Pejepscot History Moments
Portland & Kennebec
On June 9, 1849, a locomotive steam engine of the Portland & Kennebec railroad line entered Brunswick for the first time. The next month, on the Fourth of July, the train was run back and forth between Bath and Yarmouth all day, giving anyone a free ride. Most of the passengers had to stand in dump cars, but so many people were excited by the experience that there was great demand for a passenger train. The railroad company directors agreed to start passenger service the very next day. Brunswick was rapidly on the way to becoming an important railway hub connecting to Portland in the southwest, to Auburn-Lewiston in the north, to Augusta-Waterville in the northeast, and to Bath and beyond in the east.
Early train in Brunswick / Source: Maine Historic Preservation Commission
On June 3, 1877, John D. Lincoln, M.D. died at the age of 56 years and 2 days. Dr. John, as he was known locally, grew up in Brunswick. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1839 and its Medical School in 1843, then he followed his farther, Dr. Isaac Lincoln, into private practice. He was beloved for his willingness to make house calls early and late, driving far and near. Dr. John was also very involved with improvements to Brunswick’s downtown Mall and in contributing to the Wheelers’ book about the history of Brunswick, which was published the year after his death. He is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery on Bath Road in Brunswick.
Portrait of Dr. John D. Lincoln / Source: George A. Wheeler and Henry W. Wheeler, History of Brunswick..., 1878.
On May 28, 1846, Philip Owen, died at age 90. He was the last soldier from Brunswick to have fought in the American Revolution. Born in 1756, at the age of 21, he fought in the battle of Ticonderoga in 1777. He also saw action in several other battles and later, in 1812-1813, he served in the Massachusetts legislature when Maine was still part of that state. In 1825, Philip Owen was chosen to chair a gathering of the then-surviving soldiers of the American War for Independence. He is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery on Bath Road in Brunswick. More than 75 men from Brunswick served during the American Revolution.
George Washington’s Call to Arms recruiting broadside / Source: USHistory.org
The Township of Brunswick was incorporated in 1714. Three years later, on May 19, 1719, under the modern calendar, the Pejepscot Proprietors voted “That one Thousand Acres of Land within the township of Brunswick be Laid out; To ly in General and perpetual commonage to ye said Town of Brunswick Forever.” Thus was created the first official public land in Brunswick and one of the first tracts of dedicated public land in Maine. In 2019, Brunswick celebrated the 300th anniversary of its Town Commons.
Brunswick Town Commons / Source: Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust
On May 11, 1676, Thomas Purchase, Sr. died. He was the first white settler in Pejepscot, the area that became Brunswick, Topsham and Harpswell, arriving around 1628. He was a hunter, trapper and planter. In 1632, with his brother-in-law, George Way, he acquired a grant for land in the region from the Council for New England. At the falls on the Androscoggin River, one of the best fisheries in New England, he harvested salmon and sturgeon and traded with the Wabanaki people. However, in 1675, when they felt cheated by Purchase, Native Americans attacked his house. After another attack, he fled to Massachusetts where he died in the town of Lynn in 1678, reputedly at the age of 101, though some historians question his age. The Wheelers, in their history of Brunswick, wrote that "Considering the unquiet times in which he lived and the little that is known against him, it is fair to presume that he was a man whose character was fully equal to that of the great majority of his associates and neighbors.”
Founding of Brunswick
On May 3, 1717, (under the old Julian calendar), Massachusetts approved the establishment of Brunswick as a new township “to be laid out the Quantity of Six miles Square as the Land will allow & to be Called by the name of Brunswick to be forth-with Settled in a Defensible Manner.” The township was named Brunswick to honor the new English King George I, who was also ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick (Bronsuic) in the Holy Roman Empire. In 2017, the Brunswick Town Council approved a proclamation commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Township of Brunswick.
Painting of King George I by Sir Godfrey Kneller / Source: Wikipedia
On May 1, 1896, construction began on Whittier Field at Bowdoin College. The field, considered one of the most storied football venues in the nation, was named for Dr. Frank Nathaniel Whittier (Bowdoin Class of 1885), the college’s first director of athletics. During 2017-19, the facility was renovated with artificial turf replacing grass, and new bleachers, upgraded locker and training rooms. The historic Whittier Field Athletic Complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.
Whittier Field, Bowdoin College / Source: Maine Preservation
In April 1857, the Maine Bank was incorporated in Brunswick. A few months later, the rival Pejepscot Bank was launched in town. By the end of the year, the Pejepscot Bank had $70,000 in deposits while the Maine Bank had $60,000. An earlier institution, called Brunswick Bank, started in 1836 but failed after two decades, a casualty of the Panic of 1857, which was the first worldwide economic crisis.
Illustration of a run on a bank during Panic of 1857 / Source: Harper’s Weekly, Library of Congress.
