Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Augusta fires, fire departments, Part 3

Augusta Great Fire of 1865.

by Mary Grow

Your writer hopes her readers are not tired of fires and firefighting, because there will be one more article on the theme after this one. As usual, the topic has expanded because of more information than expected from easily available sources.

One invaluable source is the University of Maine’s on-line DigitalCommons collection. It includes various City of Augusta reports for many years.

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After the April 12, 1861, southern attack on Fort Sumter started the Civil War, James North’s Augusta history focused on the local contribution to and effects of the war. He did not neglect other events, however, including fires and firefighting. Early on, he combined the two topics, describing the patriotic parade on Thursday, April 18, 1861, that was led by the Augusta Band, with the Pacific Fire Engine Company next in line.

The first fire North mentioned during the Civil War years was the February 1862 destruction of the Phenix Block on Water Street. Daniel Williams built these three connected three-story stores in 1839; North called them “superior in finish to any yet erected.”

The initial tenants included the post office, with Reuel Williams’ law office above it (Daniel and Reuel Williams were brothers; the family was prominent in Augusta’s history); a shoe store; and H. A. Kittredge’s store selling “West India goods and groceries.” The printing shop for The Age newspaper had the whole third floor.

By February 1862, a hardware store had replaced the grocery; the shoe shop had a different owner; and in the basement below the post office were the press rooms for both The Age and the Kennebec Journal, with The Age print shop still filling the top floor.

On the cold Saturday evening of Feb. 22, a fire started in the shoe store, under the stairs. A fire engine responded, hose was run up the stairs and the fire “nearly extinguished” – when the water stopped running.

The problem was a broken joint (in the hose, or on the engine? North did not specify). While it was being replaced, the fire flared up; but renewed water quickly had it “nearly extinguished” – when the water stopped running again.

This time, the hose had been cut. North wrote that the suspects were “some unruly soldiers of the Fifteenth Regiment,” but nothing was proved.

While the hose was being repaired (and placed under guard), a valve on the fire engine froze. By the time the valve was thawed with hot water, the fire was out of control. Residents who had gone home after responding to the initial alarm were called back, and Hallowell sent two additional engines. No other buildings were affected, but the Phenix Block was gone.

Another major fire began Monday evening, March 31, 1862. Starting in a wharf storehouse, it spread to a second storehouse and then inland to burn down four wooden buildings on the river side of Water Street. North identified them as a store, a carpenter’s shop, Pumpkin Tavern (“a dwelling occupied by a number of families”) and the pre-1800 building known as the Titcomb house, after an early settler named Samuel Titcomb.

North commented that the burned buildings were “of little value,” and losing them was a step toward widening Water Street, accomplished in 1867. (The remaining east-side wooden buildings were moved back.)

A third major fire in 1862 started in the Kennebec Hotel’s stable about 10 p.m. Monday, Oct. 13. Flammable hay spread the fire through the stable and to the hotel; both buildings, two adjoining stores and a brick house were destroyed and a brick store damaged. Two horses were lost.

Augusta firefighters got help from Hallowell’s Torrent engine, which arrived about 11:30 “and did good service.” Residents salvaged hotel furnishings. This third substantial fire within a year led “thoughtful men” to recommend city officials buy a steam fire engine, North said.

The next fire North noted was the burning of the South Parish Congregational Church, which he called the South Parish meeting-house, the night of Monday, July 11, 1864. The church, dedicated on Sept. 20, 1809, was a large, two-story building with a steeple that was 125 feet tall, counting the weathervane.

During a bad thunderstorm, lightning struck the steeple and set the building alight “instantaneously, from top to bottom.” It burned completely in an hour; “only the curtains behind the pulpit, the communion service and bible with a few cushions were saved.”

North wrote that the steeple had always had a protective lightning rod. This time, he said, the “volume of the electric fluid was too great for the rod to carry, and it passed into the building.”

He emphasized the sense of loss, using phrases like “time-honored edifice,” “hallowed associations” and “landmark.” And, he wrote, parishioners met the next evening and decided to rebuild. The cornerstone of a new church, built of granite, was laid on May 26, 1865, and the church “was dedicated Thursday evening, July 5, 1866.”

Another fire in 1864 burned down the Portland and Kennebec Railroad’s depot on Christmas Eve. A strong north wind spread the fire quickly from the northeast corner throughout the building, but snow on the ground and on nearby roofs protected the neighborhood.

