Up and down the Kennebec Valley: The Grange – Part 1

Vassalboro Grange (photo: vassalboro.net)

by Mary Grow

The mother and father of all United States agricultural organization is the Grange, formally known as the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. The national Grange was organized in Washington, D. C., on Dec. 2, 1867, by a seven-person group headed by Oliver Hudson Kelley (1826 – 1913), a Bostonian who moved to Minnesota in 1849 to become a farmer.

A Grange historian quoted in Ruby Crosby Wiggin’s Albion history wrote that the organization was a response to the “depressed condition” of agriculture after the Civil War. The 1873 financial panic hastened its growth.

In 1864, Kelley, working for the national Bureau of Agriculture, inspected post-war farming conditions in the southern states. He realized the need to help farmers earn their living from their land, found like-minded friends and created the Grange.

Kelley intended the organization as “an agricultural fraternal order,” not unlike Masonry, with rituals, named offices, degrees and an aura of secrecy, Maine Grange historian Stanley R. Howe wrote in a 2010 article reproduced on line.

“Fraternal” was never accurate, however; Howe credited Kelley’s niece, feminist Caroline A. Hall, with gaining women near-equality in the Grange. They had voting rights from the beginning and four of the 16 elected offices in each Grange are exclusively for women.

(Online information says in 1893 the Minnesota Grange elected a woman named Sarah Baird as the first female state Grange President [Master] in the United States. Minnesota’s current state Grange president is a woman, and so is the president of the national Grange, for the first time: Betsy Huber, of Pennsylvania, a Granger since she joined a Junior Grange at age five, has been national president since 2015.)

The name Grange comes from Great Britain, where the part of an estate used for agriculture was called the grange, Howe explained.

As the organization developed and spread, four main purposes emerged.

Economic improvement remained central. Means included cooperative stores, where the organization bought in bulk and sold to members at cost; discounts on things like life and health insurance; and spreading information about improved agricultural techniques, new machinery or seeds and other benefits to farmers.

Education, agricultural and general, was important. Granges published reports, newspapers and bulletins; many Grange halls had libraries; most Granges sponsored educational presentations on topics important to local farmers and the community; many hosted classes and workshops.

Having an organization that operated locally, state-wide and nationally gave Grangers political clout. One of the first national efforts was to pressure Congress to lower railroads’ shipping rates so that farm products could be sent to market more cheaply. Grangers also wanted grain elevators’ charges controlled.

The Grange lobbied for the postal service’s Rural Free Delivery system, so that isolated farmers would not have to choose between driving miles to the post office or paying a commercial carrier to pick up their mail. Grangers supported a variety of national cooperative farmers’ institutions; one source says they were instrumental in making the head of the United States Department of Agriculture a member of the President’s Cabinet in 1889.

Grange members lobbied for the Prohibition movement (implemented by the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, in effect Jan. 16, 1919, and repealed by the 21st Amendment, in effect Dec. 5, 1933). They helped implement progressive political ideas, like direct election of Senators (the 17th Amendment, in effect April 8, 1913) and voting rights for women (the 19th Amendment, in effect Aug. 18, 1920). Current national President Huber advocates expanding access to broadband service, especially in rural areas.

Complementing these economic, educational and political goals, at the local level the Grange became the social center for rural towns across the country, providing a community meeting hall and sponsoring suppers, dances and local and imported entertainments. One historian called this function especially important to rural women, who were more isolated than the men.

The Maine State Grange was organized in Lewiston on April 21, 1874, a year after the first Grange in the state was established in Hampden. Grange and state websites say there were 64 Maine Granges with about 2,000 members by the end of 1874; within two years, 228 Granges and 12,000 members; in 1907, 419 Granges and more than 55,000 members; and in 1918, 450 Granges and 60,000 members. Membership peaked at around 62,000 in the 1950s and has declined in recent years.

In 1918, according to that year’s Maine Register, W. J. Thompson, of South China, was Master of the state Grange. His wife held the position of Flora (one of three ritual stations, with Ceres and Pomona, Howe explained) and D. E. Foster, of Augusta, was Steward.

(Wikipedia says Ceres was “the Roman goddess of agriculture”; Flora was “the Roman goddess of flowers” and of spring; and Pomona was “the Roman goddess of fruit and nut trees.”)

Political positions the Maine State Grange took included supporting funding for local schools and the University of Maine and opposing the repeated efforts to move the state capital from Augusta. Augusta’s Maine Farmer newspaper, published from 1823 to at least 1900 (see The Town Line, Nov. 26, 2020), was a Grange publication.

The organization promoted causes that benefited not only farmers, but other segments of society. Howe mentioned sending care packages to soldiers overseas during World War II and building and supporting Grange Cottage to house orphans at Goodwill-Hinckley School, in Fairfield.

