Saturday, November 5, 2016
In driving through Readfield Corner these days one cannot help but notice a change taking place. The green exterior of the “Masonic block” has disappeared and is being replaced by new gray siding. “I do not recall it being any other color but green” said Evelyn Adell Potter, 86, lifetime resident and Readfield Historian. A surprise discovery was made when it was removed - the original brown clapboards, added in 1921 when the building was constructed, are still in place. Ed Dodge of Readfield, Mason and treasurer for 50+ years, said “They don’t look too bad but maintenance of the wooden clapboards would create too much labor and expense.” He and the lodge secretary John Lord both shared that Readfield Masons are able to install the new siding, and they’ve also repaired the roof, because of a bequest from Readfield native Thomas Adell, who died in February of 2013. He was a member of the lodge for more than 50 years and the Post Master at Readfield Corner Post Office for nearly 30 years, which is located on the first floor of the building. “He loved the Masons and did a lot for them through the years” said Potter, his niece.
The Masons have existed in Readfield for 190 years but, as a “secret society”, their ceremonies and the services they provide have been conducted more discreetly than this building project. In 1909 a comprehensive history of their Lafayette Lodge No. 48 was compiled. The book gives details of various members including support extended to some Masons in need, their surviving widows and children and community events. For instance, when they found one fellow Mason’s widow was “feeble in health and destitute of funds...” not only did they help her at that moment but they supported her for the following twenty-six years.
The first record of the Mason’s presence in this town was in 1817 when Temple Lodge in Winthrop invited some Readfield men to join them. Over the next few years ten men joined the Winthrop group and in 1825 they petitioned for their own charter. Purportedly they chose “Lafayette Lodge” as the name because of the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to Maine that same year. The charter was granted on January 13, 1826 and the first three meetings were held in homes at Readfield Corner. Almost immediately arrangements were made to construct a hall on the second floor of a store on the north side of Main Street. Concurrently the new lodge members made plans to lay a cornerstone for the Union Meeting House (UMH) and help with its construction. Many of the UMH founders were also Masons and over the years they held a number of events and ceremonies there.
Meetings were held regularly until the “Dark Days of Masonry” - a national movement against the Masons that arose following a scandal in New York. Meetings ceased in Readfield from 1832 until September of 1849 when a few members came back together after seventeen years of silence. The revived order leased the second floor of a building on the south side of Main Street; steady growth ensued to eventually reach an active membership of 156, according to Lord. Lafayette Lodge expanded their space to include the third floor and in 1917 they purchased the entire building.
On June 11, 1921 lightning struck a kerosene barrel in the store adjacent to the Masonic Lodge. With that, a fire started that destroyed most of the buildings at Readfield Corner. According to an account by the late Roy Giles, he and another Mason were able to save an armful of record books, papers and the secretary’s desk from the Masonic Lodge but all other contents were destroyed. The Masons rebuilt on the original foundation but plans for a larger structure required additional land so an adjoining lot was purchased. Three months after the fire a ceremonial setting of the cornerstone was held. They took out a mortgage to rebuild which was not discharged until 1969 when, interestingly enough, Thomas Adell was Master of the lodge.
In 1974 the Masons bought property on the east side of the Masonic Hall, tore down the deteriorating house and turned the vacant lot into a parking area. The Lafayette Lodge has rented their first floor to several entities since 1921 including merchants, insurance agents, a radio and TV repairman, beauticians, gift shops, bakeries, the Readfield Telephone and Telegraph Company and, since 1963, the U.S. Post Office. Lodge membership has dwindled to sixty-five, according to Lord, but dedicated members continue to meet on a regular basis. The Temple Masonic Lodge and Abenaki Eastern Star from Winthrop meet at Lafayette Lodge now as well.
Thanks to Adell’s bequest roof repairs have been completed and the installation of new siding is well underway. “This is an expensive project” said Dodge. “Adell’s bequest gave an excellent kick-start but we do need to raise more funds to completely finance the job.” Dodge explained that a longtime member has pledged $20,000 if Lafayette Lodge can raise an equal amount. Letters have gone out to members and contributions have come in from some of them. Several townspeople and family members of Masons have given as well. “We appreciate any help people are willing to give towards reaching the $20,000 match. The results of these efforts will last through our lifetimes and we hope for a long time into the future.” Contributions can be sent to Lafayette Building Corp. PO Box 243 Readfield, ME 04355. Those with interest in joining the Masons can contact any member they know, or can call John Lord at 685-4266.
