Ye Old Garrison House, formerly located at the Garrison Suites Motel on the Post Road in Wells, was recently moved 1000 feet up and across Route One to the parking lot behind Mike’s Clam Shack.
Mark Gagnon, owner of the motel wanted the old building removed from his property. Hoping to preserve the historic landmark, Wells town officials asked Mike McDermott, who owns Mike’s Clam Shack, if he would be interested in having the old building moved to his property just north of its original lot. McDermott agreed and Chase Building Movers relocated the ‘Old Garrison House’ on Friday November 9th. McDermott plans to adapt the building to house his seasonal employees starting next year.
The nearly 200 year old house is worth saving for the history within its walls. Though not technically an old garrison house as its nickname suggests it was built near the site of the colonial Storer’s Garrison in 1816 with timbers salvaged from the original 17th Century building.
Storer’s Garrison, was probably the most important of the 7 or 8 garrisons in Wells during the French and Indian Wars. It was built by Joseph Storer on a rise in the marsh in 1679. Its fortification was unequaled in Wells and its open location made it difficult for Indians to approach unnoticed.
According to a description in the Collections of the Maine Historical Society the original garrison was “a large structure built with a palisade of heavy timbers placed close together, about ten feet from the house and entirely surrounding it. It is not believed that the second story of this garrison projected beyond the lower one as was usually the case in these early garrisons. The house had four turrets built one at each corner of the house and these turrets were used as watch towers.”
Storer’s Garrison offered effective refuge on June 9, 1691. Captain James Convers, Jr., Commander of the Militia there, had requested reinforcements from Essex County Massachusetts. 200 Indians under the leadership of Penobscot Sachem Moxus, attacked the fort just half an hour after the reinforcements had arrived. The Indians were repulsed. Another Penobscot Sachem Madockawando vowed to finish the job himself the following year, “My brother, Moxus, has missed it now but I go myself next year and have that dog, Converse, out of his den.”
Sure enough, in June of 1692, Madockawando, Moxus and other Indians attacked Storer’s Garrison with the help of French soldiers under command of Monsieur Labrocree. The attack lasted three days and was directed at the garrison and two sloops in the creek behind the fort. The sloops contained additional English soldiers, ammunition and supplies for the garrison. Every flaming arrow that met its mark on the sloops was extinguished because of the ingenious leadership of Lt. Joseph Storer. Inside the garrison, even the women of Wells entered the fight. Not only did they hand the soldiers ammunition but several ladies armed themselves with muskets and fired ferociously on the enemy. The French and Indians finally withdrew after three days. There were losses of life on both sides. The French Commander, Monsieur Labrocree did not survive the battle.
A granite monument commemorating the 1692 battle at the Storer Garrison still stands in a small park next to the Garrison Suites Motel. It was designed and erected by William E. Barry, Esq., in 1904. A plaque on the monument reads,
“To commemorate the defense of Lt. Joseph Storer’s Garrison on this ground by Capt. James Converse, 29 Massachusetts Soldiers, the neighboring yeomanry of Wells and various historic women; June 9, 10, and 11 1692, whereby 400 French and Indians were successfully resisted, and Wells remained the easternmost town in the Province not destroyed by the enemy.”
Storer’s Garrison was later bequeathed to John, Joseph Storer’s son. John Storer continued to offer refuge to his neighbors until the end of the French and Indian Wars. He was Wells Town Treasurer, representative to the General Court, and Judge of theInferior Court. He also built and owned ships and several mills in Wells and Kennebunk. E. E. Bourne writes, “John was distinguished for his bravery, patriotism and open-handed benevolence. He was at the taking ofLouisburg,Cape Breton Island,Canada,CapeBreton, in 1745. His valuable services to his townsmen and unfortunates driven from their homes in other places can scarcely be overestimated.”
In 1779, Isaac Pope purchased the Storer Garrison from Ebenezer Storer, another son of the man who built it. Ebenezer had distinguished himself as a soldier in the Revolutionary War.
The Pope Family’s ownership of the property was no less notable. Bourne calls Isaac a man of ” uncommon urbanity, distinguished all his life for that suavity of manner and general dignity of deportment which characterized the old English gentleman.” He too served in the Revolutionary War, attaining the rank of Major. After his discharge from that service, he was a Wells Selectmen for several years and engaged in coasting and farming.
Isaac and his wife Olive Jordan Hovey had eleven children. Three of their sons, John Sullivan Pope, Dominicus Pope and Ivory Pope, were mariners during the War of 1812. Ivory was impressed by the British and was never heard from again. Dominicus was taken prisoner by the British and carried to Dartmoor Prison inEngland. He remained there in deplorable conditions for several months before being released. Dominicus died atSt. Thomas,West Indies, of yellow fever.
Captain John Sullivan Pope returned from the War of 1812 and tore down the old Storer Garrison, reserving some of the good timbers to use in building a new house frame nearby. John S. Pope’s “new” 1816 house is the one that was moved up thePost Roadlast Friday. John was engaged in coasting while he and his wife Theodesia Littlefield raised a family in the house he had built. John S. Pope and his son John, Jr. after him, farmed the land upon which Moxus, Madockawando and Monsieur Labrocree were defeated in June of 1692.
The history hidden in the walls of that simple yellow colonial house now at rest behind Mike;’s Clam Shack was nearly swallowed up by motel development. Kudos to all those who went the extra mile to save the structure if not the historic site.
Sharon Cummins @ November 23, 2012
The recent earthquake, epicentered two miles west of Hollis Center, measured 4.0 on the Richter Magnitude Scale and lasted a few seconds. Mainers described the earthquake sensation as “a thunderous noise followed by rolling vibrations,” and “like a huge truck was driving through my basement,” and “as if my washing machine was way out of balance.” The tremor of Oct. 16, 2012 rattled nerves and tea cups as far away as Connecticut but it pales in comparison to the earthquakes felt in Maine during the 17th and 18th centuries. Nevertheless, within the context of the time, descriptions of the earthquake experience remain fairly consistent.
The first major quake in New England, after the English settlers arrived, was on June 2, 1638. Estimated to have been a magnitude 6.5, it was long referred to as “The Great Earthquake.” William Williamson wrote of it in his History of the State of Maine: “It commenced with a noise like continued thunder, or the rattling of stage coaches upon pavements … The sound and motion continued about four minutes, and the earth was unquiet at times, for 20 days afterwards.” Imagine the terror in times of magical thinking.
