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High Flying History of Sanford Regional Airport

Baffling pilot error

Unassuming little Sanford Regional Airport sits quietly between the roads from Sanford, Alfred, Kennebunk, Wells and North Berwick. From its understated appearance one would never guess at the history it has seen, in times of war and peace.

Sanford Town Engineer, Earnest Gallant, oversaw initial construction of the runways in 1930 on land owned by Lela H. Goodall Thomurg. One of the local leaders of the project, Dr. S. H. Cobb, traveled to Portsmouth, N.H. on July 3, 1930 expressly so that he might catch a plane there and return as the first passenger to land at Sanford Airport.

A reception party, including Mayor F. W. Hartford, Frank W. Randall and Major A. Leon Smith, greeted Dr. Cobb as he climbed out of his pilot’s plane. Later that same day Army fliers arrived to look over the facilities. They were already planning to use the airfield during the New Hampshire National Guard annual encampment.

William Campbell, President of the Goodall Worsted Company, founded Sanford Airways in 1931. After several improvement were made during the 1930s and early 1940s, funded primarily by New Deal agencies, the Sanford Airport was leased to the Navy in 1942. By then it boasted three lighted, paved, 3,000-foot runways.

Freeland K. Smith of Kennebunkport was working at the Brunswick Naval Air base during World War II. He recalls that Sanford Airport was used by the Navy to augment the Brunswick Naval Air Station. “Route 109 had to be relocated to accommodate the Navy expansion,” said Freeland. “A hangar and maintenance buildings were built. The air strip was painted off to represent an aircraft carrier’s deck and provisions put in to install the arresting cables just like on a carrier. Of course those cables were only in place during the training,” he continued.

Mr. Smith remembers that at Brunswick and at Sanford, “British Carrier fighter pilots were trained to fly the Vought Corsair fighter plane, the hottest fighter plane capable of landing on a carrier. British pilots were brought here, assigned to a new airplane and after completing their training, returned to England with the plane.”

At a special meeting after the war, the Town of Sanford deliberated whether or not to accept the airport back from the Navy. The meeting was covered in the Portsmouth Herald. “Should the commission accept the airport which contains 300 acres of land, hangers and other buildings, the town would be responsible for its upkeep. Several Quonset huts and a few other buildings, including a mess hall, will not be included in the deal.” The town did vote to accept the airport but it was to be  administered by a state Airport Commission, not the Town of Sanford.

During the transition, Sanford Airways owned several Cessna 140 airplanes for flight instruction and pleasure flying. On Nov. 19, 1947 two Bowdoin College students, Richard E. Eames, 21, of Winterport, and William Campbell Jr., 21, of Kennebunk, took out two of the planes. Eames was a WWII veteran and already had his license to fly. Campbell, a student flyer, was the son of the late William Campbell, president of Goodall Worsted Company until 1944.

The classmates had just taken off from Sanford Airport when they collided in mid-air. Richard Eames did not survive. Cecil Chadbourne told a reporter for the Portsmouth Herald that he heard a crash and turned toward the noise just in time to see Eames’ plane falling in pieces from the sky. It had rammed the side of Campbell’s craft leaving him with a gaping hole in the side of his plane. Campbell managed to set his disabled plane down just off the runway. He told a reporter for the Portland Press Herald that he had no idea what had caused the collision. “Eames took off first and made a turn,” Campbell said. “When I took off Eames was at 800 to 900 feet, 500 feet above me and ahead of me. He crossed ahead of me and about 300 feet above. I continued climbing and turned left. Then I saw him coming at me sideways in a bank. He was right on top of me in an instant and we collided.”

Richard Eames’ death left his parents childless. His only brother had been killed in the war in 1945.

The Navy used Sanford Airport again for a couple of years during the Korean War and Sanford Selectmen took over its administration in 1953. Colonial Aircraft Corporation moved to Sanford to manufacture amphibian planes in 1955. They chose Sanford for its airport and for its large empty woolen mill that served as the perfect inexpensive location for their factory. Colonial was acquired by Lake Aircraft Corp in 1959. A new, larger plane called the Lake Amphibian was built. Several other designs followed until 1970 when Lake Aircraft business offices were moved to Houston, Texas. The Lake factory and hanger at Sanford Airport were later sold at auction.

