LETTERS: AARP wants to hear from you

To the editor:

Do you ever get the feeling that no one’s really listening to you? Well, that’s about to change.

As we move into this new year of 2023, AARP Maine wants to hear what you have to say about things like housing, heating and health. These, and a host of other issues and ideas, which are of import to all Mainers age 50+, are the things which are important to us.

With that in mind, beginning the evening of Monday, February 20th, and continuing for the next six (6) weeks, AARP Maine volunteers and staff will be hosting a Virtual Listening Tour. Conducted over Zoom, our virtual session “stops” range from Maine’s Southern Coast to its Northern Tip. We invite you to visit our website to find when we will be visiting your area, and to register to participate.

As we collectively engage in clarifying the questions and concerns we face, and crafting creative solutions on behalf of ourselves and those we care about, we want to add your voice; and to do that we must first hear and listen to what you have to say.

Come join us; let’s talk, let’s listen.

Carl M. Toney, P.A.
Executive Council Volunteer
AARP Maine

KVYSO a hidden gem in central Maine

Daniel Keller, who is co-conductor of the Mid-Maine Youth Orchestra and on staff at the Southern Maine String Camp conducts the orchestra rehearsal. (photo courtesy of Stephanie Taylor)

by Eric W. Austin

“I think of it as a hidden gem in central Maine,” says board president Stephanie Taylor, about the Kennebec Valley Youth Symphony Orchestras (KVYSO), an independent nonprofit formed in 2018 as an outgrowth of the Pineland Suzuki School of music, in Manchester. The initiative was an effort to bring the string musicians of the Suzuki School together with local students of wind, brass and percussion instruments for a full orchestral experience.

Stephanie Taylor

Taylor, a professor of Computer Science, at Colby College, in Waterville, and mother to one former and one current student member of the orchestra, serves as both the president of the board and the group’s webmaster.

“I’m the president of the board,” she says, “which basically just means I’m an involved parent.”

The orchestra consists of two ensembles, the Kennebec Valley Youth Orchestra for intermediate students, and the Kennebec Valley Youth Symphony for advanced students. Middle school and high school students are encouraged to audition, with placement determined by skill level. KVYSO is especially looking for percussion, brass, and wind instrumentalists.

The group works hard to avoid conflicts with other activities in which the students may be involved, such as sports or other musical groups. They hold two ten-week seasons each year, culminating with a public concert. Their off-season is January and February, when the Mid-Maine Youth Orchestra is active, so that students can participate in both groups if they wish. Frequently, KVYSO schedules trips such as the one planned for New York City in April.

Tuition for participation in the Intermediate Orchestra is $100 per semester, and $165 per semester for the Advanced Orchestra. Financial aid is also available for parents who wish to apply.

The Kennebec Valley Youth Symphony Orchestras are currently holding auditions for their spring season, and holds rolling auditions throughout the year. Students can schedule an audition appointment by filling out the form on their website and emailing it to Betsy Kobayashi, Education Director, at info@kvyso.org.

The orchestras are conducted by Jinwook Park, the orchestra conductor at Colby College, and Daniel Keller, who is co-conductor of the Mid-Maine Youth Orchestra and on staff at the Southern Maine String Camp. Keller is an inductee of both the Maine Music Education Association Hall of Fame and the National Music Hall of Fame for Music Educators. Of Jinwook Park, Taylor says, “He is incredible musically and the students absolutely love him. He’s a very nice guy that pushes them to do really amazing stuff.”

The Kennebec Valley Youth Orchestra’s next concert is scheduled for Friday, May 5, at 6:30 p.m., with the location to be determined. Watch The Town Line’s Calendar of Events for updates or visit the Schedule and Concert Information page on their website at kvyso.org.

KVCAP: The Importance of a Ride

Staff photo by Joe Phelan, Kennebec Explorer bus routes converge at Haymarket Square in downtown Augusta.

For many of our neighbors in central Maine communities, they no longer have access to a car. Imagine needing to get to a doctor appointment, your important dental visit or to see your Eye Doctor and you have no ride. Thankfully, organizations like KVCAP, with offices in Waterville, Augusta and Skowhegan can help. Our Vans and Volunteer Drivers provide nearly 1000 trips per day.

If you have a clean driving record and would like to build your own schedule, you could volunteer drive for KVCAP. Some drive 5 hours a week, some drive 40 hours. We reimburse you for the use of your car, up to 65 cents a mile and pay you from the time you leave your driveway.

Want to do your part to help others? Call KVCAP at 859-1631 for more information.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Weather events

by Mary Grow

James North and Ruby Crosby Wiggin, quoted last week, were not the only local historians to mention the Year without a Summer. And 1816 was not the only unusually cold spell – though it was the longest spell of (fairly) consistently cold weather – recorded in the central Kennebec Valley since the settlers’ arrival.

The 1995 history of Maine, edited by Richard W. Judd, Edwin A. Churchill and Joel W. Eastman, reminds us that 1816 was also known as “Eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death.” The authors of the chapter on agriculture (James B. Vickery, Judd, and Sheila McDonald) offered it as an example of what they called Maine’s “fickle” climate.

Part of Alma Pierce Robbins’ history of Vassalboro is a summary of major events by year. 1816 she distinguished as “the year of ‘NO SUMMER,'” when “people planted their gardens with their mittens on!” July was the only month in 1816 when it did not snow in Vassalboro, she wrote.

Her account is contradicted by the authors of the Fairfield bicentennial history. Their chapter titled “Disasters” begins with “the year of no summer.” Spring was late, they wrote, with frost in May; but crops were doing well enough until central Maine got six inches of snow on June 6.

“The same thing happened on July 9 and again on August 21,” they wrote. Like other historians, including those cited last week, they wrote that the weather was one reason Maine people moved west.

They added, “The Ohio Hill road is said to be so named because of the many that left from here.” (Fairfield’s Ohio Hill Road is the section of Route 23 that runs from Route 201 a little south of the Goodwill-Hinckley School to Fairfield Center.)

* * * * * *

Other historians described, in more or less detail, other cold days and weeks before and after 1816.