An earthquake that occurred on Oct. 29, 1727 has been approximated at 5.6 magnitude. Its epicenter was off the coast of New Hampshire and Massachusetts but it shook the east coast from Maine to Delaware. Paul Dudley, attorney-general of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, described it in a contemporary letter to the Royal Society of London: “The noise or sound that accompanied or preceded our earthquake was very terrible and amazing. Some of our people took this noise to be thunder; others compared it to the rattling of coaches and carts upon pavements, or frozen ground.”
Kennebunkport historian Charles Bradbury reports that many chimneys and stone walls were shaken down in Arundel in 1727. He credits the earthquake for inspiring temporary reformation among citizens of Arundel with a large number of them finding religion during the months followed.
An unusual phenomenon called “Earthquake Lights” has only, in the last 50 years, been photographed and documented by the scientific community. Flashes of blue, orange or white light, sometimes having the appearance of flames or explosions, appear in the sky around the time of a moderate to strong earthquake. The cause is unknown but the phenomenon has been reported since ancient times. There were several reports of bright flashes of light seen before and after the 1727 earthquake.
One such account was printed in the New England Weekly Journal. A gentleman from Newington, N.H. saw what he thought was an explosion over the mountains, a great distance to the northwest of his house, shortly after the quake. His vision was affirmed by Indians who had recently traveled from the mountains by canoe down the Saco River. “Several Indians who lately came into Black-Point (Scarborough) told them that a mountain near where they were at the time of the earthquake was partly blown up with fire, and burnt at so prodigious a rate that it was amazing to behold it; Upon this they all removed their quarters as soon as they could; but yet have since, and very lately too, seen the flames arise in a very awful and amazing manner. They also say, they thought the great god was angry with them for being so active in the wars, and resolved never more to engage in any war against the English.”
Some Englishmen also believed that earthquakes were a sign of God’s displeasure. The same lighting phenomenon accompanied the 6.0 earthquake of 1755 centered near Cape Ann, Mass. Rev. Thomas Prince, in his essay, “EARTHQUAKES the Works of GOD, and Tokens of His just Displeasure,” seemed to blame the quake on Benjamin Franklin’s new-fangled lighting rods, which had become popular in the city of Boston that year.
Since most of the damage from the earthquake occurred in the brick buildings of Boston and not in the movable timber frames in the country, lightning rods were blamed for trapping excess electricity in the earth. It accumulated there until the earth could hold no more and released the electricity by exploding in an earthquake.
Prince’s point seemed to be that God’s wrath could not be diverted for long through trickery. The consequences of avoiding the occasional lightning strike would end up being far worse in the end as demonstrated by the lightning rod induced earthquake of 1755.
Earthquakes were taken as a sign from God by ministers in southern Maine, as well. The church at Arundel called for a fast by the congregation to atone for their sins. Sermons were delivered on the subject of earthquakes in Maine meetinghouses. Rev. Gideon Richardson of Wells experienced such a shock to his nervous system from the earthquake of 1755 that his death in 1758 was generally believed to be a result of the quake.
Major and minor earthquakes have been fairly common in New England in the whole scheme of things. Many seem to have followed a northwest to southeast tract. Some of the major ones were accompanied by Earthquake Lights. A large percentage of them have been explained away by some form of magical thinking.
Sharon Cummins @ November 23, 2012
As Halloween approaches, images of witches magically appear in shop windows. We indulge our fancies with an annual flight to a charmingly spooky world where witches wear identifying head gear and brooms fly. At one time in New England, an accusation of witchcraft could end at the gallows, as it did for Wells minister Rev. George Burroughs during the Salem, Massachusetts delirium of 1692.On Oct. 21, 1725 widow Sarah Keen of Kittery was publically accused of being a witch by her Spruce Creek neighbor, John Spinney, the weaver — long after the horrors of Salem neighbors used accusations of witchcraft to ostracize neighbors.
Sarah wasted little time in calling upon Kittery Justice of the Peace, Col. William Pepperrell, to have her accuser arrested. Once Spinney was in custody, Pepperrell heard testimony from a few witnesses to the accusation and he imposed a moderate fine of five shillings plus court fees. If Spinney had paid the fine that might have been the end of it but John had personal reasons for slandering Sarah.
The justice system in colonial York County had three levels: Local Justices of the Peace were like police. They could arrest and fine for minor offenses. Justice William Pepperell Sr. made those decisions at Kittery. If a suspect like Spinney appealed the judgment of the Justice of the Peace with reasonable cause, his case was escalated to the next session of the Court of Common Pleas. That court, held in the Town of York in 1725, had regular sessions three times a year and quarterly sessions four times a year. The General Assembly met just once a year for only the highest level cases.
Spinney did appeal Pepperrell’s ruling, complaining that he had not had sufficient time to call his own witnesses. His appeal was heard Jan. 1, 1726. Though Spinney denied calling Sarah a witch, his many witnesses described a variety of incidents that served to reinforce the notion. A few of those alleged acts of witchcraft follow.
Elizabeth Pettegrew claimed that one night at about 9 or 10 o’clock, she saw a coven of witches frolicking in the moonlight with Sarah Keen. Elizabeth heard noises down the country road toward the Keen house, from her doorway that night. She moved a little closer to investigate and saw Keen on horseback with a riding hood pulled up over her head and a white handkerchief about her neck. The moon shone brightly on a coven of 14 women riding double on seven horses behind her. They seemed to be very merry, talking and laughing loudly as they rode on by. Clearly the behavior of witches.
John Harmon and Samuel Remich testified that they were with Paul Wentworth at a tavern in Portsmouth one night. Wentworth told them that he saw Mistress Keen strike the fire and make it fly all over the house, thereby bewitching her daughter.
Paul Williams testified that he had been present when Sarah threatened to put a bridle on Spinney and ride him like a horse to Justice Pepperrell’s house. Others reported that Sarah had ridden Spinney from the eastward and kept him tied to her plum tree all night.
Reference was made to widow Keen’s extra nipple. It made even Sarah wonder, from time to time, if it might not be there to nourish the devil. She had expressed concern to other women in town that around the time of the Salem hysteria she thought she might be a witch and not know it.
