Legends of Maine

  • ASIN:           1300220090
  • ISBN-13: 978-1300220091

My latest book, Legends of Maine is now available at Amazon, or through my own site.

This volume shares several folklore tales from Maine’s bygone days. From the elusive sea serpents of Casco bay to the even more questionable existence of the Windigo, or is it a Bigfoot, roaming the backwoods of Maine, there is sure to be a story you will enjoy. Stories included are from Samuel Drake Adams, Charles Asbury Stephens, George Arthur Cleveland and other folklorists, poets and writers of fiction from the nineteeth century.

The first portion of the book looks at the legend and history behind the sea serpent sightings in the Gulf of Maine during the 1800s, followed by a short piece regarding phenomoena that was know as  Barisal Guns, and a brief exursion into the more famous witchcraft stories from Maine.

There are also many of Samuel Drake Adams and Charles M. Skinners Maine related folklore tales, as well as a story by George Arthur Cleveland called “The Remick Case,” which is a story that deals with the supposed disappearence of a man after being kidnapped by a band of frog people and brought to the bottom of one of Maine’s secluded back country lakes.

I also share some of William Cox’s imaginary beasts from Maine’s past, and round off the book with a look into the possibility of there being a Bigfoot population here in Maine, and include two stories from the mid 1800s that describe a creature that sounds very much like today’s Bigfoot descriptions. These stories are by C.A. Stephens and were written in the 1860’s.

Watch the video below for more, and if you like Maine stories and the mystery of the past, this book is for you!

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From Druggists to Pizza and Beer in the Old Port

Industry and tourism rarely, if ever cooperate with each other, and one always wins out over the other, with the loser usually being snuffed out like a spent cigarette. Portland’s Old Port district seems to have figured out a way to buck the trend, and where once Portland’s waterfront was a haven for the maritime industries, other businesses have sprouted, grown and moved along, the area slowly morphing into today’s Tourist playground, playing with that ancient of industries as though they were meant for each other.

We can look back through the rearview mirror we call history and see what has become of some of those businesses. Today, I’ll look at the address of 94-96 Commercial Street, and see what has become of that particular address perched on the corner of Commercial and the Custom House Wharf. Today, it houses a fine little pub called Andy’s Old Port Pub. Over a century ago this same building housed a wholesale pharmaceutical company called the John W. Perkins Company.

A bit of narrative follows as we read from George Bacon’s 1891 Representative Businessmen of Portland:

JOHN W. PERKINS & CO., Wholesale Druggists and Dealers in Paints, Oils and Dye Stuffs, 94 and 96 Commercial St. and 2 and 4 Custom House Wharf, Portland, Me. John W. Perkins, Benj. A. Perkins, J. Henry Crockett. Among the wholesale drug houses of Portland not one occupies a higher position than that of John W. Perkins & Co., and indeed in all New England there is not a firm of jobbing and manufacturing druggists who enjoy a better reputation throughout Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and the provinces as a reliable jobbing house who make a specially of furnishing a superior quality of drugs, medicines, preparations, etc., regarding which they might well adopt the motto “Not how cheap, but how good.”

They have long enjoyed an extensive jobbing trade in the field above named, and are better prepared than ever to sustain their time-honored reputation. This business was founded in 1853 by Messrs. Perkins & Titcomb, and the present firm name was adopted in 1855, the partners then being Messrs. John W. and Benjamin A. Perkins. Mr. J. A. Titcomb entered in 1863 and retired in 1868, and the firm is now composed of Messrs. J. W. & B. A. Perkins, both natives of Weld, Maine, and Mr. J. Henry Crockett, a native of Norway, Maine. Mr. Crockett entered the firm in 1869, and has been prominent in public as well as in business life. He was connected with the city government several years, and has served as president of the Common Council.

The firm utilize very spacious premises at Nos. 94 and 96 Commercial St. and Nos. 2 and 4 Custom House Wharf, and carry a very heavy stock comprising not only drugs, medicines, chemicals, proprietary remedies and druggists’ sundries but also paints, oils and dye stuffs of every description. They are prepared to furnish any or all of these commodities in the very largest quantities without delay, employment being given to 24 assistants. No manufacturing druggists’ preparations are considered more absolutely and uniformly reliable, and this is the legitimate result of the policy pursued by this representative house, for they take great care to use the purest drugs and employ the highest skill and the most improved facilities in their manipulation.

Their list of standard pharmacentical preparations is very complete and is constantly being added to, for the firm are progressive as well as reliable and new preparations that have proved their value and been endorsed by the medical profession are at once manufactured and kept in stock. Samples are furnished to any physician or druggist who will give them a fair trial, and the number of physicians who specify “Perkins”‘ when prescribing standard preparations is significant evidence of the result of such trial. It has long been a conceded fact among the trade that no concern in the state furnishes more reliable goods of standard merit and fills orders more accurately and satisfactorily in every respect.

