Friday, May 15, 2020

Parsonsfield and Porter - Young Towns in 1820




In 1820 when Maine gained statehood our towns of Parsonsfield and Porter were still very young towns. The History of Parsonsfield, published in 1888, tells us that on August 5, 1771 Thomas Parsons and his associates were deeded the tract of land now known as Parsonsfield by the heirs of Mrs. Bridgett Phillips, the land being part of that property conveyed to her husband, Major William Phillips by Chief Fluellen of the Sokokis or Saco Indians. As the conveyance to Major Phillips was disputed by the heirs of Francis Small and Major Nicholas Shapleigh who held title to the same land by deed of Captain Sandy, a lesser chief, Parsons also purchased the property from them on December 23, 1774 after having the land surveyed by Joseph Cram of Exeter, New Hampshire. The boundaries then established remain unchanged.
The plan of the township was divided into 12 ranges of 220 lots, the average being 150 acres each and a territory north of the 12th range along the Ossipee river of about ¾ mile wide, called the Gore.

The deed to Parsons required him to settle 12 families from the last day of March following, each with a house eighteen feet square, and three acres of cleared land. He was to settle 40 families within 4 years and in 7 years erect and board a meeting house 30’ x 40’ and have a minister settled. The first settlers of Parsonsfield were:


1771 – Thomas Parsons, Esq. & family, from New Hampshire, settled in the southwest part;

1775 – Eben and John Moore, from Scarborough, settled in the southeast corner;

         – John and Gideon Doe, from New Hampshire, settled in the west, near Province Lake;

1776 – Jere Avery, settled on the western side of Ricker’s Mountain (left in 1806);

1778 – George Kezar, who had hunted here as early as 1766, settled near Mudgett Meadow and on Kezar Mountain;

         – Amos Blazo, from New Hampshire, settled in the northwest corner;

         – Samuel Gilman and John Lougee, from New Hampshire, settle at North Road;

1779 – Samuel Pease (purchased land in 1777 and build a home on South Road before bringing his family in November 1779).


The town bypassed the usual step of organizing as a plantation and petitioned for incorporation which was granted by the state of Massachusetts, March 9 1785.


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Porter’s earliest years began ten years later than Parsonsfield’s in 1781 a few weeks after the Battle of Yorktown, Virginia, (the final engagement of the Revolution War), when Meshach Libby traveled unaccompanied from Pittsfield, NH to the District of Maine to establish a home for himself and his kin. According to legend as related in the History of Porter by William Teg (1957) Meshach spent his first night near the falls where an Indian foot-bridge spanned the Ossipee River and in the morning made a “moose call” of birch bark which he blew, by some pre-arrangement, to summons none other than George Kezar who three years earlier had settled in Parsonsfield. Meshach and the great hunter/trapper spent several days roaming the pathless forests in search of a suitable place finally settling upon a spot about two miles north of what is now the village of Porter. There, on government land, Meshach decided to stay with a view to obtain title as soon as possible. After working to make a clearing and shelter Meshach returned to Pittsfield in December of that year, returning the following spring of 1782 accompanied by his wife and three of his four children. They were soon thereafter joined by Meshach’s parents, John Libby and wife, and his brother, Stephen. Next came Michael Floyd. These men were the first settlers, and since they had settled in Porter prior to the first day of January, 1784, they were entitled to receive one hundred acres of land each from the government. This right was recognized by Jeremiah Hill and his associates (including Dr. Aaron Porter of Biddeford who was the majority owner with six fifteenth shares of the plantation and for whom the town is named) who purchased the 18,600 acre tract, embodying the present town of Porter and the western section of the town of Brownfield, from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on September 24, 1793. The “settlers deed”, however, to the four settlers was dated June 16, 1792. The arrow on the plan below indicates the approximate northern limits of Porter today.

No additional settlers came until 1787 with the influx of four additional settlers, namely: Benjamin Bickford, Benjamin Bickford Jr., and Samuel Bickford from Rochester NH, and Benjamin Ellenwood from Groton, MA.

The population of Porterfield so-called stood at about 280 people when “an act to incorporate a part of Porterfield into a town by the name of Porter, passed both branches of the Legislature of Massachusetts and was duly signed by Governor Caleb Strong on the 20th day of February, 1807”.