As for future projects, Lord and Dodge shared that Lafayette Lodge #48 wants to meld the past with the present by establishing an area of recognition and memoriam inside the Masonic Lodge. “Family members sometimes contact us to offer memorabilia from Readfield Masons who have passed” said Dodge. We would like to create a place of honor and remembrance for them.”
Dale Potter-Clark is a local author, founding member and consultant for Readfield Historical Society and organizes "Readfield History Walks". FMI readfieldmaine.blogspot.com
(c) 2016 All Rights Reserved by Dale Potter-Clark
This article appeared in Lakes Region Reader Nov. 2016
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Soon after the close of WWII Wilbur Nelson, a young Navy veteran from “the Garden State,” entered the New Jersey State Teachers' College. At about the same time he was hired to work for several summers as a counselor at Camp Winnebago in Fayette. He expected to become a teacher but little did he know that owning his own boys’ camp was also in his future.
In the years that followed Wilbur spent two weeks to a month of each summer in Maine which gave him ample time to explore and become familiar with the area. “During all the early years of me coming here” related Wilbur “the (original Mowana) camp in West Mount Vernon stood idle. I asked around about it and someone told me to go see Charlene Adams in Readfield; she owned it but I was told it wasn’t for sale” said Wilbur. He found out from Charlene it could be and the two of them struck a deal. He bought the camp in 1956.
“It was a small piece of land a little over an acre with 350 feet along the shore. All there was for buildings was a two story house with a walkway down the middle. There were rooms for the kids upstairs, the mess hall was downstairs. That same summer Wilbur bought some abutting land from Ruth and Stanley Hight to increase the size of his camp’s grounds to twenty-eight acres. The expansion provided space for an athletic field and more buildings.
During the spring of 1956 Wilbur took the existing structure down and burned it, then he cleared an area and built four 15x15 ft. sleeping cabins that could accommodate six to eight boys each. He put up an A Frame recreation hall which also served as the lodge. Then he named the camp Skoglund which is Norwegian for “Woodland” explained Wilbur. “Both of my parents were born in Norway.”
Skoglund opened in 1957 with twenty-five boys in attendance. Enrollment gradually increased to seventy-five and ultimately to one-hundred campers ages 9 to 15. They came from New Jersey, Sweden, Germany, Mexico, Japan and other parts of the U.S. All of the counselors had been campers themselves at one time or another which helped assure smooth operations.
Activities included athletics, water games, canoeing and swim meets. Campers also trekked to the Rangeley area and Moosehead Lake for canoe trips; and to the White Mountains and Tumbledown Mountain for hiking and climbing. More locally an annual canoe adventure down “Thirty Mile River” was enjoyed. Each morning the boys were provided with music books and they joined together in song. This author, who once lived a short distance from Skoglund, well remembers hearing their bugle reveille every morning through most of July and August. It was a welcome sound that cast the vision of a group of hearty, smiling boys who were eager to begin their day on the lake.
When asked if he had any humorous stories to share Wilbur told about his strategy when the boys got rowdy in their cabins late at night. “We had midnight rides. I loaded them up in the camp truck and drove them out to the Armstrong (Five Seasons) Road and dropped them off. They were ready to sleep by the time they walked back to Skoglund.” The “night walkers” did not know that adult eyes were watching from a distance to make sure they safely returned.
“Uncle Will”, as his campers called him, soon gained a reputation as a “second Dad” – for some he was the only Dad they ever knew. Many of the boys worked through problems and gained self-confidence at Skoglund according to Wilbur. One former camper explained that Uncle Will liked the lost cause kids. “He took them under his wing, turned them around and had a big impact.” Another revealed that if it had not been for Wilbur he probably would not be here today. “I was an angry kid. My father had just left… Coming to Skoglund was a make it or break it for me” he said with a quiver in his lip. He made it! One alumnus described his experience as “empowering”. And yet another related that his years there were the happiest in his life and that he still thinks about the camp all the time. In hearing a dozen or so former campers speak about Skoglund and Uncle Will their love and admiration is undeniable! One remarked “He commanded respect and you gave it without question. Wilbur Nelson is the best human being I have ever met”.