Prior to Perkins’ occupation of this address, a John H. Cox ran a trading company at 94 Commercial. It also appears as though the upper floors may have been utilized as a sail making shop by several craftsmen. Many businesses have occupied the building since then, with the Perkins company changing hands and names about 1920 becoming Brewer & Co. Inc. The Brewer Company continued in the wholesale pharmaceutical trade for some time.

A fire that destroyed the upper floors of the building precipitated the transfer of business between the Perkins and Brewer. As the business reduced its size over the years, the building became divided repeatedly into smaller rental spaces, with a photographer by the name of S.S. Skolfield occupying space in the building at the time that Brewer and Co. utilized the building.

The names and dates of the businesses that have occupied this space are too numerous for this small space, but today, the address is occupied by Andy’s Old Port Pub, of which you can find a poem and some video I took of the block one evening. Many of you may remember the not so distant tenant of the name of Casco Variety, a convenience store that sold a great many items, from food and drink to odds and ends.

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The Curtis Gum Company

One of the forgotten industries of Maine’s past is the Spruce Gum business, once upon a time providing employment to hundreds of Mainers. Hearty souls would tromp the backwoods of this state with long poles, scraping the oozing sap from the trunks of the mighty spruce for sale to the gum companies. It was a good business and a solid line of trade in the 1800s, with many businesses sprouting up in the industry. Of course, if you ask anyone today if they have any spruce gum, they’ll look sideways at you as if you had some kind of a problem.

Oh well, time changes everything but God, as they say.

I came across an article in the January, 1904 issue of the Board of Trade Journal that detailed some of one gum companies history and status, that being the Curtis Gum Co located at 289 Fore street and 9 Deer Street, next to where today’s Hub Furniture building sits. Today, the location is a parking garage. I have placed a Google maps picture of that building today to the left, as well as an early photo from Portland, Past and Present showing the South Portland factory, the first factory in America built for the purpose of gum manufacturing.

Curtis Gum Co.

The origin of the Curtis & Son Company, 9 Deer and 289 Fore streets, dates back to 1850, when John B. Curtis, who had aided his father in making spruce gum over the kitchen stove, started a small factory, and created a public taste for his gum until the demand outgrew his most sanguine expectations. Of the three different factories erected by Mr. Curtis, for the manufacture of chewing gum, the last, finished in 1866, was the first brick structure ever built in this country for such a purpose. To this building extensive enlargements have been found necessary to keep pace with the growth of the business.

On January 1, 1898, after the death of Mr. Curtis, the concern was made a close corporation with Adam P. Leighton as president and Silas B. Adams as secretary and treasurer. The building on Fore street, which is five stories high, containing three floors, 45 by 135 feet and two floors 45 by 90 feet, is devoted wholly to the manufacture of pepsin chewing gum, of which chickle is the chief ingredient.

The company employs 16 men and 80 to 100 girls, with a daily product of 5,000 pounds of chewing gum, representing a retail value of $2,500.

The branch factory in South Portland is manufactures spruce and paraffin, substances which enter largely into the composition of the different gums. About 30 persons are employed in this establishment, whose daily output will average 1,200 pounds.

The company also maintains a branch factory at St. John, N. B. The factories are supplied with self-acting wrapping machines, capable of doing the work of five girls. The company today manufactures over 40 different brands of chewing gum, not reckoning private brands made to fill special orders. Seven traveling men, are covering territory from St. Johns, Newfoundland, to the Hawaiian Islands, and from Owen’s Sound, Ontario, to the City of Mexico, are kept constantly on the road. Mr. Leighton has represented Ward Seven in the Board of Aldermen, and is vice president of Chapman National bank, and a director of the Mercantile Trust Co.

In a resume of this enterprise, credit must necessarily be paid Mr. Adams for his successful management of the business. Mr. Adams is thoroughly experienced in the manufacture of gum, and was connected with the old concern previous to the present organization. Mr. Adams is also treasurer of the Casco Paper Box Company.

The following is the excerpt from Gillespie’s Portland, Past and Present with a few additional details of this historic Maine company.

Curtis & Son Company

Through the above concern Portland is noted for the manufacture of chewing gum, as the history of the entire business of the world dates back to the start made by John B. Curtis, in 1850. Spruce chewing gum was made by his father with the use of a kitchen stove, and rudely put up in comparison with the marvels of artistic creations of the present day. Mr. Curtis started out with his novel product, and, undaunted by the unpromising reception at first, finally succeeded in educating the dealer, and through him the public, until the demand outgrew his wildest hopes.

