history found on the Volo Museum’s website credits White, Eliason and Bombardier, and agrees with Smith. The website says: “One of the earliest snowmobile ancestors is the steam-powered Lombard Log Hauler….”

Appeal to our readers

An appeal to our readers, especially those in Windsor, to help an out-of-state historian.

Peter Pettingill, from Barrington, New Hampshire, is seeking local information on an event in Windsor that he described as “the death of Charles Northey, Jr., which occurred in South Windsor, in October, 1905, resulting in the sensational six-and-a-half-week trial of resident Alice Spencer Cooper.”

He added, “It was the longest trial in Maine’s history at the time and was in the press from Maine to California and involved countless folks from your area and a lot of prominent Maine characters.”

Mr. Pettingill has done a lot of on-line research; he visited the area this past summer to check out graveyards and remaining buildings. He would appreciate more information from local people – does anyone have an ancestor in the Northey or Cooper family, or perhaps one who was involved in the trial?

In 2022 he published Porter: The Murder of David Varney (your writer found favorable reviews on line). His second book, titled The Murder of Mattie Hackett, is due out by the end of the year, he said.

For anyone with relevant information, Mr. Pettingill’s email address is pettingillp@yahoo.com. His postal address is 58 Waterhouse Road, Barrington, NH 03825.

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).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Smith, Earl H., Downeast Genius: From Earmuffs to Motor Cars Maine Inventors Who Changed the World (2021).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Agriculture – Part 7

Holderness cattle

by Mary Grow


Recent articles have mentioned two Vassalboro men, Thomas Stackpole Lang and Hall Chase Burleigh, who each deserve more attention for their agricultural contributions, along with Lang’s father, John Damon Lang.

The early focus of the two families’ agricultural activities was what Alma Pierce Robbins, in her Vassalboro history, called the John D. Lang farm, which, she wrote, became the Hall Burleigh farm and by 1971 was a dairy farm owned by Romeo Rossignol.

The farm was on the west (Kennebec River) side of what was then the main road between Augusta and Winslow. The main road – Route 201, aka Riverside Drive — has been partly relocated, and this section is now the northernmost piece of old Route 201, paralleling the older road. It is named Burleigh Road.

John Damon Lang (May 14, 1799 – 1879) was, according to an on-line source, a Vassalboro native. Henry Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history, said Lang came to Vassalboro from Rhode Island before 1836. Robbins said he was born in Gardiner and built a house on the river in Vassalboro by 1841.

Lang married Ann Elmira Stackpole (1800-1879, maybe; sources differ), a Vassalboro native (maybe). Their six children, born between 1822 and the 1830s, included Thomas Stackpole Lang (1826-1895).

The elder Lang was a businessman and a farmer. In his chapter on Vassalboro, Kingsbury described the businesses that made the Getchell’s Corner area of northwestern Vassalboro an early commercial center.

Among them was “a steam saw mill, built as a water mill first, on the river shore on what was then the Lang farm.” Lang built the mill “for cutting the logs of the farm,” but soon abandoned it, Kingsbury wrote.

North Vassalboro, with water power from China Lake’s Outlet Stream, became another commercial center. Kingsbury credited Lang for much of its development, writing that he helped two brothers-in-law develop their “wool carding and cloth dressing mill on the dam” into a woolen mill. It was running by 1836 and was an economic mainstay for much of the following 120 years.

Lang and partners invested in shipbuilding, too, Robbins and Kingsbury said. President Ulysses Grant appointed Lang a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners that Congress established in April 1869. Board members represented different Protestant religions (Lang was a Quaker); their responsibility was generally to advise on more constructive policies toward Native Americans.

Samuel Boardman mentioned John Damon Lang and Thomas Stackpole Lang repeatedly in his chapter on agriculture in Kingsbury’s history.

He described them as “early and continuous importers and improvers of sheep, having always the best flocks of Southdowns and Cotswolds.”