Sanford Regional Airport is now overseen by an Airport Advisory Committee of the Town of Sanford and a part-time airport manager. It’s the home of Southern Maine Aviation, LLC., which offers flight instruction, plane rentals and scenic aerial adventures. Only two runways remain but they adequately service celebrities, Senators and even Presidents of the United States from time to time.

Edward Rowe Snow – History Adventurer and Flying Santa

Flying Santa’s Annual Christmas Airdrop

Every once in awhile, a historian comes along whose wonder at the mysteries of the past is so contagious that it creates new history buffs, young and old. Edward Rowe Snow was one such New England time traveler. From 1936-1981 he was also known as The Flying Santa.

Snow was a high school history teacher in Winthrop, MA when one of his students, Bill Wincapaw, Jr., introduced him to the original Flying Santa, his father Captain William Wincapaw. When Capt. Wincapaw was called away for business and unable to complete his Flying Santa duties, Bill Jr. recommended his history teacher as a substitute Santa.

A Friendship, Maine native,  Bill Wincapaw had started the program unceremoniously in 1929 as a way to thank the lighthouse keepers whose tireless efforts kept him safe. He was flying seaplanes in Penobscot Bay, transporting people to and from the islands in all kinds of conditions.  Local lighthouse keepers knew him well and kept an eye out for his plane, relaying word of his whereabouts during heavy weather.

The events of that first Christmas flight in 1929 were recounted in an article written by Brian Tague, photographer and historian for the Flying Santa Organization.

“So it began on December 25, 1929, he loaded his plane with a dozen packages containing newspapers, magazines, coffee, candy and other items. They were small luxuries and common staples that could make living on an isolated island a little more bearable. Some of these same items continue to be a part of the tradition today. He flew to lights around the Rockland area and dropped these modest gifts to the lighthouse families. Never realizing just how well his gesture of Christmas goodwill would be received, he flew home to spend the rest of the day with his family.”

That first Christmas delivery spread such joy that Capt Wincapaw decided to make it an annual event. His delivery team was expanded to include Bill Wincapaw, Jr. and the flight plan was expanded to include lighthouses all along the northeast coast. Bill Sr. donned the fur-trimmed Santa suit only after grateful recipients of his annual gifts nicknamed him The Flying Santa. In 1933 Wincapaw moved his family to Winthrop, MA. where he met Snow, his Flying Santa successor.

Edward Rowe Snow performed substitute Santa duties starting in 1936. Already a published author, he kept his eyes peeled for story ideas while he was up in the air. During his 1940 Christmas flight over Massachusetts Bay, Snow spotted the hulk of the British Frigate Somerset wrecked off Cape Cod in 1778. It had been temporarily exposed by a rough winter storm a few days before Christmas.

Wartime security restrictions almost canceled the 1941 present drop but with some alteration to the flight plan and a conspicuous red Christmas banner affixed to the side of their hired plane, Snow and his wife were given the go-ahead for their Christmas flight at the 11th hour. All available Flying Santas, including Snow, served in World War II so Christmas flights were cancelled for a few years but were back in full swing by 1945.

Sadly, Captain Bill Wincapaw, the original Flying Santa, suffered a heart attack while flying his plane over Rockland Harbor in July 1947. He and his passenger were killed. That Christmas, Edward Rowe Snow carried on The Flying Santa legacy, dropping a memorial wreath for his old friend over Rockland Harbor.

Snow expanded the program to include U.S. Coastguard Stations and lighthouses all along the eastern seaboard. He continued the Christmas flights, often accompanied by his wife and daughter, until 1981 when his health failed. Mr. Snow’s Santa suit was presented to Ed McCabe of Hull Massachusetts and thanks to support from the Hull Lifesaving Museum and later the Friends of Flying Santa, the tradition continues.

Aside from his dedicated service as The Flying Santa, Edward Rowe Snow left a legacy of more than 40 books on the history of coastal New England. His interests ranged from pirate’s treasure to unidentified shipwrecks to women at sea. As a daily columnist for the Quincy, Massachusetts newspaper, The Patriot Ledger and writer for various other publications throughout his adult life, he kept a rapt readership informed of his historical adventures.

In 1945, he found a treasure chest buried at Cape Cod’s Nauset Beach after decoding a message he found pinpricked on the pages of an ancient book. Also in 1945, Snow claimed to have identified a treasure-laden pirate ship 45 miles off Provincetown, MA.