Three different factories were built by him, for the making of chewing gum, the last in 1866, is shown in the accompanying illustration. This is the first brick building ever built for the manufacture of chewing gum, to which notable enlargements have been made necessary, from time to time, to keep pace with the growth of the business. After the use of spruce gum had become firmly fixed in the public favor, it was discovered that paraffin was a material which could be made use of in the manufacture of chewing gums, and to this day these white gums are popular with a large portion of the public.

In about 1871, gum chicle, which had been brought to New York for purposes of experimenting, and as a hoped-for substitute for gutta percha, was found to be a very acceptable substance, and perfectly adapted to the making of chewing gum; since that time the use of this material has increased enormously, and with a very large part of the public, has supplanted the use of spruce and paraffine. The output of this historic factory is over 1,000 boxes daily. Shipments are now made covering the entire territory from St. Johns. New Foundland, to Honolulu, and from Owen’s Sound, Ontario, to the City of Mexico.

The business in this city requires from 65 to 85 hands the year round, and the factory is equipped with all the labor saving devices in the way of modern machinery. There is used at the factory 200,000 pounds of sugar, 75,000 pounds of gum chicle, 25 tons of spruce, and 20 tons of paraffine annually. This concern, the pioneer in the chewing gum business in the United States, and in fact, the world, for many years enjoying and meriting a monopoly, was, until his decease, carried on under the firm name of Curtis & Son, by the late John B. Curtis, a well known citizen of Portland. On January 1, 1898, the business was merged into the present close corporation, of which Adam P. Leighton is president, and S. B. Adams, treasurer, both of whom are well known in business and financial circles.

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A Dark Day in Maine

Natural phenomena are always occurring around us, but we only pay attention when that phenomenon is great enough in size or magnitude that it disrupts our daily routine. Frequently, when we see a darkening of the day it is caused by either super intense cloud cover, or a solar eclipse. Rarely does it get dark enough to cause widespread confusion. It has happened though, and on May 19 of 1780, Maine saw one of its darkest days in our history.

Religious zealots of the day claimed the Apocalypse had arrived, most scientific minded people thought otherwise, and presumed that something had caused the sun to eclipse. But as the day wore on after having what was termed at the time as dusk occurring as early as nine AM, hints and clues were dropped to speak of an otherwise, and more dangerous tragedy at hand. The following excerpt from the book Ancient city of Gorgeana and modern town of York, by George Alexander Emery contains a brief description of that day, at least as it was to some townsfolk in York.

One of the most memorable dark days of the last century took place May 19, 1780. In this town, it commenced to darken at about nine o’clock in the morning, and was past twilight before half past ten o’clock. Throughout the New England States and some adjacent tracts of New York and Canada, such was the obscuration that in many places people could not see to read a line at mid-day without artificial light. For hours, it continued to impart to surrounding objects a tinge of yellow, and awakened in many a beast apprehensions of some impending calamity. All was wrapped in gloom; the birds became silent, domestic fowls retired to their perches, and cocks crowed as at break of day. The darkness of the following night was so intense that many who were benighted and but a little way from home, on well-known roads, could not, without extreme difficulty, retrace their way to their own dwellings. The author, in his boyhood, has often conversed with many of the oldest inhabitants,— among them were Messrs. John Carlisle, William Staccy, William Tetherly, — all of whom were Revolutionary pensioners, and they well remembered the occurrence, and exemplified the dense blackness of that night by saying “that an object held up near the face could no more be seen than a piece of the blackest velvet put in close contact with the eyes.” No astronomical or meteorological cause has ever been assigned for this singular phenomenon.

Of course, today we can provide the probable explanation to this odd stretch of darkness, but we need to remember that at the time of its happening, the constitution of this nation was still years away from being written, and we had just freshly ended our revolutionary war, for the most part. Scientists, in examining history through the annular rings of trees have found that the probable cause of Maine’s darkest day was probably from a massive forest fire that swept through what we now call the Algonquin National Park in Ontario, Canada.

Reports suggest that for at least a few days prior to the event a thick pall had filled the atmosphere, creating a yellowish haze in the air, indicative of a fire burning. A probable combination of that fire, and its growing intensity, with a cold from moving offshore from the northeast, bring dense fog and cloud cover attributed to the intensity of the darkness. Anecdotal reports suggest that soot was collected in some areas, with some reports claiming soot as deep as six inches in western New England. The sun had a reddish tint to it, and the moon, per some statements, seemed to be glowing red through the haze and smoke created by the fire.