Writing about the North Kennebec Agricultural Society, organized in 1847, Boardman listed both Langs among “noted breeders and farmers” who helped it succeed. He named John Lang among the early importers of Ayrshire cattle (from Massachusetts, in 1855 and 1856).

Another of John Lang’s contributions Boardman mentioned was an article on Holderness cattle Lang wrote for an 1874 publication titled Agriculture of Maine. As Boardman tells the story, the import of Holderness was by chance: in 1812, a privateer out of New York captured a British ship bound for Halifax with a Holderness bull and cow aboard and brought them to Portland.

Descendants of these two Holderness, “known as the ‘Prize’ stock,” reached Sidney and Vassalboro, Boardman wrote. He did not specify that Lang owned or bred them.

British Shorthorn cattle

Lang did breed British Shorthorns. Boardman wrote that in 1860 he and his son Thomas jointly imported Shorthorns from two prominent cattlemen in Massachusetts and New York “and bred with a good deal of spirit.”

Before the family’s interest in Shorthorns, Boardman wrote that Thomas Stackpole Lang’s Herefords were among cattle shown at North Kennebec Agricultural fairs from the 1850s; and the younger Lang was one of the first local men to bring in Holsteins (in 1864, from a Massachusetts breeder).

The Eastern Kennebec Agricultural Society, organized in the spring of 1868, had its half-mile track on a 16-acre parcel off Dirigo Road, in China, and held its first exhibition there that fall. Boardman wrote that when the society added an exhibition hall in 1869, Thomas S. Lang, a major exhibitor, was a speaker.

(This society held annual fairs through 1874. Bad weather – in more than one year, Boardman implied – reduced revenue; debt accumulated; and the society sold its real estate in 1877.)

The Langs’ interest in cattle waned after the Civil War. Boardman wrote that they had 32 Shorthorns at the North Kennebec Agricultural Society’s 1864 fair, “but soon after disposed of their animals to give attention to another class of stock.”

This other class was almost certainly horses, and Thomas Stackpole Lang was probably the leader in the switch to horses. As readers learned two weeks ago, he brought the famous trotting horse, General Knox, to the Kennebec Valley in January 1859. Robbins wrote that in 1860 Lang was “Master of Ceremonies at the ‘Horse Breeders Association’ exhibit in Augusta.”

The breeding business that Lang started in 1859, Boardman wrote, “soon took high rank among the most noted in the country. This was maintained for many years and brought Kennebec county into great prominence.”

Lang started with four stallions, including General Knox, and one brood mare, Boardman said. He added five more stallions, including Gideon of the Hambletonian line (mentioned last week).

Boardman had high praise for General Knox. “He was one of the most remarkable horses ever owned in Maine, and has done more toward improving our stock of horses, bringing the state into prominence as a horse breeding state and causing more money to come to Maine from other states for the purchase of fine horses than any other single horse ever owned here,” he wrote.

He called Lang “one who builded better than he knew when his breeding operations were being carried on.”

In 1868, Boardman said, Lang bought from the government of Nova Scotia a stallion named Annfield. J. W. Thompson’s 1874 booklet listing noted Maine horses, found on line, says Annfield was a bay with black points, “small star in forehead, and white feet behind.” He stood 16 hands high and weighed more than 1,100 pounds.

A “special agent” of the Nova Scotian government imported Annfield from England (no reason was given), where he had won several races. Lang sold Annfield to a breeder in Oxford, Maine, in 1871 (again, no reason was given).

The list of Annfield’s central Kennebec Valley descendants includes three daughters, Ann, a chestnut born in 1869, and Victoria, a roan born in 1871, both bred by H. G. Abbott, of North Vassalboro; and Eugenie, a sorrel born in May 1869 and bred by C. A. Fuller, of Fairfield Center.

In addition to the big Lang farm on the Kennebec River, John Damon Lang must have owned a parcel on the west side of Webber Pond. Robbins wrote that when a road was laid out there in 1886, the landowners who received town compensation included “heirs of J. D. Lang.”