Since 1945, the Maine State Grange has been headquartered on State Street, in Augusta.

In the 1880s the state organization added county Granges, called Pomonas. Juvenile Granges started in 1944; Palermo’s Sheepscot Lake Juvenile Grange #106 and Augusta’s Capital Junior Grange #274 were active in the 1950s and 1960s.

A current on-line list from the Maine State Grange says there are 103 active Granges in Maine, counting both local and county Granges. Local ones listed are Benton Grange, Fairfield Center’s Victor Grange and Branch Mills Grange, in Palermo; Vassalboro Grange, in East Vassalboro, should also be on the list, according to its Facebook page.

Albion Grange #181 was one of the earlier local Granges, past and present. Maine State Grange Master Nelson Ham oversaw its organizational meeting on July 6, 1875, historian Ruby Crosby Wiggin wrote. There were 36 charter members: 34 couples, the son of one couple and an unmarried woman.

Wiggin said in 1875, only farmers and their families were eligible to join the Grange. Doctors, storekeepers and all other non-farmers were excluded.

In 1873, Albion residents had organized a local stock company to build a community hall. The hall was finished in 1874, and the first Grange meeting was held there.

Until January 1881 Grangers rented the hall only for meetings. In January 1881, the Stock Company leased it to the Grange at $35 a year, and in 1886 the Grange bought the building.

Beginning in October 1875 Grangers ran a cooperative store, buying a variety of items – coffee, salted fish, cloth, raisins, rock salt, cheese, sugar, chewing tobacco, grass seed – in bulk and selling them to members. Meetings included panel discussions, suppers and other forms of entertainment.

On Oct. 4, 1879, Albion Grange held its first fair, in conjunction with Freedom Grange. Independent Albion Grange fairs were held annually into the early 1950s, Wiggin wrote.

By 1892, Henry Kingsbury wrote in his Kennebec County history, Albion Grange had 150 members. In 1902, the Maine State Grange Proceedings says there were 252 members.

In 1903 Grangers added a dining room to their building, which they still used when Wiggin published her Albion history in 1964. On-line sources suggest the Grange had been re-established in 1957, probably after an interval of inactivity.

In Augusta, records show two Granges. The earlier, Capital Grange #248, was organized April 7, 1883, according to Capt. Charles E. Nash’s chapter on Augusta in Kingsbury’s history. The second Capital Grange Master was Samuel L. Boardman, who wrote the chapter on agriculture in the same book.

On Nov. 12, 1901, according to records of the national Grange, Brother Obadiah Gardner carried an invitation to those attending the national convention to visit Augusta on Nov. 19, traveling by train. The flowery letter was signed by Capital Grange Master G. M. Twitchell and Augusta Board of Trade President C. B. Burleigh.

Attractions included touring the city and the State House; meeting Governor Hill and his wife at “the mansion of the late Hon. J. G. Blaine, which remains as it was when he did his great work”; and visiting “the national home at Togus,” then caring for 2,600 Civil War veterans.

The Grange records say that Brother W. K. Thompson, of South Carolina, moved to accept the invitation. Discussion was postponed from the morning to the afternoon session, when Brother Thompson’s motion was “considered at considerable length and unanimously adopted.”

(Obadiah Gardner [1852-1938], a Michigan native who moved to Maine in 1864, graduated from Coburn Classical Institute, in Waterville, and farmed in the Rockland area, was Master of the Maine Grange from 1897 to 1907. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1908; was appointed to the United States Senate in September 1911, after William P. Frye died in office; and lost his re-election bid in 1912, leaving the Senate March 3, 1913. He was then appointed to the International Joint Commission to deal with boundary-water issues between the United States and Canada, on which he served until 1923.)

In 1902, M. F. Norcross, the Deputy of West Kennebec County, reported on his Nov. 21 visit to Capital Grange, which then had 60 members. He found there were “[n]ew rituals and badges,” and the members were much interested in “working the third and fourth degrees” under a capable Master. “Bound to succeed,” he summarized.

Later references to Capital Grange are hard to find. The on-line index to the University of Maine’s Raymond L. Fogler special collections library says the library has 110 years of Capital Grange treasurers’ records, from 1883 to 1993.

Capital Junior Grange seems to have been created in or before 1955 and to have lasted until at least 1961.

North Augusta Grange #348 was founded in or before 1899 and existed until at least 1973. In the 1902 Proceedings of the Maine State Grange, Norcross, reporting as Deputy for Kennebec County, said North Augusta Grange had 126 members and a Degree Team and appeared to be doing well.

Nineteen pages later in the same book, Norcross, listing himself as Deputy for West Kennebec County, reported on his Nov. 4 visit to the North Augusta Grange. The Master told him meetings had been suspended temporarily “on account of a drama.” Norcross gave no details, but commented, “It is hoped that the work that the Grange is designed to do is not made a secondary matter.”