Lost were a freight train headed for Skowhegan, stopped by snow-covered tracks, and “the dummy engine and car, and six passenger cars.”

Augusta Cushnoc Hose Company.

On Aug. 24, 1865, North reported a celebration in honor of Augusta’s new steam fire engine Cushnoc. It had its first test in the great downtown fire that was reported about 5 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 17, 1865 (and was described in the Feb. 4, 2021, issue of The Town Line).

North wrote that the Cushnoc was placed on a wharf right behind the new block of wooden buildings on Water Street, where the fire started, “in full confidence that, with its powerful aid, the fire would be easily subdued.”

The combination of wooden buildings, wooden sidewalks and a “hot and dry” southeast wind was too much. The Cushnoc was almost lost as the wooden wharf and the lumber piled on it caught fire. Eri Wills, the chief engineer, saved it by cutting the hose and turning the engine’s water on itself.

Another engine on another wharf contained the fire headed south for Winthrop Street. With Augusta’s Pacific, Hallowell’s Tiger, the “United States Arsenal steamer,” the rescued Cushnoc and, North wrote, Wills’ ingenuity, firefighters finally controlled the fire.

What Wills did, North said, was remember a particularly strong wall that might be a firebreak. To protect it, he broke through an attic roof so that a hose could be run from the Cushnoc 60 feet up to drench the fire from above. North gave a dramatic description, apparently as an observer, of the men’s danger, as buildings collapsed around them and the street side of the one they were standing on repeatedly caught fire.

By 11 a.m. the worst seemed over. Around noon “a train despatched for assistance” brought two Gardiner fire engines and one from Pittston, which helped finish the job. North’s history includes a list and map of 81 buildings lost; damage amounted to $500,000. There is no record that any lives were lost.

(A Sept. 14, 2015, Kennebec Journal article announcing the observance of the 150th anniversary of the Great Fire reported that Augusta’s Atlantic and Pacific and Hallowell’s Tiger would be on display. Reporter Craig Crosby wrote that Hallowell still owned the Tiger, the Town of Oakland owned the Atlantic, and the Pacific was privately owned.)

The next major fire North described cost one life. It was at what was in 1868 the Eastern Branch of the National Military Asylum, precursor of today’s Togus VA Medical Center, in Chelsea, about four miles east of Augusta.

The asylum opened in the fall of 1866 on property that included a mineral spring (supposed to promote health) and a hotel and associated buildings. North wrote that the military added a 5,000-square-foot brick hospital.

On Sunday, Jan. 7, 1868, a cold, windy night, a fire that started about 9:30 p.m. in the heating system burned most of the old buildings. The 270 inmates were forced “into the open air of a severe winter’s night”; those too sick to move “were brought out on mattresses and laid, for want of shelter, upon the snow.”

To add to the disaster, North wrote, “the soldiers” – presumably he meant men responsible for the patients – broached a barrel of medicinal whiskey and got drunk. “Disgusting scenes of disorder and violence ensued.”

Augusta firefighters and ordinary citizens brought the patients to safety, the sick in private homes and the rest in municipal buildings. One man, “weak from disease, and suffering from exposure,” did not survive.

North wrote that the fire consumed almost everyone’s personal belongings. The new hospital was damaged; the steam fire engine named General Butler saved it from destruction.

In the aftermath, some patients were transferred to other branch asylums and some accommodated in surviving buildings. After hesitation, the “board of managers” decided to rebuild more appropriately. North wrote that in the spring of 1868, “four large brick buildings were commenced, each one hundred feet long by fifty feet wide [the dimensions of the brick hospital], placed in the form of a square with a courtyard in the center.”

Fire department expenses

The report of Augusta’s 1858 Committee of Finance for the fiscal year that ended March 19, 1859 (a DigitalCommons document), said that Eri Wills was the “chief engineer” (apparently the equivalent of a modern fire chief) in 1858 and was paid $50. The annual appropriation for the fire department was $700; almost $800 was “undrawn” from the prior year.

The committee listed the value of Augusta’s fire apparatus as follows: Atlantic and Pacific fire engines, $2,000 plus $1,500 for “Engine house and lot”; the Deluge engine “and apparatus,” $400 plus $50 for its engine house; and another $50 worth of “[h]ooks, ladders and carriages.”

In 1865, according to the March 17, 1866, end of fiscal year report of the finance committee and the treasurer, Augusta appropriated $8,000 for the fire department. Wills was still paid $50; he had two assistant engineers, paid $25 apiece.