Linwood Lowden quoted an early sample in his Windsor history, a March 17, 1762, letter from an Alna resident named Job Averill to a man in Massachusetts. (Alna is on the Sheepscot River, less than 20 miles downstream from Windsor.)

Averill described “a most terrible winter the snow has been for seven weeks past and is now near four feet deep and no business could be done and people are like to lose all their cattel….” Cattle were dying and people going hungry, he said.

North wrote in his Augusta history that 1780 was another cold winter, when Kennebec Valley residents were already stressed by the hardships of the Revolution. There was “uncommonly deep” snow that lasted into late April and the Kennebec River was frozen down to the coast.

The spring of 1785 saw the latest ice-out recorded up to the time North finished his work in 1870. He dated it by contemporary records of people crossing the river on the ice on April 22 and April 24, the ice moving on April 25 and ice-cakes from up-river still floating past Fort Western on May 1.

January 1807 saw another cold spell, according to North’s history. He quoted temperature readings for the end of the month: 22 degrees below zero on Jan. 20, minus 18 on Jan. 21, minus 24 on Jan 22, minus 32 on Jan. 23, a warming to minus 16 on Jan. 26 and a low of minus 34 on Jan. 27.

There was a major snowstorm in Augusta on May 6, 1812, with high wind. Snowfall was variously estimated at six to 18 inches. The Augusta Herald quoted a man said to be old enough to have “lived in three centuries” who “did not remember colder or more severe [May] weather.”

Windsor historian Lowden followed his report from 1762 with a quotation from the Thursday, Jan. 29, 1857, Kennebec Journal commenting on the extremely cold weather: “The night of Friday last [Jan. 23] was the coldest ever felt by any living inhabitant of Maine.” On Saturday at dawn, “the thermometer at the Insane Hospital registered 42 degrees below zero,” with readings elsewhere in Augusta from 37 to 40 below.

* * * * * *

Ruby Wiggin mentioned in her history of Albion multiple events related to weather and other natural phenomena – either she was unusually attentive to such events, or the small town was unlucky. For example, she wrote that there were few local records of the Year without a Summer, but people she spoke with in the 1960s remembered tales of the “grasshopper year” that she said was almost 50 years after 1816.

That year grasshoppers ate most of the farmers’ hay, as well as “other leafy crops.” Wiggin told two stories.

One Albion resident had no hay for his oxen. He kept them alive by feeding them hemlock branches and meal, buying the latter with money he earned making and selling ash baskets.

Another man found the grasshoppers had spared the hay on what Wiggin called Poplar Island on Bog Road. After ice-in, this farmer was able to cut two loads – for which someone offered him $100. He refused, because his own animals needed to eat.

(Contemporary Google maps show Bog Road crossing what appears to be a tributary of the Sebasticook River, with an island slightly downstream of the bridge – Poplar Island?)

Wiggin also noted the adventure of Lester Shorey, who lived on Drake Hill, in southeastern Albion. He attended a Grange meeting in 1901, probably on Dec. 7 (the Saturday on which that year’s anniversary meeting was held); and because the day’s hard rain had flooded out bridges over most of the streams between Center Albion and his house, it took him more than eight hours to find a road home, via Palermo.

Two historians noted a spectacular natural event in August 1787, although they disagreed on the exact date.

William D. Williamson, in his 1832 history of Maine, described an incident “too rare to be passed unnoticed.” On Aug. 26, 1787, around 4 p.m., “A ball of fire, apparently as large as that of a nine pounder” was seen in New Gloucester, Portland and elsewhere, “flying through the air in a south-western direction, at an angle of more than 45 [degrees] from the ground, when it suddenly exploded three times in quick succession, like the discharge of as many cannon, with reports resembling thunder-claps.”

There was no earthquake, Williamson wrote, but “buildings were shaken” and smoke seen. The noise was heard “as far east as Frenchman’s bay, and westward at Fryeburgh.”

North wrote that on Thursday, Aug. 30, 1787, around mid-afternoon, Colonel (Joseph, probably) North, Captain (Henry) Sewall and Ebenezer Farwell were exploring possible routes along which to lay out a road from Cobbosseecontee to Bowdoinham. Sewall recorded in his diary an aerial explosion that he compared to “a small cannon”; he and his companions “supposed it to be the bursting of a meteor.”

North pointed out that Sewall’s date differs from Williamson’s.

There was an earthquake in central Maine on Dec. 23, 1857, between 1 and 2 p.m., North wrote; it was felt in Lewiston, Augusta and Waterville, among other places. He wrote that in addition to the earth shaking, “The noise attending it, as heard by those in buildings at Augusta, was as of an immense weight in the air moving from the south and descending diagonally through the roof with a rolling and crashing sound….The noise passed off to the north with a prolonged rumbling.”

* * * * * *

Henry Sewall’s diary, for part of 1787 (mentioned above) and consecutively from 1830 to 1843, is one of three that Charles Nash quoted parts of in his history of Augusta, published in 1904. He also reprinted excerpts from Martha Ballard’s diary (1785-1812) and Daniel Cony’s diary (1808-1810).

(Your writer views with amazed admiration the historians who first turned such documents, hand-written and perhaps time-damaged, full of unexplained references, into sources of information for future generations.)

With varying frequency, all three diarists recorded weather and other natural phenomena, both routine and extraordinary. Examples follow.

Ballard sometimes ignored the weather for days on end; sometimes wrote briefly of blustery wind, snow or rain, cold or warmth, clouds or clear sky; occasionally mentioned a rainbow, or an odd color in the sky. On March 27, 1786, and again on May 1, she wrote that northern lights had appeared.

The summer of 1787 was apparently a chilly one. On Sunday, July 1, Ballard wrote “We had ice an intch [her spelling] thick in our yard south side of the house this morn.” On Aug. 4 (a Saturday) she recorded “A very severe shower of hail with thunder and litning [her spelling], began at half after one, –continued near one hour. I hear it broke 130 pains [her spelling] of glass in Fort Western.”

On March 22, 1792, Ballard wrote: “Cloudy, morn; clear the rest of the day. The sun eclipsed.” Later in the week, her husband and son were sugaring with a neighbor. The ice in the Kennebec was gone on April 3, and a friend sowed peas on May 5.