19 Granges in the central Kennebec River valley, in the order in which they were founded (as nearly as this writer can determine)

Victor Grange #49, Fairfield Center; established 1874, still active.

Oak Grove Grange #167, North Vassalboro; May 11, 1875.

Albion Grange #181; July 6, 1875.

Albion Grange #181, Oct. 28, 1957; suspended Aug. 26, 1998, for failure to file state corporate reports (according to an on-line source).

Sidney Grange #194; November 24, 1875.

Cushnoc Grange #204, Riverside (Vassalboro); January 13, 1876.

Capital Grange #248, Augusta; Apr. 7, 1883.

Windsor Grange #284; June 2, 1886.

China Grange #295, South China; December 29, 1887.

Clinton Grange #287; March 1888 (according to Kingsbury; this date is out of sequence).

Clinton Grange #287, July 15, 1949; dissolved Sept. 6, 2006, for failure to file state corporate reports (according to an on-line source).

Winslow Grange #320; in existence by 1894.

East Vassalboro Grange #322, 1895; still active.

Silver Lake Grange #327, China Village; 1895 or 1896.

Branch Mills Grange #336, Jan. 1, 1897 (organized in China, most of its life in Palermo); still active.

North Augusta Grange #348, in existence by 1899.

Sheepscot Lake Grange #445, in existence by 1905.

Benton Grange #458, 1906; still active.

China Lake Grange #578, also called China Grange; fall 1974-1976?, China Village.

19 Granges in the central Kennebec River valley, alphabetical by municipality

Albion (two) Albion Grange #181, 1875; Albion Grange #181, 1957.

Augusta (two) Capital Grange #248; North Augusta Grange #348.

Benton Grange #458.

China (three) China Grange #295; Silver Lake Grange #327; China (Lake) Grange #578.

Clinton (two) Clinton Grange #287, 1888; Clinton Grange #287, 1949.

Fairfield Center Victor Grange #49.

Palermo (two) Branch Mills Grange #336; Sheepscot Lake Grange #445.

Sidney Grange #194.

Vassalboro (three) Oak Grove Grange #167; Cushnoc Grange #204; East Vassalboro Grange #322.

Waterville had none, apparently.

Windsor Grange #284.

Winslow Grange #320.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).
Wiggin, Ruby Crosby, Albion on the Narrow Gauge (1964).

Websites, miscellaneous.

Hussey’s General Store: The history of a humble country business

Hussey’s General Store founders, Mildred, left, and Harland Hussey, in this photo taken in September 1936. (contributed photo)

by Eric W. Austin

It was the late 1960s and Elwin Hussey was sleeping on the floor of Hussey’s General Store, armed with a shotgun. Frustrated with the lack of progress by police after a spate of recent break-ins, Hussey decided to take matters into his own hands. He began driving home in the evenings and walking back up to the store in an effort to catch the perpetrators in the act.

“I was sleeping right inside the door,” he remembers, “and I had a shotgun.” On the second or third night of this routine, a rattling at the front door woke him from his uncomfortable slumber. The burglars were attempting another break-in.

Backing into the shadows, Hussey watched as two dark figures snapped the door lock and entered the store.

“I saw them come in — one, two,” he says. “It looked to me like they had something tucked into their pants pocket, which I assumed was a gun.”

Only later did Hussey learn that it was not a gun tucked into the perp’s pants but the tire iron they had just used to jimmy the door.

As the burglars headed to the cash register to collect their illicit loot, Hussey slipped silently out of the store. “I didn’t know exactly how to go at it,” he admits. “I ran across the street and pounded on the door and told the people in the house to call the police.”

After waking the neighbors, Hussey sprinted back across the road to save his store from being burglarized. “I had the shotgun in my hand,” he recalls. “I just sat out there and waited until one of them showed up.”

Not knowing exactly what he was dealing with, and thinking he had seen the glint of a firearm tucked into the pants pocket of at least one of the perpetrators, Hussey was understandably tense. When a dark figure exited the store through the broken front door, he raised the shotgun and shouted, “Come out here! Come out!”

The alleged criminal did not comply. “He turned around and started running down the hill,” Hussey says, “so I shot him.”

The birdshot blast caught the looter in the leg and he collapsed in the parking lot. Not long after, the Four Corners, in Windsor, buzzed with activity as half a dozen police cruisers pulled up to the scene.

Elwin Hussey, 98, is pictured outside his home in Windsor. (photo by Eric W. Austin)

“It ended up that night cost me five thousand dollars,” Hussey laments. The police, he says, “let the guy lay there about an hour and a half before they called an ambulance to take him to the hospital.” The wounded wrongdoer later sued Hussey for excessive use of force.

Police searched the premises and discovered the second trespasser hiding upstairs in the bridal department. Firearms were also found in the suspects’ vehicle.