1952 found the historian on the Canadian island of Isle Haut. By following an ancient chart he had located the buried treasure of pirate Edward Lowe. The Isle Haut lighthouse keeper watched his every move as he dug up a mysterious skeleton and a cache of Spanish Doubloons. Snow was then delivered directly to a Canadian Customs Agent who impounded his treasure.

Edward Rowe Snow came to Kennebunk in 1960 to investigate the shipwreck of the sloop Industry that was briefly uncovered that spring on Kennebunk Beach.

A year later he wrote in his column that he believed he had found the long lost airplane of French pilot, Charles Nungesser in Casco Bay. Nungesser disappeared in 1927 on an attempted transatlantic flight from Paris to New  York.

Though he has been gone now for some 30 years, Edward Rowe Snow is still as fondly remembered for his inspiring books and his thrilling real life history adventures as he is for his longtime role as The Flying Santa.

The Kennebunk & Kennebunkport Railroad Company – 1882-1926

Kennebunkport’s Tourism Umbilical Cord

Despite gloomy predictions by new-enterprise naysayers, the Kennebunk and Kennebunkport Railroad became one of the most profitable branches on the Boston & Maine line. It was constructed by local men in 1883 and ran from the Kennebunk Depot off Summer Street, down along the eastern side of the Mousam River to Parsons Station, then to Kennebunk Beach Station, diagonally across the Sea Road from the Wentworth Hotel and to the little Grove Hill Station just off Boothby Road. The branch terminated at the Kennebunkport Depot, which was actually in Lower Village just before the bridge to Kennebunkport.

The first railroad company to run tracks through Kennebunk was the Portsmouth, Saco and Portland Line. The company opened a depot in West Kennebunk in August of 1842 that was the only depot in town for 30 years. Competitors, the Eastern Railroad Company and later the Boston & Maine Railroad Company, leased rights to run their trains on this line until the early 1870s when PS&P tried to renegotiate the 6% B&M lease at a higher rate.

Rather than pay the increase, B&M Railroad laid their own tracks from South Berwick, through Kennebunk to Portalnd. The new station off Summer Street in Kennebunk served tourists visiting the elegant hotels and cottages being developed by the Boston and Kennebunkport Seashore Company.

In 1881, local capitalists, many of them Seashore Company stockholders, devised a plan to deliver the tourists even closer to seaside businesses by building a 4.5-mile railroad branch along Kennebunk Beach. Maine State Railroad Law required that $5,000 per mile be represented by stock, but the rest could be mortgaged. So many investors stepped forward to purchase stock in the new railroad that they decided to finance the entire capitalization of $65,000 with shares bearing 4.5 percent interest per annum. All shares were quickly sold and the directors had to refuse in excess of $35,000 from hopeful stock buyers.

One of the initial shareholders was George C. Lord, native of Kennebunk, who just happened to also be the president of the Boston & Maine Railroad. Joseph Dane, president of the Ocean Bank, was elected president of the railroad, as well. Some of the other early investors were Hartley Lord, James Cousens, Moses Maling Charles C. Perkins, Charles E. Perkins, and Joseph Titcomb.

Work began on the track bed in December 1882 on land purchased from old Kennebunk families. Kennebunkport Seashore Company lots were also extensively used. The road construction contract for $25,500 promised that all the work including grading, laying sleepers and rails, building wire fences four feet high, and filling in a dock at Lower Village, would be completed by the beginning of the 1883 summer hotel season.

A lot in Lower Village owned by shipbuilder David Clark was purchased for the Kennebunkport station. Joseph Day of Kennebunk won the contract to build a 48- by 20-foot depot with an attached 40-foot platform.

In June of 1883, the Boston & Maine Railroad signed a lease for the fledgling railroad, agreeing to handle all management and pay the 4.5 percent per annum interest due to the Kennebunk & Kennebunkport Railroad stockholders.

On June 18, 1883, Kennebunk Town Clerk Andrew Walker recorded the first passenger run to the Port. Two regular trips were planned for each day that week at 25 cents per passage. Within a few weeks, nine regular trips or 18 passages a day were scheduled. By the end of the first summer season the Kennebunk & Kennebunkport Railroad had averaged 1,200 passengers per week. Trains ran year-round but during the winter months the schedule was reduced to four trips a day.

B&M reported in 1887 that the 4.5-mile railroad was already one of their most profitable branches per mile. Many new hotels had been built at Kennebunk Beach and Cape Arundel to take advantage of the improved access. The Grove Hill Hotel was built near the Boothby Road stop and a depot was constructed for Parsons Station diagonally across the Mousam River from George Parsons’ farm, Riverhust.

