Up and down the Kennebec Valley Railway transportation

by Mary Grow

Although the narrow-gauge railroad that was built inland from Wiscasset starting in 1894 never reached either Québec (its first name was the Wiscasset and Québec) or Waterville or Farmington (later it was the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington) (see The Town Line, Sept. 17), as the WW&F it was an integral part of towns along its route.

Reminiscences from Palermo include the WW&F. Dean Marriner mentioned the WW&F in two Kennebec Valley histories. The histories of China and Vassalboro include the WW&F. Clinton Thurlow, of Weeks Mills, wrote three small books on the WW&F. Ruby Crosby Wiggin titled her town history Albion on the Narrow Gauge; the cover has a sketch of engine number 7 taking on water at the Albion water tank, and her introduction says that for 40 years the WW&F was vital to the town and in 1964 residents still remembered it fondly.

Milton E. Dowe’s 1954 Palermo history (the town was incorporated in 1804, so this booklet would be a sesquicentennial history) points out that the WW&F did not even enter Palermo; the Branch Mills station, though called Palermo, was in China, west of the village the two towns share. However, Dowe wrote in the history and in his later book, Palermo, Maine Things That I Remember in 1996, the railroad carried Palermo residents on business and pleasure trips; it brought things they needed, like mail and foodstuffs for local grocery stores; and it took away things they sold, like milk and cream, lumber and bark, apples, potatoes and grain.

Dowe wrote in his history that the regular passenger fare to Wiscasset was $1.25, and excursion fares were $1.00 round trip. After the branch line to Winslow opened in 1902, Palermo residents had the option of riding to Waterville.

The railroad served traveling salesmen, Dowe wrote. They would sell to Palermo residents, play cards and swap stories in Branch Mills stores and spend the night at the Branch Mills Hotel. The next day they would move on to China Village or Albion.

The Palermo station was flanked by three potato houses where local potatoes were sorted and bagged ready for shipment, mainly to the Boston market. One year (presumably early in the 20th century), Dowe wrote, 100,000 bushels of potatoes were shipped through the station. At that time, farmers could expect to be paid $1 per barrel.

The creamery, also near the station, collected and pasteurized milk, brought in by the wagonload. Butter was made by the pound; Dowe said production averaged 3,000 pounds a week. The creamery later became an apple cannery and cider mill. Dowe described a line of 75 wagons waiting to unload apples during a week in 1920 when 3,000 bushels of cider apples arrived for processing.

The China bicentennial history says there were three other WW&F stations in China. From south to north, they were west of Weeks Mills; south of South China; and east of China Village. (The China Village station was on the east side of the head of China Lake; the village is on the west side. A causeway crosses the inlet stream.)

Each station was a small rectangular wooden building with an overhanging roof, the history says. The stations were painted the WW&F colors, two shades of green. Weeks Mills, South China, and China Village stations each had one nearby potato house.

The Weeks Mills station complex was west of the Sheepscot River and south of Main Street. It included a freight building and one of the WW&F’s five water tanks, put up in 1913; south of the station building was a roundhouse with space for four engines (used as a hay barn for a few years after the WW&F went out of business).

South of the roundhouse was the turntable on which an engine was shifted to either the Albion or the Winslow line. The China history describes the turntable as having ball bearings in the middle, a circular outer rim encasing a wheel and two tracks that could be turned different directions as needed. The machinery ran so easily that two men could operate it with a locomotive on it, the history says.

Frank Noyes opened a canning factory about 1904 and used the WW&F to ship out canned corn and succotash and later each fall apples and cider. The factory closed in 1931; the China history blames the Depression, which killed Noyes’ profit.

Thurlow’s three small, generously-illustrated books start with a focus on Weeks Mills, where he retired after a career teaching history. He found numerous original documents, like a 1911 set of operating orders. Among other things, the orders absolutely prohibited smoking around the trains and drinking alcohol on duty.

While the WW&F’s line to Winslow served Vassalboro between 1902 and 1915 or 1916, Vassalboro residents and goods traveled both ways. James Schad’s chapter in Anthology of Vassalboro Tales says that lumber, potatoes, canned corn and poultry were shipped to Wiscasset, to continue by water to Boston and other points south. Imports included coal to power North Vassalboro mills, feed and grain for farmers and supplies for local retailers.

Vassalboro had at least two WW&F stations. Schad’s article is accompanied by a photo of one on Oak Grove Road that served North Vassalboro, and Robbins’ bicentennial history mentions East Vassalboro’s “pretty little station,” later converted to a house that was evidently still occupied in 1971.