Many of Keen’s neighbors from the tiny hamlet of Spruce Creek turned up to support Spinney’s claim. When all was said and done the judgment against Spinney was reversed for insufficient evidence.
Examination of earlier court documents reveals some possible clues as to why Sarah’s neighbors were so willing to throw her under the wagon. Throughout their residence at Spruce Creek, Sarah and her deceased husband, Nathaniel Keen had made plenty of enemies.
Nathaniel Keen fought with his neighbor Paul Williams over ownership of a field between their properties. Keen and Spinney’s in-laws, the Shepards, had been in and out of court for 13 years over ownership of a 10-acre parcel of land between their houses. Keen’s ownership of the land was eventually affirmed. Samuel Spinney, John the accuser’s father, was among those who petitioned Kittery selectmen to install a landing on the creek. The approved road to the landing encroached on Keen’s property and he legally succeeded in blocking Spinney’s access to the creek.
Nathaniel Keen was also notorious for his temper that on more than one occasion turned to physical violence. He was arrested for beating his slave Rachel to death in 1694. The value of a slave’s life being what it was at the time, charges were reduced from murder to cruelty and Keen was fined five pounds plus court costs.
Sarah Keen also had a volatile temperament. In one instance she went after William Godsoe with an axe. When chided for unchristian-like behavior by one of her neighbors, she reportedly replied, “I did not profess no Christianity.”
It seems that when an opportunity presented itself to exact revenge the Keen’s neighbors lined up to take it out on Sarah in court.
Sharon Cummins @ October 30, 2012
Many wonderful books have been written about the history of Kennebunk. As enlightening as they are, the historical research does not always agree from one book to another. Modern researchers trying to reconcile the differences are fortunate to have several document repositories nearby. Old newspapers often reveal long-hidden historical details, but there’s nothing like personal accounts in old diaries to animate and illuminate the facts.
Diaries were kept by many local citizens over the years. Several diaries written by members of the Walker family have survived and are available on microfilm for public use at the Kennebunk Free Library.
Our best known diarist, Andrew Walker Jr., spent the majority of his adult life as the proprietor of a furniture store in the Village of Kennebunk. When he began writing his diaries on January 1, 1851 he was also the Kennebunk Town Clerk and the Town Treasurer. In the spring of 1862 the town requested that Andrew keep a military history of each Kennebunk soldier who served in the Civil War. If ever there was a man with his finger on the pulse of Kennebunk, it was Andrew Walker Jr.
Being a record keeper by profession and by nature, he recorded events and biographical sketches with remarkable precision, including keywords in the margin of each entry that he later transcribed into an index for each of the 11 volumes. The index has since been cross-referenced and printed in a separate volume.
Andrew seemed to have an inkling of the potential value of his efforts to future historians when he claimed to be “Noting down many events in this vicinity that now seem of importance but will presently dwarf into mere littleness, other events now insignificant in our eyes, but one day will assume an air of important magnitude.” That inclination to leave nothing out no matter how insignificant it may have seemed at the time, is what makes his diaries so very useful. He also admitted to a small measure of vanity in the endeavor when he wrote, “As a woman likes to view herself in a glass, so a man likes to see himself in his diary.” Andrew Walker Jr. made his last entry on Aug. 13, 1897, two years before his death.
Andrew ‘s first cousin Tobias had started keeping a very different kind of diary in 1828. Neither meticulous nor indexed, Tobias’ journal is a record of the day-to-day happenings on his Alewife sheep and potato farm. His entries covered mostly farm business — who he traded with, who had given him a raw deal, how much he sold the butter for, and family business like who went to the meeting house, who went to the beach to “wash,” and who was feeling poorly. As the years went by more and more responsibility for the farm gradually fell to Tobias’ eldest son, Edwin.
His second son, William, who didn’t stand to inherit the family farm, married the daughter of Samuel Cleaves, a farmer from just across the Kennebunk River in North Kennebunkport. The young couple moved into a house on Curtis Road next door to Samuel Cleaves. William made the first entry in his diary on his wedding day, Dec. 15, 1846. The next day was spent setting up the furniture in their new home. William mentioned that he found the work pleasant. A few days later, Tobias surprised his son with a gift of a slaughtered pig.
The couple frequently had visitors in the early years who just stopped by to pass some jovial evening hours. Neighbors were always present to help with time-sensitive farm jobs. Shortly after William and Mary’s first child was born there was a heat wave that lasted for many days. The heat and mosquitoes were so troublesome that none of them couldn’t sleep. The whole family relocated to the barn one night and on a pile of hay and enjoyed the first good night’s sleep in a week.
Tobias Walker died in 1865. His son Edwin took over the Alewife farm. Like his brother William and their father Tobias, Edwin kept a daily diary until he died in 1891.
These farm families worked hard but they did not lead miserable lives of nothing but toil, especially when the children were young. There were family trips to the circus in Biddeford, afternoons of fishing and berry picking, clambakes, sailing excursions and sea bathing at Two Acres, Hart’s Beach and the Goose Rock Beach. Sometimes on a very hot day the whole neighborhood would caravan to the beach in 8 or 10 carriages.
The farmer diarists occasionally made note of important historical events like the tragic shipwreck of the local barque Isadore, in 1842, and the accidental death of Jesse Webster when the cannon he was loading for the Kennebunk Centennial Celebration exploded. This is not the primary value of these journals.
They are unselfconscious accounts of the way 19th century life was in the Kennebunks; What it was like to have to go to the mills to grind your corn or to lose half of your family’s food supply in a cold snap, or to weather the loss of one loved one after another. They offer historical context, which is so hard to absorb from a history book.
Sharon Cummins @ October 4, 2012
Many times during the last 114 years the landmark pier at Old Orchard Beach has succumbed to the forces of nature. Each time it was repaired or rebuilt against significant odds. In a violent spring storm in 1909, six men spent 2 1/2 days marooned at the end of the pier. For a while it looked like they might meet their own end 1/3 of a mile from shore.
