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About 1816 Elisha Bennet, jr. put up a shop just below the then existing Gristmill, and put in motion a trip-hammer, the second in town. He carried on the auger making business, and some other kinds of smith work for a year or two and then sold out and left the town. Joseph Keith was the purchaser. — He ran carding machines in this building, fulled, colored and dressed cloth, a few years, when he moved it off and put up the present fulling and carding mill. Here, with some partners at different times, he has done a good business.
In 1840 Collins Lovejoy, jr., built a shop a few rods below Keith's Fulling-mill. He put in motion a trip-hammer, and applied water power to propel a grindstone, emery polishing wheels, blow his fires, &c. Here he carried on the axe making business a few years, to a greater extent than any one else in this region. Although the stream at this place is not the town line, still the Sawmill on the north side is in Farmington. This has been much improved of late, and includes a Threshing Machine, Shingle Machine, Circular and Jig Saws, a Circular Crosscut Saw, a Lathe, and a superior Planing Machine.
In 1783 Benjamin Whittier and one or two others with him built a dam across Wilson's Stream a few rods below what is called the Whittier Bridge, and erected a Sawmill. This, however, was never put in operation; for within a year or two a freshet gullied around the end of the dam, and swept almost the whole structure down river. The soil being sandy, with a bed of clay underneath, a dam could not well stand unless very thoroughly made and secured, which would not repay the cost.
This was in the territory included in Chesterville at its incorporation, as Farmington was bounded by a direct line from the mouth of the Little Norridgewock to the month of Wilson's Stream. This placed the stream wholly in Chesterville at the site of this mill. Between the two points above mentioned the stream was made the town line, a few years after the incorporation of Chesterville. This was the second Sawmill erected in this town.
The first mill in Chesterville at Farmington Falls was built about 1830 for dressing hemp. The hemp mania, (if this is the right term,) which had raged awhile, dying away, the building was used for carding wool and various other purposes. It has a Planing Machine, Lathe, Circular Saw, &c.
A few years later a Sawmill was built just above the Hemp Mill. It did a good business for several years, and contained some other machinery under the same roof. In Oct. 1855 it was carried away by a freshet, and rebuilt in 1857. That freshet was believed to have been the highest and most powerful freshet within the memory of the oldest inhabitant, not excepting that of 1820, which swept off the bridge and all the mills at Farmington Falls. — The freshet of 1855 rose twenty-two feet above low water mark at the bridge. A building has been put up and finished within two or three years past, just below the old Hemp Mill, and near the Bridge, intended for a Machine Shop. It contains a Shingle Machine and Threshing Machine. (Now, 1875, used for a Spool Factory and Gristmill.)
In 1805 Allen Wing built a Sawmill in the southeast part of the town, on a stream rising in Fayette and falling into Parker's Pond This mill did a good business under the management of David and Alden Wing, sons of Allen Wing, for years. Quantities of red oak for ship's plank were sawed here. A Gristmill, Shingle Machine and Clapboard Machine were afterwards put in operation a little below the Sawmill. In these mills much grinding has been done, and much lumber has been shaped for market.
By a belt connected with some of the machinery of these mills, Eli L. Wing, David Wing's son, lost his arm in 1837. As he was adjusting a belt his hand was caught, and in a moment his arm with the shoulder blade was torn from his body. He was little better than dead when found a few minutes after, but by good attention he finally recovered. An individual who viewed the place soon after the occurrence informed the writer that by the blood spattered overhead and around the walls of the room it was evident the arm must have been carried around with the belt many times.