The photo in the Vassalboro anthology shows Engine No. 4, with no cars attached, in front of a rectangular wooden building. The engineer (probably) stands in shirtsleeves and cap, right hand on right hip, left arm draped casually on the engine. Two more formally dressed men accompany him, and three others stand on the trackside platform under the building’s overhanging roof.

Thurlow’s WW&F Two-footers includes 1964 photos of the former Winslow and North Vassalboro stations, both converted into two-story houses.

The Winslow line brought people to two attractions on the west side of China Lake a bit north of South China. One was a dance pavilion; excursion cars from Winslow took passengers out for the evening and brought them home around midnight, Thurlow and other sources say. Thurlow adds that north of the pavilion was a mineral spring where train crews were known to make unofficial stops so they and their passengers could have a refreshing break.

Wiggin speculated that the WW&F was more important to Albion people than to others it served because George H. Crosby, prominent among the railway’s founders, was an Albion native (see the article on Albion in the June 11 issue of The Town Line, p. 11), and because many Albion residents invested heavily in railroad stock. Additionally, she wrote, the railroad employed Albion residents (and those in other towns).

The Albion station had the northernmost of the WW&F’s five water tanks, coal sheds and a turntable. The building was the only one of the 15 WW&F stations (11 on the Albion line, four on the Winslow line) to have a second floor; Thurlow wrote that a conductor named Alfred Rancourt and his family lived above the station for 11 years.

In 1908 the Albion-Wiscasset fare was $1.50. In ideal conditions, the trip could be made in two hours; on the five-and-a-half mile stretch between China Village and Albion, several sources say the train often traveled at 60 miles an hour.

There are many, many local stories about the WW&F as a sort of family railroad. Most, unfortunately, are undated. Some are handed down; others local writers witnessed or heard directly from participants or observers.

Wiggin wrote from personal experience with the railroad and from interviews with other local residents, especially Earl Keef, who worked for the railroad for about 30 years, much of the time as an engineer. Consequently she included many personal stories in her Albion history.

For example, she quoted the neighbor who said she and two other women were admiring the first bananas they had ever seen in a local store window. The foreman of the Italian crew building the rail line bought each of them the first banana she’d ever eaten.

Another story is of a train that left Wiscasset at 2 a.m. in a snowstorm, with an attached plow and flange blocking the engineer’s view. At Palermo, the train was flagged down: a local doctor heading home after an emergency call was using the track ahead for his snowmobile (converted from an old Ford).

One of the crew volunteered to ride on the snowplow to watch out for the popular doctor. At the next trestle, they paused to make sure the doctor hadn’t fallen off it; but his tracks continued across.

The train finally caught up with him in Albion. China’s roads were plowed, so he switched to roads and reached Albion as the train did. Later, he said he made better time on the tracks than on the highway.

Yet another story, in Thurlow’s Weeks Mills “Y” (repeated in the China history), tells of Weeks Mills resident Edna Van Strien reaching East Vassalboro on the WW&F as the electric trolley by which she planned to continue to Augusta was leaving. The WW&F engineer stopped the train athwart the trolley tracks and waited until she was safely on board before moving out of the trolley’s way.

Ernest Marriner has two of the best anecdotes about the WW&F. Neither, alas, is dated.

The first, in his Kennebec Yesterdays (1954) concerns the line’s most successful – and unsuccessful – train. A mixed (freight and passenger) train, it carried an unusually large load of bark from Winslow, which was to go by sea from Wiscasset to a Massachusetts tannery. It also had an unusual number of passengers planning to witness the launch of a new schooner from a Wiscasset shipyard.

Marriner related that WW&F stockholders, informed of the big – and profitable — run, started touting the railroad to residents along the line. A welcoming committee assembled in Wiscasset.

The engineer and fireman added to the publicity by blowing the loud whistle constantly. Thus, Marriner wrote, they used a lot of steam and had to stop at water tanks. Perhaps because they allegedly had a generous supply of rum, they soon forgot about the water; and in Alna, the engine died. The load of bark eventually reached its destination, but neither the stockholders nor the excursionists were happy.

Marriner’s second story is in Remembered Maine (1957). He (like other local historians) wrote that WW&F engineers would usually stop wherever they saw someone trying to attract their attention, not just at stations and when the flag was up at a flag stop. One day, a Weeks Mills woman ran trackside and waved her apron.

The engineer shut down the engine and climbed out of the cab. The woman allegedly told him her hen was about to lay the twelfth egg; as soon as she had the full dozen, she wanted the engineer to take the eggs to the store in Wiscasset and swap them for a spool of thread and a bottle of vanilla.