Expenses totaled $10,731.64, including $4,325 for the “new Steam Fire Engine,” $2,700 for 1,500 feet of new hose and $1,457.36 for “sundry bills on account of new Engine House.” Firefighters balanced the budget by selling the Deluge engine for $66, charging (other towns, presumably) $16.50 for “use of Steamer” and taking more than $1,300 for their contingency account.

China man arrested for Augusta fires

A China resident named George W. Jones was arrested, tried and convicted for setting Augusta’s 1865 Great Fire, and was in the state prison when North finished his history in 1870.

As North tells it, Jones had a lobster business in Portland and sold lobsters from a “cart” in Augusta. Over the summer, soldiers had taken lobsters without paying. City police had not responded to Jones’ satisfaction and he had “threatened vengeance upon the city.”

Saturday night Jones was in China, and a barn “belonging to a person he had an antipathy against” burned. Sunday morning he walked to Augusta, arriving before 4 a.m., and stayed during the fire. Monday he took the train to Portland. Tuesday as he sold lobsters there his cart was “run against and damaged” and the offender refused to pay.

That night a woman saw a man setting fire to shavings outside the offender’s house. She called in an alarm, the fire was put out and examination showed the knife that made the shavings had “two gaps in the blade.” Jones was arrested in a neighboring town; the knife in his pocket had matching gaps in its blade.

Main sources

North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Augusta fires & fire departments – Part 2

The Hydraulion suction fire engines, produced by Sellers & Pennock, of Philadelphia, in 1822. With the introduction of suctions, the general efficiency of the engines was greatly increased.

by Mary Grow

Another fire Augusta historian James North described was the one that destroyed Augusta’s bridge across the Kennebec River the night of April 2, 1827. (See the July 28, 2022, issue of The Town Line.) It was spotted a little after 11 p.m. and spread so fast that the “citizens [who] rushed to the scene of conflagration with fire engine and buckets” could do nothing. The building still called the Craig store (see last week’s article) at the northwest end of the bridge was destroyed and other buildings damaged.

Hallowell firefighters responded “with two engines, one of them ‘a new hydraulion, with suction hose’ [apparently a quotation from the April 7, 1827, Kennebec Journal].” But, North wrote, the roads were so bad that they were too late to be much help.

(Wikipedia explains that the earliest engines were the hand tubs, with water dumped by a bucket brigade into a cistern and pumped out. In 1822 a Philadelphia fire engine maker invented a machine, named the Hydraulion, that could suck water from a source, eliminating the hand-filling.)

Henry Kingsbury, in his Kennebec County history, wrote that an early step toward changing Augusta from a town to a city (accomplished in 1849) was the Maine legislature’s March 1835 authorization for the Augusta village corporation “to raise money to maintain a fire department.” The corporation governed an area a mile wide on each side of the Kennebec from the Hallowell line north (presumably to the Vassalboro line).

The first “board of officers” included seven fire wardens. Kingsbury included a long list of men who made up the “engine company” appointed by the selectmen in January 1836.

The early 1850s saw numerous fires in Augusta. Early in his record of the year 1850, North mentioned, without much detail, the “disastrous conflagration at the dam,” which destroyed half a dozen sawmills, a flouring mill and other businesses and damaged the dam itself.

Another fire burned a row of wooden stores on March 9, 1850. Starting about 10 p.m. in a tailor’s shop, it burned out another tailor, a barbershop, a confectionery, a grocery and an unspecified “store.” To limit the fire’s spread, one adjoining building was “pulled down” and two others “damaged by an attempt to pull them down.”

Five fire engines fought this fire, two “old fashioned” Augusta ones, two from Hallowell and “Uncle Sam” from the Kennebec Arsenal, brought across the Kennebec on the ice by First Lieutenant R. A. Wainwright (see box two).

On Wednesday, Dec. 4, 1850, a disastrous fire burned part of Augusta’s insane asylum (opened in October 1840) and killed 28 people. North gave a dramatic (and unsourced) description.

The asylum consisted of a main building, a north wing, an old three-story south wing and a new south wing, according to North. The fire started in the old south wing and destroyed or damaged both south wings and the main building. The north wing, where the women were housed, escaped, and the women were unhurt.

By North’s account, an attendant in the old south wing, then housing 42 male patients, spotted smoke in the hot air flues about 3 a.m. and found a fire in the basement. When he and the doctor on duty couldn’t put it out with buckets of water, they began rescuing patients, who were in danger of suffocating as heavy smoke spread.

