Category Archives: 2010 Old News Column

An unscheduled meeting at Eliot Town Hall

The consequences of an empty tank and gravity
The consequences of an empty tank and gravity

The ground under the tiny wooden Town Hall in Eliot, Maine shook twice on Wednesday, January 7, 1925. Shortly after 8 am the strongest earthquake residents could recall knocked pictures off the walls. Around 12:30 that afternoon a De Havilland bi-plane crashed into the corner of the 1 1/2 story municipal building.

Army pilot, Charles Benning Oldfield, not to be confused with the then famous racecar driver, Charles Barney Oldfield, had been making a run from Mineola, NY to Boston. Flying at an altitude of 2000 feet he suddenly encountered a thick fog that caused him to lose his bearings and drift further north than he had intended.

Aviators navigated by sight in 1925 and Oldfield couldn’t see a thing from his open cockpit situated just behind the wings.  He was spotted flying alarmingly low over Portsmouth Navy Yard just after noon, having dipped below the fog in an attempt to find a place to land. By the time the experienced Army pilot aimed for Everett Hammond’s field in Eliot his engine was dead. He was out of gas.

Gliding in the rest of the way, Charles overshot the edge of the field barely missing a stone wall. He slammed into the corner of Town Hall piercing the Selectman’s Office. Luckily, nobody was in the building when wood, plaster and glass sprayed in all directions. A 300 pound safe was knocked clear across the room, remembered Ralph E. Dixon in the 1988 book A View of Eliot’s Past by Edward H. Vetter. Captain Oldfield was not seriously injured but the impact splintered the propeller and cracked the radiator of the U. S. Army airplane that had been entrusted to him.

Students at the high school 300 yards away heard the crash. Despite a stern warning from his teacher, Carleton Staples jumped out of his classroom window and ran over to get a closer look at the disabled bi-plane. He never regretted that particular defiance and proudly told the story for many years.

Word got around. Before long, people came from all over town and from across the Piscatiqua River to bear witness. One of them was the reporter for the Portsmouth Herald who chronicled the events that followed the crash. Guards were stationed around the plane to keep onlookers at bay while Charles Oldfield went to telephone Captain Louis R. Knight of the Army Air Service.

Arrangements were made for De Havilland expert and daredevil aviator Jimmy Doolittle to fly in from Boston the following day to assess the damage.    Charles retired to Portsmouth for the night where he was greeted as a celebrity. “Captain Oldfield,” wrote the Herald reporter, “in his enforced stay in this vicinity created a good impression with those whom he met he being a genial type of man and an interesting conversationalist.”

Jimmy Doolittle flew to Eliot on Thursday morning. It took him just a few minutes to formulate a repair plan and he was back in Boston by noon to order the necessary parts. Two accomplished aviation mechanics were dispatched from Boston in a truck with a propeller, a radiator, several sturdy timbers and more than enough fuel to get the damaged plane back to Boston. Local people remarked on the impressive speed and skill with which these highly specialized mechanics installed the replacement parts but they were just finishing up when the January sun called it a day.

A crowd arrived at the Town House on Friday morning to watch Oldfield depart but there was still a major obstacle to overcome. The opening in Everett Hammond’s stone wall was way too small to squeeze an airplane through. All day Friday was spent trying to get the bi-plane back into the meadow for take off. The timbers brought from Boston were fashioned into a ramp of sorts but in the end the plane had to be hoisted over the wall with the help of Eliot men who had gathered to watch.     Finally at 4 pm Captain Charles B. Oldfield boarded his plane and lifted off. He circled the field twice to make sure the engine was sound and with a tip of his wing to the good people of Eliot, he was gone.

When all the excitement died down attention turned to the damaged Town Hall. The little building that had once served as a school was in need of expensive repairs. Two weeks after the accident it was reported in the New York Times that the Town of Eliot was seeking compensation from the Federal Government. The War department forwarded the claim to Mineola, NY and Major Stillwell of the Fifth Infantry stationed at Portland, ME was ordered to Eliot to investigate. Evidence that the damage was caused by the Army bi-plane was irrefutable.

A special thanks to Peggy Elliott at the William Fogg Public Library in Eliot, Maine for her able assistance. She reports that the little Town Hall, which was located across State Road from where Eliot Elementary School now stands, was torn down in the 1970s.