Main sources:

Bernhardt, Esther, and Vicki Schad, compilers/editors, Anthology of Vassalboro Tales (2017).
Dowe, Milton E., History Town of Palermo Incorporated 1884 (1954).
Dowe, Milton E., Palermo, Maine Things That I Remember in 1996 (1997).
Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984).
Marriner, Ernest, Kennebec Yesterdays (1954).
Marriner, Ernest, Remembered Maine (1957).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).
Websites, miscellaneous.

 

The WW&F Railway Station Restoration Project Albion, Maine

by Phillip Dow, Albion Historical Society

The year was 1976. Albion townsfolk banded together to present a week-long period celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of our great country, the United States of America.

It was suggested that the Albion railroad station be preserved. Nothing was done to improve the structure for another 10 years. New blood got involved and the Albion Historical Society was formed. Their first major project was to try to save the old railroad station. John and Ora Rand, the owners of the station, graciously gave it to the Albion Historical Society for a museum.

Time and money were the big factors holding up progress on the restoration of said building. Donations finally came in and away we went. Dirt work around the building started. The old building was braced up, inside and out. The station had to be gutted, both downstairs and up. Cobwebs, spiders, bats and mice had to find a new home.

But, 10 years later, with the help of many people, a concrete slab was poured to the tune of $20,000. Floor joists and studs were added. New lumber replaced the old rotted boards. Asphalt shingles and a new chimney were added. A $500 grant was received and new wooden-framed windows were purchased.

We discovered stamped on one of the hidden window sills “Mathews Bros., Belfast, Me.” The original windows had been installed in 1895. Where did we purchase the new windows? Mathews Bros., with one “t,” Belfast, Me., one hundred years later.

Pine clapboard siding was painted and added. The interior of the railroad station is fairly simple in style, but it is the simple style that we should go back to, at least for a few days.

Albion railroad station, before, left, and after restorations.

Albion Library book sale

Albion Public Library

The Albion Public Library will host the annual book sale on Saturday, September 5, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

The sale will be held at 17 Main Street, across the street from the library. Come and fill up your book shelves!

Albion students on UMF dean’s list

The University of Maine at Farmington has announced its dean’s list for the fall 2019 semester. UMF maintains a dean’s list each semester for those students completing a minimum of 12 credits in courses producing quality points. Students whose grade point average for the semester is equal to or greater than 3.8 are listed with high academic achievement. Students whose grade point average for the semester is less than 3.8 but equal to or greater than 3.5 are listed with academic achievement. Any incompletes must be satisfactorily completed before the student is honored with Dean’s List status. Academic achievement awarded at commencement is based on all course work taken at UMF.

Albion students who achieved dean’s list status at the University of Maine at Farmington include Molly Burns, Lauren Faloon, Allison Frankenfield, and Noah Grindstaff.

Local libraries begin to re-open with limitations

Waiting for curbside pickup in Palermo. (photo by Andy Pottle)

Palermo Community Library curbside pick-up service begins

As we navigate through the Covid-19 pandemic, the first phase of reopening the Palermo Community Library is to offer curbside pickup beginning Saturday, June 20, 2020. To protect the safety of our staff and patrons, the library will be following the guidelines of the Maine State Library and Maine CDC. Staff will wear masks and gloves while preparing your bags for check-out. Patrons and staff are expected to respect social distancing recommendations.

Procedure for pickup (see detailed description under ‘policies’ on website):

  1.  Visit the library website at www.palermo.lib.me.us to search the library’s catalog for the books, DVDs, and other materials you’d like to check out.
  2.  Email your request to palermo@palermo.lib.me.us by Wednesday for a Saturday pickup.
  3.  Come to the library between 10 a.m. and noon on Saturday to pick up the items you are checking out. When you arrive, call 993-6088 and they’ll bring out your bag of books and place it on the front stoop for you to pick up.
  4.  Return library items to outdoor book drop when you are finished. All returned library materials will be quarantined for 72 hours and then sanitized.

In the meantime, the trustees are working hard to prepare for the next phase of reopening by installing plexiglass hygiene barriers, providing a deep thorough cleaning of the library’s interior, and writing policies that will protect the health and safety of our staff and patrons. Hope to see you soon!

Vassalboro public library re-opens

photo: vassalboro.net

The Vassalboro Public Library is reopened to the public during their regular hours. Monday and Friday noon – 6 p.m., and Wednesday and Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. They have a new ongoing book sale room that is open to the public. They will also host a partially virtual summer reading program for all ages. Please check their website for the Covid-19 policies.