Nelson is the late comer compared to other camp founders. But unlike most of them who kept up the fast pace of running a kids’ camp for fifteen to twenty years at most, he did it for thirty-three years! Skoglund ceased operating as a boys’ camp in 1990 but Wilbur wasn’t done yet. He and his daughter Rondi converted Skoglund into a family summer resort. “I’m so happy that Rondi is interested” he said “and that it will still go on.” Since they converted to rental cottages many Skoglund alumni return to stay there with their families during the summer. “I can still hear the kids playing on the waterfront” said Wilbur. “I like that.”
Wilbur is still going strong at age ninety-one - six decades after he founded Camp Skoglund for boys. Today he and Rondi run Camp Skoglund for their love of the place and the people who return year after year. These words on their web site convey their sentiments well – “We want to continue sharing our idyllic summer home…”
This story is an excerpt from a newly released book “The Founders and Evolution of Summer Resorts and Kids’ Camps on four lakes in Central Maine”, co-authored by Dale Potter-Clark and Charles L. Day, Jr. Copies of the book can be purchased online at http://readfieldmaine.blogspot.com
This article appeared in Lakes Region Reader August 26, 2016.
Wilbur died peacefully in his sleep Oct. 14, 2016 at his home in Summit, New Jersey soon after Rondi had returned him there from Camp Skoglund after sixty successful seasons. Rest in Peace, Wilbur.
Saturday, October 1, 2016
Dr. Warren A. Wright is a name that appears often in Readfield’s historical records and narratives. The youngest of six children, he was born in Palmyra, Maine in 1837 to Ruel and Fanny (Strickland) Wright. The Wrights are an old New England family - Dr. Warren Wright’s 5th great grandfather, Deacon John Wright, immigrated to Massachusetts from England before 1630. The first of this line to move to Maine was his father Ruel about 1815, when most of Maine was still wilderness. To function as a country doctor in 19th century Readfield Dr. Wright had to have high principles, a strong work ethic and commitment to his community. From what we know about him, that was all true.
Warren Wright received his secondary education from Hartland Academy in Hartland, ME. He also attended “Corcuma Academy”- presumably the study of pharmaceuticals. According to the Harvard Alumni Directory he attended Harvard Medical School in Boston 1861-62. The Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929 says he received his Maine license to practice allopathic medicine in 1862. That same year our subject appeared on the Readfield tax roll as a 25 year old physician. He must have endured some scrutiny as a newcomer! For nearly 75 years the people of Readfield had been treated by two doctors who were father and son - the doctors Currier. Old Dr. Samuel Currier had been the physician in our town for decades when he died in 1848 and then his son, Dr. George Currier, carried on their practice. The son Dr. Currier died in 1863, the year after Dr. Wright arrived. Perhaps Dr. Currier had an awareness of his own declining health which motivated him to recruit the young doctor? Whatever the case Dr. Wright must have been a welcome addition at a vital crossroads in our town’s history!
Dr. Warren Wright was a busy man from the first and, in spite of his youth, he soon proved himself worthy of respect. He came to Readfield in the throes of the Civil War and our town was reeling from its affects. Readfield’s population was 1,500+ in 1860 and an astounding 10% enlisted for military service in the three years that followed. During Dr. Wright’s first two years in Readfield twenty-seven families were impacted because their sons were wounded, killed in action or died in prison camps. The emotional wounds and physical toll on the men who returned home, and on their families, was beyond measure. The railroad had come to town a few years prior and had brought with it new problems and unanticipated financial strain to the town – such as itinerants, who often required medical attention. Multiple factories and farms meant injuries and infections were common. Since there were no antibiotics those infected wounds or fractured limbs often meant amputation – then emotional scars and financial strain soon followed. The childbirth rate was increasing and complicated births and the death rates of mothers, infants and young children was distressingly high everywhere. Consumption, diphtheria, kidney disease, heart failure and scarlet fever were all too common in addition to other afflictions. But Dr. Wright was up to the challenge and settled in for an admirable lifetime medical career that lasted nearly 60 years. He came to be a much beloved physician among our townspeople.