Daniel Cony was 56 and had lived in Augusta for 30 years when he wrote short diary entries in 1808, 1809 and 1810, Nash said. Often an entry was only a few words about the day’s weather.

For example, July 1808 was hot and wet; Cony recorded temperatures of 90 degrees or higher on July 1, 16, 17 and 23. August he summarized as “Dry, fine season to gather in the grain.”

Oct. 10, 1809, was another hot day, with the thermometer reaching 96 degrees in the shade. November Cony summarized as “extreme cold,” with the Kennebec frozen by Nov. 23; but between Dec. 5 and Dec. 16 mild weather with rain took out most of the ice.

According to Henry Sewall, late December of 1830 was similar to early December of 1809. The Kennebec had frozen over “passable for teams” by Nov. 22; but a “warm rain” on Christmas Day “broke up the ice.”

For Dec. 31, he wrote: “Warm and wet, which took off every vestige of snow, raised the river, expelled the ice, and took the frost out of the ground, so as to render the roads muddy and deep and the travelling bad.”

Sewall noted the May 1832 flood described in the Jan. 12 issue of The Town Line. In 1833 he commented on two phenomena: a meteor shower early the morning of Nov. 12, with “meteors flying in all directions over the horizon, which produced an effect like lightning”; and on Dec. 26 a total lunar eclipse.

There was a “considerable eclipse of the sun” on Nov. 30, 1834, but, Sewall wrote, it was “rendered invisible by the clouds.”

On Dec. 23 of that year, Sewall wrote: “Received a Fahrenheit Thermometer from Boston.” He used it to record the Christmas Day temperature, eight degrees below zero; but the next diary record is not until Sunday, Feb. 18, 1838, when the temperature rose from 15 below to 25 above.

The March 31, 1836, entry is an interestingly oblique reference to the coming of spring: “The stages continue to run eastward on runners, though they begin to use wheels westward.” The Kennebec opened April 12 and closed Dec. 1 that year.

Sewall noted his 91st birthday on Oct. 24, 1843, and apparently discontinued his diary at the end of the year. He died Sept. 5, 1845.

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Judd, Richard W., Churchill, Edwin A. and Eastman, Joel W., edd., Maine The Pine Tree State from Prehistory to the Present (1995).
Lowden, Linwood H., good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).
Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).
Williamson, William D., The History of the State of Maine from its First Discovery, A.D. 1602, to the Separation, A.D. 1820, Inclusive Vol. II (1832).

Legislative Report as of Friday, January 13, 2023

(photo by Eric W. Austin)

Legislative bills submitted by area senators & representatives as of Friday, January 13, 2023.

L.D. 93, H.P. 61

An Act to Ensure Access for All Caregivers to Diaper Changing Stations in Public Restrooms. (Presented by Representative COLLAMORE of Pittsfield)

L.D. 95, H.P. 63

An Act Concerning the Membership of the State Emergency Response Commission and Fees for Registering Facilities Required to Report to That Commission. Presented by Representative CYRWAY of Albion)

L.D. 96, H.P. 64

An Act to Ensure Release of Relevant Background Investigation Material to Current Employers of Law Enforcement and Corrections Officers. (Presented by Representative CYRWAY of Albion)

L.D. 111, H.P. 79

An Act Requiring the State to Pay a Share of a Retired State Employee’s or Retired Teacher’s Premium for Medicare Part B Under Medicare Advantage. (Presented by Representative SHAGOURY of Hallowell)

L.D. 119, S.P. 58

An Act to Clarify the Boundary Between Waldo and Knox Counties in Penobscot Bay. (Presented by Senator CURRY of Waldo)

L.D. 121, S.P. 60

An Act to Expand Health Insurance Coverage to Certain State Employees. (Presented by Senator HICKMAN of Kennebec)

L.D. 125, S.P. 64

An Act to Allow Driver Education Instructors to Administer Driver’s License Road Tests. (Presented by Senator POULIOT of Kennebec)

L.D. 126, S.P. 65

An Act to Improve the Fairness of Adaptive Management Study Moose Hunt Permits by Exempting Those Permittees from the 4-year Limitation on Receiving Another Permit. (Presented by Senator POULIOT of Kennebec)

L.D. 139, H.P. 85

An Act to Increase the Liability of Parents and Legal Guardians for Damage by Children. (Presented by Representative RUDNICKI of Fairfield)

L.D. 140, H.P. 86

An Act to Amend the Laws Governing the Right to Counsel for Juveniles and Due Process for Juveniles. (Presented by Representative RUDNICKI of Fairfield)

L.D. 147, S.P. 76

An Act to Increase the Amount of Money Allowed to Be Raised for a Charitable Purpose by Certain Raffles. (Presented by Senator LaFOUNTAIN of Kennebec)

L.D. 148, S.P. 77

An Act to Allow Detention of Juveniles for Certain Acts. (Presented by Senator LaFOUNTAIN of Kennebec)

L.D. 162, H.P. 103

An Act to Establish a Substance Use Disorder Hotline and Consultation and Clinical Supervision Program. (Presented by Representative MADIGAN of Waterville)

L.D. 164, H.P. 105

An Act to Fund the Lake Restoration and Protection Fund. (Presented by Representative BRIDGEO of Augusta)

L.D. 165, H.P. 106

An Act to Increase the Governor’s Salary. (Presented by Representative BRIDGEO of Augusta)

L.D. 176, H.P. 117

An Act to Increase the Safety of Patients and Staff at the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center and the Riverview Psychiatric Center. (Presented by Representative MADIGAN of Waterville)

L.D. 189, S.P. 93

An Act to Include an Expanded Archery Permit in the Super Pack License Issued by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. (Presented by Senator POULIOT of Kennebec)

Copies of the Bills may be obtained from the Document Room, First Floor, State House, Augusta, Maine 04333-0002 – Ph: 207-287-1408. Bill text, bill status and roll call information are available on the Internet at http://legislature.maine.gov/LawMakerWeb/search.asp.

The Weekly Legislative Report is also available on the Internet at the House home page at http://legislature.maine.gov/house/house/ under the “Documents” tab.