Oakland public librarry is open

The Oakland Public Library is now open. You may check out books, magazines and movies. There is a 30-minute time limit on visits, with a five item limit on loans. Computers are available.

Hand sanitizers are available upon entering and also at the service desks. Masks that cover the nose and mouth must be worn, and patrons must observe 6 foot physical distancing.

Hours are: Tuesday, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Wed., Thurs., Fri. 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

For more information, call 465-7533.

Albion library will fill book orders

Albion Public Library

The Albion Public Library will fill orders for books, audio books and DVDs. Simply go online to the Town of Albion website: townofalbionmaine.com, click on local links, Albion library, online, display.

Or, log-in: first initial and last name, patron #. Ex.: rmorin,123.

You can browse the materials they have in the library.

To order, they will need the author and title of the book, audio book or DVD.

Send this to bertajanc@roadrunner.com.

Be sure to include your telephone number. They will fill your order and make an appointment with you for pick up.

Albion residents approve $1.99 M budget at town meeting

Albion selectmen lead the town meeting on Saturday, June 27, 2020. (contributed photo)

by Roland D. Hallee

The Albion town meeting was held on Saturday, June 27, 2020. This year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the meeting was held at the Albion Fire Station, where social distancing was more easily attainable, as opposed to the normal location at the Besse Building.

The town election was held on March 20. Following 21 years of service, Town Clerk, Treasurer and Tax Collector Amanda Dow resigned in November 2019. Jeanie Doore then resigned as selectman and was appointed town clerk, on an interim basis, until the March election.

The results from that election are as follows, with all candidates running unopposed:

Selectman, overseer of the poor and assessor, all three-year terms, Peter Fortin; Selectman, overseer of the poor and assessor, all for two-year terms, Waldon Linnell; Town Clerk treasurer and tax collector, two-year term, Jeanie Doore; SAD #49 School Board director, Katrina Dumont.

At that time, a motion was made to postpone the remainder of the town meeting, scheduled for March 21, to a future date due to the Covid-19 restrictions on public gatherings.

32 residents of Albion attended the town meeting. (contributed photo)

That meeting was reconvened on June 27.

At that meeting, 32 Albion residents were in attendance. According to Doore, that number is usually 50-75 attendees. The meeting was moderated by Richard Thompson.

All 58 articles on the warrant passed.

The 2020 budget for the town is $1,199,816. Of that, $559,168 is raised from taxation and that is $51,783 above last year, a 10% percent increase. The increase comes from administration, FICA, cemeteries, highways, trash service, 911 dispatch, fire department and the addition to the Albion Public Library.

Three members of the planning board were elected: Matt Ward, five-year term; associate members, Matthew Dow Sr., Ben McPhearson, for one-year terms. Budget committee members elected were Jeffrey Lindsay, Dan Sinclair and Brad Giguere Sr., three-year terms, and William Mckenzie III, two-year term. Alternates are Sonia Nelson and Matthew Dow Sr.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Albion

Pierce Family Homestead, in Albion.

by Mary Grow

There is debate over names of the first settlers in what is now Albion, partly because records are incomplete, partly because current Albion once included parts of several other towns. For example, Nathaniel Wiggin’s and several other families’ holdings at the north end of China Lake’s east basin were in Albion before the Albion-China boundary was moved north and their land became part of China.

Ruby Crosby Wiggin, in her well-researched and well-illustrated Albion on the Narrow Gauge, lists Burrills (Belial Burrill, by 1790), Crosbys, Davises (Samuel Davis, listed in the 1790 census), Fowlers, Haywoods (Nathan Haywood, by 1793) and Lovejoys. Kingsbury’s Illustrated History of Kennebec County 1792-1892 adds Libbeys (elsewhere Libbys), Prays, Shoreys and Rev. Daniel Lovejoy.

The last, Wiggin says, is probably an error. She found records in which Daniel Lovejoy’s sons said Daniel’s father, Francis Lovejoy, brought the family to settle on Fifteen-Mile-Pond (later Lovejoy Pond) when Daniel was about 14, making Francis an early settler.

Albion resembled other area municipalities in changing its boundaries and its name repeatedly. Wiggin says when the area was incorporated in 1802 as a plantation called Freetown, it was nearly square. A 20th-century map shows parallel boundaries on the east and west. On the south, a rectangle with a slanted east end indicates the 1815 transfer of the China Village area from Albion to China. The north boundary is irregular.