There were no apparent injuries from the fallout of that fire, however, due to the ash and soot settling there were some ponds, and wells that were covered by a layer of that soot and ash. Of course, ash is good for the gardens, but it is not so good for the drinking water.

However, every action has a reaction, and like a stone leaving ever widening ripples across the pond as it skips across the surface, this event also created circumstances beyond the simple awe and wonder most people had over the event. One of these reactions was the unexpected advance of the Shaker religion. The fear of the darkness and its comparisons to Biblical prophecy brought many people to their meetings in New York and Massachusetts, and we eventually saw the establishment of the Shaker community in Poland. Other people flocked to religious services and meetings of other denominations and faiths as well.

It is interesting as we gaze over the past to see events take place, and then read about the domino like after effects of any event. If the fire in Ontario had not reached such epic proportions, there would not have been such an outpouring of religious fervor, and without that fervor, the Shakers we know of today would not be as we know them. Perhaps many of the communities they established would never have been established.

I read a lot of commentary and works from many authors from a myriad of sources, and many of those writers have a tendency to politicize and monetize our past, changing its meaning to suit their agenda, instead of simply sharing the details and facts of the past, and putting those stories in light of the results of those events.

Always look beyond the event to find the true story of our past. You might be surprised at what you find.

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Ellsworth History Book Sale

Through words and pictures, this book presents an overview of Ellsworth, Maine past and present. The book provides a glimpse into our community’s past, an examination of its properties on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as a profile of four community individuals. This is a visit to the Ellsworth of Yesterday and Today through 144 pages of intriguing and exciting text and 200 wonderful photographs. It will provide you with a look of the how and why Ellsworth began.

All proceeds from the sale of the books will benefit the Ellsworth Historical Society’s restoration of our building as well as the continued work of the historical society. We hope that you will purchase a book and show your support for the society and its work. Thank you.

This book sold originally for 39.95 now on sale for just 10.00 ! To purchase your copy please send a check or money order for $15.00 ($10.00 for the book and $5.00 shipping and handling) to:

The Ellsworth Historical Society
Pictorial History Book
PO Box 355
Ellsworth, ME 04605

or call Linda at 667-5716 or Terri at 667-8235 to pick up your copy at the museum for just 10.00 or be sure and pick one ( or more) up when you visit us!

This is a great deal and a wonderful way to show your support to the Historical Society! We are currently preparing to repair our brick facade, roof, gutters, windows and more this summer and can really use your support! As always donations are welcome and please visit us this summer, we are open Thursdays and Saturdays 10-3 or by appointment at the museum at 40 State Street , Ellsworth – The Old Hancock County Jail and Museum. Visit our website for more information

Thank you for helping to preserve our history!!!

From all the members and friends of the Ellsworth Historical Society.

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Snow Falls, the Video

I have finally managed to cobble together a video presentation of one of my favorite Maine locations, that of Snow Falls in West Paris, Maine. The video looks at the history of this beautiful and fascinating Maine site. We’ll look at some of the stories surrounding the naming of these falls and the industrial history of the location that depended upon the water power to drive their machinery. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to share.

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Old Town Canoes

The Bangor Daily News had a nice piece on the Old Town Canoe Company today, and while the crux of the article was regarding the now closed original factory location, there is quite a bit of information regarding the history of this iconic Maine company. There are scores and score of companies that have built canoes, and still do, but few have risen to the reputation and excellence the Old Town Canoe Company has achieved. When a sportsman thinks or talks of canoes, most assuredly the name Old Town is forefront in nearly every conversation.

Of course, the company has new digs they are enjoying which are much more accommodating to today’s modern manufacturing methods, and the canoes they build are made of synthetic materials, and not the natural wood and canvas products used in the past. Time changes all it seems.

I came across a letter to the “trouble Department” column of Power Boating magazine[November, 1914], and the writer[B.B. of Portland Ore.] says he installed a four horsepower motorcycle engine into an 18 foot Old Town Canoe, and wanted to know what size propeller he should use to get the most speed from that motor. The reply was that he should reduce the 4100 rpm speed of the motor to a third of that and mount a two-blade 14×16 propeller on the shaft for the best speed. We men were daring in those days, weren’t we?

These advertisements shown here to the left were taken from several early 1900 periodicals, and they show the range of product this company was able to provide, even in the early days of Old Town’s life. One model in particular, the “Sponson” model even included air chambers along the sides to prevent capsizing and sinking of the canoe should an unsuspecting (or reckless) paddler get too close to danger.