On the 15th day of January 1858, a still more serious occurrence took place in the building, and within a few feet of the same spot where young Wing lost his arm. Mr. Daniel Bachelder, aged about 50, who owned the Shingle Machine and Gristmill, went below to help start his shingle wheel, which was somewhat fastened with ice. He took with him an axe and an iron bar. About an hour after he was found dead, by David Wing, who happened to be there on business, near where he found his son in 1839. The wheel was going. The body of Mr. Bachelder lay balanced across a fence or railing near the wheel, his feet touching or very near it. The iron bar was standing against this railing as though placed there after being used. The axe was found in another place. On one arm of a wheel just above the platform covering the waterwheel was a mark evidently made by a blow from the bar point. Some violent blow had bruised and injured the side of Mr. Bachelder's face, and had broken his neck. The probability is that the blow came from the bar on the starting of the wheel, and that his death was instantaneous. He is represented to have been a very worthy citizen, an honest man and a humble Christian.
Wing's Mill's after being purchased by Benjamin and Daniel Bachelder, were considerably improved.
In the early part of the present century William Bennet put up a shop on the brook between Sand Pond and Locke's Pond, and set in motion a trip-hammer, the first in town, together with some other machinery. The stream at the place is small, but the power is increased by a fall of about twenty feet. Mr. Bennet sold his interest a few years after, and a Shingle Machine or Clapboard Machine, or both, were run some time, and then a Lathe, but the power had ceased to be used in 1856.
About 1816 Francis Tufts put a dam across McGurdy's Stream near its mouth and built a Sawmill. Some three years after he sold to John Oakes and others, who put up a frame for a Gristmill, but never put the mill in operation. They repaired the dam which, resting on a bed of sand, had been undermined, and run the saw. Part of these owners sold to Leonard and Joel Billings in 1824, and soon after the latter put in operation the first Oil Mill in the town. In 1827 the privilege was destroyed by a freshet. Not long after Billings and Russ built a dam a few rods above the site of the old one and put up a Sawmill, and Joel Billings erected an Oil Mill at the same time. A few years later the mills changed owners and a Shingle-Machine was introduced. About 1842 the mills having become dilapidated by age were abandoned, and the power has not been since used. McGurdy's Stream is peculiar for the warmth of its water, has comparatively little descent or fall in its course, and runs along a sandy valley through a channel in which few stones appear. The volume of water is not large, and a dam and mill above Whittier's Pond interfered somewhat with the operations of the mills whose history is here given.
In 1827 a Sawmill was built in Chesterville by several men residing in Vienna. This was on McGurdy's Stream, some three-fourths of a mile above Whittier's Pond, and less than half a mile northerly from the bridge and road near Cyrus S. Whittier's residence. The mill run down by decay about 1841, and a new one was built in 1845 by Saunders Morrill and Thomas Dow. Mr. Dow afterwards succeeded to the whole ownership. Both the first and second mills had a profitable amount of business.
A starch Factory, the first and only one in town, was erected in 1844 on the lower mill privilege at the Center Mills. It stands on or near the ground which had been occupied by the last Sawmill built by Dummer Sewall. It was profitably operated for a few years, when an unforeseen calamity, the potato rot, interfered with the business. It was run, however, to a limited extent, many years after every other similar establishment in the county had been abandoned.
The first Tannery in town was started by Barnabas P. Merrick about 1807. It was on the south side of the stream, near, but a little above the Bridge, at the Center Mills. Water drawn from the long flume of Linscott and others propelled a stone for grinding bark a number of years. Mr. Merrick likewise manufactured boots and shoes. About 1822 he sold his tannery and moved to Pittsfield. A year or two after Mr. Merrick started his business at the Center Mills. Billings & Maddocks started the business near the residence of the latter, in the northeast part of the town. They carried it on together till about 1816, when they dissolved partnership. — After this Mr. Maddocks prosecuted the business a few years at the old stand. Mr. Billings put down vats and built a tan-house on his own land, (the Clarke Whittier farm,) and carried on the business several years. Neither of the yards are now used.
About 1824 Stephen and John Gilman made a beginning at the yard now existing at the Center Mills, opposite the Starch Factory. They soon failed, however, and removed from the place. Several others have successively owned and improved the yard. In 1855 a cast iron Bark Mill, propelled by water power, prepared the tan for use, a large building covered the vats, with an attic for finishing leather. It was then carried on by Riggs & Philbrick. [Mr. Riggs has since become sole proprietor and an account of the improvements he has introduced will make an interesting chapter of the appendix to this history.]