Wiggin says in 1803 Freetown voters asked the Massachusetts General Court to upgrade the plantation to a town. On March 9, 1804, the town of Fairfax was incorporated. In March 1821 (by then by the Maine legislature’s action) Fairfax became Lygonia (sometimes spelled Lagonia).

In January 1823, town meeting voters chose a five-man committee to ask the legislature to change Lygonia to Richmond. The petition apparently failed, for a January 1824 meeting created a seven-man committee (Daniel Lovejoy and John Winslow served on both committees) to request a change back to Fairfax. On Feb. 25, 1824, the name Albion was approved, Kingsbury says; and Wiggin says voters accepted it at an April 5, 1824, meeting.

Ava Harriet Chadbourne’s adds the following information, without specifying cause and effect. Fairfax was an 18th-century English general (the web suggests Sir Thomas Fairfax [Jan. 17, 1612 – Nov. 12, 1671], commander in chief of Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary army).

Lygonia was the name of a former land grant in York County, Maine (whence many Albion settlers came), to Sir Ferdinando Gorges. The web adds that Gorges named the 1,600 square mile piece in honor of his mother, Cicely Lygon Gorges.

Albion was an early Greek and then Roman name for the island that became England.

In the early 19th century, Albion settlement expanded from the area between China Lake and Lovejoy Pond, sometimes called South Albion (Wiggin points out there seem to have been three areas called South Albion, and Kingsbury mentions two, with Puddle Dock the second) as stream and road junctions provided places for mills and businesses.

Fifteen-Mile Stream and tributaries meander from southeast to northwest. Kingsbury lists numerous mills; some of the earliest were William Chalmers’ gristmill and carding mill on Fifteen-Mile Stream before 1800; Josiah Broad’s sawmill and gristmill on the same stream’s east branch before 1810; Robert Crosby’s sawmill around 1812 in what Kingsbury and Wiggin call the Crosby neighborhood, with, Wiggin says, two dams across a small stream; and Levi Maynard’s sawmill, fulling mill, carding mill and gristmill, built about 1817 near a bridge across Fifteen-Mile Stream east of Albion Corner.

Albion historian Phillip Dow adds that the stream was named because part of it was 15 miles from Fort West­ern, in Aug­usta. It originates in a bog in Paler­mo, he says; runs northwest through a bog in northern Albion; continues north and west and is supplemented by another stream from Fowler Bog, in Unity; and eventually joins the Sebasticook River that flows into the Kennebec River.

Kingsbury says Nathan Haywood and Joel Wellington owned the only two taverns in Albion before the stagecoach route from Augusta to Bangor started running through town in 1820. (Joel was also Al­bion’s first postmaster when the post office was established in March 1825.) Joel’s brother, John Well­ington, opened another tavern in 1820 at Albion Corner, which Kings­bury says he ran until it burned in 1860.

A fire at Besse High School, in Albion, in 1958.

There have been two Albion Cor­ners, in addition to the three South Al­bions. John Wellington’s tavern was at the eastern one, where the Hussey Road runs south off the main road (this Albion Corner is labeled on the map in the 1879 Kennebec County atlas). About the same time Well­ing­ton’s tavern opened, Kings­bury says Ralph Baker opened an inn at the present Corner, where the China and Win­slow roads meet.

Other businesses in the first quarter of the 19th century included at least two blacksmith shops and at least five stores in different parts of town. The latter, Kings­bury comments, were needed to provide three necessities that settlers could neither find in the water or woods nor grow in their fields: molasses, tobacco and rum.

Albion Corner seems to have been Albion’s main commercial center, but Wiggin reports a thriving area at Puddle Dock in the mid-19th century. The 1856 Albion map shows 21 buildings in the area, she says, including George Ryder’s store that housed the post office. In 1856, South Albion is south of Puddle Dock, near the China and Palermo town lines.

The 1879 atlas’s map shows at least a dozen buildings near Puddle Dock still, including a schoolhouse on the east bank of Fifteen-Mile Stream. This map shows the South Albion post office at Puddle Dock.

Wiggin describes the stage route between Puddle Dock and Fairfield around 1894. The Puddle Dock postmaster was M. J. Hamlin, she says. Stage-driver Martin Witham made two trips a day with mail, passengers, freight or all three, pulled by one horse in good weather and two if travel were difficult. From Puddle Dock the stage went through Albion Corner to East Benton and via three more Benton stops to Fairfield.

Some area residents still remember the dance hall at Puddle Dock. Dow says its first incarnation was in the 1940s and 1950s, when it was what he calls “a rough joint.” It closed for several decades and, Dow says, was briefly revived in the 1980s.