Mabel & Richard Boothby-Kennebunk Beach Pioneers

Mabel Littlefield, Skipper, Merchant, Character
Mabel Littlefield, Skipper, Merchant, Character

Mabel Littlefield was born into a Wells family of means in 1702. Her mannerisms were not delicate like her sister’s and her plain appearance was not much improved by an extraordinary fondness for jewelry. But she had the courage and adventurous character of a pioneer.

Peers mocked young Mabel’s looks, incessantly. They assured her that no amount of glittery adornment would ever disguise her obvious unsuitability for marriage. In defense of her dignity Mabel always replied that her jewelry was not worn to please anyone but herself. That was usually followed by a declaration that she intended to marry the handsomest man any of them would ever know.

For a while, it seemed like the hurtful taunts Mabel tried to dismiss might come true. Most of her peers were married and having children by by 1722. Her younger brothers, Peletiah and Jonathan, took to the sea as soon as they came of age, just as they were expected to do, first on their father’s coasting vessels and later on their own. But what was the proud but husbandless Mabel expected to do? Discard her jewels and submit to a lonely, purposeless existence.

Instead, Miss Littlefield learned to sail. She took command of one of her father’s sloops and transported lumber, fish and other merchandise to Boston, returning to Wells with goods for her father’s store. Neither her appearance nor her jewelry was a hindrance at sea. After a few years, her expert seamanship and an innate business sense had earned her a sizable dowry in her own name. When an exceptionally handsome Irishman named Richard Boothby moved to Wells Mabel won him over with her ample endowment of character, intelligence and property.

The couple married in Newington, NH, when Mabel was 28 years old; well past the age of hopeless spinsterhood in 1730. They moved to Richard’s land near what would come to be known as Boothby Beach. Like his wife Mabel, Richard Boothby was proud. Though others referred to him as a tanner and a shoemaker, he always made the distinction of calling himself a “cordwainer” in deeds and official documents. Cordwainers used new hides to make high quality shoes and considered their craft far and away more respectable than that of a lowly cobbler.

The Boothbys became citizens of the newly settled part of Wells called Kennebunk when most of it was wilderness and Indian attacks were still an ever-present threat. In 1746, Richard Boothby and his neighbors petitioned the Wells parish to allow them to be set off as a separate parish they would share with residents of Arundel that lived near the eastern side of Kennebunk River. Arundel, as Kennebunkport was then called, had its own jurisdictional issues. The only church in town was in Cape Porpoise. Those living near the Kennebunk River had a long way to travel for worship. The petition was at first ignored but residents of the Kennebunk district of Wells persisted and a parish was finally established at Kennebunk Landing on March 14, 1751.

Arundel inhabitants living near the River sometimes took communion at the new Kennebunk Meeting House even though it was not officially their parish. Richard and Mabel Boothby were highly indignant that such informal attendance should be permitted. Daniel Remich wrote in his History of Kennebunk, “They looked upon it as presumptuous, and a great offense, and were unwilling to countenance such aberration from duty by communing with them.” The Boothbys refused to attend the church they had fought so hard to establish.

Once Richard and Mabel were assured that they would no longer be required to break bread with people from Arundel they renewed their membership in the church. Perhaps they were influenced to return by the loss of five of their children during the 1754 throat distemper epidemic in Kennebunk.  When the building of a new church was proposed in 1767 Richard Boothby was one of the few who opposed it. For one reason or another, the new church building was not completed until after both Richard and Mabel had passed.

Richard Boothby died in Jan 2, 1782.   His funeral was every bit as elaborate as his wealthy father in-law, Jonathan Littlefield’s had been though the Boothbys were much less able to afford such extravagance. Special black gloves were ordered from Boston for the ladies and the pall bearers along with yards and yards of fabric and ribbon. Proud Mabel lived to be 96 years old.

Pioneers Mabel and Richard Boothby were progenitors of a large and estimable Kennebunk family. Author Kenneth Roberts found Mabel’s story so compelling he used her as a character in his historical fiction.

Transportation growing pains in southern Maine

A Fatal Act of Sabotage
A Fatal Act of Sabotage

The 1842 arrival of the railroad in southern Maine was met with greed, fear, anger and even violence.