Staff first moved patients into the new south wing, though, North wrote, some were too excited or confused to stay there. Ladders were raised to the old wing’s third floor, barred windows broken and frightened patients evacuated. Then the new wing, too, filled with smoke and flames; 27 patients and one attendant died, and others were hurt.

The first fire engine on the scene was “Uncle Sam” from the nearby Arsenal. Augusta’s engine was out of order. Hallowell sent its “Tiger” and “Lion.”

“Uncle Sam” quickly emptied a cistern in the new south wing and the well outside, and the fire blocked access to another cistern. The remaining water source was the Kennebec River, 1,500 feet away and 70 feet below the burning building.

Quick-thinking firefighters parked the “Tiger” on the river bank with 700 feet of hose running uphill to the “Lion.” From the “Lion,” another 600 feet connected to “Uncle Sam.” From “Uncle Sam,” water could reach the top of the building: “the flames were checked, and the north wing and a part of the main building were saved.”

A Dec. 5 inquest found that the fire was caused by an incorrectly reconstructed heating system (dating from the summer of 1849), which put a hot furnace pipe too close to wooden timbers.

The trustees arranged temporary quarters for the patients and repairs to the building; the north wing was open again by the end of December, North wrote. The whole complex was rebuilt, with improvements, by late November 1852.

Yet another fire that North described as “more destructive than any that had occurred before” was spotted about 2 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 3, 1853, in the basement of a spool factory at the west end of a dam across the Kennebec. It destroyed most of the mills rebuilt after the 1850 fire – six sawmills, a flouring mill, and others – plus “a large dwelling-house.”

Augusta’s “Atlantic” and “Pacific” fire engines fought the fire from the nearby bridge until the heat drove them off. The “Pacific” ended up on the south end of the fire, joined by the Arsenal’s “Uncle Sam” and the “Deluge” (whose home town North did not name); they saved several buildings. On the north end, the “Atlantic” extinguished repeated fires on the roof of the Williams sawmill.

North described the building in which the fire started – and which was leveled – as a three-story wooden structure 160-by-60-feet, divided into a dozen “tenements” (apparently shops and businesses, not dwellings). The total loss he put at $75,000, mostly uninsured; 200 men lost their jobs, and most lost their tools as well.

Again, rebuilding was fast, partly because the Williams sawmill was still operating. North said a new machine shop was finished in December, this time with a stone foundation and “brick partitions dividing the tenements passing from the foundation through the roof.” Replacement sawmills went up the next summer.

Inmate blamed for jail fire

When the Kennebec County jail burned on March 16, 1808 (see last week’s issue), one of the inmates was a man named Henry McCausland. His story is told in James North’s 1870 history of Augusta and in Charles Nash’s footnotes to the excerpts from Martha Ballard’s diary included in his 1904 Augusta history.

North wrote that McCausland was the youngest son of another Henry McCausland, who came to the Kennebec Valley in 1760. The younger Henry was born in 1759, “served three years in the army, during the revolution; married in 1783, and had five children.”

“In 1793,” North continued, “he became insane on religious subjects, and imagined that his sins could only be pardoned by a burnt offering and human sacrifice, which he fancied the Lord had directed him to make.”

Nash wrote that the designated “burnt offering” was the then-unfinished Episcopal Church, in Gardiner, and the “human sacrifice” its pastor, Rev. Joseph Warren.

On Aug. 22, 1793, McCausland “filled a child’s shoe with live coals from his own fire-place” and carried the shoe to Gardiner. After leaving the coals in heaped shavings hidden under a door, “he took the pulpit Bible and carefully carried it into the woods and laid it tenderly on a stump.” The church was destroyed.

McCausland couldn’t find Rev. Warren, so he decided anyone named Warren would do. On Oct. 18, 1794, he found his victim: Mrs. Pelatiah (Abigail Tibbetts) Warren came home to be with her sick mother. McCausland came into the sickroom, talked for a bit with the two women and suddenly grabbed a butcher knife and killed Abigail.

Soon after, Nash said, McCausland “appeared voluntarily at a public meeting” and confessed. Arrested and brought to court, he insisted on pleading guilty to murder, claiming he was telling the truth.

North wrote that because he was insane, McCausland was not formally sentenced, but stayed in jail for 36 years. He attempted at least one more sacrifice; North wrote that he became friends with the nine-year-old daughter of a jailer, until without warning he almost killed her.