The pier was first built in 1898 by the Berlin Bridge Company of East Berlin, CT. At 25 feet wide by 1770 feet long, the original steel structure was the longest ocean pier in the world. Dedication ceremonies lasted from Saturday July 2, 1898, when ex-mayor Bradbury gave a speech, through the 4th of July when the band first played in the 75×125 foot cafe and dance hall casino pavilion at the end of the pier.
The first summer season was wildly profitable for the Old Orchard Pier Company. In an interview in the Boston Daily Globe dated Dec. 4, 1898, representatives gloated that contrary to many gloomy predictions, the framework of the pier was not bothered in the least by rough weather. “If Sunday’s storm could do no damage no other is likely to.” They had to eat their words later that night when 150 feet of the 5 month old pier and the enormous pavilion at its end were carried away by a storm. The wreckage came ashore on the beach a short distance from the pier. Damage was repaired and a new casino pavilion was open for business by the end of the following July.
The 1898 incident was the first of many. Lightning, fire and storms have battered several pier structures over the years and continue to do so. Probably the most dramatic reconstruction attempt took place during the spring of 1909.
On March 26, 1909, 300 feet of pier from the middle of its 1770 span was washed away leaving the casino connected to the shore by nothing but a lone electrical wire. One of the principal pier owners, Fred Goodwin, assured the public that work to repair the pier would begin immediately but that was easier said than done. The pier had been shortened by the storm and what was left of the casino would need to be moved nearly 1000 feet closer to shore.
Work was slow to start due to unpredictable weather. According to a report in the Portsmouth Herald, six men were sent in a boat to the end of the pier on the morning of April 30th to prepare for the removal of the casino. Among the workmen were John Freeman and Edward Charland of Old Orchard and John Foss, John Hayes, James Farley and Charles Watson of Biddeford.
Soon after they reached the end of the pier the sky thickened and the sea started churning. The workmen watched helplessly as their tender broke loose and was carried away on a wave. Several rescue parties were formed but each turned back before reaching the castaways.
It was reported in the New York Times that the next day the workmen were still “marooned with no prospect of relief until the tempest subsides.” They hadn’t had food or water for 24 hours. Finally someone noticed the electrical wire still connecting the two parts of the pier. Cans were filled with food and water, sealed up and attached to the wire. When the men at the casino got the signal they pulled the cans to their desert island of steel and wood. This bought some time but rescue was still impossible. The men took shelter in the casino and tore up some of the floorboards for a fire while they waited for the weather to break.
By the next morning the storm had finally begun to subside. More than 100 people gathered on the beach. Fletcher’s Neck life-saving station, seven miles across the bay, was wired to send a lifeboat over. Before the crew got started, however, a “hearty French Canadian boatman, Eugene Bill, dragged his dory down to the water’s edge, and shoving out, grabbed a single oar to guide her -canoe fashion-through ten foot waves.”
The casino loomed 20 feet above the surface of the water. Bill had a well-constructed rope ladder with him, which he was able to toss it to one of the men on the pier. Bill struggled to steady the boat for a second while the first man quickly slid down the rope and tumbled into the dory. Each time he took a man off the boatman was obliged to pull away from the pier and then cautiously return. “The waves would allow him to remain but a second else they had dashed his little dory to pieces against the iron pilings of the pier,” wrote the Times reporter.
In this way, Eugene Bill rescued three of the men and then went back out a second time to rescue those remaining at the casino. Thanks to him, all six of the workmen were landed safe and sound after being stranded for 60 hours 1/3 of a mile out to sea.
The steel pier was replaced by a shorter wooden one in 1911. That pier sustained severe damage in several storms of the early 1930s. A stone barge severed the pier during another storm. In 1969, the shore end of the pier was heavily damaged by a fire that also burned Noah’s Ark funhouse, the coal mine ride, the slide and hand-carved merry-go-round. The casino section was torn down in 1970 after damage caused by a storm. The pier was damaged again in 1972 and it was washed away in February of 1978. The present 475 foot pier was built in 1980.
Sharon Cummins @ September 22, 2012
News of the death of Booth Tarkington in 1946 fell like a blanket of grief over the town of Kennebunkport. For more than 40 years the author had whole-heartedly embedded himself in his beloved summer community in a way that changed the town and the man forever.
Newton Booth Tarkington was born in Indianapolis, Ind. on July 29, 1869. He attended Purdue University and then Princeton University, but didn’t graduate from either institution. He sought work as an illustrator and a writer during the 1890s but it took almost a decade before he could make a living at it. Finally, in 1898, he sold a manuscript entitled The Gentleman from Indiana, which became a bestseller in 1900. Tarkington’s career and financial prospects would never again be in doubt.
The writer first visited Kennebunkport in 1903 as a newlywed. His arrival at The Old Fort Inn was proudly announced in Kennebunkport’s summer newspaper. Recovering from a serious case of typhoid fever, Booth spent that season falling in love with the town where he would summer for the rest of his life. His first marriage ended in divorce, however, and his daughter by that marriage died young.
A new life chapter began in 1912 with his second marriage to Susanah Robinson. Mr. and Mrs. Tarkington frequented the Old Fort Inn or rented cottages from Kennebunkport friends — like artist Abbott Graves — until proceeds from the wildly successful Penrod enabled them to build a beautiful summer home in 1917. No expense was spared. The new cottage on South Maine Street, called “Seawood,” was mentioned by the editor of Kennebunkport’s newspaper. “To the summer visitor the house has seemingly reared itself overnight like Aladdin’s palace.”
Tweedles, a play Tarkington wrote with Harry Leon Wilson, debuted on Broadway in 1923, starring Ruth Gordon. It is a gently satirical examination of two sides of the same snobbery. Though the play is set in a “fictional” Maine coastal resort, the tea room/antique shop where much of the action takes place is surprisingly similar to the real life Bonnie Brig Tea Room — so popular at the time with the Cape Arundel crowd. In the play, young lovers are foiled by strained relations between their families; hers, local and proud of their old New England heritage and his, seasonal residents of considerable means and social stature. The play was clearly poking fun at the all-too-real tensions between native Kennebunkporters and summer people from away, but nobody seemed to mind. In fact, the theme resonated with both.
Rumors circulated in the late 1920s that Tarkington was losing his eyesight. The author did not noticeably slow down in his professional life or his private life at the Port. He continued to create characters who had undoubtedly been inspired by the people he had met there.