Big Brothers, Big Sisters needed for 100 waiting Littles

Little Sister Ryder Perkins meets with her Big Sister Hayley SooHoo once a week to chat while they draw, color, takes walks, and sometimes even learn new dances together. Their friendship was created through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine’s longstanding, one-to-one mentoring program that matches children facing adversity with positive role models. (contributed photo)

by Monica Charette

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine (BBBSMM) kicks off the new year and National Mentoring Month in January with an effort to recruit adult volunteers in the community to serve as mentors to 100 children waiting to be matched.

“Bettering yourself in the new year is a fantastic goal,” Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine Interim Executive Director Mae Slevisky, says. “This year, we encourage people to think about how they can do that by also bettering their community—by becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister.”

According to Slevinsky, there has never been a more critical time for mentoring.

“The events of the past few years have taken their toll on our most vulnerable citizens—our children. The isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered the social and academic progress of many kids, and many more are experiencing mental health challenges,” she said. “Kids need mentors now more than ever, to help them navigate challenges, open up doors of opportunity, and give them additional support they may need to excel in school and in their communities.”

According to Slevinsky, BBBS of Mid-Maine currently has 100 youth in its seven-county service area waiting to be matched with a mentor. Becoming a Big means committing to spending a couple of hours a week with a young person doing things you and your Little like to do, like playing outside, visiting the library, or taking a walk, she said. Matches also explore new activities together, like visiting a museum or skiing for the first time. “It’s about having fun, being a friend, and nurturing a child’s greatest potential.”

Adult mentors are interviewed, screened and trained, and receive ongoing support from BBBS of Mid-Maine professional staff, including regular match support meetings to ensure safety and help strengthen relationships. Successful volunteers are responsible, caring adults, who enjoy working with youth of all ages and backgrounds, have excellent listening and communication skills, are patient, willing to learn, and share in the BBBS mission of igniting the power and promise of local youth.

To learn more about Littles waiting, follow BBBS of Mid-Maine’s weekly “Waiting Wednesday” Facebook posts. For information on how to become a Big or enroll a child, visit bbbsmidmaine.org, email info@bbbsmidmaine.org or call 207-236-BBBS (2227).

Legislative bills submitted by area senators and representatives as of Friday, Jan. 6, 2023

(photo by Eric W. Austin)

L.D. 17, H.P. 21

An Act to Amend the Membership Requirements of the State Claims Commission. (Presented by Representative WHITE of Waterville)

L.D. 18, H.P. 22

An Act to Provide Ongoing Funding for up to 2 Years of Community College for Certain Maine Students. (Presented by Representative BRIDGEO of Augusta)

L.D. 24, S.P. 16

An Act to Prohibit Open Burning Under a Red Flag Warning and Regulate Recreational Campfires. (Presented by Senator CURRY of Waldo)

L.D. 25, S.P. 17

An Act to Provide Indigenous Peoples Free Access to State Parks. (Presented by Senator HICKMAN of Kennebec)

L.D. 27, S.P. 19

An Act to Align Maine’s Lead Abatement Law with Federal Definitions and to Clarify Lead Abatement Licensing and Certification Requirements. (Presented by Senator POULIOT of Kennebec)

L.D. 30, S.P. 22

An Act to Increase the Statutory Fee for Defensive Driving Courses. (Presented by Senator FARRIN of Somerset)

L.D. 31, S.P. 23

An Act to Allow the Commissioner of Transportation to Reduce Speed Limits at Construction Sites with Input from Municipalities and Utilities. (Presented by Senator FARRIN of Somerset)

L.D. 34, S.P. 26

An Act to Require a Person to Show Photographic Identification for the Purpose of Voting. (Presented by Senator POULIOT of Kennebec)

L.D. 37, S.P. 29

An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Property Tax Stabilization for Senior Citizens to Eliminate the Requirement for an Annual Application. (Presented by Senator POULIOT of Kennebec)

L.D. 40, S.P. 32

An Act to Amend the Cannabis Laws. (Presented by Senator HICKMAN of Kennebec)

L.D. 42, S.P. 34

An Act Regarding the Commissioner of Corrections’ Role in Death Benefit Determinations and Regarding Training for Corrections Officers. (Presented by Senator LAFOUNTAIN of Kennebec)

L.D. 46, S.P. 38

An Act to Amend the Statutory Balance Limit on the Finance Authority of Maine’s Loan Insurance Reserves. (Presented by Senator CURRY of Waldo)

L.D. 47, S.P. 39

An Act to Amend the Law Governing Licensing Actions of the Emergency Medical Services’ Board. (Presented by Senator LAFOUNTAIN of Kennebec)

L.D. 55, H.P. 30

An Act to Move the Headquarters for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. (Presented by Representative BRIDGEO of Augusta)

L.D. 63, H.P. 38

An Act to Clarify That Certain Imported Motor Vehicles Are Not Off-road Vehicles. (Presented by Representative RUDNICKI of Fairfield)

L.D. 64, H.P. 39

An Act to Ensure In-state Tuition for Postsecondary Students Who Are Registered to Vote in the State. (Presented by Representative RUDNICKI of Fairfield)

L.D. 65, H.P. 40

An Act to Require That Printing Services Provided to the General Public by the University of Maine System Be Provided at Market Rates. (Presented by Representative RUDNICKI of Fairfield)

L.D. 83, S.P. 50

An Act to Clarify State Policy Regarding the Use of Cannabis Paraphernalia in the Maine Medical Use of Cannabis Act. (EMERGENCY) (Presented by Senator HICKMAN of Kennebec)

Copies of the Bills may be obtained from the Document Room, First Floor, State House, Augusta, Maine 04333-0002 – Ph: 207-287-1408. Bill text, bill status and roll call information are available on the Internet at http://legislature.maine.gov/LawMakerWeb/search.asp.

The Weekly Legislative Report is also available on the Internet at the House home page at http://legislature.maine.gov/house/house/ under the “Documents” tab.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Kennebec River floods – Part 1

Hallowell flood of 1870.

by Mary Grow

When this historical series started in the spring of 2020 as a way to distract writer and readers from the Covid-19 pandemic, part of the plan was a survey of historic local disease outbreaks and other disasters. The latter have come to include weather, floods, fires and other destructive events, man-made or a combination.

