Train Service Comes to the Midcoast
By Arlene Cole
Immediately after the Civil War, the country became railroad conscious. These years were filled with the feverish building, not only of new railroads but, also, the consolidating of local rail companies into larger systems. This period saw the establishment of a standard gauge system. Rails were built four feet, eight and one-half inches apart so rail cars could run anywhere in the country, except on a few narrow gauge lines. (I'll mention that later.) It was in this era that the Midcoast residents recognized the need of improved transportation in the area and considerable interest was aroused in building a branch line through Lincoln County. This is the first article in a series of articles I plan to write this winter on the history of the railroad to and through Newcastle.
The first train to Bath, on the west bank of the Kennebec River, arrived on the fourth of July, 1849, according to William C. Purington in his article in All Aboard For Yesterday, a history of railroading in Maine put out by Down East. He writes that passengers rode in open gravel cars behind a wood-burning engine. Regular coach service began soon after. But that was to Bath on the Kennebec River. Those across the river in Woolwich could only look at the half-mile of river that blocked further travel to the Northeast. It would be more than 20 years before the problem could be solved. The country was madly building railroads in all parts of the country but the magnitude of the project of building a railroad from Bath to Rockland was not fully appreciated. Most railroads had followed the easy slopes of river valleys. This proposed route crossed every river, inlet, pond, stream, brook and marsh along the coast. Incorporated under the name of the Penobscot, Lincoln and Kennebec Railroad Co., according to John P. Ascher in his When The Maine Central Went to Sea, the organization never got off the ground.
Reactivated in 1864 with a name change to Knox and Lincoln Railroad Co., construction began. The first question was to choose the route. Both Bath and Richmond vied for the spot where the rails would cross the river. Bath was the winner by issuing bonds for $600,000. Cities and towns along the way subscribed for stock in the company. Local people invested in shares. The Newcastle Historical Society has a copy of a stock certificate made out to William H. Hilton for two shares in the Knox and Lincoln Railroad. This was for $200 and is dated July 1, 1869. By 1870 all available funds had been spent. Bath later assumed even more debt and was not free and clear of this debt until 1961. The final cost of the project was about $55,000 per mile. It was thought that a bridge might be built over the Kennebec River but this proved to be prohibitive at that time, so a ferryboat was constructed to carry the passenger coaches and freight cars across the river.
After engine for hauling the trains between Woolwich and Rockland were ferried across the Kennebec River, the engines remained on the Northeast side and only the coaches and cars were ferried back and forth. The City of Rockland was overworked, according to Purington, whenever a circus arrived to play to towns and cities Northeast of Bath. In 1890 he writes, it took an entire weekend to ferry the Barnum & Bailey Circus train of 66 cars across the river. Only two cars could be carried each trip. It was not until 1927 that the Carleton Bridge was built over the Kennebec River. This was a combination railroad and automobile bridge. By May 21, 1871, the rail line had reached Wiscasset. Here the railroad had to cross the Sheepscot River. The first bridge built featured a wooden covered bridge at the Wiscasset end of the bridge. There was a drawbridge over the channel to allow boats to go up the river. During the past century at least eight covered railroad bridges carried trains across the rivers in Maine, according to J. Malcolm Barter in his article in All Aboard for Yesterday. All were built of wood with huge beams, trusses, and laminated arches to carry the weight, and a roof and sides to keep the elements from rotting away the timbers. All are gone now and uncovered modern structures of steel and concrete have taken their places. A photo from Down East shows the original covered bridge at the Southwest end. The drawbridge is not visible.
On the Newcastle/Edgecomb side of the River the track curved along the shore, when the tracks were first build. W.H. Bunting in this A Days Work Part 1, notes that the first trestle was notorious for deep, viscous marine clay, which made an unstable roadbed. Trains crossing “rolled and pitched as if at sea, and the drawbridge was built on cribwork.” Later a new roadbed that crossed the River directly, and then followed the shoreline into Newcastle replaced the covered bridge. This had no drawbridge. At one time it was hoped there would be a branch line to Boothbay Harbor. In 1883 a thorough survey was made of the 12½ miles with a cost estimated to be $5000 a mile, according to Harold Castner in A Brief History With Pictures of the Knox & Lincoln Railroad. This proved to be too expensive to build, and so steamboat service was made available from Wiscasset to the Boothbays. A Maine Central employee's timetable dated June 13, 1913, printed in Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Musings by Ellis Walker, writes “Trains 55, 74 and 78 will stop on signal at boat landing at Wiscasset.” Number 55 was a train coming from Bath and due at Wiscasset at 9:16 a.m. Numbers 74 and 78 were from Rockland and were due in Wiscasset at 9:32 a.m. and 3:14 p.m.