Mary’s Neck was published first, in serial form and then as a novel. It is a less than flattering portrayal of superficial, self-important cottagers at a “fictional” resort, located on a rocky promontory on the Maine coast.
Mirthful Haven is a novel about life in another “fictional” Maine resort town. Tensions swell in the old-fashioned village, still imbued with vestiges of the clipper ship and China trade days when it was visited by summer representatives of the outside world with their garish yachts and their exclusive country clubs. Young love is thwarted again by the great divide.
The character of Capt. Embury was supposedly fashioned after Capt. Dudley, a real life China Trade sea captain who lived on Elm Street. The fictional Harry Pelter is suspiciously like Francis Noble, whose refusal to give up his dilapidated shack across the river was at the time tormenting the Kennebunk River Club set, in real life.
Submerging himself in the nautical spirit of his work, Tarkington purchased the tired old Machias lumber schooner Regina in 1929. He blocked her up permanently at William Trotter’s boathouse near the Nonantum and drilled holes below the waterline so she wouldn’t rise and fall with the tide. A retired local sea captain, Blynn Montgomery, was hired as Regina’s master ashore to handle licensing, maintenance issues, and to tell visitors true sea stories in a captain’s hat, giving the vessel an air of authenticity. The Regina became a source of pride in the old seafaring town with her bowsprit extending out over Ocean Avenue. For Tarkington, the schooner and boathouse that he nicknamed “The Floats,” functioned as a work studio and a gentlemen’s clubhouse.
Booth Tarkington also loved motorboats. In June of 1930 a 45-foot cruiser, Zantre, was launched for him from Clemie Clark’s Boatyard near the Grist Mill. Zantre was the third cruiser the author had owned in Kennebunkport. The first was named Zantee and the second, Zantu. All were named in honor of Mrs. Tarkington. Her given name was Susanah and her nieces and nephews affectionately referred to her as Aunt Zan. Continued below…
Year-round residents of Kennebunkport were not put off by the grandeur of Booth Takington’s living conditions. They had grown to love him for his honest unaffected manner. Even his employees regarded him as a friend.
Francis Chick, his Kennebunkport chauffeur, was reported to have said, “We folks around here like the Tarkingtons. They’re so common.” Booth liked the line so much that he used it in one of his stories. Henry Thirkell — who acted as captain on Booth’s motor cruisers — and his son Stanley who later took over the job, were like family. The Tarkingtons not only respectfully employed their neighbors, they quietly helped them solve personal difficulties.
For all his charm and generosity, the author was not the type to gush falsely, nor was he a saint. His public criticism of other writers was harsh. That same inclination to speak his mind sometimes allowed some anti-Semitic and racist feelings to see the light of day in local newspaper interviews. A reporter who visited the Tarkingtons at their Kennebunkport home in 1924 noted “The prettiest little black boy I have ever seen, with curling hair, an entrancing smile, and a white coat always opened the door to the Tarkington’s summer home.” But this was a different time. Bigotry was accepted and Booth had that way about him that invited forgiveness and friendship.
One of Tarkington’s best friends in Kennebunkport was the notoriously cranky historical fiction writer, Kenneth Roberts. The two men shared a sardonic wit. Booth delivered with humor and a twinkle in his eye that made people believe his zings were all in good fun. Roberts wasn’t blessed with that gift. They often met at The Floats in the afternoon for tea and writers’ “shop talk.”
Though Tarkington had been a teetotaller since 1912, he didn’t judge his friends for enjoying a cocktail or two in his company. Kenneth Roberts spent many years documenting his efforts to achieve the perfect cocktail recipe. Journalist Francis Noble was another daily visitor aboard the Regina whose affection for alcohol was no secret. Noble, who was by then ostracized by Cape Arundel’s finest, would row across the river from his shack every afternoon to argue politics with his conservative friend and to imbibe.
The rumors of Tarkington’s eyesight problems had merit. He was almost completely blind by September 1930. An operation at Baltimore restored his sight in one eye, but the author was never again able to read or write for himself. His doctors ordered him to work no more than four hours a day and his secretary, Betty Trotter, took his dictation. By his own account, he napped every day after lunch in the captain’s berth onboard the schooner Regina. Weather permitting, he chased whales in his motor cruiser after lunch. The Tarkingtons always dressed for dinner and entertained their friends with music, cards and an occasional game of charades. After all the guests had retired, Susanah Tarkington read her husband to sleep. The accomplished workaholic resigned himself to his newly restricted schedule but his health issues had taken a toll.
An Indiana youth met Booth Tarkington at Gooch’s Beach in 1931. The boy was stunned by the famous author’s appearance. He later wrote an article for his school paper that was picked up by an Indianapolis Weekly. Booth was described as a stooped, grey, frail-looking man in an ill-fitting bathing suit, chain-smoking enormous custom-made cigarettes with his name printed on each one. The boy’s perception of Penrod’s creator was deflated. The people of Kennebunkport continued to love him as the gifted, neighborly, generous human being they knew him to be.
A young Robert Currier, from Newton, Mass., came to vacation in Kennebunkport with his family in the early 1930s. He met Tarkington who encouraged him to bring his theatrical Garrick Players to Kennebunkport. Tarkington went so far as to trim and tailor parts of his play Tweedles to be performed by the troupe in 1933. Festivals featuring the plays of Tarkington were frequently performed at the Olympian Club and later the Kennebunkport Playhouse on River Road. The author was an enthusiastic patron, hosting cast parties onboard his schooner. Sometimes frustrated with the way his plays were performed on Broadway, Tarkington enjoyed the influence he had on Currier’s productions. He also drew big name performers that might not otherwise have agreed to perform at the Kennebunkport Playhouse.
The Federal Works, a New Deal Agency, commissioned artist Elizabeth Tracy to paint a mural for the Kennebunkport Post Office Wall in 1940. Tarkington and Roberts spearheaded a movement to have it removed. The government-funded mural portrayed scantily-clad bathers at the beach. Not a fan of President Franklin D. Roosevelt or his new deal, Tarkington was very vocal in his opposition. “The painting is an eyesore and the whole town is ashamed of it,” declared the author. “It’s dismal, a combination of Coney Island and Mexican realism.” It took four years, but in 1945 the mural was replaced with a more dignified painting by marine artist Gordan Grant. And the shipbuilding-themed mural that still graces the Post Office wall was funded by Kennebunkport citizen donations, not the U.S. government.