A big man with a “grave and thoughtful manner” and a long white beard, McCausland became a public attraction; “he was visited by thousands, from whom he collected a small fee” for describing his crimes.

During the 1808 fire, North wrote, McCausland not only “made no attempt to escape, but assisted in preventing the escape of others.”

McCausland got a pension as a Revolutionary veteran; county officials kept part of it to pay for his room and board. North wrote that in his old age he learned to read from a jailer’s family and “became a diligent reader of the Bible.” He died Aug. 24, 1829, aged 70, and was buried in Gardiner.

Kennebec Arsenal commander Robert Moncrief Auchmuty Wainwright

Kennebec Arsenal commander Robert Moncrief Auchmuty Wainwright was born in Newport, Rhode Island, on June 19, 1815, the oldest of eight children of Robert Dewar Wainwright and Maria Montresor Auchmuty (1789-1861), according to an online site.

(The Find a Grave site says Robert Dewar Wainwright, born June 14, 1781, in Charleston, South Carolina, was a colonel in the U. S. Marines; took as his first wife Juliana B. Scott, daughter of Gustavus Scott of Maryland; was married to Maria Auchmuty when he died; and is buried in the Congressional Cemetery, in Washington, D.C. However, this site says he died Oct. 5, 1811, and shows an inscribed gravestone to prove it.

(Another source says Colonel Robert D. Wainwright died in the fall of 1841, and cites as evidence an article on consequent Marine Corps promotions, effective Oct. 6, 1841, from the Oct. 16, 1841, issue of the New-York tribune.)

An online military history site says Robert Moncrief Auchmuty Wainwright graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (opened in 1802) in the Class of 1835 and joined the Army as a brevet second lieutenant. He served in multiple posts, mostly at arsenals, including the Kennebec Arsenal from 1842 to 1847 and from 1848 to 1851, with service in Mexico intervening.

(Wikipedia explains that brevet means a higher title given “as a reward for gallantry or meritorious conduct but [which] may not confer the authority, precedence, or pay of real rank.”)

North wrote that Wainwright was commander at the Kennebec Arsenal from May 1841 until December 1846. He served in the Mexican War until December 1848, when he again took charge of the Arsenal until Sept. 5, 1851.

Either set of dates matches online information that Wainwright married Ann Eliza Child (1825-1897) on Aug. 6, 1843, in Augusta. The couple had at least one son, another Robert Dewar Wainwright (1849-1920), and one daughter, Isabella Montresor Wainwright (1850-1871).

Wainwright was Chief of Ordnance in the Department of New Mexico when the Civil War broke out in the spring of 1861. He was promoted to major early in the war and ended as a brevet colonel. Service included “arming the fortifications at New York harbor” from August 1861 to October 1862 and commanding the New York Ordnance Depot through the end of March 1864.

After the war, Wainwright commanded Benicia Arsenal, in California, until Dec. 2, 1866; he died there Dec. 22, 1866, and is buried in the Congressional Cemetery.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Scouts fill kayak for Feed-A-Neighbor program

From left to right, Arrow of light Lizzy Blais, Arrow of Light Willow Mudie, youngest brother future scout Sullivan Mudie, and cleverly holding the door Bear Cub Scout Scarlett Mudie stand in front of a kayak they filled with contributions from friends and neighbors at the Western Avenue Shaw’s, in Augusta. The photo was taken at the start of the collection effort but the Cubs were able to fill the kayak and also received monetary donations to help those in need. (photo by Chuck Mahaleris)

by Chuck Mahaleris

Scouts from Augusta Cub Scout Pack 603 took part in their annual “Scouting for Food” Drive with a twist. This year they sought to collect enough canned and other non-perishable foods for the Feed-A-Neighbor program. Shaw’s Supermarket, in Augusta, hosted the event on Saturday, October 15, and shoppers were eager to generously help those in need during these difficult times. Scout leader Jeffrey Morton said, “After filling the kayak, it was a pleasure to present the Augusta Food Bank’s Executive Director, Bob Moore, with a check for $155 and the food contributions to continue Augusta’s effort to feed our hungry. In Scouting, we teach each Cub that they have a responsibility to “Help Other People at All Times” and to “Do a Good Turn Daily.” These aren’t just words they recite. It is how they live their lives.”