Hussey’s General Store was already a Windsor institution at this point in the 1960s. It had been established in 1923 by Elwin’s father, Harland, the same year that Elwin was born.

At that time, Harland B. Hussey owned a Durant Motors and Star automobile dealership and Texaco pump station in Windsor. There had been an existing business where Hussey’s General Store is now located, called the Dutton Store. Initially operated by H.A.N. Dutton in the early 1900s, it was later sold to Harry Pinkham. The Pinkhams and Husseys were cousins. In 1923, the Dutton Store burned down, and Pinkham decided they would not rebuild. Upon learning this, Harland purchased the lot adjacent to the old store on the north side of Route 105. On this lot was a stable which he converted to serve as a new storefront. As business grew, a 16-foot extension was added in 1940 and an additional 50-foot expansion in 1947.

In 1954, the Hussey family built the new store where the old Dutton Store had stood 31 years earlier before it burned. The old store, which had started out as a stable, was retired to serve as a warehouse and is still standing today.

Elwin Hussey grew up with the store, and started helping his parents at the age of seven or eight. In the early years of the store, says Hussey, there might be only 10 or 12 customers a day, and they were mostly looking for one of two items.

“It seems to me, about every other one would come in with a jug,” Hussey says. “We would guess whether they were after molasses or vinegar. It was always one or the other.”

Grain and fertilizer were also a big part of daily business. The grain arrived at the store packed in 100-pound cloth bags made of muslin, and these bags became a coveted commodity for local ladies who would turn them into dresses. Suppliers soon caught on to their popularity and began to produce the muslin bags in a variety of patterns and colors.

Working at the store wasn’t the only job Elwin Hussey had growing up. He had a paper route, too. “I was about 12,” he recalls. “I would get up Sunday morning, harness the horse and deliver Sunday papers.” He had about 8-10 customers. “The papers sold for 12 cents,” he says with a chuckle. “I made two cents apiece on them.”

After attending Erskine Academy, in South China, Hussey headed to Colby College, in Waterville, where he majored in chemistry and graduated as the school’s youngest ever graduate at the age of 19. “It was war time,” says Hussey. “The reason I graduated at 19 was because of the war.”

In the self-penned essay, Remembrances of 1940, Hussey explains further: “I ended up with two major warnings and two minor warnings that first semester,” he writes. “However, I buckled down and made the dean’s list the following years. By taking extra courses, attending one summer school and getting a three month deferment from the draft, I was able to graduate in three years at the age of nineteen. My graduation in 1943 was the second one at the chapel on the new campus, Mayflower Hill. The first one was in December 1942 for those seniors that attended that summer session. At this time, the only other building there was a women’s dormitory. Colby, when I attended, was on the bank of the Kennebec. All those eight or nine huge buildings of the old campus are gone forever.”

After graduation, Hussey entered military service where he served two and a half years with the U.S. Navy in World War II. There he trained as a radar and radio technician, skills which would serve him well upon returning home.

“Basically, my interest was radios first,” he recalls, “and then [radio company] Philco went into the appliance business about the time TV started out, maybe in 1951?”

For a while Hussey maintained a radio and appliance repair shop in the back of the original store. Later, they did a robust business selling TVs. He remembers the store had a trailer they would haul to the homes of prospective customers. The trailer was a portable antennae that unfolded and could be deployed in a customer’s driveway. This gave customers a chance to try out the new technology before committing to a purchase.

Hussey’s now famous sign that went viral on social media. (Internet photo)

One of the unique features for which Hussey’s General Store is famous across the state of Maine is its formal wear department.
“As we’ve traveled around Maine,” says Elwin Hussey, “more so than anything else, people have said, ‘We bought our wedding dress there.’”

The store began carrying formal wear, in a department dubbed the “Terrace Room,” about the time the new store was completed in 1954. Elwin Hussey’s daughter, Roxanne, who spent more than 25 years working in the store, remembers how it all started.

“This was in the days before specialty shops and malls,” she says. “A lot of women were having difficulty finding gowns and formal wear for many of the events that were planned. I think that’s how it began.”

Speaking of her grandmother, Mildred Hussey, who was involved with the social scene in Augusta, Roxanne recalls, “She started with formal dresses and the bridal [department] got added into that because it’s very similar. There weren’t a lot of places in the state that had nearly the selection that Hussey’s did back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Ladies would come from all over the state to get gowns.”

For years, Hussey’s General Store has been known far and wide for their broad selection and friendly service. Roxanne says the family’s intent has always been “to keep it a humble country business that had all the things local folks needed.”

When the first shopping center in Augusta was being built, Elwin Hussey recalls his father, Harland, being asked if he was worried about the new competition. “There will always be customers that want to go to one place where they can buy a pound of hamburger and a pound of nails,” he responded.