Constance Rowe Lang writes in an article, I Remember The Steamer “Winter Harbor” in the Kennebec, Boothbay Harbor Steamboat Album, that her grandfather, Captain Frank Rowe started the steamboat, Winter Harbor, on the Boothbay Harbor – Wiscasset run in 1908. By 1917 business had so increased that the Winter Harbor was cut in two, down the center, and lengthened by 15 feet. Sponsons were added to her superstructure and her pilothouse was raised. Later Lang's father Captain Clarke Rowe took over the Winter Harbor, which continued to run until 1932 when automobiles and trucks drove her out of business. In October of that year, she made her last trip and tied up at the wharf not far from the hulks of the schooners Hesper and Luther Little. On March 12, 1933 she sank at the wharf and was never raised.
The Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington (WW&F) railroad built its line next to the Knox & Lincoln, later the Maine Central Railroad, in Wiscasset. The Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington (WW&F) Railroad was fondly called the “narrow-gauge” because of the two feet between the rails. (See above.) This little railroad left Wiscasseet and headed up the west side of the Sheepscot River to Albion and Blanchard. The directors of this “narrow-gauge” railroad gathered for their ground-breaking ceremony for June 4, 1894. Despite competition between them and the Maine Central, these two rail groups met and exchanged products and travelers for many years.
As the plans for the narrow gauge progressed there was one immediate problem. The Maine Central railroad tracks followed the Sheepscot River shoreline around Wiscasset village, then crossed the Sheepscot River and headed Northeast. The narrow-gauge railroad, which became the WW&F Railroad, had no land left to travel over. The Maine Central Railroad was willing to let the WW&F Railroad cross their tracks because, according to Robert C. Jones & David L. Register in their Two Feet To Tidewater, they recognized “it was essential to a potentially profitable transfer arrangement”. The law pertaining to this situation, according to Jones & Register stated: “Corporations which have been or may hereafter be established shall have power to construct and carry their railroads across, over or under any railroad or canal, when it may be necessary in the construction of same; and in such cases said corporations shall so construct their railroad crossings as not unnecessarily to interrupt or impede the travel or transportation upon the railroad or canal so crossed.”
But these crossings were dangerous. The crossing of two railroad tracks was known as a “diamond” crossing. In Wiscasset it was at a 34-degree angle. A ball signal on poles controlled movements of trains over this diamond. Switching was visual and required careful monitoring. (When the narrow gauge disbanded in 1933, the diamond was removed as soon as possible by the Maine Central Railroad. Recognizing how dangerous it was they responded quickly to have it out of the way.) Both railroads were happy with this crossing arrangement. However, when it came to sharing its right-of-way around Wiscasset, Maine Central Railroad balked. There was nothing the WW&F could do except build additional trestling, which put the tracks out over Tidal Cove, as it was called. Frank Carleton was given the contract for the trestling and appeared in the Cove with his tug, steam pile driver and several barge loads of oak piling. The folks of Wiscasset could hear, day after day, the thump, thump of the driver as it placed the pilings along the survey lines, into the mud flats. Many of us can still remember seeing, as we came across the bridge into Wiscasset, the remnants of those oak pilings, sticking out of the mud flats at low tide.
By Arlene Cole
John and Elizabeth Gent came to Sheepscot in the late 1600s. They purchased a large tract of land from the Indians. John Gent, apparently, died soon after they arrived, but Elizabeth, with her son Thomas, carried out their dream of land development. Elizabeth was known as Madam Gent. Her deed from the Indians is lost, but it was for land north and east of John Mason's. According to the Rev. David Quimby Cushman in his The History of Ancient Sheepscot and Newcastle, "her land began at the Sheepscot Falls and followed Mason's boundary, across the cove to a 'parcel of pines' then to another cove up Crumbie's Reach then round the Great Neck - up Mill River to about where the line now divides the towns of Jefferson and Newcastle - thence Westerly near 'Winnisitico Falls' to the Sheepscot River - thence down the river to the first mentioned bound."
