Friday, October 22, 2021

Before the memory fades: The haunting of the ell tower, and other ghostly tales of Windham’s Goold House

The Goold house in earlier times. The tower, which once sported
a bell (and purportedly a ghost), is seen at the end of the ell
on the left. According to an article written by Nation Goold
II in the early 1900s, the Goolds occupied the house from
1802 to around 1900. More on this amazing family
in our next installment. COURTESY OF WINDHAM
By Walter Lunt

It’s October 1958, and the Millard family is thinking about Halloween, especially the children. In addition to the spooky costumes and candy, the Millard’s wonder if the ghost will return to the small bell tower attached to the ell of their colonial home on Windham Center Road. The five Millard children, their father and a friend told a reporter that if the ghost were to return, Halloween might be the obvious time.

The story of the tower ghost originated more than 100 years earlier in the years following the War of 1812. The Millard’s first heard the legend when, just seven months earlier, they bought and moved into the house adorned with Greek pillars and a Greek Revival wrap-around porch, located near the intersection with Nash Road.

It seems an early owner of the house, Nathan Goold, for whom it is named, was a captain in the Windham militia. Goold built an ell with a bell tower attached. The bell was to be rung in case of danger during the War of 1812. It was said, and passed down through the decades, that after the bell was removed, footsteps on the squeaky floorboards in the tower could be heard when no one was there. It was further rumored that certain people, only those with ears tuned into the supernatural, would hear the clanging of the tower bell. Again, when no one was there.

The Goold House ghost apparently remained absent on that Halloween night in 1958, but the family remained wary due to other occurrences during their 30 years in the house.

The Millard’s eldest son, Michael (today known as Max Millard), recently shared memories of living in the house during his childhood years. “We loved the house from the moment we moved in. (It) was a magical place that seemed designed for large families with children.” All the same, he remembers some scary moments, “Because of the (old Goold family graveyard located behind the house), our house felt as if it were full of spirits. The ell was a dark place that we used mostly for storage, and none of us dared to go there while darkness reigned.”

Max remembers a time in the early 1960s when his father had a bedroom built for him on one end of the ell. “When I lay there at night, I would sometimes hear footsteps clunking up the stairway toward my room. Lying in bed, the covers over my head, …I would picture the ghost of William Goold (son of Nathan Goold) come gliding through the door. To this day, I remember those footsteps clearly and I don’t think they were my imagination.”

Asked by the reporter back in 1958 if the family believed in ghosts, most said yes. The father, Ben, seemed almost giddy about the prospect of a spiritual encounter. He commented, “I’m looking forward to meeting the old gent.”

Next time, more on the history and heritage of the Goold family, and the house that was home to several of their generations. <

Friday, October 15, 2021

Life of farmer’s wife embodies Raymond’s pioneering spirit

Carrie McLellan of Raymond is buried in
Raymond next to her husband, David at
Raymond Hill Cemetery.  FILE PHOTO 
By Ernest H. Knight

Born in Westbrook on Jan. 29, 1865, and christened Carrie Crockett, her cavalryman father was drowned, along with his horse crossing a river during a Civil War battle. She came to Raymond at the age of 3 when her mother married Hiram Cash, whose grandfather was John Cash, the famous rattlesnake charmer of Raymond Hill.

Carrie was a true embodiment of the pioneer woman, an inheritance from an ancestor, Davy Crockett of Alamo fame. Also, her husband, David McLellan, born Jan. 4, 1859, in Raymond, was undoubtedly an inspiration as he for many years had the reputation of being the hardest working and most powerful man in Raymond and Carrie worked along with him in running the farm in its developing years.

Yet while David was a very large man, Carrie weighed barely 100 pounds.

The McLellan homestead was on Otisfield Road, now Route 85, not far from the Casco line east of Rattlesnake Mountain and the nearby home of renowned 19th century Raymond resident Edgar Welch.

Originally the one-story farmhouse of his father, William, David rebuilt or replaced it with a 2 ½-story with gingerbread trim and that was considered a bit of foolishness by his neighbors. There was of course a large barn and connecting ell, the barn being where Edgar Welch met his dramatic and tragic end. The barn is still in use though the house burned down in 1954.

Carrie McLellan was well educated for the day, tutored at home by her schoolteacher stepfather who was noted for his skill in mathematics. She also took piano and organ lessons and played the organ in the Raymond Hill Church for many years. 

She worked in the corn shop at Webb’s Mills as a girl and attended Gorham Normal School from which she graduated with honors in 1885. Before and after she taught for many years in the schools of Raymond, Casco, and other nearby towns.

The McLellan farm was a prosperous family venture in which Carrie carried her full share of responsibility. The couple had one child, a son, Paul, who apparently was not inclined to the life of a farmer or woodsman as he went to Portland and became a well-known contractor.

