Up and down the Kennebec Valley: Augusta-area authors

by Mary Grow

This week’s article is about two more Augusta-area writers whose careers began in the 19th century. In order of birth, they are Edward Stanwood (born in Augusta, spent most of his career in the Boston area) and Laura E. Richards (born in the Boston area, spent most of her career in Gardiner, two towns south of Augusta).

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Edward Stanwood was born in Augusta on Sept. 16, 1841, the third of Daniel Caldwell and Mary Augusta Webster Stanwood’s 11 children. He graduated from Bowdoin in the Class of 1861 and made a career as a historian and newspaperman.

Find a Grave and other on-line sites summarize parts of his career. More details are given in a 1923 article in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, written by his son-in-law, Charles Knowles Bolton (see below).

Stanwood’s professional career began in Augusta, reporting from 1858 to 1867 for several Maine newspapers, including the Kennebec Journal (founded in 1825).

Edward Stanwood

In the summer of 1867 Stanfield took a position with the Boston Daily Advertiser. From then on his career was based in Massa­chusetts. After 1884, the family spent summers on Squirrel Island, part of Southport, Maine.

In 1883, Stanwood left the Advertiser to become became editor of The Youth’s Companion, a job he held until 1911. This children’s magazine was founded in Boston in 1827, by Perry Mason & Company, and continued until it merged with American Boy in 1929.

In addition to editing, Stanwood wrote non-fiction works, mostly historical and political ­ – a history of the U. S. presidency, a history of U. S. tariff policy, a biography of James G. Blaine (to whom he was related, and with whom he frequently interacted) and many magazine articles.

Stanwood married Eliza Maxwell Topliff (born in Boston Oct. 10, 1839), on Nov. 16, 1870, in Boston. The couple had two children, Ethel (March 2, 1873 – Jan. 9, 1954), and Edward, Jr. (June 24, 1876 – May 16, 1939).

The Brookline, Massachusetts, Historical Society website says the house that was built for Edward Stanwood at 76 High Street was an example of “English Victorian Queen Anne style.”

The article continues, “Its gargoyles embarrassed Stanwood, publisher of the extremely influential The Youth’s Companion, who became known as the man with ‘the house of sunflowers and devils.'”

Eliza Stanwood died Sept. 24, 1917, on Squirrel Island. Edward died Oct. 11, 1923, in Brookline, Massachusetts. Both are buried in Augusta’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Their daughter Ethel graduated from Wellesley College, Class of 1894, and married Charles Knowles Bolton on June 23, 1897, in Brookline, Massachusetts. She was one of the first women to vote in Shirley, Massachusetts, after the 14th Amendment took effect on Aug. 26, 1920.

Ethel and her husband, who was a librarian, both wrote about local history and local families. One of Ethel’s works named on line is Clement Topliff and His Descendants in Boston, a history of her mother’s family (published in 1906).

An on-line genealogy says Clement Topliff might have been born Nov. 17, 1603 (the date is labeled “uncertain”), in England; he died Dec. 24, 1672, in Dorchester, Massachusetts. His son Samuel (born in 1646) fathered Ebenezer (1689), who fathered another Ebenezer (1719), who fathered another Samuel (1758), who fathered Eliza’s father, Samuel, Jr. (1789-1864).

Ethel died and is buried in Shirley.

Ethel’s brother, Edward, Jr., graduated from Bowdoin College and from Harvard Law School. According to the Brookline Historical Society, he married Marion Evans in Chicago, Illinois, on June 15, 1907, and “worked in Boston.”

Find a Grave’s website shows a photo of a June 15, 1907, marriage certificate for Marion Evans, age 26, and Edward Stanwood, age 31, married in Chicago, Illinois. On the same website, a note says Stanwood married Frances Perot (June 24, 1889 – January, 1973). Your writer has failed to find a death date for Marion Evans or a marriage date for Frances Perot and cannot say whether Edward married twice.

Find a Grave says Edward and Frances are buried in Truro, Massachusetts. The website has a photo of his tombstone; the inscription says “Massachusetts” and “Lieut (J. G.) U.S.N.R.F.” (Lieutenant, Junior Grade, U. S. Naval Reserve Force).

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Laura E. Richards

When Henry Kingsbury published his Kennebec County history in 1890, contributor Thomas Addison observed that Laura E. Richards’ “work as a writer covers, as yet, but little more than a decade.” Addison gave her one of the longer paragraphs in his chapter on literary people, and your writer suspects today she is the best-known of the writers described thus far in this sub-series.

Laura Elizabeth (Howe) Richards was born Feb. 27, 1850, in Boston, oldest of six children (the younger of her two brothers died at the age of three; her youngest sister, Maud [Howe] Elliott, was the only sibling who outlived her).

Richards’ father was Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, who founded the Perkins School for the Blind in 1829. Her mother was Julia Ward Howe, best known as author of the 1862 poem titled The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

On June 17, 1871, Laura married an architect named Henry “Skipper” Richards. They lived in Boston until 1876, when Richards took a high-level job in the family paper mill in Gardiner, Maine, and the family moved there.

Laura Richards wrote more than 90 books, including children’s books, poetry and biographies.