Maine’s first railroad was run from Bangor to Old Town in 1836. During the same year, two competing companies petitioned the Maine State Legislature for charters in a frenzied race to control the coveted run between Portland and Boston.

The interior line, proposed by what would become the Boston & Maine Railroad Company (B&M), was to pass through Gorham, Alfred and North Berwick to Dover NH. The Portland, Saco, Portsmouth line (PS&P), a Maine enterprise, was to pass along the coast through Saco, Biddeford, Kennebunk and York to Portsmouth. Both petitions were approved after acrimonious wrangling even though there was only business enough to support one road. The stock of both companies was widely owned in Maine and investors, some of them legislators, had a lot at stake.

PS&P started building tracks in Portland while B&M was preoccupied by territory contests in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The proprietors of the Maine railroad complained to the legislature that certain geographical obstacles, namely Mt. Agamenticus, necessitated an adjustment to their proposed course. Residents of coastal southern Maine supported plans to move the line inland, into the woods. They feared the railroad would “poison the land for miles around on each side.”

PS&P slipped an amendment to their charter through the legislature with wording so unspecific that it allowed construction of their road on B&M’s chartered line. When their competitor reached North Berwick in 1842 they found PS&P already legally operating a direct line between Portland and Boston in connection with yet another competitor, Eastern Railway.

The first Portland train arrived at the Saco depot on the morning of February 7, 1842. City officials, railroad executives, and gentlemen of the press were on hand to celebrate the official opening of the Portland to Saco leg of the PS&P. By November 22, the railroad was connected to the Eastern Railway. An announcement in the Boston Advertiser read “A continuous line of communication is open from Boston to Berwick, Wells, Kennebunk, Saco and Portland. Cars leaving Boston at noon will reach Portland at half past 5.”

The train went through Wells in a wooded area that would later be known as Highpine. At 8:30 on the evening of September 12, 1843, a train violently struck an obstruction on the new track. Engineer Horace Adams was instantly killed, being trapped under the upset coal car. The accident was reported in the Portland Bulletin.

“Two baggage cars and the first passenger car in which were six or eight persons, were shivered to pieces. One lady in the latter, the wife of Col. Tyler of Brownfield, was seriously injured and another slightly injured. The preservation of the occupants of the first saloon was most extraordinary as it was much broken up. A child nineteen months old, which was sleeping there, did not wake during all the horrid confusion, and was passed through the window, sleeping as calmly as if reposing on its mother’s bosom. Mr. Adams, approximately 35, resided in Portland and bore an excellent character. He was married about a year since and has left a young widow, with a babe in her arms, to lament his loss.”

The accident was clearly a case of sabotage. One of the rail connections had been pried up a foot and a half and several sticks of wood had been thrown onto the track. Motive was at first unclear. Some speculated that the target had been a party of landowners through whose property the road passed. They had been invited to make an excursion over the road on that day.

A Mr. Hatch was arrested at his home near the Wells depot and brought to Saco to be examined under suspicion of having caused the accident. One witness testified that Hatch had publicaly threatened to do mischief to the railroad.  It would be, he said, in retribution for his pay being docked while he was employed in the construction of the railroad. Another witness claimed that Hatch had admitted to the murderous deed but there being no physical evidence of his guilt, he was released. Hatch was not the only Wells Depot resident who felt cheated by the railroad company. Many of his neighbors believed that the train devalued their property; that rich city investors were getting richer on their backs.

Thirty years later the B&M Company laid tracks along the shore running parallel to the PS&P railroad. PS&P had cancelled their 6% lease to connect and wanted to renegotiate at a higher rate. By 1872, coastal residents were delighted to have the train stop close their tourist businesses. Their fear had been replaced by visions of Boston dollars arriving by train every summer. Mr. Hatch and his like-minded neighbors, still living at Highpine didn’t mind either.

Kennebunkport’s bat, ball and glove history

Baseball - summer's preoccupation
Baseball – summer’s preoccupation
Mr. William B. Walker of Springfield, Mass., played baseball against a Kennebunkport team in 1872, even before the big hotel was built on the bluff. So he reported to the editor of the Wave in 1889. By then, each coastal resort area had its own team. “The Goose Rocks beat the Ocean Bluffs 5 to 3,” wrote the Wave sports reporter that summer. And later, “The Granite State base ball club and the Gooch’s Beach team had a lively match.” When a game was scheduled against the York Beach club, local boys piled onto one of Joe Jeffries’ barges and made their way down the coast to rival turf. Temporary diamonds were laid out on the beaches or in open hay fields.