Dr. Wright delivered many children in Readfield and the surrounding area during the mid 19th into the early 20th century. He devotedly ministered to the poor as well as to those who could afford medical care. He took his call to service very seriously – sometimes placing himself in peril to do so. When Readfield’s roads were still dirt, and in poor condition, people sometimes chose to travel the frozen lakes rather than riding the rutted and muddy roads. It is said that in late winter / early spring, when the ice was getting dangerously thin, Dr. Wright often took chances in order to reach a laboring mother or sick child in time. His carriage could be seen flying across our ponds as he whipped his horse to full speed. Fortunately he always managed to keep ahead of any breaking ice, but on more than one occasion he and his horse and carriage nearly fell through. This story leads me to believe he must have sported a sense of adventure.
In the midst of his busy medical practice Dr. Wright also took interest and found time to become involved in a business. In 1880 Thomas U. French of Chesterville purchased the old carding and fulling mill in West Mt. Vernon and had it moved south and across the road. The next year those buildings provided a start when, for $14,000, French and Dr. Wright partnered to build a tannery and chimney at the head of Taylor Pond. The tannery had become one of the most important industries in the area when they sold in 1900. The massive building burned later, in 1912, and the business died but the chimney in West Mt. Vernon remains a landmark to this day.
Dr. Warren Wright bought property on Church Road in 1866. It has been said the Wrights first resided in a small house on the east side of Church Road, but we all know the large house just north of the Union Meeting House as the Dr. Wright house. He married Mary Jane Goodwin and they had six children between the years 1867-1879. Three died in infancy – including their youngest child and only daughter, Julia. Four days before Christmas in 1899 Mary Jane Wright died. She was 58years old and the cause of death was listed as rheumatic neuralgia. In 1913 his eldest son Willis, who was a farmer in Mt. Vernon at the time, developed bladder disease and died of uremic poison. Dr. Wright signed both Mary Jane’s and Willis’ death certificates as attending physician. How saddened he must have been that he could not save the lives of his own wife and four children!
The widowed Dr. Wright and two of his grown sons, Arthur and Charles, lived at the big house alone for three years until he married Ellen Dorothy Fogg – a maiden lady from a well known family in town. He was 65 and Nellie, as she was called, was 44. There was a grand wedding at the Fogg Homestead. Engraved invitations were mailed, the best table settings were brought out and guests came from miles around dressed in their finery. Among artifacts and other Fogg family memorabilia Nellie’s wedding dress was recently donated to Readfield Historical Society by the Fogg family where it is now on display. Dr. Wright and Nellie lived in the big house on Church Road throughout their 17 yrs of marriage. Dr. Wright carried on his busy medical practice for the rest of his life, and he continued to hold the admiration of townspeople. He was also revered by Nellie’s family according to Joanne Fogg Fournier who says: “One of the little family idiosyncrasies that I always found interesting was that, as a couple, the old folks in the (Fogg) family ALWAYS referred to them as "Nellie and Dr. Wright" - never as "Nellie and Warren". Indicative, I think, of the great respect everyone had for the good doctor.” Nellie and Dr. Wright never had children of their own. His sons Arthur and Charles moved to South Paris, ME where they lived until the end of their days.
According to his death certificate Dr. Wright began suffering from the affects of nephritis in 1916. I suspect he detected his own declining health before that because he signed his property over to his wife Nellie in 1913 – the same year his eldest son Willis died. No doubt he did this to make sure Nellie would be taken care of after he was gone. Dr. Wright died in 1919 at 81 years of age. He was buried at Readfield Corner Cemetery along with his first wife Mary, four of his children and a daughter-in-law. He had lived his life of service well - with dignity, integrity and loved by all.
Nellie remained at the Wright house where she was living alone in 1920. In 1921 she remarried to Ernest Lewis, a widower from Jay, Maine. They lived there for about 2 years and then sold the Wright property to E.C. Frost. Later that decade Nellie married a third time to another widower, Frank S. Willard, and she moved with him to Los Angeles, California. Nellie died in 1934 and was brought home for burial in the Readfield Corner Cemetery. There she lies beside her parents and other members of the Fogg family.
(c) 2013 All Rights Reserved by Dale Potter-Clark
This article appeared in Lakes Region Reader in April 2013.