“The Conductor is Mr. F. K. Webster and the Engineer is Mr. E. Stromach,” wrote a reporter for the Biddeford Journal in July 1887. “Although the locomotives employed upon the road have been constantly changing,” he continued, “Mr. Stromach has wielded the throttle for the whole four years of the branch road’s existence. His portly form and genial countenance are familiar to summer travelers here. The locomotives employed upon the branch road have been, in turn, named: Strafford, Camilla, Exeter, and Newburyport.”

F. W. Strout, the station agent at Kennebunkport, had also been there since the beginning. His station was by far the busiest on the line. “The amount of money taken in one day at Kennebunkport has often been very much larger than at some city stations,” wrote the journalist. “One day last season Kennebunkport took $500, this sum including freight bills and tickets.”

As automobiles became more common, ridership on the line declined. When the Federal Income Tax Law regarding leased railroads changed in 1919, the Kennebunk & Kennebunkport Railroad officially became a subsidiary of the Boston & Maine Railroad Company. Against the wishes of local businessmen, the branch was abandoned on Sept. 8, 1926.

Engine No. 3666 plunges into the Piscataqua

The Piscataqua River claimed her victims

When the first teamster drove his horses over the newly-built Portsmouth Bridge in 1822 he could scarcely have imagined the horrible fate that would befall the last two men to try to navigate across the interstate span in 1939.

After the railroad built its adjoining bridge on the same superstructure in 1842 and until the Memorial Bridge opened in 1923, terrified teams of horses and screeching steam locomotives crossed the 1650-foot wooden Portsmouth Bridge side-by-side. Teamsters were required to pay for the dubious privilege.

The old bridge was closed to all but railroad traffic in 1923 and it was still being used by the Boston & Maine Railroad in 1936, when a committee consisting of residents from both Maine and New Hampshire agreed to build a new bridge – some 60 feet downstream, to address the growing traffic between Maine and New Hampshire. Construction of the new bridge progressed nicely through the summer of 1939 and the scheduled Spring 1940 completion target seemed well within reach.

On Sunday evening, Sept 10, 1939, local passenger train No. 2024 left North Berwick, Maine on schedule for Boston, Massachusetts. Only 12 passengers and a crew of five were onboard as engine # 3666 pulled very slowly onto the wobbly wooden bridge –suspended 40 feet above the raging Piscataqua River tides. A speed limit of 3 miles per hour had been imposed since the Norwegian Freighter, Lynghaug hit the bridge in 1937. Twenty pilings were torn away in the incident. Repairs were hurriedly made for $5,000 but the weakened bridge was never again the same.

According to a report in the Portsmouth Herald on September 11, 1939, local 2024 was still on the eastern span when the locomotive, the tender and empty first passenger car plunged into the river “as if thrown from a catapult.”

Fireman Charles D. Towle, 49, of Exeter, NH, who was probably standing to the rear of the cab when the bridge collapsed, could be heard screaming as the exceptionally strong Piscataqua tide carried him upstream and into the night. His lifeless body was recovered later that night near Dover Point.

Engineer, John Beattie,68, of Somerville, MA, was presumed dead as, based on the location of his post, he would likely have been trapped inside the submerged locomotive. After a sweep of the area by two Coast Guard vessels the search for Beattie was called off for the night. His body was finally found ten days later, floating near the back channel buoy, a half-mile downstream from the splintered bridge.

The passengers had all been saved from a similar fate when the coupling between the first and second passenger cars parted, causing the airbrake hoses to tear away and the brakes on the occupied cars to be automatically applied. The coaches jolted to a stop but remained upright on the tracks. In fact, most of the passengers had no idea of the gravity of the accident until they were loaded onto handcars and transferred to the Kittery side of the bridge.

Within an hour of the accident, 500 curious Portsmouth and Kittery residents had gathered along the river, but there wasn’t much for them to see. The first three units of the train had been immediately swallowed up by the black swirling river.

Everyone assumed the railroad bridge had collapsed because of its age and condition, but the Boston & Maine Railroad representatives insisted the bridge had recently passed inspections. While there had been a bridge at that location for over 100 years, they argued, the structure had been entirely rebuilt several times and all parts had been repeatedly renewed. Their investigation indicated the bridge failure was caused by equipment used for building the new bridge.