A little west of this tan-yard are two or three buildings used for the manufacture of matches.
About 1833 Joseph E. Were put up buildings and made a tan-yard at Farmington Falls on the Chesterville side of the river not far below the Bridge. This establishment had many conveniences and facilities for saving labor and tanning at any season of the year. It was on a scale superior to most tanneries in the vicinity. After a few years it was destroyed by fire, and rebuilt on a somewhat smaller scale. The business was carried on a few years longer by Mr. Were and Mr. Bunter, but was at length abandoned, and the buildings taken down or converted to other uses.
The first Meeting-house in Chesterville was raised June 15, 1815. The dimensions were about forty-five by thirty-six feet, with nineteen feet posts. It was put up mostly by the Congregationalists and Baptists, and was started by voluntary subscription. It was boarded and the roof was shingled, so that a Sabbath meeting was held in it on the 16th of July of the same year. The stand for the preacher was made of rough planks placed on carpenter's sawhorses, and two of them were the pieces of a plank which broke under two men while placing the rafters in raising. The men saved themselves from falling with the plank by catching on the timbers, although one of them had a broad axe in his hand. The seats, too, were all rough and temporary. The house was clapboarded, the doors were hung and the pulpit built within the next two or three years, but the pews were not made till 1820. The previous year the pews were sold and conveyed according to a plan, for enough to pay for the house; at which time some other denominations became owners. After several years it was re-clapboarded and painted white, and the pulpit, which had been high, lowered down. It was used for meetings on the Sabbath and at other times, on its first location, a little southeast of the Center Mills, till March 1851. Rev. Jotham Sewall preached the first, and Rev. Samuel Wheeler the last sermon in it, as it then stood. A few of the choir, with the same leader, attended on both occasions, although the term between them was almost thirty-six years.
March 25, 1851, the taking down of the Meeting-house was commenced. This was effected without accident, except that Abner Pierce was rendered temporarily lame by the swinging of a post which struck him near the hips. The house thus demolished was removed to Keith's Mills, or North Chesterville, where it was rebuilt in a different form the same year, and dedicated in December. The dimensions at the sills and beams are the same as before, but it contains a less number of pews, for a piazza occupies five feet across one end. The posts are shorter, the roof steeper, the windows fewer and larger, and a belfry is added. Here hangs a bell, weighing about 400 pounds purchased by Rev. Jotham Sewall, a year or two before his death. This is the first and the only bell in the town.
While the first Meeting-House was being rebuilt at Keith's Mills another Meeting-House was erected and finished at Chesterville Center. This house is somewhat huger than that at North Chesterville and likewise has a belfry. Both houses are union houses, and they are the only Meeting-Houses in town. Some of the inhabitants in the southern part of the town own pews in North Fayette Meeting-House, situated about a half-mile south of the town line. Similarly situated are some in the north-east part of the town who attend meetings in the union Meeting-House at Farmington Falls.
The first School House in Chesterville was built by subscription several years before the incorporation of the town. It stood on the John Mitchell lot, near the present dwelling of David M. Hamilton, but was never fully finished. It was used for schools and religious meetings a number of years. The earliest school in the settlement was here taught by a mistress, Miss Philena Whitaker, commencing early in the season of 1797. She taught here two summers, giving general satisfaction. Soon after closing the last school of the two, in August 1798, she was married to Rev. Jonathan Ward of New Afford, now Alna, by Rev. Mr. Gillet of Hallowell, in a public meeting at the house of Jotham Sewall. This is believed to have been the first marriage in the place, and that only one, while an inhabitant of the town, was married at an earlier date. William Whittier of Farmington was married to Agnes, daughter of John Butterfield, sen., at Mr. Butterfield's house in the north-east part of the town, some three and a half or four years before. Another School House was built by subscription, near Mr. Bragdon's, a few years before the plantation became a town, which was used a short time and then sold. The first school in that vicinity was taught by a Miss Smith, before the School-house was put up, in Mr. Bragdon's barn. She was afterwards married to Josiah Norcross, sen., of Farmington.