Contact the author at ericwaustin@gmail.com.

Windsor selectmen authorize road commissioner to sign heavy load limit signs

by The Town Line staff

At their March 2 meeting, selectmen were informed that the town of Windsor has been notified that, by state law, heavy load limit road signs are to be signed by the municipal officers or their designee. The board unanimously agreed to authorize the road commissioner to sign heavy load limit posters and posted road exemption certificates on behalf of the board of selectmen as needed, and when needed, for the town of Windsor, until such time another road commissioner is appointed.

Selectmen were told that a bolt had been installed incorrectly on the 2021 Western Star truck. When the wing was raised, it hit the door resulting in a dent. H.P. Fairfield, the company that sold the truck to the town has agreed to fix it because it was their error. In other public works discussion, the selectmen seeked how many hours remained on the McGee plowing contract.

Also, Road Supervisor Keith Hall spoke to Avery Glidden regarding the concrete on the garage by the town office that is crumbling and needs to be fixed. Avery will provide the town with a quote for repairs, as well as a quote on flooring for the storage room at the back of the food bank.

At the transfer station, it was noted that two street lights are not working. Town Manager Theresa Haskell has notified Central Maine Power Co., and is awaiting a response as to when they can come out to fix them.

Discussion also continued on the sand that residents can get and how to close that area in for weather purposes. Interim Transfer Station Supervisor Sean Tekeema is going to look at Whitefield’s transfer station to see how they handle the problem.

Because of a Waste Management issue with the hydraulics on their truck, the recycling sat for an extra day until they could come to get it.

Haskell informed the selectmen that direct deposit will now be an option for employees. However, there is a process in setting that up with Kennebec Savings Bank, which the town uses. The town account needs to be set up as an Automated Clearing House (ACH) for the direct deposit to happen. The board unanimously approved for the town manager, as the town treasurer, to set up the ACH with Kennebec Savings Bank.

At this point in the meeting, Selectmen Andrew Ballantyne moved to suspend the board of selectmen meeting and reconvene as the board of assessors. There are applications before the board for abatement of property taxes presented that will be discussed at the March 16 selectmen’s meeting, and a tree growth withdrawal penalty presented for Colby D.Whynot on Map 4 Lot 22, in the amount of $1,600. The board unanimously approved the abatement to Whynot in the amount of $1,600. The board of assessors then adjourned and reconvened as the board of selectmen.

In other business, it was noted there is one position on the planning board, and one alternate position, available in 2021, and that, apparently, two residents are interested in the positions.

The first payment for the new 2021 Western Star truck is not due until the 2021/2022 budget, however, a payment was included in the 2020/2021 budget. Haskell would like to submit the payment this year so that it can be fully applied to the principal balance. The board unanimously approved the payment of $28,000 this year.

The next board of selectmen meeting was scheduled for March 16 at the Windsor Town Hall.

Windsor selectmen deny request for community food sovereignty ordinance

by The Town Line staff

At the February 16 Windsor selectmen’s meeting, Windsor resident Sherri Talbot sent an inquiry about the possibility of having a food sovereignty ordinance drafted for the town. She provided information for the board to review. Town manager Theresa Haskell read the proposal and stated that if the board had any question, they could call Talbot during the meeting.

Haskell then distributed information she received from the Maine Municipal Association legal department which included details about local food sovereignty and what the municipal liability could be. Selectman Ronald Brann made a motion, under the advisement of legal counsel, that creating the ordinance could potentially put the town at an unnecessary legal risk. The board denied the request to put the issue on the upcoming town meeting warrant.

The board also stressed they are very supportive of local agriculture. It was noted the town is not qualified to see if it is safe and they do not have the training or skill sets, nor the desire to do this. They suggested a farmers market.

In other business, the board was informed that the transfer station has started using coin trays to help with the close out at the end of the night. It seems to help with organizing the counting of all the coins collected that day.

Sean Teekema, interim transfer station supervisor, said he will seek measurements for a new bucket for the salt container. They may also get a cover the container. Other possibilities at the transfer station include new lights and a new sign.

Haskell said the town received a snowmobile reimbursement in the amount of $1,039.34. That amount will be divided between the WJW Snowmobile Club, 75 percent or $779.51, and the remaining 25 percent, in the past, has been divided between the Windsor Boy Scouts, Windsor Brownie Troop and the Windsor Youth Association. That amounts to $86.61 for each of the three organizations.

Discussion on the employee manual was wrapped up with the finalization of the retirement match. The board unanimously passed the motion as presented with changes being made to the Valic Retirement match.

At the previous meeting, the board of selectmen were given a draft of COVID procedures to be followed by the best of everyone’s ability. That measure passed by a vote of 4-1, with Selectman Richard Gray Jr. the lone dissenter.

Nomination papers became available on February 26.