* * * * * *

Hall Chase Burleigh was born in Fairfield on Dec. 13, 1826. Robbins wrote that after he married Clara (or Clarissa) Kelly Garland (in the fall of 1853, in Fairfield, an on-line genealogy says), the family moved to what had been John D. Lang’s farm, in Vassalboro. But Robbins also called Burleigh, “of Vassalboro” when she said he was “developing a Hereford herd” by the 1840s.

Boardman gave more details on the Hereford breeding operation. He wrote that Burleigh cooperated with a Fayette breeder in the 1860s, and in 1869 (still living in Fairfield, according to Boardman) joined with George E. Shores, of Waterville, to buy what was then considered “the most famous herd of Herefords on the continent” from a Québec breeder.

Three years later, there were enough Herefords for each man to take a separate herd. In 1879, Burleigh (by then definitely in Vassalboro) went into partnership with Joseph R. Bodwell, of Hallowell, and the two got serious about importing Herefords, some from Canada, most from England.

In the next half-dozen years, Burleigh made five trips to England to inspect potential additions to the herd. In 1883, he chartered a steamship to transport 200 cows in one load.

In total, Boardman said, the two men imported more than 800 Herefords. Some stayed in the area; most were shipped to southern and western states. Between 1880 and 1890, according to Burleigh’s obituary (found on line), he sold more than a million dollars worth of stock.

In 1881, Boardman wrote, Burleigh took some Herefords on “the grand Western circuit of the great inter-state fairs,” where they “won everywhere in all classes in which they were shown.” In 1883, he took cattle to the Kansas City, Chicago and New Orleans fairs, again winning prizes.

Boardman wrote that on the 1883 tour, a two-year-old heifer named Burleigh’s Pride, a Hereford-Polled Angus cross, was awarded “the champion gold shield for the best animal of any sex, breed or age, exhibited by the breeder.”

In 1891, Boardman said, Burleigh’s Herefords “won fifteen first prizes, eleven second prizes and one third prize at the Maine State Fair.”

Polled Aberdeen Angus

Burleigh and Bodwell brought in Polled Aberdeen Angus between 1880 and 1884, the second time this breed had come to the United States. In 1883 and 1886 they imported Sussex cattle, which Burleigh and his son Thomas were still breeding in 1891.

Bodwell took time out to get elected Maine’s 40th governor in 1886. Inaugurated Jan. 6, 1887, he died in office Dec. 15, 1887. (Edwin Chick Burleigh, the 42nd Maine governor, was one of the Palermo Burleighs [see the Jan. 5, 2023, issue of The Town Line]. They seem to have no direct connection to the Vassalboro Burleighs.)

Hall Burleigh, his obituary said, was a state legislator in 1889 and state assessor in the 1890s.

Burleigh’s wife Clara was born Sept. 18, 1833, in Winslow. The couple had seven daughters and four sons, born between July 1854 and May 1874. Robbins wrote that three of the 10 “settled on farms in Vassalboro.”

The oldest daughter, born March 5, 1856, and named Clara after her mother, “retired from teaching and raised turkeys on her farm for many years,” Robbins wrote.

Son Thomas, born Oct. 4, 1868, “took over the home farm,” Robbins wrote. Boardman said he, too, bred cattle.

Next to youngest daughter Nettie, born May 2, 1874, first gained public attention when she was 11 years old: she and her 15-year-old brother Sam began publishing a local newspaper called The Clarion in March 1886 (see the Dec. 3, 2020, issue of The Town Line for more information on this newspaper).

Nettie began teaching in Vassalboro schools around 1893. Robbins said she had a successful career in local and state politics, including becoming the first female selectman in Vassalboro in 1922. She bought what Robbins called the “Old Doe Farm” where she continued the family tradition of raising thoroughbreds (horses, cows or both? Robbins did not specify.)