January in Maine seems like a good time to talk about weather, including floods. Some local historians collected a lot of information on the topic; others paid it little attention. Here is your writer’s proposal to share some past events.

Of great importance along the Kennebec River were – and still are – the frequent floods, often called “freshets.” Kennebec River freshets, interrelated with human attempts to control the water and sometimes including tributary streams, will be the first topic.

(Wikipedia: “The term freshet is most commonly used to describe a spring thaw resulting from snow and ice melt in rivers located in upper North America.”)

Then there is the famous “Year without a summer,” 1816, for a second topic.

Other weather-related events that have distressed central Kennebec Valley residents over the years, were recorded and have not been covered under the prior two topics will be a third topic.

* * * * * *

To the Kennebec Valley’s Native American inhabitants, the Kennebec River was a main source of transportation and communication up-river and down; a barrier, though one that could be overcome in various ways; a source of food; and a recreational resource. Early European inhabitants further counted the river as a natural dividing line, for example when Waterville was set off from Winslow and Sidney from Vassalboro; and a source of power for industry. To everyone, it was sometimes a threat.

Your writer found two books especially good sources of information on the river’s interactions with the Europeans who settled along its banks. The older is James North’s history of Augusta, published in 1870; the newer is Ernest Marriner’s 1954 Kennebec Yesterdays.

North mentioned the Kennebec in the first sentence of his book, when French explorer Sieur de Monts visited the mouth of the river in 1604. Marriner’s first chapter is titled Our Lady Kennebec; he described the river as a “gracious lady” who intermittently loses her temper and wreaks havoc.

After Europeans discovered the mouth of the river, exploration extended upstream. A series of land grants from the British monarchy authorized settlements, starting with the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. (Your writer has avoided trying to untangle the history of early land titles in the Kennebec Valley.)

The Plymouth settlers started trading with Kennebec Valley Native Americans, especially for furs. Their first three trading posts, established around 1628, were at the mouth of the river; in the Richmond/Swan Island area; and at Cushnoc, on the east bank of the river in what is now Augusta.

Trade was broken off in the 1650s. The valley was mostly devoid of Europeans, mainly because of opposition from the Native Americans and their French supporters in Canada, until Fort Halifax and Fort Western were built in 1754.

By the Feb. 19, 1763, Treaty of Paris, the French abandoned their claim to northern North America (they kept Louisiana until President Thomas Jefferson bought it in 1803). Without French backing, Kennebec Valley Native Americans moved north to join other tribes.

British settlers quickly replaced them. North listed about 100 families around Fort Western by 1762. On April 26, 1771, the Massachusetts legislature incorporated the towns of Hallowell, Vassalboro, Winslow and Winthrop.

(Later boundary changes took Augusta, Chelsea and most of Farmingdale and Manchester out of Hallowell; divided Sidney from Vassalboro, and Waterville from Winslow, separated by the river; and took Readfield from Winthrop.)

Hallowell residents built their log houses and laid out early roads on both banks of the Kennebec, which they apparently crossed at will. North wrote that the 1773 annual town meeting began on March 15 in a house on the west shore; after the first decisions, voters adjourned until March 16, when they reassembled in a house on the east shore.

Henry Kingsbury’s Kennebec County history has the earliest mention of a freshet, not on the Kennebec’s main stem but on Bog – later Hastings – Brook, which flows in from the west in what was then Vassalboro (now Sidney). (This brook was in the southern part of town; it might have been the one now called Goff Brook.)

An early settler named John Marsh built a sawmill and a grist mill on Bog Brook, between the road (the present West River Road, also Route 104, approximately follows this road) and the river. Both mills “were carried away by a freshet and an ice jam in 1774.”

Kingsbury wrote that another early settler, Thomas Clark, had two bags of meal in the grist mill. He rescued one; saying his family needed the second bag, he went back into the mill “just as the resistless torrent bore it and him to destruction.”

North’s first mention of a Kennebec flood was in April 1789, after an April 7 rainstorm. Apparently a minor flood, it nonetheless set a destructive precedent: a six-month-old bridge over Bond Brook (formerly Ballard’s Brook), which enters the Kennebec from the west at the north end of Water Street, was washed out, and Ephraim Ballard’s house and dam were damaged.

On Feb. 3, 1791, North wrote, Hallowell residents experienced “the greatest freshet…since the settlement of the country.” After bare ground and an ice-free river at the end of 1790, the river froze and a foot of snow fell by Jan. 4. There was more snow at the beginning of February; it changed to rain as the wind blew from the southeast.

Again the area around the mouth of Bond Brook was hard-hit. A store was flooded, and the house where Martha and Ephraim Ballard’s son was living was knocked off its foundation by four feet of water carrying cakes of ice.

Hallowell flood of 1896.

During the winter of 1794 – no specific date – and on Feb. 5, 1795, North wrote that ice jams in the river led to brief flooding. In February 1806, a combination of rain and ice-jams raised water levels, in Bond Brook early in the month and in the Kennebec in mid-month.

The week of March 21, 1826, began with thunderstorms and ended with “torrents of rain” falling on almost two feet of ice on the Kennebec. Saturday morning, March 26, North wrote, the ice broke up, floated down to Hallowell and jammed against Brown’s Island, creating a barricade that brought the river 20 feet above normal high water in Augusta by Sunday (while downstream in Gardiner the level was below normal).

This flood took out parts of bridges in Norridgewock and Waterville. In Augusta it damaged a mill on Bond Brook, floated away stockpiled lumber and flooded cellars. Buildings on Hallowell’s Main Street had first floors as well as cellars water-filled, and much merchandise was ruined. “Capt. Wyman’s sloop was driven into Mr. Elias Bond’s garden”; other ships were carried downriver to join the jam at Brown’s Island.

Late Sunday afternoon, March 27, the jam let go. A “compact mass” of ice, trees, logs, lumber and five schooners” tore past Gardiner and hung up again a mile or two south, raising the river “to an unprecedented height” at Gardiner.