A $150,000 lawsuit was filed by the railroad company against the construction contractor, Frederick Snare Corp. Objective investigations confirmed that the bridge had been damaged when a large caisson used in the construction of the new bridge broke loose and cables attached on the caisson pulled a piling of the railroad structure out of place.

Plans were made to repair the railroad bridge but this turned out to be far too expensive and impractical for a few months of use. Railroad traffic was diverted to the Western Division until the new bridge opened to traffic with train tracks running below the road.

Projects to raise the 125-ton locomotive have been considered several times since the accident, most recently in 1995, but each time the costs were deemed prohibitive. Instead,the cars were twice moved farther out of the shipping channel to prevent them from impeding navigation.

Engine #3666, builtin 1913 by the American Locomotive Company of Schenectady, NY still rests in her watery grave, not far from where the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge spans the Piscataqua River.

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.

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.

Victor Vernon, guest aviator at Kennebunk Beach

Mr. Atwater Kent to the rescue
Mr. Atwater Kent to the rescue

Kennebunk Beach had its usual array of summer sojourners in August 1914 but the fresh sea breezes were tainted by the scent of trepidation. Even though President Woodrow Wilson had quickly tried to balance declarations of war in Europe with his own declaration that the United States would remain neutral, the specter of war was omnipresent. As a diversion, the manager of the Atlantis Hotel invited aviator Victor Vernon to stay at the hotel for free with his family if he offered tourist rides on his new-fangled, Curtiss Flying Boat, The Betty V.

Before World War I, aviators were fearless pioneers. Some might even call them reckless. Vernon had been a car salesman for the American Automobile Manufacturing Company only a few months earlier. When the company went into receivership, Victor, who had seen a plane land on the water the previous summer, went to Hammondsport, N.Y., took a few flying lessons from a Curtiss test pilot, and purchased the newest model “hydro-aeroplane” money could buy. He had given just a few exhibitions flights on Lake Erie when he disassembled his Flying Boat and had her shipped by railroad to Portland, Maine.

Little more than a decade earlier, the Wright Brothers had made their first 20-minute flight. The Curtiss Flying Boat was touted the world over as “the sportsman’s vehicle of the future,” and “a marvel of engineering.” The mahogany-hulled, hydroplane was as beautiful as she was fast. Equipped with a 90-horsepower motor she could reach speeds of 60 miles per hour on the water and 75 mph in the air.

Vernon hoped to make a pretty penny flying passengers over Kennebunk Beach or at the very least, enjoy a luxurious summer holiday with his family for free. The Atlantis Hotel, advertised as “a hotel of the very best class,” was built in 1903 in the Spanish mission style. Private bathrooms were available for those willing to pay extra; a rare luxury in 1914. Victor Vernon offered rides from Middle Beach where privileged hotel guests could watch him take off and land from the veranda. His best customer was Atwater Kent, who owned a cottage near St Ann’s by the Sea, in Kennebunkport. Kent had made his fortune by inventing an automobile ignition system that could be engaged from inside the car. He loved any cutting-edge thing with a motor and couldn’t get enough of the Betty V. He showed up day after day to fly with Vernon, sometimes with Mrs. Kent and sometimes alone.

“During Mr. Kent’s first ride with me,” Victor Vernon wrote in his memoirs, “a wave top broke over the Betty V when landing and dampened the magneto. The motor stopped and we started drifting toward a rocky section of the beach near our point of operation. I shouted to Mr. Kent what was most undoubtedly the trouble, but he, an electrical expert, already knew and offered to climb up alongside the motor, remove the magneto cover, clean and dry it out and replace — no easy job in a pitching, rolling ‘boat,’ and not good for his flannels, either. He did an expert job just in time as when I cranked the motor and she caught with welcomed roar, we were only a few feet from huge, jagged boulders and rocks stretching out from shore into deep water and being swept by the waves. He was the highest priced, but unpaid mechanic ever voluntarily serving under similar circumstances, I’m sure.”

After several weeks at Kennebunk Beach, Victor received a phone call from the Chairman of the Labor Day Celebration Committee, Bar Harbor, Maine. He was offered $500 to fly there in time to make an exhibition flight on Labor Day. All his expenses were to be covered. With the economic uncertainty of war looming Vernon accepted the offer, even though no such flight over the ocean had ever been attempted. Nationwide newspaper coverage of the flight made Victor Vernon a household name.