Hall Chase Burleigh died May 17, 1895; his widow died Feb. 3, 1915. They are buried in Winslow’s Drummond cemetery with other family members, including children Clara May (died Jan. 8, 1934); Thomas Garland (died Oct. 7, 1951) and his widow; Samuel Appleton (Nov. 27, 1870 – 1952) and his wife; and Nettie Caroline (died March 2, 1963).

Your writer found one clue to the location of the second-generation Burleigh farms. On March 30, 1931, the Maine legislature established the approximately 1,700-acre Natanis Game Preserve, in Vassalboro.

The legislative act described its western boundary as the Kennebec River and listed included and abutting landowners. Among those included are Clara C. (Clara May?), Nettie C. and Thomas G. Burleigh.

Information from current Vassalboro residents suggests that the game preserve was slightly north of Oak Grove Road, which goes east from Riverside Drive less than two miles south of Burleigh Road.

The Maine hunting rules list “Oak Grove Area, Vassalboro” under the heading “Closed and Special Regulation Areas.” If this area is the Natanis Preserve, the 1931 law says it is illegal to “hunt, chase, catch, kill or destroy any wild bird or wild animal” therein.

Main sources

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

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Agriculture – Part 6

Nelson, the horse owned by Charles Horace “Hod” Nelson, of Waterville. (photo courtesy of Lost Trotting Parks Heritage Center)

by Mary Grow

Waterville horses continued “Nelson”

Another locally-bred trotting horse, even more famous than General Knox (described last week), was Nelson.

Nelson was a bay horse. The color is described on line as “a reddish-brown or brown body color with a black point coloration on the mane, tail, ear edges, and lower legs.” Several on-line pictures dramatically contrast his dark mane with his lighter body. He stood a little over 15 hands (readers will remember a hand equals four inches).

He was born in 1882, probably in January. Various on-line sources say his sire (father) was Young Rolfe, born in Massachusetts and brought to Waterville by Charles Horace “Hod” Nelson, owner of Sunnyside Farm, before he was a year old.

Nelson’s dam (mother) was Gretchen, a daughter of Gideon, who was a son of Hambletonian. Thomas Stackpole Lang, of Vassalboro, brought Gideon to Maine around 1860, one of many well-bred horses he introduced to the Kennebec Valley.

Hambletonian (1792 – March 28, 1818) was a famous British Thoroughbred who won 18 of his 19 races before being retired to stud in 1801. The Hambletonian Stakes for three-year-old trotters, run annually since 1926, honors the British horse. This year’s race was held Aug. 5 at Meadowlands, in New Jersey.

The horse “Nelson”

Nelson the man (whom your writer will disrespectfully call “Hod” throughout this article to minimize confusion) bred, trained, raced and deeply loved Nelson the horse. Stephen D. Thompson’s long and well-researched article on the website losttrottingparks.com, titled “When Waterville was Home to Nelson, the Northern King,” gives a great deal of information about horse and man.

Nelson first attracted attention in 1884, winning a race for two-year-olds at the state fair in Lewiston. At the 1885 state fair in the same city, he won two cups, as the fastest three-year-old and the fastest stallion, and set a record.

He continued his winning ways in 1889 in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Buffalo, New York, where he won a $5,000 stake before, Hod wrote, 40,000 people.

On Sept. 6, 1890, in Bangor, he set a world record for a half-mile track. From there he was shipped to Illinois, where, on Sept. 29, 1890, in Kankakee, he set what Samuel Boardman, in his chapter in Kingsbury’s Kennebec Cunty history, called “the champion trotting stallion record of the world” over what Thompson said was a mile-long track.

This record stood for a year, Boardman wrote, until September 1891, when it was broken in Grand Rapids, Michigan – by Nelson.

After September and October 1890 races in Illinois and Indiana, Nelson and Hod returned to Sunnyside for the winter. In November, Hod, but presumably not Nelson, attended a “Banquet in celebration of the Champion Trotting Stallion Nelson at the Elmwood Hotel.”