The next year, 1827, Augusta was chosen as the capital of Maine, which had become a separate state from Massachusetts in 1820. The Maine legislature began its first session in the new state house on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 1832. In May 1832 occurred what North, Edwin Carey Whittemore in his centennial history of Waterville and Marriner agreed was the worst flooding Europeans had seen on the Kennebec to that date.

North wrote that central Maine got a lot of snow in the winter of 1831-32, and spring was late – the ground was still frozen early in May. A sudden warming beginning May 8 started melting the snow. After rain, at first moderate and then “in torrents” from Thursday night, May 17, through Tuesday morning, May 22, “the Kennebec was swollen to an unexampled height.”

North listed damage as including destruction of two bridges in Waterville (part of one came downstream past Augusta); all but one of that town’s sawmills knocked off their foundations; on Bond Brook, a “valuable fulling-mill” and – again – the bridge swept away.

He wrote: “The Redington saw mill [from Waterville] came floating along, upright and high out of the water, being buoyed up by lumber piled in it. The formidable looking mass as it rapidly approached was expected to seriously damage if not remove the [Augusta] bridge. It struck, stopped for a moment, the gable of the building was crushed, and it sunk down into the water and passed under” without harming the bridge.”

However, the water damaged the east end of the bridge enough so that it was unsafe for carriages for two weeks.

Whittemore dated the Redington mill and the dam on which it stood to 1792. The bridge that sailed downriver was the Ticonic bridge, a privately-constructed wooden toll bridge dating from the early 1820s. It had been damaged in the “great freshet” in March 1826 and promptly repaired.

To Whittemore, the 1832 “great freshet” had not been equaled when he finished editing his history in 1902.

Kingsbury wrote that the bridge across the Sebasticook in Winslow was also taken out. A private company replaced it with a toll bridge in 1834; in 1866, the town bought it for $2,500 and abolished the tolls.

Marriner described his Lady Kennebec in May 1832 (and again in 1936) as a “demon of wrath” who did millions of dollars in damage. Much of his description of the flood is based on an 1891 report by a Winslow-born engineer named Timothy Otis Paine, employed in the interest of the Hollingsworth and Whitney Company to date high-water marks.

Paine, born in a house uphill from the Sebasticook River and Fort Halifax and eight years old in 1832, remembered watching the Kennebec cover Lithgow Street and continue rising. He knew other people who measured subsequent floods by how close the water came to 1832 levels, as recorded on riverside trees and other features.

Why, Paine asked, did the river rise so dramatically in 1832? He discounted two theories: the rumor that a dam holding back Moosehead Lake had breached, because there was no dam at the foot of the lake in 1832; and an elderly resident’s theory that the persistent northeast wind had blown water out of the lake to supplement the rainfall.

Marriner wrote that Paine decided the flood was so bad because large logs being floated to sawmills got jammed in Fairfield, against the foundations of “the three bridges between Fairfield and Benton” and around Bunker Island. When the jam broke and moved forcefully downriver, pent-up water followed in a series of waves, each higher than the one before.

This information does not match the Fairfield Historical Society’s bicentennial history. That book contains a single reference to the 1832 flood, a quotation from the Dec. 17, 1901, Fairfield Journal saying the Dec. 16, 1901, flood was “the worst freshet since 1832.”

The Fairfield history dates the first dam across the west channel of the Kennebec, between downtown Fairfield (then Kendall’s Mills) and Mill Island, to the late 1780s, but there is no reference to a dam in Marriner’s account of the flood. The Fairfield history also says the bridges linking Fairfield and Benton were built in 1848, so they could not have held back logs in 1832.

Marriner retold an odd story from Paine. He wrote that a flock of sheep pastured on the east bank of the Kennebec “just above the Pond Hole,” with “an old flat boat turned bottom up” as their shelter, lived through the flood.

In the course of trying to find out how they survived, Paine decided the “Pond Hole” was neither a pond nor a hole, merely a piece of very rough ground. Why that interpretation saved the sheep, Marriner did not explain.

Main sources

Fairfield Historical Society, Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Marriner, Ernest, Kennebec Yesterdays (1954).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870). Whittemore, Rev. Edwin Carey, Centennial History of Waterville 1802-1902 (1902).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Local scouting district selects officers for 2023

Clockwise from top left: Eric Handley, Chuck Mahaleris, Joseph Poulin, and Charlie Matthews

by Chuck Mahaleris

The Kennebec Valley District of the Scouting program held its annual meeting and selected a slate of officers to lead them in 2023.

Chuck Mahaleris, of Augusta, was elected District Chairman joining District Commissioner Eric Handley, of Sidney, and District Executive Michael Perry, of Jay, as the Key Three for the Scouting District. Joseph Poulin, of Oakland, and Charlie Matthews, of Fairfield, were elected Vice Chairmen.

The annual meeting was held on January 4 at the Pleasant Street United Methodist Church, in Waterville. Kennebec Valley District, one of four such districts in Pine Tree Council, delivers the programs of Scouting to youth in Franklin, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln and Somerset counties. The District Committee members provide such services as Membership Development, Fundraising, District Activities, Camping Programs, Leader Training, and the administration of Youth Advancement.

The officers and the slate of members at large were introduced for approval by the nominating committee which included Scouting leaders from all five counties under the leadership of Rick Denico, of Vassalboro. Denico is a member of the Pine Tree Council Executive Board and former District Chairman. All were elected unanimously and took office immediately.

“The Covid Pandemic and the national lawsuit were hard on Scouting,” Mahaleris said. “Our Packs and Troops weren’t allowed to meet for quite some time and it was almost impossible to recruit new Scouts when schools and churches were under tight restrictions. But things are starting to change. By the end of December, it was announced that nationally Scouting was serving 1,042,000 youth.

Locally a new Law Enforcement Explorer Post was started in Rangeley with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and later this month they will be starting a new Cub Scout Pack in Winthrop with the help of the American Legion Post #40.”

Mahaleris has been a registered member of Scouting for more than 40 years since first joining as a Cub Scout and earned Eagle in 1985. He works as a staff assistant for U.S. Senator Susan Collins, and before that spent a decade as a Professional Scout in Massachusetts and Rhode Island where he ran two different Scout camps.