Daniel Lovejoy, mentioned above, had seven sons, of whom three became nationally known: Elijah Parish Lovejoy, born in 1802, martyred in Alton, Illinois, in 1837 for his anti-slavery activities; Owen Lovejoy, born in 1811, active abolitionist and member of Congress from Illinois from 1857 until his death in office in 1864; and John Ellingwood Lovejoy, born in 1817 and for three and a half years U. S. Consul to Peru, appointed by President Lincoln.

Kingsbury and Wiggin present the Crosbys as another important Albion family for many generations. The first connection was through Rev. James Crosby, one of the first settlers; Wiggin says he came around 1790. His great-grandson, George Hannibal Crosby (born in 1836) spent his working life in Massachusetts, where he was a mechanical engineer who invented and patented more than 30 improvements on gauges and valves and founded the Crosby Steam Gauge and Valve Company.

In 1886, he returned to Albion, married for the second time (to a cousin, also a Crosby), and bought a 250-acre farm on Winslow Road that had a stream and a pond. He moved the farmhouse across the road and replaced it with the Crosby Mansion, which he designed. Dow locates the Mansion (Wiggin capitalizes it) on the east side of the Lovejoy Pond outlet.

Kingsbury reproduces two pictures of the elaborate building. Wiggin includes plans of two of the five floors; the first had three piazzas, two looking west and one looking east. One piazza, she says, was built around an elm tree, because Crosby disliked removing trees. The third floor contained seven bedrooms; above it were the attic and the cupola.

The Mansion cost $75,000 or more in 1886 dollars. A feature Crosby proudly showed to visitors was a bathroom on the second floor, at the head of the south stairs. Water for flushing was stored in a third-floor tank; pulling a chain brought it down. The wooden bathtub was zinc-lined.

Waterville, Wiscasset and Farmington Railway yard.

Dow, who has researched the history of the narrow-gauge Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railroad (1895 to 1933), says Crosby supported the railroad and encouraged building the line across his land so passengers could see his house. One map of the railroad on the web shows the Crosby Tank (one of many places where train crews could take on water for the engine), and Wiggin refers in her history to Crosby’s Crossing.

After Crosby’s death the family lost the Mansion. It had several tenants and owners before it burned on Dec. 27, 1914. Wiggin says it was empty at the time and no one knows how the fire started. When she was writing 50 years later, a local family was using a piece of tile salvaged from the ruins as a hot dish mat.

Twenty-first-century Albion has a concentrated downtown around the two Albion Corners, with Lovejoy Health Center, Lovejoy Dental Center, a pharmacy, the elementary school, the town office, the library, the fire station, stores and other public and private buildings close together.

From August 1927 until January 2013, H. L. Keay & Son’s general store was one of the downtown anchors. According to a Jan. 13, 2013 Central Maine Morning Sentinel article, Harold Keay, with his wife Lena, ran the store from 1927 until his death in 1982. His son Crosby then took over; he died Nov. 26, 2011, aged 86. By 2013 the store was co-owned by Crosby Keay’s four children, Daryl, Jerry and Kevin Keay and Lisa Fortin.

Starting with a small grocery store, Harold and Lena Keay added space and inventory until by 2013 grandson Kevin Keay said the store was 8,000 square feet and there were another 8,000 square feet of warehouse. In addition to groceries, the store sold hardware, lumber and building supplies and other miscellaneous items small-town people need, and, residents commented to the Sentinel reporter, it was the place to catch up on local news.

Kevin Keay told the Sentinel business had fallen off because of the economy and competition from chain stores like Hannaford and Walmart.

The former Keay’s store has been run for a year by Andy Dow (Phillip Dow’s son). The nearby Albion Corner Store is run by Parris and Cathy Varney, of China.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed. Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892″ 1892.
Personal interview
Wiggin, Roby Crosby Albion on the Narrow Gauge, 1964.
Web sites, miscellaneous.

Local municipal offices set to re-open

Vassalboro town office

ALBION

The Albion Town Office is open regular business hours. Monday 12 p.m. – 4 p.m., Tuesday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., Thursday 12 p.m – 6 p.m. Limit 2 customers in the building.

BENTON

The Benton Town Office is currently open to the public Monday – Friday 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Limit two customers in office at a time.

CHINA

The China Town Office is currently open for walk-up service Monday – Friday 7:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.