After a long illness, Tarkington died in Indiana at the age of 76. The 1947 Kennebunkport Town Report was dedicated to his memory. “The admiration that Kennebunkport felt for Booth Tarkington is inexpressible. The town is in much the same situation as are his close friends, many of whom are authors. Their affection for him was such that they were unable to write the usual eulogies that appear so frequently when famous men are taken from us. Kennebunkport misses and mourns him, just as all the world misses and mourns him.”
Tarkington left his mark at the Kennebunkport Post Office; he left his mark on South Main Street where his beautiful Seawood has been converted into condominiums; he left his mark on Ocean Avenue where the schooner Regina was disassembled and sunk in 1952, being too deteriorated to save. For some, the sight of The Floats — between Nonantum Resort and the Kennebunk River Club — still evokes afternoons of camaraderie and literary conversation. Most of all, Tarkington made his mark on Kennebunkport hearts and history.
Sharon Cummins @ August 30, 2012
Alfred became a half shire-town in 1802. A log jail was built there the following year, which according to an 1833 legislative report, proved to be “grossly insufficient and unsuitable for the purposes for which it was built.”
A new, more secure jail made of stone was clearly necessary by the time Alfred became a full shire-town in 1832. Even though four successful escapes were recorded between 1831 and 1834, taxpayers were vehemently opposed to the required expenditure of $7,737.12. A stone jail was built nonetheless.
The 1834 jail was not adequate for long. Alfred became the principal shire-town for York County in 1860, and by 1869 legislators were lobbying for funds to build another new jail at Alfred. The project was finally approved by the Legislature in 1872, providing the construction could be completed for less than $30,000. To that end, authorization was granted for the contractors to use “any and all materials” of the 1834 jail to build the new jail within budget.
The brick jail was just nearing completion in March 1873 when Louis H.F. Wagner was arrested for the famous double murder at Smuttynose Island. Wagner was incarcerated at Saco and then at the Cumberland County jail in Portland while his quarters at the new York County correctional facility were being readied. He was finally transferred to Alfred on April 29, 1873, as the first inmate of the new jail.
On a Wednesday evening in June, not quite two months into his stay, Louis Wagner and two other inmates walked unnoticed out the front door. A reporter for the New York Times went to Alfred to see for himself how the prisoners were able to escape from the brand new modern jail.
“As I approached the building, prisoners could be heard laughing and singing inside,” wrote the reporter. “I entered, and a dozen prisoners flocked about me. They are all at perfect liberty to roam about the corridors. They have no handcuffs and, seemingly, no restraint.”
The locks on the cell doors had been ineffectual since they were installed. One of the prisoners demonstrated for the stunned reporter that all the cells could be unlocked simply by sliding any narrow strip of wood into the lock.
“Such being the case, the jailer makes no attempt to keep the prisoners in their cells,” revealed the big city newsman.
Two special guards were stationed less than 20 feet from Wagner’s cell. They had been assigned to guard only him, but for several days before his escape, Wagner had cleverly desensitized the guards by repeatedly hiding himself only to pop out of his hiding place, laughing when they summoned the warden.
On the night Louis Wagner, William McCarley and Charles Harrington escaped, Wagner put on quite a performance for the guards, convincing them that he was feeling quite ill and planned to confine himself to bed all evening. By the time the guards took their posts at 9 p.m., Wagner was already gone. He had fashioned the likeness of a man huddled under the blankets on his cot with a short broom and a stool from his cell. It was hours before the guards noticed that the “man” wasn’t moving and when they did, they were reluctant to call the warden for fear the murderer would make fools of them again.
The prisoners had made their way through a scuttle in the jail, up through a ventilator and onto the roof with the intention of lowering themselves down a rope of blanket strips. Noticing a skylight into the warden’s quarters, they decided instead to remove a pane of glass and reach in to unlock the large window. Once inside, they quietly made their way down the stairs and walked right out the door.
Wagner was recaptured by a farmer in Farmington, N.H., three days later. Unaware of the $500 reward on his head, he had been driven by hunger to the farmer’s kitchen door.
The axe-murderer was transferred to the Maine State Prison in Thomaston, where he was later hanged for his crimes. The locks on the cell doors at the Alfred jail were disassembled and sent to Boston for repair, but escapes were frequent throughout the 100 years the building served as the York County House of Correction.
The last escape from the old brick jail took place in September of 1974. The familiar story appeared in the Lewiston Journal.
“Four young inmates escaped from York County jail Friday night. The men apparently forced a section of the ceiling and climbed out through an air duct to the roof and then used blankets to lower themselves to the ground.”
The death of an epileptic inmate from untreated seizures on Sept. 27, 1975, was the catalyst for a riot that closed the old brick jailhouse for good. The 15 inmates ripped out sinks, bunks and electrical wiring in every cell, causing significant damage. Forty law enforcement officers, including state police and firefighters with hoses, quelled the riot. All the inmates were transferred to the Cumberland County Jail and the cellblock at the Alfred jail was closed by order of the court.
The old jailhouse was deemed unfit for prisoner habitation but it was used for a number of years as York County’s first homeless shelter before being auctioned in the year 2000. It still stands on Route 111 in Alfred, as a somber reminder of the darker side of our history.
Sharon Cummins @ August 6, 2012
The original Temple of Bacchus has stood in the Lebanese Republic honoring the god of wine and revelry since around 150 A.D. The Wells Temple of Bacchus didn’t last quite so long.
Vincent J. Morino, former dancer at Radio City Music Hall, actor on Broadway and entertainer on the Borscht Belt circuit, had been operating the posh Homestead Inn in Greenwich, Conn. for several years with his business partner H. Carlisle Estes, a former magazine promotion executive at Time, Family Circle Magazine and Conde Nast Publications. Morino acquired a 200-year-old house on the Post Road in Wells from the estate of Millard Kaye. The property needed work and had some financial encumbrances, but the two men moved to Wells in January 1978 with the idea of converting the old house into a restaurant.
They planned to call their new restaurant The 1776 House and spent lavishly to renovate and furnish the barn in time to open for the 1978 summer season. Almost as an afterthought, they applied to the town zoning board for permission to open a restaurant, but the busy Route 1 location turned out to be in a residential zone and their application was denied.