Sunday, March 27, 2016
The Industrial School for Girls in Hallowell opened its doors in 1875 as a place of refuge and learning for neglected and vagrant girls ages seven to fifteen. The founders believed that with kindness, practical training and physical activity the girls could be groomed for useful and honorable lives.
The school was placed under state control in 1899, and in 1915 the name was changed to the State School for Girls. Early accounts of its conditions were somewhat unfavorable. Conditions at most institutions like this were not ideal in those years and the inmates, as they were then called, did not have a well-intentioned advocate like Nellie French Stevens until later.
Stevens has been described as gentile, humble, strong willed, capable and a maverick. She was also completely dedicated to reforming the school and “her girls” from the day she arrived in 1933. Her approach was new, even ground breaking and helped set a national trend.
Nell, as she was warmly called, was born in 1891, the youngest daughter of Charles H. and Charlotte (French) Stevens of Readfield. Her father was a successful farmer and, for many years, the treasurer of the Kennebec County Agricultural Fair. He was given much credit for its being the largest and most successful county fair in Maine. Stevens’ 150 acre farm was ideally located near Lake Maranacook, a half-mile from the bustling village of Readfield Corner, and two miles from Maine Wesleyan Seminary and Female College (Kents Hill School). Nell received training at the Morse Conservatory of Music at the Seminary, became an adept pianist and pursued music as her career. But her course was set in another direction long before she realized it.
In 1865 Nell’s great-uncle, Rev. John L. Stevens, and her maternal grandfather, E.R. French, had witnessed the incarceration of a fourteen year old girl for a minor offense, and they began advocating for a school for wayward girls. The family rallied around the concept from the beginning, and E. R. French gave the first fundraising donation in 1870 towards building the Industrial School for Girls in Hallowell. Stevens’ aunt, Fannie French Morse, was a pioneer in this field, having been superintendent at three Industrial Schools - in Lancaster, Massachusetts, Sauk Center, Minnesota, and lastly in Hudson, New York. Two of Stevens’ relatives served as housemothers at the school in Hallowell and her sister Edwina worked there as a “farm lady”, years before Stevens arrived. The mission had subtly become ingrained in her soul.
Stevens had been assistant director at Coburn Classical Institute in Waterville for ten years when she took a one-month absence to visit her aunt Fannie at the Industrial School for Girls in Hudson, NY. Stevens immediately became drawn to that mission and remained as French’s assistant for three years. She then joined the staff at the Massachusetts Reformatory for Women, for nine months, until she was offered the superintendency at Maine’s State School for Girls. By then the school in Hallowell was described as “penal and corrective in nature” – a deviation from its original purpose.
In 1937 Superintendent Stevens presented the annual report saying: “…the girls ‘crimes’ consist mostly of truancy, running away from home, disorderly conduct and ‘wanton and lascivious behavior’… only two or three of them were accused of anything as serious as assault or larceny… the school tries hard to improve the girls but the institution cannot work miracles such as changing the habits of fourteen or fifteen years…”. She had a big job ahead of her, but she was up to the task.
Stevens’ grand-niece, Susan Welsh of Wayne, tells how her aunt Nell spoke about “her girls” in glowing terms. So much so that Welsh, as a youngster, perceived the State School for Girls as a boarding school where young women were trained in the finer things, attended teas and learned music, arts and the classics. In fact, Stevens did expose “her girls” to all that and more in her quest to improve their chances for a good life as adults. In January, 1958 Portland Sunday Telegram ran a feature story about the school and Stevens. The reporter interviewed staff and young residents and returned with glowing reports of Stevens’ efforts and the school’s positive impact on the girl’s lives. He wrote: “While she has brought about gradual change since her administration began one fundamental principle has guided her.” He quoted Stevens by adding “…These are not problem children. These are children with problems… Young people want emotional security more than anything else under the sun and that’s what’s been lacking in their lives when they get into trouble. We try to give it to them here.”
Nellie Stevens served as Chair of the National Conference of Women Superintendents. She was also treasurer of the Maine Welfare Association, and active in other professional organizations. In 1957 she was awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters by Nasson College and thereafter called Dr. Stevens. A short time before her retirement she attended a national seminar in New York. Afterwards she told her sister “I must be getting out of touch. The only person I knew there, who I could carry on a conversation with, was Margaret Meade!” Perhaps that was when she decided to retire.