“Victor Vernon made an over-water flight of 150 miles yesterday from Kennebunkport to Bar Harbor,” wrote a reporter for the Lowell Sun on Sept. 4, 1914. “The hydro-aeroplane flight made at 2,000 feet took 2 hours – 32 minutes of actual flying time. Three stops were made; the first at Port Clyde for supplies, a second at Rockland and the third at Northeast Harbor, which the aviator mistook for Bar Harbor.”

By 1916, American participation in World War I seemed probable. Vernon was approached by the Signal Corps, which at that time was the aviation branch of the U.S. Army. The U.S. Air Force had not yet been organized. He accepted the position of chief civilian instructor in its new aviation training program. During the war, Victor Vernon tested Flying Boats built by the U.S. Navy to patrol for U-boats and deliver torpedoes.

Lindy’s quest for privacy on the Maine coast

The not so secret honeymoon
The not so secret honeymoon

Charles A. Lindbergh completed the first solo transatlantic flight on May 21, 1927. The handsome 25 year-old air mail pilot and his single engine monoplane, Spirit of St. Louis, became world-famous, overnight. Along with fame came public adoration and the omnipresent paparazzi… even in remote Maine waters.

“Lindy” – as the press had nicknamed him- was already overwhelmed by all the attention when he flew to Maine two months after his record-breaking flight. A man had been killed by an unruly crowd during his public appearance on the Boston Common, July 22, 1927. The tragedy was fresh in his mind as thousands gathered to see him land his famous monoplane at Scarborough Airport. Pea-soup fog obscured the runway for two days and the pilot was finally forced to land at the less secure Old Orchard Beach airstrip. After dutifully fulfilling several promotional obligations to massive crowds in Maine, the pilot made his way back to his plane at Old Orchard Beach. There he found another mob pressing up against the Spirit of St. Louis as he tried to take off.

When Lindy asked Ann Morrow to marry him in 1929 the whole world speculated about the details of their nuptial plans. Rumor had it that the Lindbergh wedding would take place in late June at the Morrow summer cottage in North Haven, Maine. One Monday afternoon in late May, a small group of family and friends were invited to attend a charity event hosted by the bride’s mother at her Englewood, NJ home. After lunch, they were surprised to discover that they were all guests at a wedding. The understated affair was over in a flash. Ann wore a simple dress and carried a handful of larkspur that the groom had picked from his in-law’s backyard.

By the time the press got wind of the secret marriage the couple had slipped away on a 38-foot honeymoon yacht Lindy had purchased a week earlier. The owner of Elco Boatworks in Bayonne, NJ, resisted the free publicity as long as his professional ambitions would allow but finally gave reporters a very detailed description of the aviator’s new yacht, the “Mouette”.

The honeymooners were tracked from New London, Ct to Provincetown, MA by land, sea and air. In an effort to thwart positive identification the Lindberghs broke marine law by covering the name of the vessel with a piece of canvas. Newspapers all over the world carried a daily account of the little boat’s movements.

They were spotted off Isle of Shoals on June 6th by two New York press planes. The next day the Mouette tied up for gas and provisions at Hartley Philbrick’s fish wharf in York, Maine. Try as he might, Hartley could not engage Mr. Lindbergh in meaningful conversation. While they were loading supplies in relative silence, a 13 year old girl recognized Lindy and ran off to spread the word at the town’s high school graduation celebration. Within minutes, more than 100 people crowded onto Philbrick’s wharf to get a snapshot of the elusive aviator. Anne Lindbergh remained inside the cabin until the Mouette was safely offshore.

The boat put into Cape Porpoise Harbor and anchored very near Goat Island Light for the night. Melville Freeman wrote in his 1953 “History of Cape Porpoise” that residents of Cape Porpoise were unimpressed by Lindy’s visit and were completely discreet out of respect for his privacy. An article that first appeared in the Portsmouth Herald June 8, 1929, told a different story.

Captain Jim Anderson, keeper of the lighthouse, was offended that the little launch failed to answer his customary salute of three bells. He grabbed his powerful binoculars and was able to identify Lindy and Anne moving about the boat. Anderson called to his wife and children so that they might get a glimpse of the celebrities. The following morning, the lighthouse keeper revealed to a Portsmouth reporter that the honeymooners turned out their cabin light at 8:25 p.m.

Jack Seavey and John Martin rowed out to the Mouette under a cloak of darkness. They quietly made their way to the stern of the yacht and lifted the canvas that covered her name just as Lindbergh appeared on deck. Thinking quickly, the Kennebunkport boys claimed they were there to see if he needed assistance. After thanking them wryly for their kind offer, Lindy said if they wanted to help they could leave him alone. The boys left as requested but not before studying the woman silhouetted in the cabin door.