Cushman adds that Madam Gent had purchased a beautiful location. The ground was adapted to agriculture and the rivers had many fish. The marshes and meadows produced large quantities of hay for the cattle and the outer lands were heavily forested. Madam Gent built her garrison on the hill. Alex Johnson in 1877 made a survey of the Sheepscot area, and he wrote, Garrison Hill "rises abruptly from the low, flat land on the west, being steep and rough of ascent on that side, moderate and easy on all the other sides; it is 70 feet above tide level."
The stockades and garrison on its summit, where the church and schoolhouse now stand were, doubtless, more extensive than those of Fort Anne, as the outline remains clearly indicate. (Fort Anne was a later fort built near where the cemetery is now.) Madam Gent's garrison and stockade, combined, could shelter all of the second occupancy of the farms with their cattle. The name "Garrison Hill" is the only name that this ridge above the Sheepscot River has ever been known by and there is no question it was named for Madam Gent's garrison.
John Mason's deed is dated Jan. 20, 1652. He purchased his land from "Robinhood, Dick Swash and Jack Pudding, Indians." Mason was the chief man and the largest landholder of the village. It was at his house that the Commissioners of the Duke of York met to settle and arrange the affairs of the province. Between Elizabeth and Thomas Gent and John Mason they owned much of what is now the western part of Newcastle. Mason married Elizabeth Gent's daughter.
Sheepscot Farms had been settled around 1630. This was on the flat fertile area known as "the neck." It is strange that this early settlement had been started so far inland. Most settlements, like Pemaquid, were started on the coast but these people chose to travel up the Sheepscot River, where, at the falls and near the head of the tide they started their settlement. Much of the land was purchased from the Native Americans and the settlers and the Natives lived peacefully side-by-side for nearly 50 years.
Alex Johnson's survey seems to show there was an active settlement of about 300 settlers there. The Native American tribe was the Wawenocks, signifying "fearing nothing, very brave." John Johnston in his A History of Bristol and Bremen quotes John Smith, "They were active, strong, healthful, and very witty. The men had a perfect constitution of body, were of comely proportion, and quite athletic. They would row their canoes faster with five paddles than our own men would our boats with eight oars."
Settlers who came to the Neck cut a roadway that has ever since been known as the King's Highway. Here, the settlers built their homes and farms, had their blacksmith shop, their trading post, boatyards and brick yards. Madam Gent's land was up the river, above the falls. She had been in the area when King Charles granted his brother, the Duke of York, the area around Sheepscot. It was called "The County of Cornwall," and the Sheepscot area was known as "Dartmouth."
Sheepscot became the county seat. This government was of short duration as in 1689; James, who had become King, abdicated and his American possessions reverted to their original owners. For 50 years the settlers and natives lived peacefully together until what is called King Phillip's War. This began in Massachusetts and spread north.
As hostilities filtered into this area, the local Indians became restless and began to skulk around. There are no drawings of Madam Gent's garrison and, of course, it did not survive. Charlotte Donnell in her book Sheepscot, Three Hundred Years of Transition writes, "No artifacts from those early days are known to exist, but two houses in the village, built about 1800, show an unusual use of heavy beams, 14 inches square, in their foundations. By long tradition these beams were considered material from the 'old fort' when it was demolished about 1790. Records of the Town Meeting of 1803 show the sale of 'flankers from the old fort.' "This probably refers to Fort Anne built in the early 18th century to replace the stockade (Madam Gent's garrison) destroyed along with the rest of the earliest settlement by Indians in the late 1600s." Donnell goes on to say, "There is also the possibility that the flankers mentioned may have come from the 'Garrison House' built by Madame Gent."
Henry E. Dunnack gives the best description of early garrisons in his Maine Forts. He writes, "Garrison houses were found in most of the towns. They differed in construction; some were ordinary houses changed into garrisons. The chief aim was to place them where the guards could see in every direction. These garrisons were for the most part constructed of heavy timbers... The timbers were placed on their edges and dovetailed at the corners. The houses were two stories high, the upper story projecting beyond the lower. Sometimes projections (called flankers) were placed on each corner of the upper story, supported by braces from the walls. These projections were used as sentry boxes."
The settlement was attacked by Indians around 1675 and was completely destroyed. In 1682 people met in Boston and made plans to return to Sheepscot Farms. One provision that was agreed upon was that the children of former proprietors would be allowed to settle on their land again, without the payment of money or gratuity. There is no record whether Madam Gent returned to Sheepscot or not, but her son, Thomas, returned and played an active part in the rebuilding of the area.