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The 1820 federal census gives us a picture of what our towns of Parsonsfield and Porter, now joined by their shared village of Kezar Falls, looked like at the time Maine became a state. As the images below show Parsonsfield’s population in 1820 had increased to 2355 while Porter’s was still fairly low at 487.



Who were these citizens of Parsonsfield and Porter who were present at statehood? Future blogs will explore some of their stories…

Friday, May 1, 2020

Maine’s First Governor – 1820 Governor William King (1768-1852)


William King was born in Scarborough, Maine February 9, 1768 the son of Captain Richard and Mary (Black) King.  He was among the youngest of eight siblings including a much older half-brother.  His family was one of the most illustrious in Maine at the time.  His father became prosperous supplying lumber to English shipyards in Massachusetts.  By the time William was born his father had lost all his money and died when William was seven years old.  So, William was sent to work at a sawmill to help make a living for his family. 

William’s older half-brother, Rufus, had been sent to Columbia University and made a name for himself in politics.  Because of his father’s early death William did not have the educational advantages of his brothers.  He was largely self-educated by extensive reading and listening to elders.  To the end of his life he could neither spell correctly nor speak grammatically, having no time to master these refinements.  He learned arithmetic and how to save money through necessity.  But he was intelligent, ambitious and had confidence in himself.  At about the age of 21 he decided to leave home and drove his yoke of black steers (his father’s only legacy) on foot forty miles along the coast to Topsham.  There he found a job in a saw mill on the Androscoggin River. Living frugally, he amassed enough cash within six months to own the saw and within a year owned the mill.   He prospered by entrepreneurial spirit delving into a variety of businesses including significant real estate investments and shipbuilding ventures.  

He moved on to Bath where he established one of the first shipyards in Bath and became the largest merchant shipping owner in Maine.  When he became frustrated dealing with Boston banks, he founded and became president of the first bank in Bath.  He acquired stores, warehouses, wharves and ship yards.  In order to fill the holds of his rapidly growing fleet, he bought up huge tracts of land and planted them to potatoes to ship to the West Indies and developed orchards to export fruit to Europe.  His shipping fleet grew, carrying goods farther afield and bringing back goods including cotton from New Orleans. In 1809 he founded the first cotton mill in Brunswick.   

In 1795 he became active in politics and represented Topsham in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1795 and 1799.  When he moved to Bath he represented that town in 1804.  He served in the Massachusetts Senate for Lincoln County 1807 – 1811. 

By age 25 he was financially secure, socially settled and a local civic leader.  At one time he owned the entire township of Kingfield in Franklin country.  His town house in Bath was one of the most elegant in the country, furnished with treasures brought home by his ships from all over the world.  Here he entertained the intellectual, political and social leaders of the new America. By this time he had married Ann Nesbeth Frazier from a well-to-do Boston family.  Through his cultivated wife, he acquired a certain degree of polish, although the cloak of manners never rested very easily on his shoulders.  They had two children, Mary Elizabeth King, born 9/28/1817 and Cyrus William King, born 12/25/1819. 

During his time in Boston serving in the Massachusetts legislature the seeds of distrust were sown which convinced him that Massachusetts would not look out for the best interests of Maine residents.  They looked at the territory of Maine as a source of revenue by extracting its natural resources and their motives were corrupt.  Agitation for secession started as early as 1785 but conflicting loyalties, depending upon one’s financial dependence to Boston and social status, kept Maine divided.  


At the beginning of the War of 1812 Massachusetts made King Major General of the militia, in charge of the Maine district.  He devoted much of his attention to coastal shipping and defenses.  He also led recruiting efforts for the regular army for which he was made a Colonel in the United States Army.  But Massachusetts gave little support to the territory of Maine and the people of Maine were left to fend for themselves in the fight against the British.  The War of 1812 changed the will of Maine people.  After the war, armed with a long list of grievances about the maltreatment of Maine by Massachusetts, William King started touring and agitating for secession and statehood. 

On July 16, 1819 King called a meeting of town officials in Portland where, after four previous unsuccessful attempts, they voted overwhelmingly to petition the United States Senate for statehood and designated William King to become the first governor.   Voters ratified the statehood petition ten days later.  William King then went to Washington at the opening of the 1820 Congressional term to lobby for Maine statehood.  His brother, Rufus, was a United States Senator from New York at the time and ushered his brother around the Capitol and introduced him. 