Speaking of the early 1900s, I believe one of the reasons Old Town has persisted for over a century is its dogged resistance to the changing times, while at the same time being able to change with those very times as they change. WWI was no exception to the rule. As the war caused many companies to fold due to retracting sales, the management of Old Town Canoe grabbed the paddle and forged ahead by increasing their advertising and reaching out for new markets to conquer. Their strategy paid off, and because of their ability to adapt and change, is still around today.

That ability to persevere in spite of the circumstances seems common in Maine, or at least it used to be. A Mainer would see that something needed to be done, and he(or she) would get it done. There was no intent to gain glory in honor in doing a job, the job was done because it needed to be done. companies failed for many reasons, but others succeed for a very few reasons. The drive to carry on in spite of the obstacles is just one of those reasons.

Some would say that Old Town Canoe achieved success in the boating world because of their name and location, but we must remember that not only was Old Town Canoe not the only canoe maker in Maine, they were not even the only canoe maker in Old Town. In the early days they also competed against the E.M. White & Co., the Carleton Canoe Company, both of Old Town, Morris Canoes of Veazie, the Robertson and Old Town Canoe Co., formerly the Indian Old Town Canoe Co., of Old Town and a score or more of other makers, just in the state of Maine.

So what were the circumstances that caused Old Town Canoe to become such an iconic presence in the outdoors world, and why do they keep selling the world’s best canoes today? There are many answers to that, of course, but I believe we can summarize by stating that this company, which essentially began as a back room extra income business has stuck to its core standards, and while changing with the times in some respects, still adheres to the age-old mantra of pride and quality going hand in hand. They know what they do well, and they stick to it.

Many age-old companies have changed with the times, but the core values of the companies have changed as well. Take Abercrombie & Fitch, for instance. Once they were the premier outfitter of the world. If a sportsman wanted hunting, fishing or camping supplies, their first choice was Abercrombie. They were so prominent; the TV show MASH had an episode where Hawkeye Pierce even ordered a portable bathtub from the company. Today, they sell clothing of objectionable taste to teeny-boppers who obviously have no taste. Relegated to a few thousand square foot sales floors in the nations malls, this company today faces a prospect of extinction because they have wandered so far from their core audience.

Not so for Old Town Canoe, and I hope they never compromise their name, nor their reputation for the sake of easy money, no matter how trying the times become. Compromise begets many negative things in some instances, but never more so than in the manufacturing and retail scenes. Remember when Black and Decker was a name you could trust and respect? Sylvania? General Electric? Or even here at home, L.L. Bean? I remember when you could get top quality merchandise for the outdoorsman. Today, they have come to compromise their own core standards in favor of catering to big city wannabee sportsman who want to look the part as they tool around town in their pricey SUVs, wanting to look rustic, but not willing to pay the real price to be rustic. Don’t get me wrong, you can still get good quality merchandise, but it isn’t like it used to be. Time changes all things (but not necessarily), remember?

A brief piece in the April 25, 1909 issue of Motor Boat magazine perhaps says it best when it comes to the power of owning a canoe, and in particular an Old Town canoe. Those were the days when sportsmen were sportsmen, and getting away from it all was the real prize, although bagging a trophy was indeed icing on the cake.

THERE’S a great deal that might be said about Old Town canoes, a great deal more than can be spoken in this brief space. These canoes are built by the Old Town Canoe Company, at Old Town, Me. Canoes are about the most primitive craft; they were used by the early tribes of mankind, and throughout the ages the canoe has survived, until we find it, refined and perfected in the Old Town models. They are found in all parts of the world, thousands of them. To the owner of a motorboat cruiser the possession of a canoe will bring many hours of pleasure that could not be enjoyed by any other means. A canoe carried on deck enables one to explore out-of-the-way waters, to seek the beauty of shallow streams. The writer cherishes the memory of many happy hours spent in an Old Town, paddling leisurely upon almost hidden creeks, beneath the foliage of overhanging trees, in absolute peace. If you would know rest, and seek quiet, if you would meditate, would muse and dream, as you need to, get a canoe and take it with you when you cruise. The illustration shows the cover of the Old Town Canoe catalogue, and it is a book worth reading, it breathes the spirit of the thing in every line. A copy is free to any reader of Motor Boat.

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Biddeford Pool

The history of Maine is riddled with a past that vacillates between tourism and industry as key components of our economic picture, and as such, we have collected boxes upon boxes of memories of what we think is the past. Our memories are not always faithful to the facts, however, and when we try to relive what we think is the past, it never really quite achieves satisfaction to our expectations. Today, as we seem to be looking to embrace the tempting vagaries of what has been dubbed “eco-tourism” by the UN, we are once again drifting away from a rich, industrial based economy towards that ever so fleeting economy of the tourism dollar.