 

Teams were made up of year-round residents and summer folk. The Ocean Bluff team had the good fortune to have Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indian boys camping nearby at Indian Canoe Landing. Writer Albert Reed vacationed at Cape Arundel in August of 1889 and raved about the Indians’ passion for baseball in an article he submitted to the Boston Daily Globe. “The most dangerous habit they are addicted to is baseball. All the young braves are deeply versed in the slang and rules of the game and know all about the league standing, while several of them are practicing for positions on the Boston nine.”

Eighteen-year-old Louis Francis Sockalexis, soon to be one of the first Native Americans to play professional baseball, was a member of the extended family of Penobscot Indians summering at Cape Arundel in 1889. Though he wasn’t mentioned by name in the Globe, that summer he was listed as third baseman on Kennebunkport’s 1902 roster after his brief career as the original Cleveland Indian. Some said he could have been the greatest player of all time if only he hadn’t suffered from alcoholism.

The Kennebunkport Historical Society owns a beautiful photograph of renowned Boston and Kennebunkport artist, Abbott Fuller Graves, posing with his baseball team on the front lawn of his Ocean Avenue home. Graves sponsored and managed a local team of grown men in 1915; men with names still familiar in Kennebunkport, like Towne, Littlefield, Gould, Whitehead, Eldridge and Butland. Curtis and Earnest Coombs of West Kennebunk played right field and catcher, respectively. Their older brother John, meanwhile, was playing professional baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Henry Parsons donated land on School Street for a permanent ball park and Frank Atkins was hired to keep it trimmed and tidy. Poet and local shopkeeper Silas Perkins took over as the team’s manager in 1916. The Kennebunkporters continued to play until 1918 when World War I made exuberance for a game seem inappropriate.

In 1922, summer resident George Herbert Walker Jr. brought new life to the Kennebunkport baseball scene by organizing a team he called the Blue Stockings. The following summer he hired John W. Coombs as player/manager. Colby Jack Coombs, as he was known to the fans, had taken a coaching job at Williams College after a brilliant career in professional baseball. With summers off, he was free to lend his expertise to the Blue Stockings.

Walker and Coombs were determined to establish a top-notch semi-pro ball club. A new grandstand was erected at Parson’s field and the Yale groundskeeper was engaged for the season. Coombs played right field. Walker caught the ball. He also held the strings so coyly referred to in the Lewiston Daily Sun on March 1, 1923. “It is reported that strings on a large purse have been unknotted to secure a classy outfit of semi-pro ballmen. Summer residents are keen for a first class team and propose a payroll that will rival that of the Augusta millionaires.”

Walker and Coombs assembled the best collegiate talent available in 1923. Jack’s best players at Williams were recruited as were the crème de la crème from Dartmouth and Princeton. Local sports fans were thrilled with the prospect of a winning ball club but none were happier than the young ladies at Cape Arundel, who reportedly scrambled for their dance cards. The team was referred to as the Collegians by the press; and the name stuck.

By 1950, Jack Coombs had retired. With few interruptions, Herbie Walker was still calling the shots for the Kennebunkport Collegians. Kenny Raynor was his manager. Yes the same Kenneth Raynor who would become President of the Cape Arundel Golf Club. George Herbert Walker Jr. told a reporter for the Portland Press Herald that he didn’t expect the 1950 Kennebunkport Collegians to be financially successful. He regarded the maintenance costs as an investment in good fellowship; a common interest for town people and summer visitors. “That’s worth a lot,” he insisted.

The Collegians didn’t play in 1951. Many of their prospective players had been drafted to serve in the Korean War. Kennebunkport baseball fans, proud of a their semi-professional team and the town’s rich baseball history, hoped the boys would be back after a few years but it was not to be. George Herbert Walker Jr., uncle to two United States Presidents, co-founded the New York Mets in 1960.