Two weeks later, after filing suit against the town, Morino and Estes claimed to have been ordained through the mail by the Universal Life Church in Modesto, Calif. as Cardinal Vincent Morino and Bishop H. Carlisle Estes. Soon after Morino’s second appeal to the Zoning Board was denied, Bishop Estes had a “divine revelation” that decreed he should form a church in Wells in the name of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and revelry. Bacchus had appeared to him in a vision, he said, ordering him to worship God at regular church suppers or services held nightly, except on Wednesdays.
Cardinal Morino witnessed the revelation and humbly agreed to lease his Post Road property to the temple for nightly worship. According to the Wells Zoning Ordinance, churches were an approved use in residential neighborhoods. It was at about this time that editor Sandy Brook brought the “divine revelation” to light on the pages of his weekly paper, The York County Coast Star.
Brook, who seemed slightly amused by the story, contacted Kirby J. Hensley, founder of the Universal Life Church, to verify that the Connecticut restaurateurs had indeed been ordained. “We’re a large corporation,” said Hensley, who had started his mail-order church in his garage. “We’ve got seven million ordained ministers. It’s kind of hard to keep track of all of these guys. Estes does have a press card, but we don’t show him as a bishop in our records. I’m not saying that he isn’t one,” continued Hensley. “It’s no problem to become a bishop in this church.”
Several Wells clergymen lined up with the Selectmen in opposition to a mail-order bishop’s plan, but the application raised some interesting questions about what exactly constitutes a church and who exactly has the right to decide. The Boston Globe picked up the story and soon the question of the Wells Temple of Bacchus was being debated by religious scholars across the country.
To make matters even more difficult for officials of the Town of Wells, the State of Maine legally certified the Temple of Bacchus. Morino and Estes were delighted to add catered weddings and funerals to the list of services they planned to offer. The only thing holding them back was the permits.
Impatient, Bishop Estes threatened to sue the Town of Wells for religious discrimination unless they granted him the licenses needed to open the temple. Town officials, who had been dragging their feet on the permits, began to take the issue more seriously.
To end the madness and stave off further litigation the town agreed to allow 12 Temple of Bacchus Feasts during what remained of 1978 and 12 more feasts in 1979, a temporary measure just until the courts had a chance to rule on whether or not the feasts were legitimate church services. Code Enforcement Officer Roland Geib issued plumbing permits and plans for the opening performance … er … service went into high gear.
When opening night finally arrived in early December, reporters and photographers nearly outnumbered patrons in the ornately decorated 42-seat dining room. Morino and Estes, clad in black cassocks with white clerical collars, poured goblets of sacramental wine and took parishioners’ orders — for sirloin tips with mushrooms, roast duckling or scallops sautéed in chablis. In the basement kitchen, The Mother Superior, Sister Marguerite Lyons, prepared the feast which was delivered to the tables by waiters and waitresses attired in brown monks’ garb. Hailing the “divine service” as a triumph of good over evil, Estes asked each dinner guest to donate a blessed offering of $15 — tax deductible of course.
“Its a charade, its a charade,” Ogunquit artist Val Thelin was heard to say. “But it’s a beautiful one.” He also proclaimed the cream of pumpkin soup to be divine.
Through one loophole or another Temple services continued through May of 1979. Legal battles were finally laid to rest on March 15, 1980 when Superior Court Justice Stephen L Perkins issued an injunction to prohibit the temple from serving meals or alcoholic beverages without necessary authorization from the Town of Wells to operate a restaurant.
The church was dissolved and Morino applied to the Zoning Board for permission to open an antique shop, another acceptable use under the Zoning Ordinance.
Sharon Cummins @ July 22, 2012
Kennebunkport was attacked by enemy vessels near the very end of the Revolutionary War. The story of the Arundel Militia adroitly overcoming the British in the 1782 Battle of Cape Porpoise has often been told with pride. But Kennebunkport was deeply embroiled in the war from the very beginning. Another Cape Porpoise incident that occurred just a few weeks after the first military engagement of the war has received far less attention from local historians.
The Arundel-owned coasting sloop Polly sailed from Ephraim Perkins’ wharf at what is today Dock Square on May 13, 1775. Her cargo was delivered to Plymouth, Mass. where she was loaded up again for the return trip. She set sail for Arundel on May 15, but a cutter of His Majesty’s Naval Forces would alter her course that day.
Boston was under British control at the time. Learning that the colonists had gathered an arsenal at Concord, Mass., British Military Governor, General Thomas Gage had ordered 700 soldiers to destroy the weapons depot. Admiral Samuel Graves had ferried the British soldiers across the Charles River sparking the Battle at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. When the sloop Polly sailed from Plymouth less than a month later, both British military men were stationed in Boston.
On her way home, the Polly was seized by one of Admiral Grave’s cutters, forced into Boston Harbor and into the custody of General Gage. The Polly’s cargo was immediately confiscated by Gage’s men, though top dollar was paid to the captain for them. The Polly and her crew were “detained” in Boston for some time. To escape the clutches of the British Navy, the captain of the Polly cleverly pretended loyalty to the crown, agreeing to sail to Nova Scotia to pick up supplies for the forces at Boston.
There was some confusion in preserved documents whether Ephraim Perkins captained on this voyage or if Samuel Smith of Arundel had been at the tiller. A contract to charter the Polly was drawn up between Perkins as owner and master of the said 88-ton vessel and Major William Sherriff, the King’s Deputy Quartermaster. The contract read in part, “The Above said Majr Wm Sherriff, Doth promise to pay to the said Perkins for the Run or Voyage of said Vessell, One Hundred and Eighty Dollars.”
Captain Samuel Smith testified before the Massachusetts Provincial Congress at Watertown on June 9, 1775 that as captain he had been solicited by Admiral Graves’ Secretary to enter into His Majesty’s Service. “Knowing no other way wherein I Could Possibly make my escape I entered into service to go to Winsor in Nova Scotia for hay & other things.”
Loyalists Josiah Jones and Jonathan Hicks were put onboard the Polly as supercargo to look out for His Majesty’s interests just in case the mariners had been less than honest about their allegiance. The captain was to take orders from Jones who carried with him a packet of letters, orders, and other papers that were later published in Baxter Manuscripts of the Maine Historical Society.