The first school that was taught in the first schoolhouse after the town was incorporated was taught by a Miss Robinson. The house was used for schools and meetings till another schoolhouse was built. It was at length sold to Wm. Stickney for a dwelling house.
For several years after the town was organized it was divided into four school districts. A school-house for District No. 1 was built near Jotham Sewall's south line, which was used for schools and meetings a number of years. About 1816 it was removed, on a division of the district, and stood several years where the brick one at the Center Mills now stands. The brick schoolhouse was erected in 1834. This district was originally large in territory, embracing all the central and northerly part of the town, excepting the neighborhood in the north-east part.
District No. 2, at first embraced the southern part of the town east of the Ridge, and one or two families west of it. For this a schoolhouse was built at the road angle south-east of the residence of Moses French. When this became old and out of repair the district was divided, and two schoolhouses were erected, one on each leading road.
What was once called Russellborough, in the south-west corner of the town, formed District No, 3. The inhabitants of this district, not being numerous, got along without a schoolhouse many years, but at length one was erected. This is believed to be the only school district in the town remaining unaltered from its formation to the present time. It is too small to divide, and has no neighbors so situated as to ask annexation.
District No. 4 was constituted from the northeast part of the town. Its schoolhouse stood near the residence of Peter Whittier for several years. This territory now embraces three districts, each having a schoolhouse.
As before remarked District No. 1 was originally large. By divisions made at different times it made eight districts about 1853. One of these eight never belonged to No. 1, except as wild land. It was settled after some of the divisions were made. Just previous to 1854 the town contained fifteen districts. That year quite an overturn was made and several districts were annihilated by annexing them to others. This work was mostly confined to the territory formerly included in District No. 1. All the fifteen districts excepting two had schoolhouses, several of which were thrown out of use and subsequently sold or taken down. This reduced the number of districts to eleven.
The largest village in Chesterville is at the Center Mills. Within a few years past, it has contained a tavern, two or three stores, two blacksmith's shops, a Post Office, a harness maker, a wheelwright, pail, match, organ-pipe, and starch factories, and some other establishments.
The village second in size is at Keith's Mills. It has a Post Office, tavern, store, two smith's shops, with several other shops and mills. The village on the Chesterville side of Farmington Falls contains one store, three mills and machine-shops, one smith, and a few other establishments.
The first road through Chesterville was cut and cleared in 1780. From the Sandy River settlements, (afterwards Farmington,) it passed near Keith's Mills, over Locke's Hill, by the Center Mills, along on nature's turnpike — The Ridge — to a point near the present residence of Seth Norcross, then turned south-easterly by the residences of Mr. Norcross and Moses French, just beyond which it entered what was then called "The Five Mile Woods," (there being no settlers there for that distance for some time after the settlements were made farther north,) — and thence to the Stone Mills, then called Taylor's Mills. On the second hill on this side of Taylor's the road was at first cleared and used east of the present location, and nearly over the top of the hill, which is an elevated point. On the southerly cant of this hill, a little below the summit, was a spot of very thick evergreen timber, through which the road passed, and which bore the name of "The Dark Entry."
In December 1790 a road was cleared which left the first north of McGurdy's Pond, and passed over the Bachelder Hill, and joined the other about half a mile south of the residence of Elisha Perry. On one of these roads the mail was carried from Hallowell to Farmington, on horseback, for years. It was also the main road used for marketing produce and transporting goods to the Sandy River region. A branch from the first road near the residence of Isaac Eaton, and another following the Ridge almost to its end, as well as one from the first, south-easterly of the residence of Moses French, — all leading to Fayette through different neighborhoods, were opened at a later date.
