Pejepscot History Moments

These weekly history moments are courtesy of the Pejepscot History Center and are written by local historian Jym St. Pierre.

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.flood

Androscoggin Swinging Bridge looking to Brunswick from the Topsham side, April 1, 1987. Photo by National Weather Service, Gray

Railroads

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.

railroad bridge

Incorporation

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.old map

Missouri Compromise

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.Territories


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.

Skolfield

Skolfield 2

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.pastime 2

pastime 1

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.

Benjamin Randall

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.MetacometMetacomet, colored line engraving by Paul Revere, Garvan Gallery, Yale University Art.

Booms

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.

Booms

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.

Street Lamps

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.

Street Lamp

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.

Timothy Claimright

Gilbert Stuart, Portrait of William King, 1806, from Wikipedia, original at Patten Free Library, Bath, Maine.

Benjamin Titcomb

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.

B titPortrait of Rev. Benjamin Titcomb. Source: "Descendants of William Titcomb of Newbury, Massachusetts, 1635,"
by Gilbert Merrill Titcomb, 1969.

HBS houseStowe-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.) 

Dennison Box Comp

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. 

Meeting HouseImage from Wheeler’s & Wheeler’s "History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell"

Tontine Hotel

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.

Tontine Hotel