According to his testimony, Captain Smith received orders not to leave for Nova Scotia immediately but to wait to sail in a convoy of a number of vessels the following morning at ten o’clock. Supercargo Jones was apparently not aware of that order because when Captain Smith suggested they get an early start that night, Jones agreed.
Jones was apparently also not familiar with features of the Maine coast. He did not realize that Capt. Smith had opportunistically set a course for Cape Porpoise Harbor under the cover of darkness. Along the way, Jones ordered Capt. Smith to clean and prepare the firearms that had been placed onboard in Boston to defend the charter from the “Rebels who might attack them on their passage.” As it turned out, the rebels to fear were already onboard the Polly.
She arrived at Cape Porpoise Harbor on June 2. The loyalists, their papers and their arms were immediately turned over to the Arundel Committee of Correspondance to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, namely, Benjamin Durell, Jonathan Stone, Thomas Wiswall, John Hovey, a notorious Whig, and James Burnham, who later became the only American casualty of the Battle of Cape Porpoise. A letter to the Provincial Congress was drafted by the committee. While they awaited a response, Jonathan Hicks and Josiah Jones were confined at Arundel.
A week later, master and mate were sent with their prisoners to Watertown, in the Polly, to be examined by the Provincial Congress. After various depositions from June 8 through June 10, Jones and Hicks were delivered to the Concord jail where they remained for several months. The Arundel Committee received special thanks from the Provincial Congress for their clever handling of the whole affair.
Loyalist Jones had a sister, Mary Dunbar, living in Concord while Josiah was imprisoned there. According to the journals of Mary’s grandson, Henry David Thoreau, she helped the prisoners escape by bringing them baskets of food in which files were concealed.
Sharon Cummins @ July 7, 2012
A Kingston, New Hampshire boy of 18 was working in the fields with his young cousins on May 16, 1724. They were surprised by five Indians from Canada lurking in the bushes and before they could react they were carried away. Little did Peter Colcord or his captors understand the consequences that would follow.
They traveled to Pigwacket, now known as Fryeburg, Maine. From there they continued on for a day’s march to the northeast, stopping at another Indian village on the banks of the Androscoggin River. Peter’s captors “gave him to a Sagamore’s squah” in that village and carried his young cousins on to Canada where they were later ransomed by their father, Ebenezer Stevens.
Peter Colcord lived among the Indian women and children for nearly six months learning their habits and perhaps even earning their trust. On the 6th of November, 15 or 16 men traveled two days’ march down the Saco River, leaving the women behind to shell the corn. When the harvest was secured, the women, children and Peter joined the men.
The following day Colcord was taken in a canoe by one of the Indian men up the Saco River to hunt geese. At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon his captor got out of the canoe and went onshore to hunt. Just as he was about to disappear further into the bushes, the Indian suggested that the boy might entertain himself by eating some cranberries along the river.
Left alone in the canoe, Peter started paddling downriver with all his might. About an hour before sunset he reached the Indian camp and hid himself until dark. He paddled all through the night and when the sun was about two hours high he left the canoe and started on foot through the woods. The next morning he reached the town of Wells.
Samuel Wheelwright, captain of the militia there, eagerly listened to the boy tell about the habits and the settlements of the Pigwacket Indians. His story was reported to the acting governor and a few weeks later published in the American Weekly Mercury.
” Colcord says the Indians go from that settlement frequently to Canada and back again in about 20 days when the rivers are high and that the Canada Indians very frequently pass forth and back through that place, and that those settled there are Pickwaket Indians about 7 or 8 families who are very much inclined to peace, and very seldom come out against the English. A Squah told him that the French Indians said they were not forward for war against the English but that they were obliged to do it by the French Governor, who tells them he would have them kill as many of the English as they can and also destroy their cattle.”
While Peter had been living with the Indians, Captains Johnson Harmon and Jeremiah Moulton, both of York, led 200 rangers to the Indian village of Norridgewock on the Kennebec River. French missionary Father Rale and a leading Indian chief were killed on Aug. 22, 1724 as were some two dozen women and children.
With the Indian war raging, the information Colcord provided was regarded by the colonists as very useful indeed. Within two weeks of his escape he was recognized by the government for his “Ingenuity and Courage” in making his escape and his “account of their Settlement and proceedings which may be of advantage to the Government hereafter.” On November 27th it was voted to award Colcord a sum of 10 pounds. By then the young Colcord had already signed up to pilot Samuel Wheelwright’s expedition against the Pigwacket Indians.
Capt. Wheelwright kept a journal of the expedition. He might have later wished he hadn’t. His entry of November 20, 1724 reads, “I received orders from his Honor the Lieut. Governor to collect 50 of the posted men at York, Wells and Arundel, with Lieut. Allison Brown of Arundel as my Second, Mr. Stephen Harding and Peter Colcord as Pilots, to go to Pigwacket in search after the Indians.”
The next several days were spent preparing the apparently reluctant soldiers to fight the Indians. They finally set out on the 25th but only covered eight miles that day “by reason of the snow on the bushes.” Three men were sent home sick the next day. On the 27th, four more men went home and 12 more on the following day. Even accounting for illness and the snow, which was not unusual in Maine in late November, the soldiers were moving at a snail’s pace.
On December 1st, when the militia was finally just 10 miles from their destination, Wheelwright was unable to coax his men forward, “some being sick, some lame, and some dead-hearted.” He called his officers together for a conference and contrary to Wheelwright’s inclination, it was decided they would head for home. Illness and snow were far less troublesome on the way back. They made the distance in two days.
Pigwacket was not saved, however. The General Assembly in Boston had raised the bounty on Indian scalps to 100 pounds apiece and there were plenty of Englishmen ready to volunteer to collect. Captain John Lovewell, having learned of the location of Pigwacket, petitioned the government to allow him to lead a company of volunteers on a scalp hunting expedition. In May of 1725 Pigwacket was attacked. There were many casualties on both sides. Neither Lovewell nor Chief Paugus survived the eight hour bloodbath. The Indians that did survive left their villages in Oxford County for the relative safety of Quebec.
Sharon Cummins @ June 19, 2012