Category Archives: Kennebunkport

LAUNCH! Shipwrecks of the Kennebunks

shipwrecks Launch hi

A LAUNCH! Event presented by Kennebunkport Conservation Trust at the Clement Clark Boathouse adjacent to the site of the Old Perkins Grist Mill on Mill Lane in Kennebunkport. An Illustrated Lecture: Barbara Barwise and Sharon Cummins will share Kennebunk River Maritime History, photographs and details of local shipwrecks from 1770 to 1921. The Wandby near Walker’s Point, The Governor Robie at Timber Island, The Enpress near St. Ann’s, The Horace and The Industry at Kennebunk Beach, The limer, Carrie G. Crosby at Parson’s Beach, The Mildred V. Nunan at Turbat’s Creek – to name just a few. The Clement Clark’s Boathouse where Booth Tarkington’s 45 foot speedboat, ‘Zantre’, built by local boat builder Clement L. Clark was launched in June of 1930. The Boathouse is just a short walk from Dock Square and the Municipal Parking Lot.  Donations are requested to help save the Town House School. Please park at the Municipal Parking Lot on North Street, Kennebunkport.

S.O.S.

 

logo profileThe Town House School was built in 1900 at 135 North Street Kennebunkport, Maine.  It served the children of the Town House Corners area of Kennebunkport and North Kennebunkport (Arundel) until 1951. In 1955, The Kennebunkport Historical Society purchased the building from the Town of Kennebunkport for $1,500. The Town House School was the Society headquarters until 1996 when the administration offices were moved next door to the newly constructed Pasco Center. From 1996 through August of 2015, Kennebunkport’s historical archive and artifact collection remained in the vault at the Town House School History Center. For most of those 19 years the History Center was open to the public for research two mornings a week.

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Town House School Fall 2015

At a special meeting on May  28, 2015 the Kennebunkport Historical Society voted to tear down the old school house, saying

“After months of work by a special committee appointed by its board of directors, the Kennebunkport Historical Society has voted to tear down the Town House School citing extensive decay, structural damage, and prohibitive costs involved in rebuilding and maintaining the building.”

The Community responded. Friends of Town House School, an independent nonprofit organization of concerned citizens and Kennebunkport Historical  Society members was formed to save the Town House School.

Join us in our efforts to rehabilitate the Town House School as a historic venue and community gathering place.

Bartholomew Gosnold’s encounter at Cape Neddick, 1602

copyright Artist Frank Handlen
Gosnold’s Encounter at Cape Neddick

Bartholomew Gosnold: First European to “smell the earth” at Maine’s southern coast. (Or was he?)

Bartholomew Gosnold  was born in 1572 with a silver spoon in his mouth and a passion for adventure in his heart. His parents, Anthony and Dorothy (Bacon) Gosnold, were both of notable families in England during the reign of the “Virgin Queen”, Elizabeth I. Anthony Gosnold had a royal descent from King Edward III of England. Bartholomew’s mother was of the same gene pool that produced Lord Francis Bacon. In fact, the branches of the Bacon and Gosnold trees crossed more than once.

Young Bartholomew was trained as a lawyer, attending Cambridge University and Middle Temple. While at school he was inspired by a lecture given by the Geographer of the day, Richard Hakluyt, whose The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation was published in 1600. Gosnold was so inspired, in fact, that he lost all interest in practicing law. When Sir Walter Raleigh invited him on a voyage to the new world, he eagerly agreed. The voyage failed to meet its mission but there was no turning back for Batholomew. He continued to sail as a privateer chasing Spaniards and dreams of glory across the Atlantic.

Gentlemen explorers like Raleigh and Gosnold did not venture forth to uncharted territory to escape religious persecution. Nor were they wholly altruistic in their efforts on behalf of England. They were interested in money, power and immortality; real people with still familiar, human motivations.

In 1602, Raleigh was falling out of favor in England. His failure with the lost colony of Roanoke had offended many of his supporters and the Queen. Queen Elizabeth encouraged adventurers to search for a Northwest Passage. This presented a loophole to Raleigh’s 1584 patent to colonize North America. Bartholomew Gosnold, at just 30 years of age, seized this entrepreneurial opportunity to sail stealthily through that loophole.

Plans for a voyage were hastily made. It would be financed by William Shakespeare’s patron, the Earl of Southhampton. The mission was meant to discover a route to America on a more northerly tract as allowed by the Queen’s decree but there was a secondary mission. Gosnold intended to establish a small colony in the “North part of Virginia”.

The barque Concord departed from Falmouth, England on March 26, 1602 with a crew of 8 and 23 “Gentleman Discoverers”, some of whom intended to remain in the new world. The Concord was in poor condition and dangerously small for such a voyage but in spite of some contrary winds, she made the trip in a record breaking 49 days. Gosnold and his crew could “smell the land” at Cape Porpoise by May 14.