The Lindberghs left Cape Porpoise Harbor first thing the next morning and made their way up the coast to Cape Elizabeth, Pemaquid Point, Rockland, and Swan’s Island. Everywhere they went they were greeted with prying eyes.

On June 13th, the honeymoon cruiser was spotted offshore near Old Orchard Beach. The Linberghs witnessed the lift off of aviators, Jean Assolant, Rene LeFevre and Ameno Lotti on the first French transatlantic flight. The tail of the plane “Yellow Bird” dipped perceptibly as she became airborne. Lindbergh and the rest of the world would later discover that Arthur Schreiber, 22 year old son of a Portland fur salesman, had stowed away on the French plane and was not discovered until some time after takeoff.

Later that afternoon, the Mouette tied up at Cape Porpoise Pier for two hours to get provisions and fuel for the trip back to New York.

When the Lindbergh’s first born son was kidnapped and tragically murdered in 1932, the press mercilessly dissected the family’s every moment of grief, driving them to move to England. Lindy lost public favor for his vocal opposition to American involvement in WWII but he changed his views after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and flew many celebrated combat missions in the Pacific Theater.

A royal disappointment in 1860

Windsor Emissary
Windsor Emissary

Queen Victoria had little inclination to appease her Canadian subjects who, throughout the 1850s, clamored for a royal visit. She was even less inclined to acknowledge the hoodlums that populated “those United States.” But her husband, Prince Albert, believed a royal visit would be politically prudent.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s teenage son Albert, the heir apparent, embraced the frivolity of youth. He exasperated his mother by indulging affections for wine, women and cigars, not necessarily in that order. The Queen once wrote to her eldest daughter, “I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder.”

By early 1860, Victoria wanted the boy out of her sight. She killed two birds with one stone by sending her 18-year-old son across the pond for an extended diplomatic tour of North America.

After spending two months in Canada, the Prince of Wales danced with the ladies of Detroit, Chicago, St Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Washington, Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The average-looking teenager didn’t exactly live up to the American fantasy. Harpers Weekly magazine published an illustration captioned, “The Prince; Ideal & Real.” Albert’s imagined regal visage, slaying a dragon, felling a giant and winning a jousting tournament, appeared on one side of the page. On the other side, the rumpled boy was realistically depicted being carried across a tiny stream on the back of a servant, falling ineptly on the dance floor and sleeping through a public appearance. A reporter for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper wrote that “dressed like a Prince” was a phrase that would never again be used in America to signify anything very significant.

The British Royal Squadron sailed into Portland Harbor on Oct. 16, 1860, to carry the future King Edward VII back to England. Exactly 85 years earlier on Oct. 16, 1775, a British fleet had entered the same harbor and destroyed the city. This coincidence was not lost on local reporters.

Trains were added to the schedule to accommodate the thousands who travelled to Portland to see Albert off. Merchants capitalized on the royal fever, selling hand-held British and American flags. “Two Princes in our City,” one opportunistic Portlander advertised, “The Prince of Wales and the Prince of Peddlers.”

Officials of the Eastern Railway fitted out a special three-car train for the final leg of Albert’s American tour. Its interior walls were draped in red and gold silk. The car ceilings were covered in rich blue silk, pleated and powdered with silver stars. Outside, a platform extended off the back of the train from which His Royal Highness could present himself to the eager citizens gathered at every station along the route to Portland.

The train left Boston shortly after 10 a.m. on Oct. 20, 1860. The prince was accompanied by his entourage, as well as, the governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the president of Harvard, the mayor of Boston, Sen. Charles Sumner and a few railroad officials.

In Kennebunk, children were let out of school for the royal visit. Everyone in town showed up at the station expecting a day-long celebration. When the royal train finally pulled into West Kennebunk depot it barely stopped. The prince waved briefly from the platform then hurried back into the car. The people of Kennebunk, who had decorated the station with buntings and dressed in their finest ensembles, were bitterly disappointed.

Back in the car, the defiant teenager plopped down on a velvet sofa. According to a report in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Albert turned to the governor of Massachusetts, “will you take a little wine, or is the Maine Law in force here?” he asked. “I’m out of my own jurisdiction,” the governor replied, “and I’ll take the consequences.” The strict Maine liquor law had also been set aside in Portland the night before at a champagne reception for the officers of the royal squadron.