Due to rumors that the 1889 Boston race had been fixed, Nelson and Hod were suspended by the National Trotting Association from December 1890 to Dec. 6, 1892. (Thompson wrote that Hod had refused to fix the race, but apparently someone else did and Hod was somehow caught up in the scheme.)

The suspension did not preclude racing, apparently, because E. P. Mayo, in his chapter in Edwin Whittemore’s Waterville history, described Nelson’s many journeys and busy fall schedules in 1891 and 1892.

Hod took Nelson to Michigan in October 1891 (or earlier? – see Boardman, above) for more racing; this time, according to Thompson’s account, he lost one race. Mayo said this western tour, “which was nothing short of a triumphal procession,” began in Saginaw, Michigan, and included nine cities in Michigan, Iowa and Indiana.

The duo apparently returned immediately to Maine, because on October 30, Thompson wrote, Nelson left Waterville “[i]n his own train car” with three grooms and Hod for Chicago’s American Horse Show. He was received enthusiastically at stops along the way and “Became the idol of the show!”

(Mayo said Nelson’s triumph at the Chicago horse show was in 1890, rather than 1891; he, too, said Nelson returned from Indiana and rested a week in Maine before heading to Chicago, and he, too, used the word “idol.”)

In 1892 and 1893, Mayo wrote, Nelson continuing racing and exhibiting at many tracks, from New Jersey through New England to New Brunswick.

On June 24, 1902, Hod drove Nelson in Waterville’s Centennial parade. According to William Abbott Smith’s account in Whittemore’s history, they were right behind the carriages containing “invited guests,” city officials and the centennial organizing committee.

After Hod and Nelson, Smith wrote, came “Horses from Sunnyside Farm, driven by young ladies, two mounted, handsomely arrayed.”

At his last public appearance, on “Nelson Day” (honoring both horse and man), held Sept. 10 at the 1907 Central Maine Fair, in Waterville, Nelson “received the cheers of thousands as he went around the track with his old time style, and was visited by thousands in his stall” (according to a Dec. 9, 1909, Waterville Sentinel obituary for the horse that Thompson quoted).

Hod put Nelson down on Dec. 1, 1909, at Sunnyside Farm. Thompson described plans for his burial and grave marker, but apparently failed to find the marker or its presumed location.

An inscribed granite marker at the Sterling Street Playground, in Waterville, honoring the life of Nelson. The playground is part of what was once Sunnyside Farm, the home of Nelson. (photo by Roland Hallee)

In the Sentinel article, Hod described his horse as “a clever old fellow and…kind to everybody. In all his life he has only bitten at two or three persons and would not have done so then had they let him along [sic] or had they not been intoxicated. He could tell when a man had been drinking and seemed to take a dislike to them on that account.”

Hod added that someone offered him $125,000 for Nelson when the horse was eight years old, and he refused.

In 1994, Nelson was elected to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame’s Hall of Immortals, horse division. One source says he was the only Maine-bred trotting horse so honored.

Another indication of his fame, according to on-line sources, is that Currier and Ives made six prints of Nelson. The famous New York City printmakers also did portraits of Lady Maud and Camors, two of many horses sired by Thomas Stackpole Lang’s General Knox.

Charles Horace “Hod” Nelson

“Hod” Nelson

Hod Nelson was born April 16, 1843, in Palermo (or China; sources differ), the younger son of a storekeeper named Benjamin Nelson and his wife Asenath (Brown) Nelson. Hod spent his life farming and breeding horses, with an interruption during the Civil War.

According to the Find a Grave website, quoting submitted information, Hod enlisted in the 19th Maine Infantry as a private on Aug. 1, 1862; was “discharged for disability” March 13, 1863; re-enlisted as a private in the 12th Maine Infantry on Oct. 2, 1865; and was promoted to first sergeant before his honorable discharge March 3, 1866. Later, he was commander of Waterville’s W. S. Heath G.A.R. Post.