Stevens’ final year at the school was in 1959 when, as she presided over her final graduation, a special announcement was made. The State School for Girls would be officially renamed the Stevens Training Center in Dr. Stevens’ honor.
Stevens’ longtime friend, Grace Burleigh of Wayne, tells of one time several years after Stevens’ retirement, when the two women went to observe the Maine State Legislature in session. “We quietly made our way to the balcony”, said Burleigh, “No one knew we were coming, but the Speaker of the House spotted Nell and announced to the legislators they had an important visitor.” The entire House rose, turned to face the balcony, and gave Stevens a standing ovation. “She stood up to receive their applause”, said Burleigh, “but only because I insisted. She was a very humble lady.” Burleigh also related that Stevens continued to support and care about downtrodden youth throughout her days, and told Burleigh she thought the State of Maine made a mistake when they closed the Stevens School in 1970.
After retiring Stevens set-up residence in her cozy bungalow in Wayne, adjacent to her sister Edwina and husband. This could be the end of her story, but far from it. She continued to serve on various welfare committees, was given a certificate of merit by the Maine Welfare Association and was in demand for public speaking engagements. She dove into music as church organist and choir director at Wayne Community Church. She became well known for the bell ringer groups she started in Wayne, Winthrop and South Portland, where she travelled weekly to direct a group of ringers at the South Portland Training Center. According to Welsh many of the gals who Stevens mentored over the years stayed in touch, and her pride and interest in them never waned.
Nellie French Stevens died in 1988 at age ninety-eight. She is buried with her parents and two siblings in Readfield Corner Cemetery, a short distance from her childhood home.
(c) 2015 All Rights Reserved Dale Potter-Clark
This story appeared in Discover Maine Magazine, Western Lakes and Mountains, 2015-16
Saturday, February 27, 2016
August, 1905 was not a particularly eventful month in most parts of the country. August 5th President Roosevelt hosted the Russian and Japanese peace commissioners at his home in Oyster Bay, NY; on the 6th a record high rainfall occurred in Indiana; on the 24th the Chicago Cubs beat the Phillies 2-1 in 20 innings. Nothing in particular made titillating headline news on the national level except for two tragic events that occurred in Readfield and Winthrop, Maine.
The stage was set when a young Readfield woman named Mattie Hackett was murdered on August 17th. She had been a student at Maine Wesleyan Seminary and Female College (Kents Hill School) and was working at the Elmwood Hotel in Readfield Corner. After supper that evening Mattie’s father found her near their farmhouse on P Ridge - lying in the road and gasping for air. After he carried her to the house found a piece of rope wrapped around her neck but it was too late - she died minutes later.
A novice reporter was sent from the Kennebec Journal to cover the story but his editor soon realized he had fodder for headline news and assigned an investigative reporter. Articles soon began to appear across the country with headlines like “All shrouded in mystery. No clues in Mattie Hackett murder”. In the days that followed all eyes were focused on small town Readfield, Maine and details of every movement on or near the Hackett farm on Kents Hill gave rise to another news report.
By August 24th a suspect had been identified – Mrs. Elsie Raymond of Readfield Corner. Mattie worked with Raymond’s husband at the Elmwood and investigators theorized it may have been a crime of jealousy. A guard was stationed outside Raymond’s home and Maine’s Attorney General Hannibal Hamlin took personal interest in the inquiry. Townspeople were all abuzz and emotions of fear and insecurity were running high.
Meanwhile, only two miles away as the crow flies, Maranacook Lodge was in full swing for the season. Guests had arrived by train and filled the hotel to capacity. It was exceptionally hot that summer. Starting in June temperatures hit 100 degrees in New York and New England and stayed above 90 from then on. The lakeside resort gave blessed relief to the weary city dwellers. A Malden, MA resident - 17 year old Robert D. Boutwell - was among the employees at Maranacook Lodge that year. He was a well-fit student athlete, who had worked there as a hotel clerk in 1904, when his strong swimming skills were discovered by the hotelkeepers. So, upon his return in 1905, in addition to his duties as clerk, Boutwell was asked to ride on excursions when the 60 foot, 75 passenger steamboat the Steamer Maranacook set sail for sightseeing tours around the lake.