PHOTO: Local radio personalities get up close at concert

From left, Randy McCoy and Rebecca Pushard, of the radio morning show “McCoy & Co.” True Country 93.5, had a back stage visit with headliner Trace Adkins, at a concert on Saturday, October 8, at the Augusta Civic Center. (photo by Missy Brown, Central Maine Photography)

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Augusta fires & fire departments – Part 1

The 9-ton steam powered fire engine was a revolution in its day, they were built by the Amoskeag Steam Fire Engine Company, of New Hampshire, late 18th century, and cost $7,000.

by Mary Grow

A consequence of building buildings, like those described in Augusta’s downtown historic district (see the February 2021 issues of The Town Line) and the ones described recently in Waterville’s downtown historic district (see the August and September 2022 issues, ignoring the two irrelevant articles) is that they catch fire.

The next three articles in this series will talk about fires and the development of fire-fighting in Augusta. See also the issue of Aug. 27, 2020, where fires in China, Fairfield and Palermo were described; and the issue of Feb. 4, 2021, for Augusta’s great fire of September 1865.

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James North’s year by year history of Augusta, published in 1870, records several fires before the 1865 disaster. The first he knew of was in 1785 (when Augusta was still the northern part of Hallowell): “Elias Craig’s Hatter’s shop” burned on Dec. 1.

Craig (Sept. 27, 1756 – May 6, 1837) had been an army private during the Revolution; he was 23 years old when he moved from Massachusetts to Fort Western in 1779. North called him “the first hatter in this region of country.”

His house and shop were on the west side of the Kennebec at the intersection of Bridge and Water streets. Charles Nash, in his 1904 history of Augusta, listed the places Hallowell town meetings were held between 1771 and 1792. The majority were at Fort Western in 1771 and 1772 and in the town meeting house after 1783; in between, voters assembled in three different inns, a barn and several houses, including in 1782 three times in Elias Craig’s house.

The house was of so little value that the assessors did not count it in 1784, North wrote. Indeed, he said, they counted only 38 “dwelling houses” for a population of 682 white people and 10 black people. Realizing the disparity, they explained that many families still lived in the “log cabins or camps which they first built,” which weren’t worth listing as taxable.

The 1784 assessors’ report listed 21 varied commercial holdings. Craig’s was one of five shops, and his stock in trade was valued at 50 pounds.

Craig rebuilt the shop after the fire, and enlarged the house at intervals. When that corner was rebuilt as a commercial block, the house was moved to Jefferson Street.

North wrote that Craig “possessed the confidence of the settlers, many of whom were welcomed to his house upon their arrival” before they moved to their new homes.

In 1792 one of his house guests was James Johnson. On May 31, he and his brother Samuel were firing celebratory cannons “probably on account of some recent news from France,” and one cannon exploded, injuring the two men. They were brought to Craig’s house, where midwife Martha Ballard attended to them. Apparently both survived.

Craig’s first wife was Hannah McKecknie (Sept. 28, 1766 – April 12, 1790), daughter of an early settler, Dr. John McKecknie. They were married in December 1788, and had a daughter, also named Hannah. On November 28, 1793, Craig married again, to Olive Hamlin or Hamlen (Nov. 2, 1770 – Sept. 25, 1848); they had three or four children.

Craig was a selectman in Hallowell, first elected in March 1795. He was among the 161 residents petitioning the Massachusetts legislature to create the separate town of Augusta in May 1791. The request was approved in February 1797, and a town named Harrington was organized; in June of the year, its name became Augusta.

Criag was elected selectman again at the first meeting in Harrington, in April 1797, and later was an Augusta selectman. North wrote that he served a total of seven years in the three successive towns. In 1806 he was the local coroner, according to Nash’s history. He moved to Fayette before his death on May 6 or May 7, 1837.

Leathern fire bucket.

North recorded the earliest fire department in the central Kennebec Valley, a “private fire company” formed in the 1790s in Augusta (then still Hallowell). The “principal citizens” who started the company wrote a charter requiring each to have on hand “two leathern fire buckets, and a canvas bag for the removal of goods at fire.” An on-line fire department history says insurance companies formed such associations to protect their members’ property.

The buckets, North explained, had been in use in the American colonies since the 1600s. They were oblong with leather handles, “very durable and convenient to pass water.” Association members put their names on their buckets.

On March 11, 1799, North wrote, two years after Augusta separated from Hallowell, town meeting voters appointed six fire wardens (Elias Craig was one of them). Later in the year town officials bought a fire engine and appointed firefighters (North said 13, Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history names 12, the online site names 14). The firefighters were called “engine men”; they were instructed to create an organization and make regulations “not repugnant to the constitution of the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts]).”