 

 

King William’s War — the rest of the story

A Coastal Contagion of Mutiny in 1689
A Coastal Contagion of Mutiny in 1689

Most American history students learn that King William’s War began in New England as an extension of the war between England and France, when in July 1689 the French governor of Canada incited the Indians to brutally attack Dover, N.H., then known as Cochecho. By then, according to the letters of Edmund Andros, governor of New England, Maine had already been deeply embroiled in the conflict for a year.

Andros was appointed governor by the Catholic King James II of England in 1686. To test the boundaries of his jurisdiction, Andros raided the home and fort of the French Baron de Saint Castin in March of 1688, absconding with his furniture and family’s personal effects. Castin had lived among the Penobscot Indians for 20 years and had married the daughters of chief Madockawando, the most powerful of the eastern sachems, or tribal leaders. The baron and his family were forewarned of the attack and had taken to the Penobscot woods, but the insult ruptured the tenuous peace that had existed between the Maine Native Americans and the colonists since the end of King Philip’s War. There is evidence that Castin did arm his Indian brothers, but at first their violence was mostly directed at livestock.

Tensions built during the summer of 1688. A handful of North Yarmouth Indians, who had reportedly been drinking, threatened to shoot one of Henry Lanes’ hogs. The Almouchiquois tribe at Saco was meanwhile being deprived of many sources of food. A 1678 treaty with the English stipulated that the tribe be paid so many bushels of corn each year in exchange for territory. The colonists had ignored the debt. They were also stretching their fishing nets across the Saco River, thereby preventing the migration of fish to the Indian fishing grounds.

In August of 1688, Saco Indian families complained several times that the colonist’s cows were eating their crops; about the only source of food they had left. Their complaints were ignored. When the cows got into their corn again, the Native Americans shot at the cows, wounding some. Saco Justice of the Peace, Benjamin Blackman, felt justified in taking drastic action against the Indians, especially in light of the hog incident at North Yarmouth.

He rounded up 16 to 20 members of the Saco tribe who had participated in attacks against the colonists during King Philip’s War and sent them to Boston. Two weeks later, New Dartmouth and North Yarmouth were attacked in earnest by avenging Indians. They let it be known, in no uncertain terms, that their actions were in retribution for the imprisonment of their brothers from Saco. Andros released the prisoners but it was too little too late. Several members of the Barrett family were killed and others kidnapped by members of the Saco tribe at Cape Porpoise on Oct. 11, 1688.

Andros, who was generally despised by his mostly Protestant constituents in New England, organized an army to overtake the enemy in Maine. When none of his regular officers were willing to go, Andros decided, with disastrous results, to lead the men himself. An army of 500 men was easily detected and the enemy disappeared into its native forest. The only casualties of the expedition were English soldiers who froze to death or died of disease in the cold Maine winter.

While Andros was in Maine, his boss King James II abdicated the English throne. William of Orange succeeded him in February of 1689, but word of his coronation didn’t reach the colonies until the end of March. It was good news for the colonists, who hoped their old charter would be restored under the new Protestant king. Andros had by then returned to Boston, leaving his soldiers stationed in makeshift forts along the Maine coast. His commanding officers wrote to him repeatedly requesting ammunition and supplies but the Catholic governor ignored their requests. He was focused on protecting his own political future.

A rumor began to spread among the soldiers in Maine that Andros had sold them out and was negotiating with the Indian sachems to make Maine a Catholic territory. On March 28, 1689, Andros received notice that 17 soldiers at Saco Falls had deserted their majesty’s service. Mention was also made of mutinous actions by soldiers from Cochecho and other garrisons.

On April 12, 1689, Andros ordered Capt. John Floyd, commander of the Saco fort, to go after his AWOL soldiers and arrest those unwilling to return. He also ordered Floyd to relieve Lt. John Puddington of his command at the Cape Porpoise fort and send him to Boston to account for releasing his soldiers against the governor’s orders. The soldiers from Saco and Cape Porpoise were long gone, already marching to Boston to participate in a movement to depose Andros when Floyd received his orders.