On Nov. 7, 1867, Hod married Emma Aubine Jones, who was born in China, Jan. 31, 1848, the only child of Francis and Eliza (Pinkham) Jones. An on-line genealogy lists no children of the marriage.

Hod owned a farm in China until 1882, when he bought what became Sunnyside Farm, off the Oakland Road – now Kennedy Memorial Drive (KMD) – in Waterville.

Thompson, through diligent research, established that Sunnyside Farm was on the south side of KMD between Nelson and Carver streets. He quoted an 1888 description that said there were actually two farms on the 540 acres of pasture and hayfields.

The farm for the brood mares and foals included three barns and “a fine residence” (presumably Hod and Emma’s home). The farm for the stallions had “two large barns” – and in 1888 a third was being planned – and a “substantial, old-fashioned house” where the employees lived.

By April 1894, Hod had another farm in Fairfield, mentioned in an April 23, 1894, article in The Kennebec Journal that Thompson found. Nelson’s dam, Gretchen, age 27, was still living at Sunnyside, and still had “the same fine limbs, the same straight back, and general proportions of beauty as a filly of four or five.”

Hod had 76 horses at Sunnyside and 41 “brood mares and colts” at his Fairfield farm, according to the article.

Later in life Hod suffered health issues – Thompson mentioned his war-related disability – and financial problems. By mid-March 1915 he was seriously ill, and Emma, who was caring for him, had a stroke. Her nephew took Hod to the veterans’ home at Togus, where he died on March 29, 1915.

Emma recovered and lived in a Waterville apartment until her death on Aug. 12, 1916, Thompson wrote. (An on-line genealogy dates her death Aug. 11, 1916.)

Hod and Emma Nelson are buried in Waterville’s Pine Grove Cemetery. One on-line genealogical source says the same cemetery holds the graves of Hod’s brother, Edward White Nelson (1841 – Nov. 9, 1906), Edward’s wife Cassandra Marden Worthing (born in Palermo, July 16, 1843, and died in Waterville Dec.7, 1903) and at least three of their four children, Hod’s nieces and nephew.

The Find a Grave website does not list Edward or Cassandra Nelson in Pine Grove cemetery. It does show the tombstone of their son (and Hod’s nephew), lawyer and Congressman John Edward Nelson (July 12, 1874 – April 11, 1955).

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Website, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Agriculture – Part 5

Spectators line the trotting park in the 19th century. (The Town Line file photo)

by Mary Grow

Race horses and work horses

Some of the central Kennebec Valley agricultural pioneers chose to breed racehorses, specifically trotters, instead of, or in addition to, the cattle discussed last week. For example, Kingsbury mentioned in the chapter on Waterville in his Kennebec County history that George Eaton Shores, of Waterville, who bred Hereford cattle, “also handled some horses, selling in 1879 the race horse Somerset Knox for $2,700.”

The April 2016 lead article in a publication called Fishermen’s Voice: News and Comment for and by the Fishermen of Maine, written by Tom Seymour and found on line, offers historical information on Maine horse racing.

Seymour gave three reasons for the interest in breeding and racing horses in the latter half of the 19th century.

First, he said, by then “technological innovation made farming more efficient,” giving farm families time for recreation. Second, since many farms had horses, “it was only natural to employ these animals in something other than work-related activities.”

The third factor Seymour cited was “the new and hopeful attitude of Americans coming out of the dark days of our Civil War. Returning soldiers and their families needed something to belong to, to feel good about.”

Simultaneously, he wrote, farmers’ organizations began putting on agricultural fairs in late summer and early fall. Therefore, “Maine’s fairgrounds included not only buildings where people exhibited new, perfectly-shaped and sometimes giant vegetables and flowers, but also raceways.”

An on-line source says horses in the first trotting races were “under saddle,” but soon they were “in harness,” pulling first a wagon, then a two-wheeled sulky and as the sport developed, a bike sulky, the light-weight, two-wheeled single-seat cart still used today.