North did not mention the firefighters when he reported briefly on the Feb. 11, 1804, fire that burned a building whose tenants included Peter Edes’ printing office, where the Kennebec Gazette was published (the paper resumed publication March 23).

Nor did he describe any suppression efforts when the Hallowell Academy building burned on Jan. 29, 1805. Opened in 1795, it was in the area that remained Hallowell after the 1797 division. (See the Sept. 16, 2021, issue of The Town Line for more information on the two Hallowell academies.)

More than once North credited Hallowell with helping put out Augusta fires. He wrote that on Jan. 8, 1808, an old and a new blacksmith shop on Water Street burned down, and Nathan Weston’s old building beside them was “pulled down to prevent the flames from spreading.”

He continued, “The Hallowell engine arrived early and afforded great assistance in subduing the fire.” Total damage was $900; residents contributed $600 “to the relief of the sufferers.”

Hallowell came to the rescue again during a more serious incident a little more than three months later. The spring of 1808 was the period of the uprising of squatters against local government sometimes called the Malta War (Malta was an early name for Windsor, Maine). Public officials were attacked, and there was concern that public buildings, like the Kennebec County jail in Augusta, would be next.

A chaotic scene in early America when a house caught on fire. Bucket brigades were usually the main method of fighting fires. The whole community would pitch in, or risk the spread of fire.

Around sunset on March 16, 1808, North wrote, “a sudden alarm was given that the jail was on fire. The fire was discovered in the upper story. It rapidly spread, enveloping the building.”

The jailhouse was destroyed. The prisoners were evacuated, and North recorded that because of the unstable times, the jailer had already moved out essential records.

North wrote and quoted (probably from the March 18, 1808, issue of the Kennebec Gazette): “The citizens of Hallowell attended in great numbers ‘with both their engines,’ and were entitled to ‘much credit’ for their ‘prompt and spirited exertions.'”

The same evening, incendiary devices started a fire upstairs in the courthouse, but it was noticed in time to be put out before there was much damage. At 10 p.m., two local judges asked Major-General Henry Sewall to call out the militia, and Sewall immediately ordered the Augusta Light Infantry to guard the courthouse and the prisoners’ temporary accommodation.

Later, it was determined that the jailhouse fire was started by one of the prisoners, a tavern-keeper named Edward Jones, jailed for stealing. The courthouse fire probably was set by some of the rebellious settlers; North gave no names.

Jones, according to the Oct. 21, 1808, Kennebec Gazette (cited by North), was sent to the state prison to serve two months in solitary followed by nine years’ hard labor for arson. He was also convicted of stealing; that sentence (whether concurrent, North did not say) was 15 days’ solitary confinement and a year at hard labor.

And what, readers may wonder, did Kennebec County do with no jail? The answer is that county officials had a new one built; and North recorded its progress.

Right after the fire, he wrote, the county sheriff had a temporary wooden building put up near the county courthouse, and in April 1808 the Court of Sessions accepted it.

Court officials appointed a local man as superintendent of the interim jail and also charged him with cleaning up the old site, where they directed a new stone jail be built as soon as possible. Meanwhile, they paid good money to keep prisoners guarded in the “insecure” temporary quarters.

The court levied an $8,000 county tax for the new jail. North wrote that Massachusetts legislators cut it to $5,000; and in April 1809, they added back $3,000 to finish paying for the work. The building was in use by December 1808.

North described the new jail as a two-story building with walls of “large blocks of rough hammered stone fastened together with iron dowels.” Each floor had two blocks of cells separated by a central hall.

The ground-floor cells were for “the worst criminals,” and “were lighted and ventilated by openings in the walls six inches wide and two feet long.” The second-floor cells were for debtors and minor criminals; each cell had a grated window.

North wrote that the new jail “was much in advance of the prison accommodations of that day, and was considered a very expensive and secure structure.”

However, by 1857 the county commissioners were ready to replace it. North quoted their justification: the building was “wholly unfit for the purposes for which it was intended and used; more especially on account of the want of sufficient warmth, light, ventilation and cleanliness; it was inhuman, dangerous to life, and detrimental to health and good morals to imprison persons therein.”

The new Kennebec jail was built close to the courthouse and the old jail, at a cost of about $60,000, with preliminary study beginning in the spring of 1857 and the building ready for a well-attended public inspection on Feb. 1, 1859. A four-story stone and brick building, it had 54 regular cells and eight “privilege rooms.”