A continuation of the river road, on the west side of the river in Farmington, by the settlements of Mr. Maddocks and others, in the north-east part of the town, led to Pilsbury's Corner in New Sharon; from whence it led one way to Vienna and the other to New Sharon and Mercer.
Another road leaving the first at Jotham Sewall's south line led to John Bean's. This was named "The Coos Road," as it was cleared from Chester to Coos, New Hampshire. It was done in 1793 by Jacob Abbot, Esq., then of Andover, Mass., under a contract he made with the State. He hired a part of his men in Chester, and beginning there he grubbed a road, bridging the brooks and streams crossing his route, by Sand Pond, through a corner of Jay, (formerly "Phipp's Canada,") Tyngtown, now Wilton, (not far below the Upper Mills,) No. Four, No. Five, (now Weld,) and through Andover to the New Hampshire line. Mr Abbot and his men were employed in this enterprise several months. They carried their provisions into the wilderness, and camped there at night. Sometimes a team was driven in as far as practicable with edibles, and an animal for beef driven in and slaughtered. Among the articles at that time deemed necessary, and almost indespensable, was a barrel of rum. When by laboring on, the barrel was left in the rear, two or more men would go back, and with the barrel suspended under a long pole, carry it forward. Mr. Abbot and several of his hands were professors of religion and singers. Mr. Abbot carried the Bible, Hymn Book and one or two volumes of Sermons, and it was the practice of the party to read in the scriptures and have prayers morning and evening. Labor was suspended on the Sabbath, and sermons were read, preceded and followed by devotional exercises. At the present day such close companionship between the Bible and rum cask would produce the conviction that those professionally good men were not very sincerely. — Let it be remembered that at a time many years after this the "critter" was used, and thought to be absolutely necessary in the performance of jobs much inferior to this, and by Christians whose lives showed their devotedness and sincerity. Even preachers of the Gospel are said to have imbibed "a dram" during the intermission of religious services on the Sabbath. If we look back half way to 1793, we shall see times when it was used on almost all important, and on some unimportant occasions. In such cases we should heed the Scriptural command, — "Judge not."
The roads just described, with that leading by Mr. Soper's to Vienna, were for many years the main roads in the town. It was not till about 1812 that the town road over the Blabon Hill, and still later, one to Vienna near Cyrus S. Whittier's, were located. In latter years the town has been considerably burdened with roads, as several county roads have been established in various directions. As there is quite a portion of level land in town, the communities north of us demand a number of thoroughfares through different parts.
74. — BRIDGES.
The largest of these spans the river at Farmington Falls, of which Chesterville supports one third or more. The first bridge at this place was built by voluntary subscription. In earlier times the river was crossed by ferry above, and by fording below. The fording was difficult on account of the stones in the the bed of the river. Quite a number of bridges at the Falls have been swept away by freshets.
Another bridge across the Wilson Stream costs the town no small sum. It is the first bridge above the mouth of the stream, and is known as Whittier's Bridge. Chesterville has to maintain more than one half of this, and the ground being lower on the southeast side of the stream, it sometimes happens, — as after the freshet of Oct. 1855, — that Chesterville is obliged to rebuild when Farmington is not.