In about 1702, the Rev. Christopher Tappan bought out the rights of Mason's heirs and the Gents. He also bought out the rights of Walter Phillips who had owned much land on the East Side of what is now Newcastle. Thus Tappan became the owner of nearly all the present town of Newcastle.
For some reason, when the settlers returned to Sheepscot, they built their village to the north of the Neck on land Madam Gent and John Mason had bought from the Indians. The village, as it stands today, is mostly above the falls. In 1877 when Alex Johnson made his survey, there was only one house on the Neck.
The village has prospered in its new location. The bridge over the Sheepscot River was built in 1794. The Union Meeting House (now Congregational Church) was built in 1825 where Madam Gent's garrison had stood. The church was owned by Congregational, Methodist and Baptist groups. Later, in 1868, the Methodist Church was built on the King's Highway near the site of Fort Anne. Several large stores such as F. L. Carney's and A. W. Kennedy's flourished in the village. The first school built in Newcastle was built on Garrison Hill in 1803.
The Sheepscot area is well known for its early settlement and influence on this area. In 1935 the Maine Society, Sir William Phips Chapter, of the Daughters of the American Colonists placed a plaque on a stone in Madam Gent's honor. It is located on the lawn of the First Congregational Church on Garrison Hill, in Sheepscot. It reads: "1662 - 1677: On this land extending north, easy and south stood the Garrison House of Madam Elizabeth Gent; purchased from the Sagamore Indians. This tablet erected by Maine Society, Sir William Phips Chapter, Daughters of the American Colonists: 1935." In 1978 the National Historic Preservation Commission certified Sheepscot as a Historic District. Madam Gent would be proud of her part in Sheepscot's long history.
SOCIETY of MAINE
Newcastle Post Offices
By Arlene Cole
Newcastle Post Masters from 1889 to the present. Alonzo W. Glidden, a Republican, was appointed Postmaster in 1889, Captain Alexander Farnham, a Democrat, was appointed in 1893. It was under his appointment that rural free delivery (RFD) was started in the country. In 1897 the Republicans again won the Presidency and Alonzo W. Glidden became Postmaster again. This was under, first, William McKinley and then under Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt put a stop to this see-saw system. During his term it was “decreed that all fourth class offices north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi should hence forth be under the civil service law and that all postmaster of such offices should retain their places as long as they cared to do so provided they did nothing whereby lawful complaint might be brought against them sufficient to cause removal.”
The civil service rules and laws have changed a lot in the passed 100 years. All Post Offices are now under the Civil Service rules. Alonzo Glidden, because of ill health, resigned in September, 1910. Newcastle has had four Post Offices within the town. The East Newcastle office was fairly short lived and was on the River Road. The Newcastle Historical Society has a copy of a postcard cancelled at the East Newcastle Post Office. The post office in South Newcastle was near the old railroad station on Station Road. At one time it was known by the name “Rosicrucian” in honor of Rosicrucian Spring over the line in Edgecomb. The North Newcastle Post-Office was in the Tildon Hodgkins store for many years. Sheepscot Village was the last to give up its Post Office. This was in 1972. The people who lived on the Newcastle side of Damariscotta Mills got their mail from the Post Office across the river in Nobleboro.
Miss J(ulia) Gertrude Hatch was Newcastle's first female postmaster. Julia Gertrude Hatch was born in Newcastle on October 5, 1868, according to Christine Dodge, the youngest child of Crowell Hatch, Jr., blacksmith, and Julia Ann Hall. She never married. She had worked for many years as clerk and assistant at the Post Office. With the new civil service rules, Miss Hatch took the civil service exam, passed it and became Postmaster of Newcastle in 1910. In 1913, under Miss Hatch the parcel post system was inaugurated. Miss Hatch was Postmaster until 1920. She died Nov. 16, 1936 in Damariscotta.
On October 14, 1920, William D. Murphy took over as postmaster of Newcastle, having also passed the civil service exam. He held the office until March 16, 1926 when Lillian Linscott Guptill became postmaster. Mrs. Guptill lived on Academy Hill Rd., in Newcastle and served as Postmaster for 30 years. The Post-Office was still at the Sproul Block but small changes took place. Patrons could tell by looking through small glass windows whether they had mail and the Postmaster would hand them their mail on request. Later glass doors were installed with each patron having a key to their “pigeon hole.” The Postmaster would graciously pass you your mail, if you had forgotten to bring the key. Combination locks were next added.