Her earliest works were poems for children, published in St. Nicholas Magazine beginning in 1873. A biographical note on line, introducing her papers in the University of New England’s Maine Women Writers Collection, calls her “the first prominent American writer of nonsense verse for children.”

On-line sources list such books as Baby’s Rhyme Book (1878); Five Mice in a Mousetrap by the Man in the Moon: Done in Vernacular, from the Lunacular (1880); The Joyous Story of Toto (1885) (the Google book title The Joyous Story of Toot is a misprint) and Toto’s Merry Winter (1887); and Tirra Lirra: Rhymes Old and New (1932).

Baby’s Rhyme Book begins with a kitten’s story of her day: 7 a.m., trying unsuccessfully to put her mistress’s workbox in order; 9 a.m., sampling the cream on the breakfast table ­– “not so thick as it ought to be, but I do not complain” – since no one brought her food; 10 a.m., sharpening her claws on the annoyingly flimsy curtains; 11 a.m., moving a vase so she can nap on top of the clock; and so on.

Sources call Five Mice in a Mousetrap Richards’ first children’s book. By today’s standards, it is not for young children: 17 chapters, more than 220 pages and, like the previous book, a vocabulary that is not for beginning readers, but to be read aloud by a parent.

The first chapter opens with the Man in the Moon saying:

“Children, down on the planet which you call Earth, allow me to introduce myself to you! I am the Man in the Moon. I have no doubt that you know a good deal about me, in an indirect way, and that your nurses have told you all sorts of nonsense about my inquiring the way to Norwich – as if I didn’t know the way to Norwich! and various things equally sensible.”

(The reference is to a Mother Goose poem first published in 1833, with many variations through the years, about the Man in the Moon tumbling down and asking the way to Norwich. He “went by the south, and burnt his mouth” on cold porridge.)

The Toto books are a puzzle to your writer. The first is described on line as the story of a black dog, Toto; but a recorded book with the same title is about a cheerful little boy named Toto, who lives with his blind grandmother in a cottage in the woods (with a talking teakettle, among other amenities).

The boy persuades his woodland friends to visit his grandmother to keep her from being lonely. The first to arrive is a bear, unaccustomed to conversation; fortunately, raccoon, with squirrel on his back, two birds and a sleepy woodchuck soon arrive to help him.

The on-line description of Toto’s Merry Winter calls it the story of a young girl. The cover depicts a young boy, with woodland animals.

Tirra Lirra is a collection of Richards’ poems that were published in “St. Nicholas Magazine” from the late 1800s to the 1930s. It includes an often-mentioned nonsense verse called “Eletephony,” which reads:

Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant – No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone [Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I’ve got it right.]
How’er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk;
The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee I fear I’d better drop the song
Of elehop and telephong!

Addison called Captain January (1890) not intended for young readers, but a portrait of “the ever fascinating child character.” It is the story of a lighthouse keeper who adopts a baby girl who survives a shipwreck and names her Star Bright. When others of her family are discovered (by a rather stretched coincidence), Star Bright chooses to stay with her adoptive father.

At the end of the book, readers know Star Bright will be leaving the lighthouse. A 1927 sequel, “Star Bright”, tells of her later life.

For adult readers, Richards edited two volumes of her father’s papers (1906-1909) and wrote several biographies. Her 1915 biography of her mother, coauthored with her sisters Maud (Howe) Elliott and Florence (Howe) Hall and titled Julia Ward Howe 1819-1901, won the first Pulitzer Prize for biography, awarded in 1917.

Richards’ 1931 autobiography is called Stepping Westward. It is described as a portrait of a pleasant life, including acquaintance with Boston-area literary figures and travels in Europe.

The Richardses bought a house on Dennis Street in Gardiner that they painted yellow and called the Yellow House. They had five daughters and two sons, born between 1872 and 1886.

Kingsbury, writing in 1892, said a fire at the family pulp mill in 1882 did $50,000 worth of damage; afterward, the mill was “rebuilt and enlarged.” The UNE source says it burned again in 1893, was again rebuilt and closed for good in 1900. Find a Grave says the Richards Paper Company merged with International Paper in 1900.

After leaving the paper business, Henry resumed his career as an architect. He and Laura spent their summers running Camp Merryweather, the boys’ camp they founded on Great Pond, in the Belgrades. Henry was camp director until 1934; the camp closed in 1937.

The couple supported many local causes. Kingsbury lists Henry Richards (and two other Richardses) as an incorporator of the Gardiner Water Power Company in 1880; the city water system began running in November 1885.

When the Gardiner Library Association was incorporated Feb. 14, 1881, Kingsbury said Laura E. Richards served on the first board of directors. Find a Grave says she founded the association, and Henry designed the library building and was a director.

In 1895, Laura founded the Women’s Philanthropic Union, of which she was president for 26 years.

Both died at Yellow House, Laura on Jan. 14, 1943, aged 92, and Henry on Jan. 26, 1949, aged 100. They are buried in Gardiner’s Christ Church cemetery.

Yellow House was a Federal-style house, originally built around 1810. In 1979, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places as the Laura E. Richards House. A Dec. 24, 2022, fire did so much damage that the remains of the house had to be torn down.

Main sources

Kingsbury, Henry D., ed., Illustrated History of Kennebec County Maine 1625-1892 (1892).

Websites, miscellaneous.


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