Poulin is the President/Owner of Alpine Consulting & Metal Works LLC. He has been involved in local scouting since 1990, starting as a Webelos and earned Eagle Scout rank in 1997. Joe is the Assistant Scoutmaster of Troop #454 for 20-plus years and is the Pine Tree Council Training Chairman. He has served as Day Camp Program Director at both Camp Hinds and Bomazeen and is scheduled to be the 2023 WoodBadge Course Director in September.

Matthews, who is retired, is a former district chairman and has more than 55 years of scouting experience including many years as the Scoutmaster of Troop #460, in Fairfield. Matthews was a youth member of Troop #470, in Fairfield, from 1953 to 1955 and then from 1967 through 2019 he served as Scoutmaster of Fairfield Troop #460.

“I have enjoyed working with young people and see them go from a new scout who wasn’t sure of himself to become a leader with confidence in himself.”

Eric Handley works for Aubuchon Hardware as their POS manager where he manages a team that installs and supports the IT equipment and training for all Aubuchon stores. Eric joined scouting at age seven in 1974 as a Wolf Cub scout and climbed to Life Scout before his family moved in 1982. He became active again in 2006 when his son became a Tiger Cub with Pack #401, in Sidney. Currently he is also serving as the Scoutmaster of Troop #401, in Sidney. This is the beginning of his second year as District Commissioner. In this role, he oversees the Unit Commissioner staff who provide direct support to the Packs, Troops, Venture Crews and Explorer Posts of the District. The District Commissioner also oversees the delivery of the monthly Roundtable Scout Leader programs. The District Commissioner is recommended by the Nominating Committee for approval by the Pine Tree Council Executive Board.

“This is going to be an exciting scouting year,” Mahaleris said. “The Klondike Derby is coming right up followed by the Pinewood Derby. The Merit Badge College is returning in February for the first time since Covid hit and this Spring we will be having a camporee at the Skowhegan Drive-In. This summer will see dynamic programs at both Camp Hinds and Bomazeen and before you know it we will be looking at the Haunted Woods and Fall Camporee programs.

“Youth have fun in scouting programs and while that is happening they are developing character, learning to become better citizens, and training to be tomorrow’s leaders while working on their personal fitness. All of this is only possible because of the great work of our scouting volunteers.”

Those interested in joining scouting can contact District Executive Michael Perry at (207) 517-4378 or Michael.Perry218@scouting.org to find the nearest scouting program to them. Scouting is open to boys and girls from kindergarten to age 18.

Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Christmas pre-20th century

The Christmas holiday grew in popularity after the Civil War. Certainly, the message of peace and goodwill resonated with Americans who yearned for reconciliation and unity. (photo from the book, Christmas in the 19th Century, by Bev Scott)

by Mary Grow

This article is intended to complete the survey of pre-20th-century social activities in the central Kennebec Valley and, given the current date, to report on Christmas observances.

An organization omitted last week, but covered earlier in this series (see The Town Line issues of April 8 through May 13, 2021), was the Patrons of Husbandry, the farmers’ organization commonly called the Grange. All of the dozen towns and cities covered in this series had at least one Grange; according to the Maine State Grange website, Benton, Fairfield, Palermo and Vassalboro are among 98 Maine towns that still do.

The history of Waterville’s Grange is lost. Edwin Whittemore’s 1902 Waterville history said the Waterville Grange once existed, named three members and concluded, “It is long since defunct.”

The April 8, 2021, issue of The Town Line listed 19 local Granges, including three each in China and Vassalboro and two each in Albion, Augusta, Clinton and Palermo, founded between 1874 and about 1974.

While farming remained prominent, the Grange was a center of social activity, especially in smaller towns. Meetings provided education as well as entertainment, and several Granges had stores where they sold essentials, bought in bulk, to members at discount prices.

In addition to organizational activities, residents had other types of entertainment. Windsor historian Linwood Lowden mentioned minstrel shows, put on by different groups beginning in the 1860s.

He also cited a local diary: “On Monday night, March 29, 1886, the Weeks Mills Dramatic Club performed at Windsor Four Corners. The performance was followed by a ‘sociable.'”

On the west side of the Kennebec, historian Alice Hammond found an advertising poster for the Sidney Minstrels’ Grand Concert on Thursday, Aug. 18, 1898. The location is written in; the cursive script has faded to illegibility.

Vern Woodcock, Boston’s Favorite, had the largest headline; he was described as “the Celebrated Guitarist, and Beautiful Tenor Balladist, in his Comic and Sentimental Songs and Character Impersonations.” Also to perform were Happy Charlie Simonds (“the Merry Minstrel, the Prince of Ethiopian Comedians, and the Champion Clog Dancer of the World”) and other comics and musicians.

The Fairfield history added roller skating to 19th-century local recreational activities. Citing a journal written by a local businessman named S. H. Blackwell, the writers said the roller rink was on Lawrence Avenue, where the telephone company building was in 1988. People of all ages and groups from out of town came to skate.

The China Grange, in China Village.

The China bicentennial history includes a list of available spaces for social gatherings in three of the town’s four villages. In China Village in the early 1800s were “Mr. [Japheth C.] Washburn’s hall and General [Alfred] Marshall’s inn.”

Until the major fire in 1872, there was a three-story building in South China that prominent Quaker Rufus Jones described as a meeting place. Barzillai Harrington’s school building in China’s part of Branch Mills and “the meeting room over Coombs’ store” were available “in the last half of the nineteenth century.”

In Clinton, Kingsbury said, John P. Billings built Centennial Hall, on Church Street, in 1876, apparently as a public hall. He sold it to the Grange in 1890; in 1892, the Grangers used the ground floor and the second floor was “used for exhibition purposes.”

Milton Dowe wrote that Palermo’s “first known building for recreation” was on Amon Bradstreet’s farm, described as between Donald Brown’s land (in 1954) and Sheepscot Lake. Dances were held there until the hall and farm buildings burned about 1890.