The new office space caused the town hall equipment account to be overspent, however, it will not affect the town overall budget because there were other funds available in other town hall expense accounts that were underspent.

In another matter, Selectman Andrew Ballantyne shared that Elwin Hussey gave him information about the town of Windsor, dating back to the 1700s. He has offered it to the town office to make a copy for public viewing.

The next board of selectmen meeting was scheduled for March 2.

Discussions continue over retirement benefits

by Steve Ball

Windsor Town Manager Theresa Haskell (photo by Sandra Isaac)

During the February 2 meeting, the selectmen discussed the retirement match for town employees. A discussion took place over whether to increase the retirement match benefit by percent over the term of the employees tenure. Windsor Town Manager Theresa Haskell will provide more details of expense and employee qualification at the next selectmen’s meeting.

Selectmen Richard H. Gray Jr., Andrew Ballantyne, Ray Bates, William Appel, and Ronald F. Brann were all in attendance. No one from the public attended.

The town manager presented the monthly report for the transfer station. For the month of January the town was up $2,411.35 in revenue from last year and the town is $9,460.00 up for the current fiscal year.

Action on approving the Re­vised Employee Manual was moved to the next selectmen’s meeting. In addition, the town manager handed out a proposed COVID-19 procedure for the board of selectmen to review and will be discussed at the next board meeting.

The town manger said the town currently has 83 unregistered dogs compared to 50 at this time last year. It was noted that since the town of Windsor is still in the State of Emergency because of COVID-19, all unregistered dogs will have their registrations extended until 30 days following the termination of the state of emergency by Gov. Janet Mills

Windsor selectmen turn down Chelsea offer to purchase solar power

by The Town Line staff

The Windsor Board of Selectmen took up a few items during their January 5, 2021, meeting.

Town manager Theresa Haskell informed the selectmen she had been contacted by Chelsea Town Manager Scott Tilton, inquiring as to whether Windsor would be interested in purchasing solar power. After some discussion, the board declined the offer at this time.

Haskell also read the Parke Property Forest Management Woodland Exam which stated nothing is recommended at this time. There was a brief discussion of possibly removing some of the pines near the fence line to be added to next year’s budget.

Again, at this meeting, there was much discussion of the employee manual. That will be continued to the next board of selectmen meeting.

Road supervisor Keith Hall informed the board that during the last snow fall, they had three trucks out of service. Besides the McGee truck, which suffered a flat tire, the 2007 International lost its transmission. It was repaired. Nothing was reported on the third truck. Hall also said 560 pounds of “stuff” had been picked up from the side of the roads.

Monthly transfer station figures for December showed there was $5,285.50, which is down by $1,465.70 from the same time last year at $6,751.20.

In other business, Selectman William Appel Jr. stated he had reached out to Ryan Carver, Windsor Youth Sports basketball commissioner, regarding the request for the board of selectmen to submit a letter in support of the Windsor Youth sports program, regarding the use of the gym at the Windsor Elementary School. The access to the gym has been denied because of Covid-19 safety concerns. Appel suggested the president of the Windsor Youth Association write a letter and then have the board of selectmen review, and add to it, if necessary. Haskell said she would contact Howie Tuttle, RSU #12 superintendent, to get more information.

The next meeting of the Windsor Board of Selectmen took place on January 19, at the Windsor Town Hall.

Farm to table to wellness; the Fusion of Windsor

The Fusion of Windsor owner Antoinette Turner, flanked by her daughters, Rhya, left, and Ellese. (photo by Steve Ball)

by Steve Ball

The dining room at the Fusion of Windsor. Above, items for sale at the restaurant. (photo by Steve Ball)

In a building that has seemingly been in search of a purpose there now resides a new restaurant in the town of Windsor. The Fusion of Windsor Restaurant has grown up out of grit, toil, will and a bit of luck. For the new owner, Antoinette Turner, of Somerville, to find out that she acquired a property on nearly the same day as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions went into place would have been enough for some to reconsider their aspirations. Might this just not be the best time to open a brand new business? But, as days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, Turner found there were just too many good things happening for her not to stick with it and see this idea of a business through.

The property where the Fusion of Windsor now sits, on Rte. 32, nearly half way between Hussey’s General Store and the Windsor Fair Grounds, seemed to Turner to be the perfect spot for a Farmer’s Market, and possibly, at some time in the future, a small farm-to-table restaurant. What exists there now is really more of an evolution than the product of a definite business plan. Talking with Turner, it’s obvious that she is an entrepreneur with a head racing with new ideas and a deep desire to make a difference in her community. She and her daughters also have the gumption to do the work necessary to see her ideas come into being.

Antoinette Turner’s passion was originally in farming and bringing the community together around a farmer’s market. She is a certified goat milk producer who loves farming and appreciates what farms do for a community. Her idea for a farm-to-table restaurant grew out of this, but she knew any restaurant would need to be able to serve beer and wine if it were to compete with other full-service restaurants in neighboring cities and towns.