On April 18, 1689, Andros was imprisoned by his subjects in Boston in spite of his efforts to escape by dressing in women’s clothing. After the soldiers had vacated the forts at Saco and Cape Porpoise, both defenseless villages were attacked by “Indians well known to them.” Two houses were burned at Saco and several inhabitants were wounded. John Barrett of Cape Porpoise was killed as his father and brothers had been the previous autumn. The “unprovoked” Cochecho massacre, often referred to as the beginning of King William’s War, was still three months away.                                 Sources

Conflicting interests between Wells and Ogunquit in 1883

The bridge to prosperity
The bridge to prosperity

“When a sturdy young man finds his own path to be in conflict with that of his father it is time for him to set up a household of his own,” argued one Maine legislator who was in favor of Ogunquit’s separation from Wells in 1921.

The indignant retort: “A child should not be allowed to leave his mother’s house to avoid paying his share of her bills after she has devoted her life to rearing him.”

Wells and Ogunquit had suffered a strained familial relationship ever since February 1883, when businessmen of Ogunquit Village sought to override a vote of the town of Wells by petitioning the Maine Legislature for a bridge across the tidewaters of the Ogunquit River. Village residents wanted to capitalize on their beautiful sandy beach but the river separated them from it.

A majority of Wells residents lived north of the river and they carried every vote. Tourism at Wells Beach had declined since the Island Ledge House burned in 1878, and then the Atlantic House went up in flames in 1885, taking with it even more tourism dollars. Most of the summer sojourners who visited Wells Beach were travelling north when they arrived and easy access to Ogunquit Beach might divert the few that still came. Taxpayers living farther inland also had no inclination to pay for improvements from which they would not benefit.

The bridge bill was finally passed by the Legislature in 1885. Wells voters then lobbied to have the bridge built upriver that it might be of “common convenience.” The Legislature left the location of the bridge up to the county commissioners, who chose an Ogunquit location. A committee of Wells voters appealed that decision, claiming that the county commissioners were not qualified to make such a choice. By October 1888, the court of last resort had spoken in favor of a location near the mouth of the Ogunquit River. Meanwhile, real estate sales in the village quickened in anticipation.

The following report appeared in the Biddeford Weekly Journal on October 5, 1888: “The proposed bridge shall be let out by contract and be completed by June 1st 1889. W. M. Hatch, B Maxwell, and A K Tripp were chosen a committee to make the plans, specifications etc and put the bridge under contract and to have charge of the whole matter.”

The plan was in place by the first of January 1889. Pilings were set and partly planked by April. In May, what was referred to in the local papers as a “tiny mistake” was discovered when work according to the plan was completed but the bridge was still a few feet short of the beach-side bank. The bridge opened on time nonetheless and Ogunquit enjoyed its most robust tourist season to date.

From that day forward town meetings in Wells were contentious. Warrant articles for sewers and sidewalks in Ogunquit were voted down. Town Hall burned and the location of the new Town Hall was hotly debated, as was the prudence of renting out commercial space within its walls. According to the official town history, when Ogunquit Village landowners wanted streetlights, Wells voters expressed their opposition with “hollering and foot stomping enough to shake the foundation of Wells Town Hall.”

The article was defeated and Ogunquit voters again went to the state Legislature; this time, with a bill authorizing a charter for the Ogunquit Village Corporation. They got their charter and their streetlights. According to the 1913 charter, 60 percent of taxes paid to the town of Wells by Ogunquit Village residents, was to be returned to the Village Corporation.

Similar issues were faced by towns up and down the coast of Maine when the growth of tourism along the shore necessitated infrastructure improvements from which inlanders did not benefit and for which they could not be persuaded to pay. Old Orchard Beach separated from Saco in 1883, and North Kennebunkport — now known as Arundel — broke off from Kennebunkport in 1915.

A yay vote to amend the charter of the Ogunquit Village Corporation tax formula in 1921 prompted Ogunquit taxpayers to petition the Legislature to allow them to break off from Wells. The measure was postponed indefinitely by the Legislature after it heard the testimony of 50 Wells taxpayers. Another attempt to legally separate into two towns was defeated in 1971.

The Maine Legislature finally approved a 1979 referendum for Ogunquit to secede from Wells. An Ogunquit Village Corporation vote in favor of the referendum passed 480 to 94 in October of 1979. Wells opposed the secession.

 

Perilous Refuge in Cape Porpoise Harbor

The fateful December gale of 1850
The fateful December gale of 1850

Cape Porpoise Harbor has always been dangerous to seafarers unfamiliar with its hidden hazards but countless vessels have ventured forth anyway, seeking shelter from countless storms. Many never made it into the harbor, others never made it out.