Seymour wrote that there were more than 100 Maine trotting parks during the post-Civil War decades, enough so that “horse owners were able to go from one trotting park event to another, with little time left in between.” With prizes for winning races and publicity that led to stud fees, owning a good trotting horse became financially rewarding, as well as a source of pride and prestige for breeder and owner.

Your writer was unable to learn more about the horse named Somerset Knox mentioned above, except that he was one of many descendants of General Knox, described in an 1895 issue of the Eastern Argus (Portland) as Maine’s most famous horse. General Knox was owned for 14 years by Col. Thomas Stackpole Lang, of Vassalboro, another area farmer who bred both cattle and horses.

A register of American Morgan horses found on line says that General Knox, also known as Slasher, was born in June 1855, in Bridport, Vermont (a town at the south end of Lake Champlain), and died July 29, 1887, in Trenton, New Jersey. He is described as “black with star and snip, nose, flanks and stifles brownish, 15 ½ hands and weighed 1050 pounds.”

(The world-wide web says a star is a white mark on a horse’s forehead between the eyes; a snip is a white patch on a horse’s nose; a stifle is a hip joint; and a hand equals four inches.)

Lang bought General Knox in January 1859, for $1,000. He was used primarily for breeding, as Lang showed in an August 1870 Maine Farmer article he wrote (quoted in the Morgan register).

Lang said of General Knox: “His temper is always good, always cheerful and full of spirits and ambition, and never nervous at the most exciting sights and noises. Strike him in anger or abruptly, and it must be a strong man to hold him even when tired with trotting, yet entirely under control of the voice; attaches himself readily to those who pet him, and when away from home on the boat or on the cars, lies down to rest readily if his groom lies down with him.”

Lang described two trotting races General Knox won in the early 1860s, the first when the horse was seven years old.

The General was supposed to compete in Skowhegan against General McClellan, in response to a challenge from McLellan’s then-owner, G. M. Robinson, Esquire, of Augusta. However, Lang wrote, Robinson withdrew McClellan, because a few days earlier a horse named Hiram Drew had beaten him in Portland and Hiram Drew was running in Skowhegan.

General Knox had 22 days to relax from his stud duties and prepare for the race, “having served 136 different mares since April.” (Lang did not say what month the race was; your writer guesses September.) He “beat Hiram easily in three straight heats, without a break.”

(E. P. Mayo, in his chapter on agriculture in Edwin Whittemore’s history of Waterville, said General Knox outpaced Hiram Drew on Oct. 22, 1863, in Waterville. He wrote that supporters of both horses came from all over Maine to watch the race, “which is recalled even to this day by the oldest lovers of racing as one of the great events of their lives.”)

Lang wrote that he intended to stop racing General Knox, but was persuaded to enter him to uphold Maine’s honor in the Springfield fair (presumably, the fair in Springfield, Massachusetts, now the Big E [for Exposition], dubbed the only multi-state fair in the world and held this year Sept. 15 and 16).

That year (1863 or 1864) General Knox had served 112 mares since April and had 15 waiting. Lang and the General left home on a Thursday morning and reached Springfield Sunday morning. General Knox raced on Thursday and won easily.

They came back as far as Boston Thursday night, “making,” Lang wrote, “in all 21 days from the time he was drawn from service until he had traveled upon cars and boat three days without rest, won his race and was bound home.”

After the race, Lang wrote, four other New England horsemen offered to buy General Knox, bidding up to $30,000. Lang declined. He wrote that Knox had raced only once since, in 1866, and in 1870 was anticipating the most mares he had ever served in one year.

In 1872, the on-line Morgan register says, Lang sold General Knox, for $10,000. The register includes a list of some of his descendants, with remarks about two or three.