The regular cells were eight feet square, except for a dozen tiny ones, three feet 10 inches wide, on the second floor. The privilege rooms, which North also classed as cells, were eight feet by 19 feet.

The building evidently accommodated jail staff, as North listed eight “sleeping rooms,” a kitchen, eating and bathing rooms and “a parlor, sitting-room and office.”

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870)

Websites, miscellaneous.

Upcoming Red Cross blood drives in Kennebec County

The American Red Cross urges blood donors of all types and those who have never given before to book a time to give blood or platelets now and help keep the blood supply from dropping ahead of the holidays.

People of all blood types are needed, especially platelet donors and those with type O blood – blood products that are critical to keeping hospitals ready to help patients depending on transfusions in the weeks ahead.

Book now by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). As a thank-you for taking the time to give this fall, all who come to give Nov.1-22 will receive a $10 e-gift card by email to a merchant of choice. Details are available at rcblood.org/perks.

Upcoming blood donation opportunities Nov. 1-15:

Kennebec County:


Monday, November 14, 2022: 12:30 – 6 p.m., Augusta Elks, 397 Civic Center Drive, P.O. Box 2206.
Friday, November 4/2022: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., MaineGeneral Health, 35 Medical Center Parkway.


Saturday, November 5, 2022: 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., Faith Christian Church, 280 Brunswick Ave.


Friday, November 4, 2022: 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., O’Brien’s Event Center, 375 Main St.


Thursday, November 3, 2022: 1 – 6 p.m., Saint Francis Church, 130 Route 133.

EVENTS: Winthrop scouts to hold holiday craft fair

Winthrop Boy Scout Troop #604 is hosting a Holiday Craft Fair, on Saturday, November 26, from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., at the Augusta Armory to raise money for awards, membership and activities while at the same time helping out a good cause. “We are a small troop with a big heart,” said Scoutmaster Samantha Doody-Remingont. “Please come support and join us for your holiday shopping. Stop by the food table for a drink, something to eat and to say hello.”

This is also a good time to join scouting. Kennebec Valley District Executive Michael Perry will be on hand to help with new registrations into Cub Scouting and Scouts BSA.

For questions, contact Samantha at sldremington@gmail.com.

EVENTS – Lithgow Library event: Singer/songwriter Karen Grimshaw

Karen Grimshaw is a singer/songwriter and member of the Hallowell-based band, The Blenders. Inspired by her rural Kansas roots and a childhood spent listening to her parents’ diverse record collection, she crafts songs that blend folk, blues and country into intimate stories about love and life. Whether she is singing her own songs or songs that you already know and love, Karen delivers them with a pure and melodic voice that connects to the heart. She will perform on Tuesday, November 1, from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. As with all of Lithgow’s events, this event is free and open to the public. Lithgow Library is located at 45 Winthrop Street in Augusta. For more information, please call the library at (207) 626-2415 or visit our website at www.lithgowlibrary.org.

Race in to give blood or platelets this fall

Now that fall is upon us, the American Red Cross is asking the public to start the season off with a lifesaving blood or platelet donation. While the leaves turn, the need for blood never changes. Those who give this fall play an important role in keeping the blood supply on track for patients counting on blood products for care – especially ahead of the busy holiday season. Book a time to give blood or platelets by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Upcoming blood donation opportunities:

Kennebec County:

Augusta, October 10, 12:30 p.m. – 6 p.m., Augusta Elks, 397 Civic Center Drive, P.O. Box 2206;

October 7, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., MaineGeneral Health, 35 Medical Center Parkway;

Belgrade: October 1, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., Belgrade Center for All Seasons, 1 Center Drive.

Gardiner, October 15, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., Knights of Columbus, 109 Spring Street.

Waterville, October 7, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., Waterville Elks, 76 Industrial Street.

Simply download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enable the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device to make an appointment or for more information. All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients. A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in.

EVENTS: Blessing of the Animals events scheduled

St. Augustine Church/St. Michael School, in Augusta (photo by Eric Austin)

In celebration of the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, known for his love of all of God’s creatures, over 20 churches around Maine will hold Blessing of the Animals prayer services. Animal lovers are invited to bring their pets to have them blessed and gently sprinkled with holy water. The services are a way of thanking God for the pets that bring joy to so many. People of all faiths are welcome! Here are the Blessing of the Animals ceremonies listed by date and location:

Sunday, October 2

St. Michael School (parking lot)
56 Sewall Street
1 p.m.

St. John the Baptist Grotto
26 Monument Street
1 p.m.