Village Improvement Association
On April 12, 1878, a meeting was held in Brunswick to consider creating a Village Improvement Association. A plea was made "to take an interest in matters of backyard beauty, cows in the streets, young boys climbing young trees, horses frightened by litter and bad places in the highway.” The Association’s membership dues were set at $1.00, which remains the annual rate. An early accomplishment of the VIA was the extension of the Town Mall to upper Maine Street. Since 1996 the VIA’s "Petunia Madness" project has provided thousands of petunia plants each year for seven median strip beds along Maine Street.
VIA plantings brighten a median strip on Maine Street / Photo by Peter Baecher.
Albert Gorham Tenney
On April 10, 1857, Albert Gorham Tenney, an 1835 graduate of Bowdoin College, became publisher and editor of the Brunswick Telegraph newspaper, a position that he held for the next thirty-seven years. Penney was said to be "perfectly fearless, never on the fence, and in the treatment of a subject which seemed to merit his disapproval, spared neither friend nor foe.” In the 1880s, he championed reforms that led to improvements in the child labor rules and the condition of the squalid tenements near the Cabot textile mill in Brunswick. A vocal promoter of the town, in 1887, A.G. Tenney published "Brunswick. A Sketch of the Town. Its Advantages As a Place of residence and Its Attractions As a Summer Resort."
Portrait of Albert G. Tenney / Source: Bowdoin College
April Fool’s Flood
During the past three centuries, major floods of the Androscoggin River have been recorded dozens of times. One of the most significant floods began on April 1, 1987, when heavy rainstorms and melting snow caused widespread flooding in northern New England, including in Brunswick and Topsham. In the watershed, entire sections of communities along the Androscoggin were cut off as bridges washed out and roads were submerged.
Androscoggin Swinging Bridge looking to Brunswick from the Topsham side, April 1, 1987. Photo by National Weather Service, Gray
On April 3, 1872, a railroad bridge over the Androscoggin River burned. The Androscoggin and Kennebec Railroad was chartered in 1847. In 1862, it merged with the Penobscot and Kennebec Railroad Co. to form the Maine Central Railroad. By 1877, Brunswick had become a major railroad hub with lines to Portland, Lewiston, Waterville, and Rockland. This 1877 bird’s-eye view shows one of the railroad trestles across the Androscoggin River between Brunswick and Topsham.
On March 28, 1739, the first town meeting was held in the newly incorporated Town of Brunswick. However, without moving, over the previous five centuries the area known as Brunswick had been located on maps in two continents, one Native American territory, two imperial regions, two countries, five royal land grants, one crown colony, four provinces, one dominion, two states, one commonwealth district, two counties, and one township. Brunswick as a town has existed longer than Maine, longer than the United States, and longer than most other countries.
On March 15, 1820, Maine was admitted to the Union as the 23rd state. Mainers had begun campaigning for separation from Massachusetts and statehood soon after the American Revolution. The Massachusetts legislature finally consented in 1819. What no one anticipated, however, was that Maine’s quest for statehood would become tangled in one of the most divisive issues in American history — slavery. Maine joined the Union as a slavery-free state due to the controversial "Missouri Compromise,” which admitted the Missouri territory as a slave state. Brunswick voted several times in the years leading to statehood, first against, but later in favor of separation from Massachusetts.
The Skolfield-Wittier House
On March 10, 1982, Dr. Alice Skolfield Whittier donated the Skolfield-Whittier House and its contents to the Pejepscot Historical Society. Built in the 1850s by Master George Skolfield, one of the most prolific ship builders in Maine’s mid-coast region, the house on Park Row in Brunswick was home to several generations of Skolfields. Alice, the daughter of Eugenie Skolfield and Frank Whittier, grew up in the house. From 1930 to 1977, she practiced medicine as Maine’s first woman pediatrician. Today the Skolfield-Whittier House is maintained by the Pejepscot History Center as a museum.
Alice Wittier and the Skolfield-Wittier House. Source: Pejepscot History Center.
Pastime Motion Picture Theater
On March 2, 1908, the Pastime motion picture theater opened in Brunswick. Originally named the 10 Cent Theater, the Pastime burned down in 1915 but was rebuilt and ran until 1928. Then after eight years of darkness, it was revived and relocated to Maine Street (where the current Tontine Mall is located). It failed to upgrade to show color movies and closed for good in 1955, a victim of television and outdoor theaters.
Source: Cinema Treasures
Free-Will Baptist Society
About 1799, the First Free-Will Baptist Society, also known as the Christian Church in Brunswick and Freeport, was formed. Free Will Baptists believe the Bible is the very word of God without error in all that it affirms. However, it was reported that by 1809 there was “considerable want of union and many backsliders” in Brunswick. The congregation struggled and dissolved on February 22, 1823. Three years later it was reorganized. The first meeting of the reconstituted church was held in February 1826. Benjamin Randall was the founder of the Free Will Baptist movement in New England.