Meanwhile, the Missouri Territory was causing problems when it failed to win statehood several times because northern Senators feared its admission as a slave state would tilt the federal balance-of-power to the south.   If it did not get ratified as a state by the end of business on March 15, 1820, its petition would expire and Missouri would have to start petitions anew.   Within hours of the deadline, an amended bill to appease both sides was offered called The Missouri Compromise which required that one new free state be admitted for each new slave state admitted.  Senators fast-tracked the Maine petition so that it would be the free state to offset Missouri. 

William King served as governor from March 15, 1820 to May 28, 1821 at which time, President James Monroe named him as a special minister to negotiate a treaty with Spain.  King resigned as governor to take the position of U.S. commissioner.  By 1824 he had successfully negotiated a treaty that kept the U.S. from becoming embroiled in issues surrounding the Mexican struggle for independence.  He returned home and resumed private life.     

He continued as a prominent business man, investor and ship-owner.  Even though he had a very limited education he served for years as a trustee and overseer of Bowdoin College and as a trustee of Colby College. 

William died at home June 17, 1852 and is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery in Bath.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Welcome Spring!


Perhaps spring has never been more welcome than it is this year. 
With warmer days, bright sun and new growth all around us it fosters hope for an end in sight of this Covid 19 pandemic.

While we wait for this to happen the Parsonsfield-Porter Historical Society is unable to open the 2020 season with our planned schedule of meetings and events.  We are anxious to put up our exhibit commemorating Maine’s Bicentennial, to begin our planned activities and to welcome our members, and visitors back to History House.  

As soon as the restrictions are lifted we will publish our schedule on this blog, on our Web Site at www.parsonsfield-porterhistorical.org, with ads in “Your Weekly Shopping Guide” and with e-mails to our members.

In the meantime, stay healthy and safe.   And welcome spring.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

APRIL FOOLS DAY EVERYONE!


If we were told today that the last dollar of the United States National Debt was paid off and the surplus would be distributed to the states, we would be certain it was an April Fools Day joke.  However, in 1838 this did actually happen.

This is the story according to Thomas Moulton’s 1879 history of Porter.

 During the last term of President Jackson’s administration the last dollar of our national debt was paid and a surplus remained in the United States treasury. This surplus was distributed by congress among the different states in proportion to population. Maine distributed her share among the different towns in the state in the same manner. Porter received, April 19 and May 1, 1837, $2,174.00. At several town meetings after its reception, the surplus revenue was a theme of much discussion. Various propositions for disposing of it were submitted to our voters. Finally, April 2 1838, it was voted “to distribute the town’s proportion of the surplus revenue as soon as may be.” This vote was carried into effect, and each inhabitant received $2.07.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAINE!


Although the citizens of Maine (at least the male citizens, as women could not vote) voted in July of 1819 to separate from Massachusetts (by a vote of 17,000 for independence, 7,000 against) it was far from a done deal.  There was a state constitution to write and submit to Congress for approval.  It was an enterprise fraught with difficulties.  The major stumbling block was that at that time there was an equal number of slave states and free states.  By admitting Maine as a free state it would tip the balance and southern states weren't going to allow that to happen.

"And so we had to achieve statehood by a vote of the Congress by March 4, 1820, or else we fell back into the legal possession of Massachusetts.  So, we're racing a clock and we're racing uphill against political prejudice that has frozen the United States in the position of the generation since the Revolution.  What happens in the House of Representatives is known as the infamous Missouri Compromise.  The speaker of the United States House, a slave owner, manages to engineer a compromise that lets Maine and Missouri territory into the union at the same moment.  And we accepted - with huge reservations - the deal."  - Herb Adams

That deal nearly tanked the push for Maine to become a state.  Five of the seven Maine congressmen voted against it as they did not want to see Maine taking part in the perpetuation of slavery but in the end the compromised passed and Maine became a state.  This did not stop Maine residents, however from continuing the battle against slavery though.

Brunswick, Maine resident, Harriet Beecher Stowe, penned her famous book, Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1851.  Many consider it the pivotal work in rallying people in the country to oppose slavery.  Portland, Maine was also a stop on the underground railroad which helped runaway slaves on their way to freedom in Canada.  Fourteen years later, the deal that gave Maine her statehood became a moot point when slavery was abolished by President Abraham Lincoln.  




Sunday, March 1, 2020

THE MAPLE CREST A long and varied history.