Items for sale at the restaurant. (photo by Steve Ball)

The Town of Windsor, however, had an ordinance not allowing alcohol to be served and consumed in any establishment. Realizing this would be a deterrent to possible investors, Turner went about changing the ordinance. She attended selectmen’s meetings and took petitions door to door to get the ordnance change put on the ballot. Turner was successful and the town’s people voted to change the No Alcohol ordinance in June of 2019.

It was after this change that the concept of the Fusion of Windsor took shape and became a possibility. Turner was able to get investors to support her idea of a farm-to-table restaurant, farmer’s market, banquet room, and wellness center. She now had some money, but not nearly enough, to transform this building into a functional restaurant and possibly a wellness center. So, she and her daughters went to work and sanded, stripped, painted and reconditioned room after room.

When asked, Turner says COVID-19 restrictions and limitations have, in a strange way, been a blessing. While she is anxious to fully open, the slower pace of business during this period has allowed her to continue to work on the building and tweak her restaurant offerings for what customers are asking.

Aside from a full restaurant, lounge and banquet room on the ground floor, open from Thursday – Sunday, there is also a year around Farmer’s Market open on Sundays. If that wasn’t enough, the basement has a 1,500 square foot room for yoga, Pilates, and other exercise classes and other space being set aside for a mini-spa and bridal dressing room. Turner concluded my tour by saying “and in the back of the building there will be a beer garden” to provide for outside dining and enjoyment. I was stunned that so much could be squeezed out of this space. But, after spending any time with Turner, one realizes she is always thinking; What more can I do? How can I make this better?

It’s clear Antoinette Turner is a person driven to be successful. To see her eyes light up and feel her enthusiasm is enough to believe in her. To see what she and her daughters have done while being restricted by COVID limitations makes me more sure she will be successful.

Debate over Windsor youth sports rages

(Internet photo courtesy ussportscamps.com)

School board rules risks too high to allow athletes in school gym;
Proponents claim same safety measures as school sports can be used

by Steve Ball

The RSU #12 School Board has decided that Youth Sports for the 2020/2021 winter season is too risky to allow in the Windsor School gymnasium. At least, according to the latest RSU Board meeting, having Youth Sports in the Windsor School is too risky to allow until March when the decision will be reconsidered. The RSU Board has debated youth sports in multiple meetings since November 2020 and on each occasion the vote remained that with COVID-19 infections on the rise there will be no youth sports activities allowed in the Windsor School facilities. The reaction to this decision has been disappointing and frustrating for Windsor families, volunteers, and the Youth Sports Basketball Commissioner.

Windsor School (internet photo)

When interviewed last week Howie Tuttle, the RSU #12 Superintendent, said the decision was not necessarily permanent, but he indicated the board felt at this moment with rising COVID-19 infections allowing the Pre-K – 6th grade student players in the Windsor school facilities was too risky.

Under normal circumstances, during the winter months, Saturdays at the Windsor School gym are reserved for youth basketball. In Windsor there are nearly 150 children participating in the basketball and cheerleading programs according to Ryan Carver, the Youth Sports Basketball Commissioner and RSU board member. On Saturdays the gym is usually buzzing with youth players, youth cheerleaders, coaches, referees, and parents. It is this increased amount of personal contact that has RSU board members concerned.

On the other side of the discussion the parents, volunteers and Youth Sports Commissioner have appealed that to not have a sports outlet for the younger children is noticeably damaging to the participants psychologically, emotionally, physically, and academically. According to one volunteer, these children are suffering from the COVID isolation and limited outside activities as much, if not more than the older students.

Additionally, many, if not most of the children participants attend the Windsor School as students, so, to see the older students in the Windsor School allowed to play their sports while the younger students are being prohibited from using the facilities for their basketball season compounds the frustration and disappointment among families and children.

According to the RSU board’s meeting minutes the board members’ concerns to having youth in the school facilities ranges from having responsible and accountable people monitoring the conduct of students and adults following Maine Center for Disease Control guidance, to questioning the ability to conduct adequate contact tracing should someone become infected with the COVID virus, to adequate sanitation of the facilities after the Youth games.

According to Carver, he attempted to assure fellow board members that the extra effort made by the middle school sports programs before, during and after games will be also done for the youth sports activities. These assurances did not sway the skeptical board members. The decision remains that there will not be a youth sports basketball season for Windsor youth, at least until it is reconsidered in March 2021.

Windsor selectmen unanimously delete purchasing procedure policy

by The Town Line staff

The Windsor Board of Selectmen met on December 8, 2020, and worked through a rather light agenda.