Portrait of Benjamin Randall / Source: Wikipedia
King Philip’s War
On February 18, 1677, one of the last engagements of King Philip’s War was fought at Mere Point in Brunswick. King Philip’s War was an armed conflict in the 1670s between indigenous people of New England and colonists. The war is named for Metacomet, the chief who adopted the name Philip because of the friendly relations between his father Massasoit and the Plymouth Colony settlers. The war continued until the signing of the Treaty of Casco Bay in 1678.Metacomet, colored line engraving by Paul Revere, Garvan Gallery, Yale University Art.
Booms are barriers in a waterway used to collect and contain floating logs. On February 14, 1789, the first legislatively authorized boom company in Brunswick, the Androscoggin Boom Company, was incorporated. By 1820, the year Maine became a separate state, there were half a dozen booms in Brunswick above and blow the falls on the Androscoggin River.
A section of a bird’s-eye sketch of Brunswick, 1887, showing a log boom in the cove below the falls on the Androscoggin River.
Gas street lamps first appeared in Brunswick in the 1860s. On February 1, 1887, the Brunswick Electric Light Company was founded. More street lights appeared in the village soon after. This photo shows an early street light in Brunswick.
Timothy Claimright’s Poem
In January 1820, Maine was on the cusp of becoming a separate state after decades of agitation. But Congress was debating whether Maine should be admitted to the Union as a free state only if Missouri was admitted as a slave state. A lot of Mainers did not like it one bit. One such fellow in Brunswick, writing under the name Timothy Claimright, probably a pseudonym, published a long poem arguing against the compromise. It begins and ends:
If the South will not yield, to the West be it known,
That Maine will declare for a King of her own...
A Sister in Union admit her, as free;
To be coupled with slaves, she will never agree.
Maine as a free state was forever coupled with Missouri as a slave state when both entered the Union two centuries ago. Timothy Claimright was no great poet; nor did he prevail. But perhaps the greatest irony is that he was right, Maine did declare for a King. William King became the first governor of the State of Maine.
Gilbert Stuart, Portrait of William King, 1806, from Wikipedia, original at Patten Free Library, Bath, Maine.
In January 1785, at the age of 23, Benjamin Titcomb printed the inaugural issue of the Falmouth Gazette and Weekly Advertiser, the first newspaper printed in Maine. Titcomb parted ways with the editor the next year and started a rival paper, The Gazette of Maine. A religious fundamentalist, he moved to Brunswick in 1804 to be the paster of the Baptist church. He also participated in a convention that led to Maine statehood in 1820. His home at 63 Federal Street became better known as the Stowe House after Harriet Beecher Stowe and her family lived there in the early 1850s.
Portrait of Rev. Benjamin Titcomb. Source: "Descendants of William Titcomb of Newbury, Massachusetts, 1635,"
by Gilbert Merrill Titcomb, 1969.
Stowe-Titcomb House, Brunswick, Maine, circa 1900. Source: Pejepscot History Center.
Dennison Box Company
In January 1843, the brothers Aaron L. Dennison and Eliphalet W. Dennison began making paper boxes for jewelry and watches on Maine Street in Brunswick. As the business grew they hired hundreds of employees, many young women--or "Dennison girls,"--to assembled the boxes. The Dennison Box Company became the largest paper box company in the United States. Dennison also invented jeweler’s tags (1851) and produced the first American crepe paper (1894). It evolved into the Dennison Manufacturing Company, which moved to Massachusetts in about 1897. By 1990, it was part of Avery Dennison Corp, based in California, one of the 500 largest corporations in the United States. (Yes, the same Avery that makes labels.)
Photo from PHC Collection: The Dennison "Girls," ca. 1880. (L to R: Mary (Dunning) Noyes, Bridget McMahon, Mary McMahon (no relation), lower level: sister of Mary Dunning (name unknown).
Brunswick Meeting House
On January 9, 1719, a vote was passed to build the first meeting house in Brunswick. The building, which was not completed until 1735, was sited on the Twelve Rod Road about half way between the Androscoggin River and Maquoit Bay. In 1752, Brunswick voted to spend £4 for “a pair of stocks and whipping-post” at the meeting house to punish misbehaving residents. The original building was used for both town meetings and church services. It was replaced by a second meeting house closer to downtown in 1756.
Image from Wheeler’s & Wheeler’s "History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell"
On January 1st, 1829, the Tontine Hotel opened to the public on Maine Street. A newspaper reported that it had 30 rooms “and a hall which, for elegance and spaciousness, is not surpassed in the State.” The hotel served as the principal public house in town hosting generations of people traveling though Brunswick until it burned in 1904.
William Wheeler said, "The rooms were heated by wood stoves.... No fires were built in the stoves until the guest took possession, and in winter weather he was likely to go to bed shivering. There were no bath-rooms, and toilet facilities, in each room, consisted of a ’commode’ with its wash-bowl and pitcher of cold water…”
The name "tontine" comes from a form of annuity that was popular. The shares increased until the last survivor got the whole income. Today, the Tontine Mall continues the name of the popular 19th century hotel in Brunswick.