Pondering the possibilities, I am reminded that Maine has enjoyed pockets of popularity that made us world leaders in the vacation industry in many ways. The Poland Spring House, Mt. Kineo, Old Orchard Beach, Bar Harbor, and many other communities have billed themselves as “the place to recreate” over the last nearly two centuries. Biddeford pool immediately popped into my mind as I was reflecting upon Maine’s history this morning, and so I pulled a few things out of the many resources available to share with you here.

Moses F. Sweetser writes about Biddeford Pool in his 1889 “Here and There in New England and Canada;”

Biddeford Pool, down near the mouth of the river, was in former days one of the pet resorts of the Maine seaboard, visited every returning summer by hundreds of city families. But a few years ago the chief hotels were burned down, and the remaining house (the SeaView) and cottages hardly suffice to accommodate their would-be patrons. For the place has great natural beauties and advantages, which should be more fully and freely developed. The Pool itself is a shallow salt-water lagoon two miles long, filled high by the returning tides, and affording capital opportunities for safe boating, while to the eastward is a long sandy beach, rolled hard by the surf, and to the north, beyond the famous Wood-Island Light, the eye rests contented on the curving lines of Old-Orchard Beach and the dim seaward projection of Prout’s Neck. On one side of the narrow outlet of the Pool rises the grim little Fort Hill, where the colonists erected their stronghold of Fort Mary, in 1708, after the truculent Indians had captured their stone fort up near the falls. For many years, from the early provincial times, the Pool was as beneficent as Siloam or Bethesda in the belief of the Maine farmers, who had a fancy that whoever bathed therein on the 26th day of June would be healed of all diseases. This is indeed the festival of Sts. Vigilius, Maxentius, and Anthelm, but what connection these Latin worthies may have had with the coast of Maine is not clear.

A steamboat runs from Biddeford to Biddeford Pool twice daily, and crosses also to Camp Ellis, the terminus of the Old-Orchard-Beach Railroad, where connection is made for Old-Orchard Beach.

Fortune’s Rocks and Goose Rocks, with their small hotels and clusters of cottages, are reached by stages from Biddeford; and their bold and rugged coast-scenery, and opportunities for fishing and gunning, attract many visitors. Fortune’s Rocks is a series of iron-bound promontories projecting into the sea from the lower end of the magnificent beach running north to Biddeford Pool; and has cottagers from Boston, New York, Washington, and other cities, with lakes rich in water-lilies, and comfortable old farms on the landward side. The rocks afford a wonderful marine garden, where star-fish, sea-anemones, sea-urchins, and other strange creatures dwell, with seals sunning themselves on the outer ledges.

Most people today look upon Biddeford Pool as a place where the elite live with their high dollar beachfront homes, but this really isn’t the case in relation to the history of Maine. Early on, the area had been a farming and fishing community, with no pretense towards being a tourist haven. Life in those days was hard, with most people just barely scraping by in the harsh wilderness of Maine. In the 1700s several rounds of war and depredation between the English settlers and the aboriginal populations created a need for garrison houses and forts to be constructed for protection. At one time the area was actually evacuated due to the Indian wars for a time.

But time progressed, and as the Biddeford/Saco area slowly grew into a viable and long lasting community, agriculture receded and industry took over as the power of the Saco Falls and other locations of water power caused manufacturing businesses to flourish. Sawmills, and gristmills grew and other facilities such as carding mills and various other manufactory’s were established, creating in turn a new source of income to the citizens of these communities.

During the early 1800s the value of the fresh and invigorating coastal air created an opportunity for businesses serving the tourism trade to flourish, and several hotels and boarding houses were erected to accommodate those travelers seeking refuge from the sweltering heat and pollution of the now growing industrialized cities of the interior. The Yates House and the Highland house, both shown here as woodcut reprints from “The Shores of Casco Bay” [J.S. Locke, 1880] became the big names in the trade, and accommodated several hundred guests at a time between the two.

The proximity of the sandy beaches of Old Orchard and Pine Point, a short carriage ride away, added to the lure of the Biddeford Pool location. It must have been a wonderful experience to visit the area in Maine’s bygone days, but unfortunately, a series of fires destroyed most of the larger hotels and boarding houses over time, and none of them were rebuilt, once gone. As the train and trolley systems came into being, it made other communities more attractive in their newness and lower costs, and Biddeford Pool succumbed to the cycle of growth and change that afflicts all communities.