FAIRFIELD

The Fairfield Town Office will be re-opening to the public on Tuesday, May 26. We will be limiting members of the public allowed in the building to no more than two at a time. The hours will be shortened to 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Masks, gloves and own pens required. Residents may call for an appointment or curb side service if they are unable to meet the PPE requirements. The Lawrence Public Library is working on a plan to re-open on June 1. This plan is still being finalized but may entail no public in the building, pre-ordered books, shortened times to sign out new releases, curbside pick-up, and seven-day quarantine of returned materials.

PALERMO

The Town of Palermo is discussing plans to re-open but nothing has been finalized.

VASSALBORO

The Vassalboro Town Office will re-open to the public on Monday, June 1, at 8 a.m., with a few restrictions.

All town office visitors will be asked to wear a face mask and that no more than two customers enter the lobby at the same time, all while practicing social distancing. If possible, do not bring friends or family members with you. It is understood that some will need to have children with them. Hand sanitizers have been installed and residents are encouraged to use them when entering the building. Plexiglas has been installed at work stations and people are asked to bring their own pens.

Remember that most transactions can be done online by visiting Vassalboro.net, scroll to the bottom and click on the purple house. The public restroom will be closed until further notice.

WATERVILLE

All departments at City Hall, in Waterville, will re-open on Monday, June 1, at 8 a.m., with social distancing requirements in place.

UPDATE: This story has been updated for additional town office information.

Despite fewer volunteers, longer hours, local food pantries soldier on

Volunteers Captain Gombojav, left, and Lucas Gombojav, right, prepare food boxes before the opening at China Community Food Pantry. (photo by Ann Austin)

by Eric W. Austin

Pervasive in my discussions with local food pantries is a sense of profound gratefulness.

“We have been receiving monetary and food donations from many residents,” says Vassalboro Food Station director Cindy Ferland. “The community support has been tremendous.”

Volunteer Dale Peabody sets up food boxes on the front porch of China Community Food Pantry. (photo by Ann Austin)

Food pantries in China, Winslow, Albion and Palermo expressed similar sentiments.

“There are very generous and thoughtful people in our community,” writes June Foshay, manager of Palermo’s food pantry, in an email response to my inquiry.

“It’s gratifying to receive so much community support,” says Ann Austin, director of China Community Food Pantry.

When Maine declared a state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic, local food pantries were on the front lines.

Winslow’s Community Cupboard was forced to move up their plans to launch because of the crisis. “Our intent was to open a local food pantry in September 2020,” assistant operations manager Anna Quattrucci recalls. “The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic hastened our journey along! We were encouraged by Good Shepherd Food Bank to accelerate our opening…and we did! Talk about hustle. We went from having no ready space, no food, and no organized plan, to being fully set up, stocked and ‘open for business’ in a few short weeks.”

Area food banks have scrambled to adjust to the new conditions created by the pandemic and have worked to help new clients suddenly in need because of the economic shutdown. “We have had families who have previously used food pantries to help with food insecurity,” says Quattrucci, “but have seen many for whom this is a first-ever experience due to job loss or non-essential business closings.”

The greatest challenge for local pantries has been the operational changes forced on them by the new social distancing safety rules.

“We had to change our operating process [from] letting clients come in and select the food they wanted to pre-filling boxes to place in their cars as they drive by,” says Vassalboro’s Cindy Ferland.

Other pantries, like Albion’s Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry, have opted for a “minimal contact” approach by severely limiting how many people can enter the pantry. Manager Russ Hamm says it’s added significantly to the time it takes to serve everyone.

“We’re going to have to take a longer time to supply people with their food needs,” he says. “Rather than doing it in two hours, it looks like it may take three or four.”

Volunteers Lucas Gombojav, left, and Donna Loveland, right, demonstrate how food boxes are delivered to clients while maintaining social distancing at China Food Pantry. (photo by Ann Austin)

Like Vassalboro, the China Community Food Pantry has also shifted to a drive-thru format. The new procedures keep volunteers and clients separated and maintains social distancing, but since food boxes must be prepared in advance, it means more work for volunteers.

And that’s been a challenge, as many of the dedicated volunteers food pantries used to count on are now in high risk categories.

Albion’s Russ Hamm says, “I normally have a team of six women, and four or five men to carry the bags and boxes [of food] under normal circumstances.” Now, though, he’s down to just four people – and that includes himself.

Vassalboro’s Cindy Ferland relates a similar experience: “The pantry has many elderly volunteers that are much more vulnerable and understandably have decided to stay away from the pantry,” she says. “Fortunately, we have a few VCS teachers that have some time and are willing to step in and help our operation weekly.” She adds, “Our challenge is finding volunteers to go to stores to shop for the pantry, given the restricted access and limited products available in stores.”