In Branch Mills Village, Dowe said, the large hotel east of the Sheepscot and north of Main Street (where the Grange Hall now stands) had a dance hall on the second floor of the ell. Behind the hotel was a dance pavilion. Both were destroyed in the 1908 fire that leveled the entire downtown.

In her Vassalboro history, Alma Pierce Robbins mentioned that the big schoolhouse on Main Street, in North Vassalboro, was used for “‘benefit’ gatherings of many kinds” from the time it was built in 1873, though she gave no specifics before the 1960s.

Sometimes the weather – or a person’s mood – forbade socializing. Lowden’s history has a paragraph titled “B.T.V. (Before Television),” in which he talked about books people could read and reread during long evenings, based on inventories he reviewed.

Some families had no books, he wrote. If there was only one, it was a Bible.

A relatively well-off resident named Reuben Libby, who died around 1814, had four books plus a pamphlet (subject not given). The books were a Bible; a dictionary; Young Man’s Best Companion (also called The American Instructor, described on line as first published in 1792 and offering an easy way to teach spelling writing, reading and arithmetic); and a book described as a “selection” – Lowden did not know whether it was poetry or prose.

Benjamin Duren’s 1814 inventory listed a Bible and a dictionary, two geography books, an arithmetic book and two unnamed others.

A former sea captain’s 1831 inventory listed two nautical books, the American Coast Pilot (first published in 1796) and Bowditch’s American Practical Navigator (first published in 1802, though there were earlier versions from 1799), plus The Poets of Great Britain Complete from Chaucer to Churchill (the work is described by Wikipedia as 109 volumes, published by John Bell between 1777 and 1783; Lowden did not say whether the set was complete).

* * * * *

Christmas was not much of a holiday in the 19th century, according to the few local accounts your writer found.

In Lowden’s history of Windsor, he used diary entries from the 1870s and 1880s to support his claim that “Mostly it was a quiet day at home.”

The longest account is from the diary of Roger Reeves, a farmer and carpenter. In 1874, Lowden learned, Dec. 24 was a cloudy day with rain that turned to snow; nonetheless, Reeves traveled to Augusta and spent $1.50 on Christmas presents.

Christmas day Reeves “spent the day making picture frames in his shop, doing his regular chores, and otherwise busying himself about the place.” That evening, he joined people gathered around a Christmas tree at Tyler’s Hall to exchange presents, enjoy an “antiquarian supper,” sing and socialize.

(Albion historian Ruby Crosby Wiggin also came across such a supper, though it was planned at a Feb. 8, 1878, Grange meeting, not associated with Christmas, and was in the meeting report spelled “antignarian” – to Wiggins’ delight.

Wiggin consulted her Webster’s dictionary and found that “gnar” meant [and still means, though the web offers additional meanings] “to snarl.” “Anti” means against; so she concluded approvingly that “antignarian” had to mean “not snarling but friendly or smiling.”)

Orren Choate (June 20, 1868-1948), another Windsor diarist, spent Christmas 1885 “at home with his parents,” identified on line as Abram and Adeline (Moody) Choate. They had company in the afternoon.

Christmas evening, Choate skipped a Christmas dance in South Windsor because he didn’t want to drive that far in the cold. Instead, he and his father spent the evening playing cards at the home of his father’s younger brother, Ira Choate.

In Vassalboro, one of the women’s clubs Alma Pierce Robbins mentioned in her town history was the Christmas Club on Webber Pond Road, “where the women met for sociability and sewing for Christmas.” These meetings were held all year at members’ houses, she said; but she gave no indication of when the club was founded or how long it lasted.

Another source of Christmas information was Revolutionary War veteran and Augusta civic leader Henry Sewall’s diary, as excerpted in Charles Nash’s Augusta history for the years 1830 to 1843.

Sewall was a Congregationalist who attended church regularly. He often participated in religious exercises on other days, like the four-day meeting in May 1831 that began daily with a 5:30 a.m. prayer meeting and ended around 9 p.m. after the evening lecture.

Nash was selective in his choice of entries. Between 1830 and 1843, he included only seven Dec. 25 entries (of 14).

Sewall’s 1830 diary entry for Dec. 25 identified the day as Christmas and reported on the warm rain that broke up the ice in the Kennebec. Dec. 25, 1834, had another weather report; the temperature was eight below that Christmas.

In 1832 Dec. 25 was a Tuesday (according to on-line sources). Sewall called the day Christmas and wrote that he listened to Rev. Mr. Shepherd’s “discourse” proving the divinity of Christ.

Four of the entries strike an odd note, and are not explained in Nash’s book. On Dec. 25, 1838, and again in 1839, Sewall wrote merely, “Christmas (so-called).” He expanded on the theme in 1841, writing, “Christmas, so-called, which was employed here in consecrating St. Mark’s church, for their future worship.”

(St. Mark’s Episcopal congregation organized in 1840; Wikipedia says the first church was a wooden building just north of the present Lithgow Library. James North wrote in his Augusta history that the cornerstone was laid July 4, 1841, and the building was first used for worship that Christmas. Construction cost was $6,248; the church was 46 by 85 feet with a 110-foot tall “tower and spire.”)

On Dec. 25, 1843, Sewall, who had noted that he turned 91 on Nov. 24 (and on Nov. 28 recorded that he had finished “sawing a cord of wood, with my own hands”) wrote: “Christmas, as held by Episcopalians, is a misnomer.”

North, in a biographical sketch, commented that Sewall was “pious and rigidly orthodox in his religious views. Towards the close of his life his religious rigor was much softened.”

Main sources

Dowe, Milton E., History Town of Palermo Incorporated 1884 (1954).
Fairfield Historical Society Fairfield, Maine 1788-1988 (1988).
Grow, Mary M., China Maine Bicentennial History including 1984 revisions (1984.)
Hammond, Alice, History of Sidney Maine 1792-1992 (1992).
Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Lowden, Linwood H., good Land & fine Contrey but Poor roads a history of Windsor, Maine (1993).
Nash, Charles Elventon, The History of Augusta (1904).
North, James W., The History of Augusta (1870).
Robbins, Alma Pierce, History of Vassalborough Maine 1771 1971 n.d. (1971).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.