Kennebunk Port High School was built on Elm St in 1891 at the location of the old Spring Hotel, which had burned in the 1887 Skating Rink Fire. The high school building also housed a grammar school. In 1946, the town voted to pay tuition to Wells and Kennebunk High Schools rather than continue to maintain the Elm St school. The high school students moved out in 1947 and for 6 years the building served as a consolidated 8th grade until Consolidated School was built in 1953. The 1891 building on Elm St was finally torn down to make way for the Town Office in 1959.
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.”
Narrative from York County Court of General Session Records
Detailed description of Kennebunkport Village in 1840. Published in Kennebunkport summer newspaper ‘The Sea Shell’ August 1, 1913.
Boston & Maine Railroad Company built the Wells Beach station in 1872 after much advance press. Anticipating improved access to “watering” summer folk, resourceful businessmen Harrison B. Davis, his brother Alfred, and William A. Worster, started quietly buying up beachfront parcels of land in 1870.
A large, opulent hotel was erected in 1871 at the ocean end of what is today called Mile Road. Over 1400 guests were entertained there during the first season. The proprietors celebrated by adding an ell that contained sixty additional rooms which were occupant-ready by June of 1872. Island Ledge House was advertised to have large airy single and en-suite rooms, wide halls lighted with gas, extensive verandas with unobstructed sea views on three sides, a billiard hall, bowling alleys, a croquet lawn, sailboats with skillful skippers and a quadrille band in constant attendance. For the first few years, the day to day operations of the hotel were supervised by the Davis brothers.
William A. Worster took over in 1874. He placed a new ad that described the hotel as having “four stories with a mansard roof and about 200 rooms.” Such abundance could be enjoyed for just $3 a day. In contrast to the success enjoyed during its first few seasons, the hotel was losing money under Worster’s management.
When the vacant, heavily insured complex of buildings burned to the ground on February 15, 1878, after five short years in operation, Worster was accused of incendiarism; a charge he denied. The case was settled out of court but further investigation uncovers the fact that another heavily insured building owned by Worster had burned in 1870 just months before he invested in the hotel development.
Worster married the Berwick widow Juliette Ricker in 1875. The fact that she came from a pretty well-connected family probably had not escaped his notice. Julliett’s brother, Sherman A. Ricker, broadly known as the “Corn King of the Chicago Board of Trade”, was, at the time of his sister’s wedding, living a wildly reckless life and Juliette was one of his only heirs. When the “Corn King” died in 1882 his estate was vast. William Worster’s bride inherited hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Meanwhile, William Worster fought arson and insurance fraud charges for several years before settling out of court. When his subsequent business practices came under new legal scrutiny he transferred all his assets into his wife’s name to avoid having to pay another settlement.
The Boston Daily Advertiser reported the story on March 27, 1886.
“Strafford County Jail tonight contains an exceptional prisoner – William A. Worster of Great Falls. Two years since the Grand Jury of York County Maine found an indictment against him for obtaining $900 by false pretenses from Sewell I. Cowell of Berwick. He then changed his residence to Great Falls, NH and the indictment still hangs over him. The Supreme Court at the February term, 1885, rendered judgment against Worster for $6054. Worster placed his property out of reach of the Sheriff who then had him arrested on suspicion of an intent to leave the State. Worster declared he had no money and wanted to take the poor debtors’ oath, thinking the plaintiff would not push the case any further. He was astonished to find the council for the plaintiff had lodged $1000 in the jailer’s hands which is guarantee for the prisoner’s board for eight years. Worster declares he will stay, if necessary, rather than pay.”
Worster served five years in jail. His stubbornness had been based on the assumption that his wife would continue to fund his litigation but it didn’t work out that way. Juliette ran off to Europe with prominent Somersworth, New Hampshire businessman Emery J. Randall in 1888 leaving William A. Worster the pauper he had claimed to be.
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.
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.
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.
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.