This sprawling three-story structure is located about two miles southwest of East Parsonsfield Village at a sharp bend in Maple Crest Road.  It was built as a summer hotel in 1887 and could accommodate about 35 people.  A. C. Varney was proprietor.  It later continued as a summer hotel under the name of Forest Lake House with Charles C. Varney as proprietor.  


In about 1912 the complex was purchased by Dr. Francis J. Welch, a young specialist in tuberculosis and respiratory diseases and operated as a private sanitarium called “Maple Crest Sanatorium”.  


The property consisted of the main house with spacious covered piazzas, annex and a cottage.  The buildings were steam heated and bathrooms and plumbing facilities assured proper sanitation.  They boasted of excellent natural spring water and fresh food from the region.  Each patient received careful individual attention and their treatment was governed according to their needs. A congenial atmosphere and an absence of institutionalism was noted.  There was a house doctor available, graduate nurses constantly in attendance and private nurses could be obtained if requested. 
Spacious covered sleeping porches permitted the
 patients to sleep out-of-doors while
remaining protected from the weather.

After World War I, Dr. Welch contracted with the Veterans Administration to treat veterans with lung diseases.  He resumed his private operation in the 1930’s under the name of “The Rest Land Sanitarium” and owned the property until the late 1950’s when he died.  

Subsequently this property was used as a sportsmen’s lodge - the “Randall Mountain Lodge - then about 1974 & 1975 was operated as a restaurant by Edward Stowe, a chef from Connecticut. 

In 1975 it was purchased by "Elan One Corp." as the organization's fifth treatment center for teenagers with various types of behavioral problems.  They accommodated 60-80 teenagers and a staff of 26.  It was not welcomed by the local residents but continued to operate here until mid-1981.  Elan drastically changed the fa├žade and added the box-like structure to the front.  It became dilapidated while it remained empty until about 2008.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Kezar Falls Mills


In the early days of our towns, there was a saw mill or grist mill on nearly every pond outlet or stream.  These small mills supported the early settlers as they developed the land and established villages and towns.  When the Kezar Falls Woolen Mill was established on the Ossipee River, Kezar Falls Village grew around it and nearly everyone knows how important it was to the surrounding area.  There was also a lumber mill on the Ossipee River that played a role in our community.



SOKOKIS LUMBER COMPANY - later OXFORD BOX COMPANY (The Box Shop)

KEZAR FALLS, MAINE 

The Sokokis Lumber Company was founded in 1908 by Harvey Granville, Frank Fenderson and J. Merrill Lord.  It was located on the Parsonsfield side of the Ossipee River just outside of the village of Kezar Falls.  This was a small mill for the times when Maine was coming to be dominated by large timber companies, but one that was ready to compete with these giants.  It ran for many years and employed many local residents.  It became idle in 1935 and was taken over by the bank.
Chaffee Brothers purchased the mill in 1939.  At that time the saw mill was running and had on hand 600,000 feet of good box lumber. Chaffee Brothers Company owned a large box factory located in Oxford, Massachusetts and were looking to expand.  They made the needed repairs and put it in operation under supervision of Earnest Edwards who had worked as Assistant Manager at the Massachusetts mill.  They renamed the mill – Oxford Box Company.  
At the same time they purchased a small lumber mill on Summer Street on the Porter side of Kezar Falls Village that had been founded by Alton Goodwin and whose residence was next door to the mill.  Presumably this was then considered an extension of the Oxford Lumber Company.  In late 1945 they also purchased the Fryeburg Box Company in Fryeburg, Maine

 During their period of ownership there were a number of events that created a great demand for lumber mills and wood products: 1938 hurricane, World War II, the building boom after the war, 1947 fires, etc. and Chaffee Brothers filled that need for wooden boxes for ammunition and other war orders, caskets, cedar chests, toy boxes for children, lap desks, boxes for shipping fish, at least one children’s wooden game and anything that was needed to build a house.

 In 1954 Chaffee Brothers sold their interest in the Kezar Falls mills and sold the Fryeburg Box Shop in1955. 

No documentation has yet been found of continued operation of the Kezar Falls mills but it appears that each were used/ran sporadically – the mill on the Ossipee River until the late 1980’s or early 1990’s.    This mill eventually became the property of the Town of Parsonsfield and burned July 10, 1999.  When the Summer Street property was sold, the house lot was split off from the mill lot.  The house was sold about 1955/56.  The mill building was used as a hardware store for a time but was not operating in 1972 when it was purchased and converted into a summer residence.