Another bridge spans the Wilson Stream at Keith's Mills. This place has been left bridgeless after many a freshet. Sometimes it has been only partially swept off; and once in a while part of the lumber used in its construction has been saved by efforts made below. In consequence of a rain on the 6th of April 1857, a severe and destructive freshet occurred. The water did not rise so high as at many other times, but the damage was chiefly done by the ice which had become thicker than usual during the previous winter. Neither had there been, up to the time of the rain, much weather tending to weaken it. The banks of the stream too, above the place, were more destitute of trees and bushes to hold back the ice, than they had formerly been. As a consequence the ice came down in large cakes and with amazing force. During the night of the 6th the little which lay within some twenty rods above the bridge, had partially demolished one of its wooden piers, and a jamb of ice had formed just above the opening thus made. Hopes were entertained that this jamb would hold on till the water subsided, but these were vain hopes. About noon of the 7th, that with other ice from above had finished the broken pier, smashed up the other, and set most of the planks and stringers afloat. The stone pier in the middle of the stream, as well as the stone abutment on the north side, were sadly disfigured; many stones being thrown into the stream. Some of the timber was recovered, being stopped by a jamb of ice which rested a few hours below the mills. A shop standing near the bridge and partly over the stream was seriously damaged. Mr. Lovejoy, the owner, sustained considerable loss, as the shop had to be taken down and rebuilt. A new bridge in place of the one carried away was not made passable till the following September. This is, apparently the best bridge ever erected at this place. The stone pier and abuatments were built over or repaired, rendering the bridge higher than any of the preceding bridges had been. On the whole it has been very expensive maintaining a bridge here.
Across the Little Norridgewock we have bridges of greater or less magnitude. Most of these are rarely destroyed by floods. One or two nearest the mouth of the stream are somewhat exposed. In the freshet of Oct. 1855 the lowest of these took a short trip "up stream." This not unfrequently happens to bridges across McGurdy's stream, not far from its mouth, also across some flat brooks. The Sandy River and Wilson's Stream rise so much more rapidly than their lower tributaries that the current for a while sets with no small force in a direction opposite to its usual course. In later years some of these bridges have been loaded with stones, so that they do not float even when the water covers them several feet. There are four bridges across McGurdy's Stream, the two lower ones in exposed situations. — The water of this stream is much warmer than the water of other streams in the vicinity, which is supposed by some to produce damage to bridges by hastening the rotting of the wood-work.
The earliest efforts to form a church within the limits of the present town of Chesterville were made in 1789. These resulted, after some delay, in organizing a Congregational Church of nine members, five of whom resided in Hallowell, (which then contained Augusta,) and four in Chester Plantation and vicinity, Feb 25, 1790. It was called the church in Chester Plantation, as there existed another in Hallowell, or what is now Augusta. A few years after the name of Hallowell Church was assumed. Later still it was joined with the old church, and after more than a year separated again from it. The Hallowell and Chester members, others having joined them, remained together till August 1796, about a year after Rev. E. Gillet was ordained pastor of the church, when they became two distinct organizations. The part embracing Chesterville took the name of a Congregational Church of Christ in Chester and Farmington. This was the first Congregational Church and the only one in this region for a number of years. Individuals in several of the adjoining townships became connected with it, end of these, with others, ultimately, other churches in New Sharon, Farmington, Strong, and Wilton were formed. Eight of the members of this church have become ministers. This church is now considerably smaller as to numbers than it has been in some past periods of its existence. The next church organized is supposed to have been the Freewill Baptist Church in the north-east part of the town, mentioned in Judge Parker's History of Farmington. Another Freewill Baptist Church was organized in the central part of the town in the spring of 1819. This church has been enlarged by additions at various times. Two or three of its members have become preachers. A year or two later a small Calvinist Baptist Church was organized. Years before this individuals in Chesterville had joined a church in Fayette of this denomination and now united with the church in Chesterville. It prospered for several years, when it became divided on matters of discipline, and was ultimately dissolved. Some of its members joined the Freewill Baptists, some left the town, and a few have died. One belongs to a church of the same name in Hallowell. There has been for years a number of Methodists in town, though somewhat scattered. — More of these, perhaps, live in the south part of the town than in other sections, who are connected with the society worshipping in the meeting-house in North Fayette. A society of the Christian order probably never existed in Chesterville, though some adhering to the views of the denomination lived in the town. Elder Peter Young, a preacher of the Christian sect, lived and preached for a while in the town, where he died in 1838. For the last fifty years there has been a number of professed Universalists in the town. Within the early part of this period there appeared quite an increase among them. At different times, either statedly or occasionally, they have had preaching at the south part of the town, the Center, and at Keith's Mills.