 In October of 1804 The Salem Register reported that a Hallowell packet was lost at Cape Porpoise in a hurricane. Captain Weston sailed her onto the rocks. He, his crew and all 20 of his passengers, including twelve ladies, perished. Only the bodies of Dr. Appleton, Mrs. Appleton and their child, all of Waterville, were ever found.

 The American Coast Pilot called Cape Porpoise a “bad harbour” in 1806. “It is not to be attempted unless you are well acquainted, or in distress. A vessel that draws 10 feet will be aground at low water. The harbour is so narrow that a vessel cannot turn round.” Nevertheless, it was advertised as the only refuge in a storm between Portland and Portsmouth. During the years of coasting trade it was not unusual for 100 vessels to seek shelter in one storm, bumping and battering each other in the process. To address the dangerously rocky approach, local ship owners petitioned the United States Congress, in 1831, to establish a lighthouse on Goat Island and a buoy at Prince’s Rock. The whale oil in Goat Island Light was first ignited in August of 1833 and the Prince Rock buoy was placed the following year. Unfortunately, the frequency of shipwrecks was not much abated by these measures.

 Joshua Herrick, Kennebunkport’s only United States Congressman, promoted a plan in 1844 to construct an 852 foot stone pier between Savin Bush and Milk Islands, thereby blocking the surge from nor’easters and providing tie ups for vessels seeking refuge. It was proposed that the breakwater, 20 feet wide at its base and 10 feet wide on top, be built economically of stone available on an “unclaimed island” 1/2 mile east of Milk Island. The plan was perceived by Congress as an effort to improve commerce in Cape Porpoise and the bill was forwarded to the Commerce Committee. There it sat for nearly a decade.

 During the tremendous storm of 1850, just before Christmas, Cape Porpoise Harbor was littered with disabled vessels. The schooner “Wave” went ashore outside the harbor late on the night of December 22nd. Captain Tolman and his crew were saved but the schooner was a total loss. A few hours later schooner “Susan Taylor” of Frankfort went ashore on Green Island. Schooner “Helen Mar” of Deer Isle, was the next to run aground on the rocks between Vaughn and Green Islands. Her bottom was knocked out and her cargo of lumber strewn willy nilly.   Schooner Albert soon parted her anchor chains and drifted afoul of Schooner Elizabeth causing that schooner to go aground. No lives were lost but the crews of Helen Mar, Albert and Elizabeth all huddled together on Green Island, unsheltered from the raging weather until they were rescued late in the evening of the 23rd.

 As Deputy Collector of Customs for the Kennebunk District, Enoch Cousens pleaded with Congress in 1853 to approve the Cape Porpoise breakwater project. Additionally, Cousens asked that a lighthouse be built at the mouth of the Kennebunk River.  The breakwater bill was again tabled but the proposed lighthouse was approved. A 6th order lens perched atop a 21 foot white frame structure was lit for the first time on January 1, 1857 at the end of the eastern pier. The new lighthouse was unpopular. It caused a great deal of confusion among mariners being so close to Cape Porpoise Light. A storm took it away some time before 1870 and it was never replaced.

Originally most of Cape Porpoise Harbor had a depth of about 13 feet at low tide and the entrance was obstructed by a bar. Under a $70,000 harbor improvement project finally adopted March 3, 1899, the entrance of the harbor was widened to 200 feet and deepened to 16 feet at low water. An anchorage area about 3,000 feet long, 600 feet wide, and 15 feet deep at low tide was completed by the end of 1902. In 1907, the crooked entrance channel was straighten and dug to a depth of 18 feet at low tide for an additional $46,000. These improvements made the harbor much safer as a place of refuge but a few notable shipwrecks occurred during and after the project.  

The number of documented shipwrecks in the Kennebunks exceeds 100. Some of the wrecks at Goose Rocks Beach, Cape Arundel and Kennebunk Beach will be explored in a free illustrated lecture at Kennebunk Library tonight, (July 22, 2010) at 7 pm.

A German Howitzer quietly pleads for peace in Kennebunk

A Trophy Gun of Remembrance
A Trophy Gun of Remembrance

Thousands of people wiz by Kennebunk’s War Memorial every day but few are aware of its significance or its origin.