On the evening of August 25th, as they cruised near Craig’s Point (Tallwood), the Steamer Maranacook collided with a rowboat and its two passengers were thrown into the lake. One managed to swim to safety but as the other went down for the second time young Boutwell sprung into action and saved her. He was hailed as a hero and a story appeared in newspapers the next day “Boston Girl Saved by Steamer Passenger”. Festivities were planned for the evening of August 27th when the hotel management would present Boutwell with a plaque and recognize him as a hero, but it was not to be.
The evening of August 26th began uneventfully with dinner in the dining hall followed by adult conversation on the swings, in the lounge or on the croquet court. Mattie Hackett’s murder had to be fresh on the minds and tongues of these folks who surely thought they would be safe in Maine away from the throng of city life. They must have watched their children closely for there was a murderer on the loose. Little did they know that hours later a perpetrator of another kind would invade their haven.
Most retired to their rooms at a reasonable hour and all were asleep when sometime in the night Boutwell and another employee were awakened by the sounds and smells of fire. Boutwell immediately ran through the hotel pounding on doors calling “FIRE! GET OUT NOW!” With his hands, face and neck severely burned he helped carry ladders and placed them as alternate escape routes. Guests fled down the stairs, jumped from the roof or windows and exited down the ladders. There were many injuries – three doctors were brought in from Readfield to attend those in need. Guest ledgers were destroyed so there was uncertainty about whether everyone had escaped. It was not until the next day, when the rubble had cooled enough to sort through, that remains of a young family named Martin from Roslindale, MA – husband, wife and 7 year old son – were discovered.
Had it not been for the valiant efforts of the now second time hero Robert Boutwell, many more lives would have been lost. He did not know this because he had been transported across the lake to the Sir Charles Hotel (Tallwood Inn) where doctors were monitoring him closely for severe burns and inhalation of smoke and fire. The outlook was grim and his father was summoned to come from Malden posthaste! Mr. Boutwell arrived in time to hear his son’s final words early the next morning - “Good bye father. God bless you and dear mother.”
On the following day the Boston Globe, New York Times and other newspapers across the country printed headlines such as “Hero of hotel fire succumbs” and “Hero’s dying prayer”.
The press coverage of the Mattie Hackett murder continued off and on for years. Elsie Raymond was brought to trial but found innocent. The crime was never solved.
Oral tradition has kept both stories alive over the years. A book titled “In Search of Mattie Hackett” was authored by Emeric Spooner and published in 2011. Readfield musician Ellen Bowman recently wrote a ballad in memory of Mattie Hackett which, Bowman says pays long overdue tribute to Mattie’s memory. On July 22nd a cousin of Boutwell, Lois Buchan of Manchester, N.H., visited Maranacook Lodge to share information about the young hero and to pay tribute to his memory. As others looked on she stood on the spot where young Boutwell had spent his last days and played Amazing Grace on her fife.
Mattie Hackett, Robert Boutwell and a young family died tragically that August long ago, before any of them could make their marks on the world. But then, perhaps they did? One-hundred and nine years later they are still touching lives.
(c) 2014 All Rights Reserved Dale Potter-Clark
This story appeared in Discover Maine Magazine, Kennebec & Androscoggin River Valleys, 2014
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Thomas College in Waterville calls business students in their accelerated degree program the “Keist-Morgan Scholars”. The title honors Harry Keist and William “Bill” Morgan – two men who owned and managed Thomas College during its fledgling era.
When Keist and Morgan owned the business school they were in their twenties. Both men were sons of farmers and each married children of professional men – Keist to the daughter of a Maine Methodist minister, and Morgan to a daughter of Dr. Eli S. Hannaford, a well known Readfield physician. In 1905, after Keist’s untimely death, his wife sold the school to Bill Morgan, and he changed its name to “Morgan’s Business College”.