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The Maine Turnpike (that never was)

There’s a lot of news in today’s paper regarding the proposed increase to the tolls of the Maine Turnpike system, and of course, nobody is in favor or raising the rates, except for the Maine Turnpike board. I don’t like the idea myself, but when the alternatives are considered, they really do not look that bad in a retrospective manner. Roadways cost money to maintain, and since the turnpike adds extra value beyond the other roadways of which we could choose to travel to get from Kittery to Augusta and beyond…well, from you can figure it out from there. We can pay the toll and get from the New Hampshire border to our state capitol in a couple of hours on the turnpike, or we can wind our way up US route 1, and head up route 201 from Brunswick or route 27 in Wiscasset. Either choice will add at least two to three hours of scrambling through traffic an what seems like an endless journey of pothole dancing. It is your choice.

Peter Vigue of the Cianbro Corp. wants to build and establish an east-west highway, literally cutting Maine in half with a corridor meant to support Canadian traffic going from New Brunswick to Quebec. It will be a toll road of course, built with private funding to be repaid with the tolls collected from that roadway. Is it a good idea for Maine? I think it is a great idea, and have no problem with the concept. I might have a problem with some of the details of the project, but I haven’t seen any details as yet. So, what is the big thing with these toll roads, and why do they have such an effect on Maine as a state?

The impact of transportation on any localized society or community can make or break that community. The lack of quick and inexpensive transportation can bury a community in the past, relegating it to a slow and painful death as businesses that provide employment leave the area, followed by those people who no longer have employment. In past years, as we look at the history of Maine we can see how the lumber and fishing industries created communities based upon localized need, fed by localized material and available assets. As those assets have declined, those areas lost opportunities to other communities that were situated in such a way that they could take advantage of the aspect of available transportation. Backwoods communities died off and some have even vanished completely as other communities grew.

Turnpikes, or toll roads as some prefer to call them, have been a great boon to those communities that lie along their pathway. Unfortunately, they have also been the death of many communities that do not lie along their pathway. This can be a good thing, or a bad thing, entirely dependent upon ones point of view of the past, as well as the future. There have actually been many toll roads or turnpikes in Maine’s history, most of them having been fairly short-lived, and none permanent entities. The Maine Turnpike has been the only exception to that statement, of course. Perhaps it is time to take a different view of our highway system here in Maine.

However, to get to the point of this posts title, the Maine Turnpike Authority we know of today is not the first cadre of highwaymen authorized by judicial means in the state. Way back before we were known as the state of Maine, our trustees by way of the Massachusetts legislature of the time granted an incorporation known as the Maine Turnpike Association. Its purpose was to build and maintain a roadway, paid for by tolls of course, that would stretch from the New Hampshire border in Kittery, thence to Portland and then on to Augusta, in as straight a line as possible. The act was approved in January of 1803, and in spite of much chest thumping and bragging by the proprietors of the corporation, the little bird never left the nest and not one shovel of earth was turned over to build the turnpike.

In spite of the lack of completion of the project, the concept of a roadway to what would become our state capitol still managed to pervade the thoughts of planners along the seacoast communities. If you pay close attention to roadmaps that have been compiled over the years, you can see that what now is known as US route 1 travels over a fairly straight route until it reaches the mid-coast area and veers away from our capitol to follow the coastline to Calais. That same route is very nearly the route suggested way back in 1802.

According the legislative record of this act forming the corporation, the following lays out what the turnpike is supposed to look like:

…shall be a Corporation by the name and [and] style of The Maine Turnpike Association, with all the powers and privileges usually given and belonging to similar Corporations, for the purpose of laying out, making & keeping in repair a turnpike road from the line of the State of New Hampshire to Portland, and from thence to Augusta Bridge, upon as straight a line as circumstances will admit; and erecting and keeping in repair such Bridge or Bridges as may be necessary on said route, which turnpike road shall not be less than four rods wide, and the part to be travelled on not less than twenty four feet in width, in any part thereof; and when said Road or any ten miles thereof shall be sufficiently made…then the said Turnpike Corporation shall be authorized to erect Turnpike gates turnpike Gate or Gates on the said Road, at such place or places as the said Committee, of the said Court of Sessions, and the said Corporation shall judge necessary and convenient, for collecting the Toll, Provided that no turnpike Gate be erected on, or any Toll demanded on any part of the present travelled Roads; the said Gates to be not less than ten miles distant from each other…

And of course, tolls were allowed to be collected and the rates approved by the legislature were:

…shall be entitled to receive of each traveler or passenger at each of the said Gates, the following rates of Toll, For each Coach, Phaeton, Chariot or other four wheel carriage, drawn by two Horses twenty five cents; and if drawn by more than two horses, an additional sum of four cents for each Horse; for every Cart or Wagon drawn by two Horses or oxen ten cents, and if drawn by more than two horses or oxen, an additional sum of three cents for each Horse or Ox, for every curricle fifteen cents; for every chaise, chair or other carriage drawn by one horse twelve cents; for every man and horse six cents; for every Sled or Sleigh drawn by two oxen or horses nine cents, and if drawn by more than two oxen or horses, an additional sum of two cents for each ox or horse; for every sled or sleigh drawn by one horse eight cents; for all horses, mules, oxen, or neat cattle, led or driven, besides those in teams or carriages one cent each; for all sheep or swine at the rate of six cents, for one dozen…

That is a fair amount of difference from today’s rates, but in reality the rates proposed was essentially equivalent to today’s rates when you calculate the differences in the cost of living and the real value of the economy. Fees may have been pennies compared to today’s dollars, but you have to remember that if you earned a dollar a week in those days, you were getting paid a pretty good wage.

There were other regulations and rules presented in the act, and it was approved on March 3 of 1803. Needless to say, this Maine Turnpike Association never got it together. But there were many turnpikes that were built, and I’ll get into them in other posts. The concept of paying tolls for a highway has become an unwanted requirement in exchange for the convenience they provide, but what we forget is the impact that these roadways have had upon our history.

Categories: history, Maine, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joseph B Stearns of Camden

Quite often we Mainer’s plug on with our lives giving scant remembrance to those who went before us, but while here were, in their own ways, great men, aiding and increasing the comfort and ability of the rest of us to make our own way in the world. Communicating with one another is just one of the many things that we have come to take for granted, and is one of the main conduits for transferring the information we use to make life better, in every way. Without the telephone, where would we be today?

But before the telephone, we had the telegraph as our main method of communication. However, there was a problem with using these methods of communication, as messages could only travel down a wire one at a time. If you wanted to send two messages at the same time, you needed two wires. Fortunately, The little village of Weld Maine gave us one of these men that we never hear much of, if anything at all today, that provided a solution to this problem. Joseph B. Stearns worked out, and patented a way in which multiple electrical signals could be communicated along both directions of a wire at the same time, thus revolutionizing the still young industry of telegraphy.

It also turns out that Mr. Stearns also played a small part in the War for Southern Independence by intercepting some information and providing it to President Lincoln in time to avert a disaster for our capitol city. Reul Robinson has the following to say about Stearns in his History of Camden and Rockport, Maine:

Joseph B. Stearns of Camden died July 4 [1895]. Mr. Stearns was born in 1831, was a native of Weld, Maine, and the son of poor parents. When fourteen years of age his father moved to Searsmont and three years later Mr. Stearns went to Newburyport, Mass., where he worked for a time in a cotton mill. In 1850 being 18 years of age, he began the study of telegraphy at Newburyport and remained there and along the line to Portland for four years. In 1854 he went into the fire telegraph office at Boston and in a few months was appointed superintendent. While in that position he went to Charleston, S. C, during the war of the rebellion to put in a fire alarm system and was able to perform an important service to his country by gathering information on his way home, which he gave to President Lincoln, thereby preventing the rebel army from occupying Arlington Heights and saving Washington from falling into their hands.

In 1867 Mr. Stearns was elected President of the Franklin Telegraph Co., which office he held between two and three years. It was at about this time that Mr. Stearns’ genius gave to the world one of the most important inventions of the century, namely, the duplex system of telegraphy, by which two messages can be sent over the wire at the same time. The invention brought him great wealth and will make his name forever famous. It was patented in 1868 and about three years later, he sold the right of the United States and Canada to the Western Union.

In 1872 he went to England to introduce his system there and after two years of effort Parliament gave him a royalty for the use of his invention. He also received royalties in France and Italy. In 1880 Mr. Stearns engineered the Mexican cable, putting 750 miles of cable into operation and in 1881 he engineered a line in Central and South America.

In 1882 Mr. Stearns went to Short Hills, N. J., where he lived until 1885 when he came to Camden to visit the family of James B. Swan, who were his relatives, and was so enchanted with the natural beauty of the place that he purchased a tract of land on the Belfast Road, with the object of making Camden his future home. He said that he had travelled the world over, and considered Camden the most beautiful place he ever visited.

The following year (1886) he erected the magnificent stone residence “Norumbega” where he passed the remainder of his life. Afterwards he bought large tracts of land farther up the Belfast Road, where he operated the large fancy stock farm known as “Sagamore Farm” and did much for the development and prosperity of the town. Mr. Stearns was twice married. His first wife was Lois M. Brooks by whom he had three children all of whom died young. His second wife was Amanda Edmonds of Portsmouth, N. H. The children of this union were two sons, Edward S., now of Thomaston, Maine, and Harry W., of Camden.

Categories: Geneology, history, Maine, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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