Albert’s train arrived in Portland at half past one. He toured the crowded streets in an open horse-drawn carriage on his way to the docks, where a barge was waiting to take him out to the screw battleship Hero. Two large steamers, the Lewiston and the Forest City, sold tickets for a voyage to accompany the royal squadron out of the harbor at 4 p.m. The little prince stood on the poop deck waving his hat at the cheering crowds while a 21-gun salute was fired, casting a haze of gun smoke across the harbor. A few minutes later he was gone.

Wells train wreck caused by bridge failure


Fate was a passenger
Fate was a passenger

When the Boston & Maine railroad bridge at Cole’s Crossing collapsed on Jan. 2, 1882, a portion of the midday express train from Boston was hurled to the roadway below, killing one passenger and injuring dozens.

A correspondent for the Biddeford Union & Journal happened to be riding on the ill-fated train, which consisted of two engines, a baggage car, a Pullman, a smoker, two passenger cars and a mail car. His reports during the weeks that followed the accident were picked up by the Boston Daily Globe.

The train had left Boston at 8:30 that morning. Due to heavy snow that had fallen the previous day, it was running about 50 minutes behind schedule when it passed through the Wells Beach station at half past noon. The train’s second locomotive was midway across the 65-foot iron truss bridge near Boothby’s Corner when the engineer felt his rear wheels ominously settle beneath him. The momentum of the first locomotive was enough to pull his engine and two cars behind him to the far side of the bridge, but in seconds the whole structure gave way.

Mr. James C. Hodgdon, the only fatality of the accident, was on the smoker car that fell through the broken bridge and landed upright in the snow beside the Old Post Road. The first passenger car followed through the bridge and landed upside down making it necessary for its passengers to escape through the windows. One woman was so buried by the rubble that her rescuers had to cut her dress off to free her before she was consumed by the flames that were released from an overturned coal heating stove.

The back wheels of the second passenger car caught on the near abutments of the bridge, leaving it suspended in mid-air. Its occupants, including the Biddeford reporter and conductor Edwin Weymouth, were thrown to the front end of the car in a mangled heap of hot stove coals, debris and humanity. Conductor Weymouth suffered a life-threatening head wound, but heroically guided the other passengers to safety. Within minutes most of the train was consumed by fire. The mail car burned so rapidly that agent Gidding just had time to grab the registered letter books before his beard was singed almost completely off and he was forced to abandon the mail bags.

A messenger was sent to Wells to fetch a doctor and the first locomotive was cut loose and hurried on to Kennebunk station to send word of the disaster to Portland via telegraph. The engineer picked up a box car and returned to the scene of the accident. Ambulatory passengers were transported back to Kennebunk Depot where they waited for a train to carry them eastward to Maine General Hospital.

Meanwhile, the 12 or so seriously injured passengers were carried on makeshift stretchers to the nearby home of widow, Sarah Boothby, where she and Dr. Hall of Wells cared for them until help arrived.

A relief train of physicians collected at Portland and Saco made it as far south as Kennebunk by 3 o’clock. Due to confusion caused by a burned telegraph wire they were detained there for over an hour while just three mile away victims of the accident lay bleeding at Mrs. Boothby’s house. The injured passengers didn’t get to the hospital in Portland until 7 o’clock that evening.

An investigation into the cause of the accident was conducted by a Kennebunk jury. The bridge was only nine-years-old. It had been designed and built by civil engineer, Edward Hewins, agent of the Metropolitan Bridge Company. Investigators concluded that a combination of factors caused the bridge to fail. Hewins had built the bridge to cross the road at an oblique angle. This design was determined to be weaker than the more conventional right angle crossing. Crystallization of the truss iron, caused by the cold temperatures, also contributed to the failure. No action was taken against the Metropolitan Bridge Company, but the Boston and Maine Railroad paid large settlements to the victims’ families. The Cole’s Crossing Bridge was immediately rebuilt at a right angle to the road.

Five years later, a West Roxbury, Mass., bridge collapsed, killing 37 people. The Bussey Bridge was also a skew truss design by Edward Hewins. Massachusetts investigators discovered that the Metropolitan Bridge Company had never actually been incorporated and its fictitious board consisted of one man; Edward Hewins. One might expect that the civil engineer’s record would have ended his career, but Hewins entered the street car business a few years later and made a fortune.