When the citizens of Kennebunk arrived at Town Meeting, Saturday, August 22, 1908, Saco marble dealer, George E. Morrison had already been commissioned to furnish a 21 foot granite figure of a soldier on a seven by eight foot base. The statue honoring Kennebunk soldiers of the American Civil War was to be paid for by the efforts of the Relief Corps and an appropriation by the town.

A satisfactory location for the monument could not be agreed upon. The vote to place it on Centennial Hill passed by a narrow margin but the meeting was contentious. Disgruntled voters grumbled at their neighbors as they left the meeting.

The following Monday, Henry Parsons stepped forward and offered to purchase the land at the corner of Main and Fletcher Streets for $10,000 and donate it to the town for a war memorial. The lot was the perfect choice. It was right downtown and just across the street from the Kennebunk Free Library, which had been built for the town by Henry Parson’s father, George Parsons. Peace was restored. The $4,000 statue was unveiled on October 24, 1908 amid much prayer and fanfare. All the businesses in town were dressed in their finest patriotic buntings.

In 1911, Kennebunk Legislator, Charles Perkins acquired a battle-worn cannon from the Government to be placed near the statue. After World War One, a plaque listing names of the Kennebunk soldiers who served was added to the park. William Barry donated his grandfather’s old ships cannon that had been fired from Centennial Hill to celebrate Armistice Day. Both of these old guns have since been put in storage.

A June 7, 1924 Act of Congress provided for the distribution of captured enemy artillery as war memorials for American cities and towns. Maine was allotted its share of German WWI field guns and the Harold A. Webber American Legion Post was the first to apply for one. The request was passed over even though Kennebunk had sent more men into the World War per capita then any other town in Maine.

Henry Parsons, a member of Kennebunk’s American Legion Post, stepped forward again. This time he was determined to acquire a piece of German Artillery. In 1928 he became aware of 20 captured Howitzers that had been placed with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. They were being stored on the grounds of War College for lack of space at the museum so Parsons went to Washington DC to examine the collection. He picked out his three favorite guns and wrote an appeal to the Smithsonian Institute on behalf of the Kennebunk American Legion. “The cannons are seriously deteriorating through the rusting of the steel and the decaying of the wood-work,” he wrote.  “The Harold A. Webber Post respectfully request that one of these cannon be donated to the Post as a war memorial – all expenses in connection with such donation to be paid by the Post.”

After many letters between the Post, the Smithsonian Institute, The War Department and United States Congressman, Lister Hill, the donation was finally approved. These letters, which have been carefully preserved in scrapbooks kept at the Webber-Lefebvre Post 74, were graciously shared with your columnist by Commander Brian McBride. In one rather terse letter from the Post to Governor Ralph O. Brewster, the Post Commander complained that as deserving as the large voting membership of the Kennebunk Legion was they had been overlooked to receive one of the original allotment of German cannons. He then suggested that the Governor might want to rectify the situation by applying to the War department on their behalf.

In the early part of August, 1928, the German 150mm sFH13 Lang Howitzer arrived at the depot on a flat bottom car. The 4700 pound field gun was unloaded and hauled behind an auto-truck to Town Hall by Henry Parsons, Elmer M. Roberts and Post Commander A.L. Leach. It was riddled with shrapnel and bullet holes; clear evidence of combat against the allied forces. Mobility and fire power made the sFH13 one of the most important pieces in the arsenal of the German Artillery during WWI.  The Fried. Krupp Steel Company had delivered 3,409 of them to the front lines by 1918 when Kennebunk’s Howitzer was captured off a French battlefield.

At the beginning of WWII the Howitzer was contributed to a war effort scrap drive, to be cut up for bullets. As it turned out, the Biddeford junkman did not own an acetylene torch hot enough to cut the cannon into pieces for smelting. After several years of storage at the junkyard it was hauled back to the American Legion Hall on High Street. There it remained until the new Legion Hall was opened on Water Street.

It was reported in the Star that Kennebunk citizens voted to accept the Howitzer as a donation from the American Legion in 1977 to keep it in town “since other area American Legion Posts wanted it.” It was placed at the War Memorial and there it remains to remind us of the price of war.