Volunteer Cathy Bourque fills food boxes at the China Community Food Pantry. (photo by Ann Austin)

China’s food pantry has been faced with a similar challenge. To comply with the new restrictions, they have focused on grouping volunteers in family units. “We have a husband and wife team that drives the van to pick up food,” says Ann Austin, pantry director, “and two boys from a local family do most of the heavy lifting.”

Once social distancing restrictions are lifted, pantries look forward to beefing up their volunteer base again. “When we eventually return to a ‘normal’ routine,” says Anna Quattrucci, of Winslow’s Com­munity Cupboard, “we will expand our volunteer team, as many have asked to be part of the work.”

Even with longer hours and fewer volunteers, most pantries do not report feeling overwhelmed – yet. However, this could change if the current crisis stretches from weeks into months.

“Overall the pantry is seeing a slight decrease in people coming in,” says Vassalboro Food Station manager Cindy Ferland. “The mix [of people] has changed, with new people that are self-employed and out of work coming in as they are not yet eligible for unemployment relief benefits. There has been a decrease in clients that receive SNAP benefits. The combination of dramatically increased SNAP benefits and the federal economic relief payments apparently has lessened their need for supplemental food.”

Russ Hamm, director of Albion’s Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry, agrees. “As far as the amount of people — that has fluctuated remarkably, in the sense that we’re not seeing quite as many people as we normally would, and I have a suspicion that everybody got their stimulus check. I think that has made a little bit of difference.”

All of this is good news, and it’s the result of the amazing generosity shown by local communities in this time of crisis and the dedicated work of pantry volunteers. However, if current economic conditions continue in the downward direction of recent weeks, local food pantries could be facing a rough road ahead, and continued support of these important resources will be essential.

To see a list of local community food pantries, their hours of operation and contact information, please visit this page.

Eric W. Austin writes about local community issues and can be reached at ericaustin@townline.org.

ALBION: Trash, recyclables should be placed at curbside for weekly pick up

Albion town office. (photo source: Town of Albion Facebook page)

Compiled by Roland Hallee

Jerry Sullivan, owner of Sullivan’s Solid Waste, had been scheduled to give a presentation on trash and recyclables at the February 10 Albion Selectmen’s meeting, but was unable to attend due to illness. However, in a telephone conversation with his son, Jared Sullivan, he informed the board of selectmen that all trash, including recyclables, should now be put in the roadside trash for weekly pick up. The new Coastal Resources facility, in Hampden, now sorts recyclables once the trash reaches them. The last recycle pick up in Albion occurred on March 14.

Albion Fire Chief Andy Clark reported that he has applied for several grants for items needed by the fire department, including a new tank truck and fire hose. When the department receives these grants, said Croft, “it is a great financial benefit to the town and helps to keep taxes down.”

The board also dealt with the following:

  • The selectmen voted to contract with Technology Solutions of Maine, at a cost of $3,500 per year, for IT services for the town office.
  • They set the date for this year’s Albion Clean-up Day for Saturday, May 16. The collection place will be at Lee Brothers lot, at 93 Unity Road, again this year.
  • The selectmen set the budget request meeting for February 11.
  • They moved to pay Codes Enforcement Officer Brian Croft’s mileage in the coming fiscal year.

At their February 24 meeting, selectmen signed the warrants for Albion’s annual town meeting scheduled to be held on March 20-21. Elections will be held on Fri., March 20, 2 – 7 p.m., and the town meeting is set for Saturday, March 21, at 10 a.m. Both will be held at the Besse Building, Drake Room.

Road Commissioner Matt Lee noted he has posted weight limit signs on the roads in Albion, and that he is doing some road patching as needed. Also discussed was road work needed in the coming year.

Selectmen Beverly Bradstreet and Kevin Bradstreet were in attendance at both meetings.

LETTERS: To prevent false rumors

Dr. David Austin

To the editor:

I want to thank all my patients at Lovejoy Health Center who made my return to work there so rewarding. I worked at Lovejoy from 1993 to 2010, and returned last July, happy to reconnect with many of you. As some of you probably know, I am no longer working at the health center. The reasons are not for discussion here, but I do want to mention something which is not a reason, to prevent any false rumors. As many of you know, and as I am happy to share with anyone, I am a recovering alcoholic, a problem that blossomed in my life after my first tenure at Lovejoy. My recovery continues one sweet day at a time without interruption.

I have deeply enjoyed sharing my life and medical skills with you, my patients. You are the reason I followed this calling in the first place. Be well, prosper, and may God bless.

Sincerely,
Dr. David Austin