Bill Morgan was a 10th generation New Englander, born 1879 in Weld, Maine, and the elder of two brothers. His parents moved to Readfield in 1882 where they bought a 245 acre farm – east of and adjacent to the present day Maranacook Community School. Bill was a go-getter from the start. He attended Kents Hill School and afterwards, according to the 1911 Maine Chamber Catalogue, he went to New York where he served as “head of a business college turning out 1,500 students a year”. In 1905 he returned to Readfield and married Pearl Hannaford, who was also a Kents Hill School alumnus. By age 27 Bill Morgan owned Morgan’s Business College where he and Pearl taught and Bill served as the principal. A few years later he entered into a second successful enterprise, in Readfield.
A 1908 advertisement proclaimed Morgan’s Business College as a “…high grade commercial school which secures employment for its graduates… and special rooms for every department.” Even in Morgan’s time students were assisted in “securing desirable employment.” Thomas College provides that feature to this day with their “Guaranteed Job Program”. The 1911 Chamber catalogue related that Morgan’s Business College was “on the highest standard of efficiency with all modern office devices, including billing machines, mimeographs, letter presses and other pieces of labor saving machines, which are kept in actual daily use.” This promotion went on to say that “Under Mr. Morgan’s management the college has been phenomenally successful from the first.” The entry boasted that Morgan enlisted only the most competent commercial teachers and graduated hundreds of students who readily found business positions throughout the state.
Back in Readfield, Bill’s parents sold their Readfield farm in 1906 and bought another house nearby - also on Main Street but with frontage on Lake Maranacook. In researching various census records, directories and Kennebec County property deeds one can see Morgan’s life story unfolding. The elder couple shared the lakefront home part-time with Bill and Pearl, who were living in Waterville by that time. Morgan bought Birch Island on Lake Maranacook in 1907 where he built a cottage that same summer. From there he began to develop Camp Maranacook, an eight-week summer adventure camp for young men ages six to sixteen. More than likely Morgan was inspired by John Chase - another Readfield native and educator - who had established Chase’s Boys Camp on Torsey Pond ten years earlier, reputed to be the first summer boys camp in Maine.
In 1911 Bill ran an advertisement in the Chamber Catalogue that included a picture showing large canvas tents set-up in a woodsy setting. The caption read “Real tent life at Camp Maranacook for boys, Readfield, Maine under the personal direction of W.H. Morgan of Waterville, Maine.” Morgan, who was known as a suave and likeable people-person with drive, had simultaneously developed a second venture - this one to satisfy his ambition during the summer months. That same year Bill sold his school in Waterville to John L. Thomas, Sr., who renamed it, Morgan-Thomas Business College. In 1962 it was finally named Thomas College.
After that Morgan was devoted fulltime to building Maranacook Boys’ Camp into a successful business that served hundreds of boys from all over the country. He and Pearl continued to live in Readfield during the warmer months, and in the winter they kept an apartment on Boylston St. in Boston where they could more easily meet and recruit campers.
As the camp evolved Bill managed to accumulate two islands and one-hundred-eight acres with over a mile of wooded lakeshore. Fifty buildings for every need were built on the property, as well as athletic fields and a horse riding facility. He also owned a forty-three acre outpost on Tumbledown Mountain in Weld. Campers were exposed to every kind of outdoor sport and athletic activity imaginable as well as photography, music, theater, woodworking and boat building.
Bill Morgan ran Maranacook Boys’ Camp for thirty-eight consecutive years until he was stricken with heart disease and forced to sell out. In 1965 Camp Maranacook’s subsequent owners sold the camp to a Massachusetts developer, who subdivided all the land into cottage and year-round house lots. A few of the original buildings remain as the only reminders of what once was.
Bill Morgan died suddenly in 1947 at age sixty-seven. His home passed to his niece, Joanne Hunt, who owned it until 1974. In the meantime she subdivided part of Morgan’s land into Hunt’s Lane. Morgan is buried at Readfield Corner Cemetery with his wife, infant daughter, parents and brother along with Joanne and her husband Donald Hunt.
This article was written by Dale Potter-Clark who is a founding member and consultant for Readfield Historical Society and co-leader of Readfield History Walks. She is currently in the process of co-researching and writing two books. One with Charlie Day regarding the evolution of summer resorts and kids camps in Readfield; and another with Bill Adams about old houses in Readfield and the people who lived in them. FMI about her works visit www.readfieldmaine.blogspot.com
(C) 2015 All Rights Reserved by Dale Potter-Clark
This article appeared in Community Advertiser Nov. 21, 2015