Mayo wrote in the Waterville history that Waterville’s trotting park was initiated by the North Kennebec Agricultural Society, legislatively incorporated July 31, 1847 (and mentioned last week in connection with early officers Joseph and Sumner Percival).

In January 1854 the society appointed a committee to find land for a racetrack. A site was chosen in southern Waterville and a half-mile track was built, perhaps the same year.

On Aug. 22, 1863, Mayo found, the track “was leased to the Waterville Horse Association for their annual exhibition.” T. S. Lang was one of the signatories to the lease.

Mayo also found in the society’s records an Oct. 4, 1859, vote of thanks to Lang for donating his horses’ prize money to the society. He quoted: “He ever strove to win all the prizes that he could in order that the society might be the more benefited thereby.”

The North Kennebec Agricultural Society gave annual exhibitions into the 1880s, until increasing competition from nearby towns’ fairs caused members to give up. They leased the track for a while and finally sold it “for the enlargement of our present beautiful [Pine Grove] cemetery.”

* * * * * *

Alice Hammond, whose history of Sidney was published in 1992, did not mention any Sidney horse-breeders, but she gave more detail than many other historians about horses as work animals.

In her chapter on agriculture, she summarized sequential methods of harvesting hay: men mowing with scythes gave way to “horse-drawn mowing and raking machines,” which in turn were displaced by “mechanical reapers and balers.”

On-line sites say the first horse-drawn mowers date from the 1840s or 1850s. The machines became popular after the Civil War, and, one source says, are still used in this century in special areas like nature preserves and organic farms.

But it was in her chapter on transportation that Hammond expanded on the important role horses played on early Sidney. The Kennebec River was important, and she mentioned oxen, for example used to build the first roads.

Most of these roads succeeded bridle paths, which followed earlier Native American trails. In the late 1700s, the “bridle paths were widened to allow pack horses and even carts and sleds in season.”

Through the 19th century and into the 20th, Sidney residents rode horseback or in horse-drawn carts or wagons. Road maintenance depended partly on horse labor; Hammond wrote that between 1860 and 1870, horses pulled the “road scrapers with metal blades” that “were used to shape and smooth the roads.”

“Later,” she continued, “mechanical road machines pulled by horses were used,” until trucks replaced the horses.

Hammond quoted an article written by an earlier Sidney resident, Russell M. Bailey, on winter travel and road maintenance early in the 20th century, with horses still a major power source. She gave no dates for events he described; one of the genealogies in her history says he was born in 1901.

Bailey wrote that there were three kinds of personal winter vehicles. The fastest and fanciest was the single-seat sleigh, “with a sweeping high curved dashboard and luxuriously upholstered seat.” One horse, “a light driving horse if available,” pulled the sleigh.

The pung was “a lower slung, long runnered, single horse utility winter vehicle, suitable for hauling light loads or the family.” For heavy loads, a farmer would use the double sled drawn by a pair of work horses.

To keep roads passable, Sidney and other Maine towns used snow rollers, large wooden and metal contraptions that packed down the snow. On-line sources say horse-drawn rollers were used from the late 1880s into the 1930s.

Hammond wrote that in 1895, Sidney “raised money to build snow rollers.” Bailey described a Sidney roller as pulled by eight horses, in two sets of two teams.

Hammond included a story of a winter storm Bailey remembered that covered roads with more than a foot of new snow under a thick icy crust. When the horses’ hooves broke though the crust, the sharp edges cut their legs.

After protective padding failed, Bailey wrote, “additional men were hired to proceed the lead team to break the crust with their feet and shovels.”

Main sources

Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Waterville Railroad Station

CORRECTION: In last week’s article, the location of Waterville Railroad Station was incorrect. It should have said, the Waterville railroad station was located on what is now an empty lot, on the west side of College Ave., to make room for Colby St. circle where it intersects with Chaplin St., near Burger King. The railroad tracks that cross Chaplin St. are an indication of where the train terminal was located. The locomotive pictured in this 1920s photo, is located where the train tracks cross Chaplin St.