Two of the gentlemen along for the voyage, Gabriel Archer and John Brereton, journaled their impressions of the trip to the “North part of Virginia”. These firsthand accounts have been invaluable historical research sources ever since. Both diarists described an encounter with Native Americans at “Savage Rock”, calculated by scholars to be near Cape Neddick. A Basque Shallop, with sails and oars, carrying 8 natives, boldly approached the Concord. Archer writes of the encounter,

“One that seemed to be their commander wore a waistcoat of a black wool, a pair of breeches, cloth stockings, shoes, hat and band, one or two more had also a few things made by some Christians; these with a piece of chalk described the coast thereabouts, and could name Placentia of Newfoundland; they spoke divers Christian words, and seemed to understand much more than we, for want of language could comprehend.”

Gosnold’s company proceeded southward with confidence relying on the chalk map for navigation. They established a temporary settlement at what is now known as the Island of Cuttyhunk. Gosnold called it Elizabeth Island in honor of Queen Elizabeth whose edict had made his voyage legal. Marthas Vinyard was named after Gosnold’s recently deceased infant daughter. He named Cape Cod for the abundance of fish that virtually “pestered” the Ship. The naming of the area seems at first glance to be sentimental but it was probably more territorial than sentimental. Gosnold was naming territory that was part of Sir Walter Raleigh’s patent. Meanwhile, Raleigh was back in England worrying about his lost colony of Roanoke and totally ignorant of Gosnold’s voyage.

Gosnold traded with the Natives in Raleigh’s patent for sassafras and supplies. Sassafras was considered the new wonder drug in Europe. Profits from a good sized cargo would be considerable as the Americas were the only available source of the plant.  When the Concord’s hold was full the “Gentlemen Adventurers” could not agree upon a fair division of profits or of supplies between the colonists and those returning to England.  In fear of being unfairly compensated or worse, of suffering the same fate as the lost Roanoke colonists, all those who had intended to remain at Cuttyhunk could not be persuaded to stay.  The entire company returned to England with the undivided provisions.

The return trip to England was accomplished in only 37 days with the help of prevailing winds and the fact that they had cut their Shallop loose to lighten the load on the Concord. This was a common practice and may explain how the Native Americans at Cape Neddick came to be in possession of such a boat.

Once Bartholomew Gosnold returned to England, damage control with Sir Walter Raleigh commenced. Raleigh discovered the patent infringement as soon as the sassafras market was flooded by Gosnold’s cargo.  He wrote a letter to the Queen’s Principal Secretary demanding that Gosnold’s portion of the cargo be seized and given to him.  Brereton’s account of the trip was then “edited” to include a glowing dedication to Raleigh.  This account was published and at once became a bestseller.  Archer’s account would not be published until 1625.

Bartholomew Gosnold had not established the first permanent English settlement in New England as was his intention but his bold ambitions had changed the course of our history. Had his voyage in 1602 not inspired Martin Pring to make a proper discovery of the Kennebunk River in 1603, French explorer Samuel de Champlain would be credited for discovering our coast in 1604.

Read Gabriel Archer’s account of the 1602 voyage here.

Read John Brereton’s account of the 1602 voyage here.

North St/Maine St Kennebunkport Village

closeup 1805 Map
1805 changes to what is now known as North St and Maine St Kennebunkport

North St/Maine St  Kennebunkport Village

When North St/Maine St was laid out in 1755 there was already a bridge over Perkins Tide Mill Creek.  It was located just above the mill dam and was then known as the ‘Long Creek Bridge’.

From Arundel Town Book I March 18, 1755 (with spelling corrections made for readability)

“Voted the road from Goff’s Mill so-called to Harding’s Ferry as it is laid out : beg. at the lane that leads from ye Town Road to the Widow Merrill’s house and so down as the road now goes to the dividing line between lots that were formerly Esq. Hill’s lots and Col. Storer’s then S.E. and by E. to Mr. Rhodes field or house and from said Rhodes to the first brook where the road crosses the brook and from said brook on a S. course 42 R to head of Bass Cove and so crossing cove by an old hemlock tree over to a pine stump then S.W. and by S. 100R and then S.W. to Long Creek Bridge and from said bridge along by Mr. Eliphalet Perkins fence to the N.E. end of said fence then on a direct course along by and near ye N.E. corner of the little house where Mr. Shackford Sr. lived and from thence to the back side of Gideon Walker’s barn and so on to Saml Perkins land then down as the old road goes to the old mill brook so-called and 7 R over said brook as the road now is and from there on a S.W. course 32 R to the old road then as the old road goes to the head of Harding’s Cove so on the lower road or way. Road to be 2 Rods wide.”

When that road was expanded and straightened in 1805 a map of the original course and proposed changes was filed with the York County Court of Sessions.  See full 1805 Sessions Record below.Full 1805 Map Page

Narrative from York County Court of General Session Records

Full 1805 Map Narrative Page

The Earth Moved…Again

A force of nature

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.

Kennebunk Walker Family Diaries

A family of diarists

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.