The old and new proposed purchasing procedure policy was distributed and discussed. Since each department has a set budget and purchases are approved from the town manager and/or the board of selectmen, it was determine the policy is no longer needed. It was unanimously eliminated by the selectmen.

From the public works department, Keith Hall reported considerable damage was done to the Greeley Road following the last snowstorm. Hall said he spoke with Steve McGee, the contracted provider of plowing services to the town, and said they are going to meet to discuss getting the issue resolved.

Town manager Theresa Haskell distributed the monthly figures for the transfer station, and stated they were $7,543.40, which is up $1,809.40 from this time last year, which was $5,734.

Also from the transfer station, Timothy Coston said the salt was delivered and looked wet. He tested the salt and it came up with 2.5 percent moisture. The acceptable guidelines by the state is one percent. Moisture in the salt is constantly monitored and if the salt has unacceptable levels, the salt vendor has, in the past, credited the town or replaced the salt. According to Haskell, the salt is mixed with sand, and is generally fine to use on town roads.

According to Haskell, there were two quotes for the new office cubicle, one from George Murray at Creative Office Pavilion for $4,358.20 and one from Valley Configurations for $2,947.24. The board of selectmen unanimously chose the latter of the two quotes.

In other business, it was noted the Veterans Memorial Monument has been installed at the cemetery. The pavers, fabricated by Provost Monuments, in Benton, are ready, and they will be put in placed in July 2021.

There was also much discussion on the employee manual which will continue at the next board of selectmen meeting, which was scheduled for December 22, 2020.

At their December 22 meeting, some discussion took place about Christmas Eve, which federal and state considered a holiday, and some other municipal and federal offices would be closed. Selectmen decided to give the decision to the town manager who granted the employees the day off, with pay, as a sign of appreciation to all the employees who have worked during the Covid-19 pandemic. There was also discussion on compensation time that could be given to the public works employees regarding overtime. Haskell will write up something regarding the overtime for the public works employees and to move it to compensation time, for the board to review.

Ryan Carver informed the board the RSU school board voted against having the Windsor youth basketball teams using the Windsor Elementary School. Only school teams are being allowed to practice at the facility. Carver said he, personally, feels that as long as players and coaches follow Covid-19 CDC guidelines, they should be able to practice, also, since some of the students play on both teams. It is his opinion that by not allowing these players to play will have a huge impact now and in the future of any sport. He has asked the board of selectmen to write a letter supporting the Windsor youth basketball teams as long as they follow the current guidelines.

Rick Gray said it is not just youth basketball that is being affected by the school not being able to be accessed, but also the Boy and Girl scouts. Haskell will compose the letter for review by the board of selectmen before the January 5 meeting.

In other business, Haskell said the town had opened a fuel account for the public works trucks in the amount of $4,000 over a year ago, but the money has not been used because the town does not have an on-road diesel tank installed, and the town will be charged a dormant fee if they do not use it. Haskell recommended moving the money back to the general account, and was unanimously approved by the selectmen.

Haskell went on to say they still need to discuss the on-road diesel tank for the public works department.

For the eighth year, the town of Windsor has received a $25,000 grant for the 2021/22 NETCo Scholarship for Windsor residents, which has benefited 128 scholarships over the past seven years, an average of about 18 per year.

Selectman Ray Bates also informed the board that the federal government can mandate employees to take the Covid-19 vaccine, but that it was up to the employer if they wish to mandate the employee to receive the vaccine.

Discussion of the employee manual was tabled to the next meeting, scheduled for January 5, 2021.

WINDSOR: Increase seen in town’s waste contract

Compiled by The Town Line

The Windsor Selectmen held their meeting on November 10, at 6 p.m. Theresa Haskell, the town manager, advised that the town’s Waste Management contract is up for renewal and there will be an increase. If the town signs a contract for three years a 5 percent annual escalator will be applied, or if signed for five years a 3 percent annual escalator. Selectman Ronald F. Brann made a motion for Theresa Haskell to sign the Waste Management contract for five years at a 3 percent annual escalator, seconded by Richard H. Gray, Jr. and approved 5-0-0.

The three-month budget for 2020/2021 was reviewed. Some areas are overspent at this time but will balance out by the end of the year due to the schedule of payments. Other areas will be over-spent primarily due to the cost of elections and the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) safety protocols.

The town received a $5,000 grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life strictly for the planning and conducting a safe and secure election. It was noted this money was very helpful in helping to ensure the safety of our residents and employees during the past election.

The expenses on the Eagle Scout Project on the Parke Property ended up being more than the $465.85 available to spend. The posts were $395.36 and the paint was $180.10. Selectman Ronald Brann said he will donate the balance of $109.61 to complete the project.

There was brief discussion of voting and ways to improve the process for the safety of voters. There are 1,998 registered to vote and 1,499, or 75 percent, voted. Of those who voted, 694 were absentee ballots.