The post office has used all kinds of transportation to carry its mail: the stagecoach, steamboat, canals, railroads, motor vehicles, airlines and even the short lived pony express. When air service started there was an extra charge for “air mail”. Now most long distant letters travel by air without any extra charge. Hubert (Tiny) Cowan followed Lillian Guptill as postmaster in 1957. He lived with his family on the Mills Road. When train service ended in Newcastle in 1959, letters and parcel post were brought in by truck. There was a rear door to the Post Office at the Sproul Block but the bags of mail were brought in through the front door and dragged across the lobby to the rear where the mail could be sorted.
In 1963 the ZIP (Zone Improvement Plan) code system was started. This has made it possible for much automation in the system. Also, a two letter, capitalized, abbreviation used for all the states has made handling quicker. Early rules required a Postmaster to live in his or her town. Along the way, this changed. Cowan left the Newcastle Post Office, according to Arlene Cowan, his widow, in 1971 and was Postmaster at Wiscasset until he moved to the Waldoboro Post-Office in 1980. He still lived in Newcastle.
The U.S. Congress approved the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. This act transferred the Post Office Department into a government-owned corporation, called the United States Postal Service. This seems to have been the beginning of much movement of personnel. Marion Mulligan was Postmaster at Damariscotta Mills until the office there was closed in 1961. She then was clerk in Newcastle for 10 years until the transfer of Hurbert Cowan to Wiscasset. Marion Mulligan, then, was appointed Postmaster of Newcastle. Mrs. Mulligan's daughters, Mary Jane Buchan and Sally Ann Mulligan have donated their mother's framed appointment certificate as Postmaster, to the Newcastle Historical Society. It is on display in the Museum. Marion Mulligan was appointed on March 4, 1972 as Postmaster of Newcastle, Maine. It is signed by J.T. Klasser, Postmaster General.
Edith Woodbury served from 1974-1976 as Officer in Charge (OIC). Officer in Charge was a new term used to distinguish a person in charge of the Post Office who had not been appointed as Postmaster. Until recently, it has always been the prerogative of the President of the United States to “appoint” Postmasters. It seems, until a Postmaster had been appointed to fill a position, the person in charge was called an OIC. David Whitney took the office of Postmaster in 1976 under John Kennedy. He had worked up from being rural mail carrier to Postmaster in Newcastle. In 1983 he moved to the Post Office in Damariscotta.
There was consideration for a time that the government might close the Newcastle Post Office. The building where the Post office was kept was getting crowded. Also, the parking places were few and traffic was heavy in front of the Post Office. The government “put out feelers” and got quite a reaction. The people of Newcastle did not want to lose their post office. Newcastle is an old town. Although incorporated as a District in 1753, they are still the oldest in Lincoln County government. They had lost their school. They did not want to drop from the map. The people circulated a petition to keep the Newcastle Post Office open and the government listened. However, during this time there was no Postmaster at Newcastle.
From 1983 through 1987 there were many OIC. I want to thank Peggy Nelson for the following list. She has carefully listed each OIC and his or her date of serving at the Newcastle Post Office. Beverly Ripley became OIC in July 1983 and remained in charge until March 1984. She was followed by Lion Grover (03/84 – 10/84); Scott Johnson (10/84 – 02/85); Earle Chapman (02/85 – 05/85); Philip Poland (05/85 – 09/85); Peggy Nelson (09/85 – 03/86); Richard Wing (03/86 – 07/86); Joan Jackson (07/86 – 01/87); and Douglas Urquhart (07/86 – 01/87).
Wayne Benner was appointed Postmaster in April 1987. It was under his appointment that the Newcastle Post Office moved its location to its new building. The decision had been made and the Newcastle Post Office would stay open. The Lincoln County News reported on the moving event. “Saturday following regular postal hours the Newcastle Post Office, which had been located by the bridge since Colonel John Glidden was appointed as Postmaster in 1830 according to Cushman's History, moved.” (It had not always been at the same location at the bridge.) The new Post Office opened for business on Nov. 20, 1989. The new building is located on Mills Road between Louis Doe Inc., and The Lincoln County Publishing Company.
Wayne Benner moved to the South Bristol Post Office in April 1992. Blanch Johnson became Office in Charge (04/92 – 10/92) until the new Postmaster Norman St. Clair was selected OIC (10/92) and then appointed Postmaster in June 1993. Mail is now delivered by truck. Since the 911 system has been put in place, all the Newcastle residents have their mail come in to the new post office. Residents may choose to have post office boxes there. There are two rural delivery routes for those who choose to have their mail delivered.