Though her husband had been noted for his strength and abilities, he became incapacitated with rheumatism and had to leave the labor to Carrie and hired help.

Taking in summer boarders was then becoming popular, which Carrie adopted, for which she did the cooking and housekeeping in the big 13-room house along with milking the cows, tending the pigs and chickens, carrying the wood, planting, and harvesting the garden crops and all the things necessary to living in the country. Edgar Welch did the heavy work as long as he lived along with his employer, but it was Carrie that kept things moving.

But all was not work and drudgery for them in those days. There were frequent picnics on Sundays and on neighborhood or family occasions, at favorite pleasant spots in the woods or on the hilltops. At these gatherings Carrie would play her melodeon for singing, with Edgar adding his strong voice. Also, there was Jim Strout, a grandfather of Ina Witham. Called “Uncle Jim” by his many friends, who accompanied Carrie on his clarinet.

Following the death of his son, Cyrus, “Uncle Jim” never played his clarinet again except once a year when he went to a high point on Raymond Hill and played a memorial to his son, attended by sympathetic neighbors.

Carrie was also practical and inventive as well as active and ambitious. Women’s clothing of the day was not well adapted to physical labor, which she adequately solved by designing and making a form of long pants or pantaloons that enabled her to do those things not otherwise convenient, such as milking cows and navigating a wheelbarrow. Modern women have been liberated for some things, but Carrie was well ahead of her time in others.

She once tried to live in Portland with her son in her late years, but the confusion of the city was no substitute for the peace and quiet of Raymond with those she knew best. She soon returned to the town where she had spent all but the first childhood years.

Carrie lived a long and useful life, highly respected by her many friends until her death on June 28, 1952, at the age of 87. <

This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-655-4646.  

Friday, October 8, 2021

A matter of historical record: The Cumberland & Oxford Canal – the close of a great public enterprise

(Conclusion of a series)

By Walter Lunt

For over 40 years in the mid-19th century, the Cumberland & Oxford Canal followed the boundary of several towns in the Sebago Lake region, delivering trade and commerce to a wide frontier-like corridor devoid of economic prosperity. Its influence reached out into other settlements in both counties. By all accounts, it was a smart and successful venture, although unprofitable to stockholders, the canal company and some farmers along its route who suffered property damage and land acquisition.

The C. & O. was busiest, some historians would say prosperous, from its opening in 1830 to 1852 when toll collections reached over $16,000 – its highest year.

The threat that would eventually cast a death-knell on the canal arrived in Portland in 1842 – the railroad - a mere 12 years into the life of the canal. It was the Portland, Saco & Portsmouth Railway (shortly linking up to the Boston and Maine). This first rail line actually helped the canal, as it opened up an outlet for goods moving south; however, this new power-house of the Industrial Revolution represented a unique psychological impact which was best expressed by Prof. Joel Eastman in his early academic treatise, Carrying Commerce to the Countryside:

“The railroad came to symbolize economic progress – a role it was ideally suited for because the huge, iron, steam-powered engines running on iron rails seemed to epitomize…power and speed. The locomotive came to be viewed as the new cutting edge of economic growth and development. In contrast, the canal, with its small, slow, horse-drawn wooden boats seemed slow and old fashioned – more suited to the old pastoral era of the 18th century than to new urban industrial age of the mid-19th century”

It is a common misnomer that railroad transportation was cheaper, per mile, than canal shipping. As stated by Eastman, “…railroads were never less expensive than the canal, but they were faster and operated the year around (and on time), whereas the canal closed in the winter.”

By the 1850s, more railroad lines, including the Atlantic & St. Lawrence (later Grand Trunk) had moved into the region, and they did siphon cargo from the C. & O., which forced the canal company into bankruptcy. Unable to pay off its numerous loans from the Canal Bank, the 27-year-old canal was sold in 1857 to private interests for $40,000 (less than 20 percent of the original construction price of the canal).

The ultimate irony in this course of events is that in the year 1829, while the C. & O. was under construction, it was a canal company in New York that decided to import the first railroad engines to the U.S. (probably used to pull canal boats over high terrain). So, the machine destined to kill canal travel was introduced by a canal company.

The new owners of the C. & O. Canal in 1857 (a businessman and a lawyer/politician) had to come up with ways make it pay. Their ideas were novel and enterprising. But the Civil War and declining interest in the canal destined its doom. Among their proposals for future use: 1) channel drinking water from Sebago Lake to Portland; 2) conversion of the canal to a series of fish hatcheries; 3) establishing a narrow-gauge railroad on the towpath. An earlier idea, never realized, proposed cutting two-foot chunks of Sebago ice in winter, storing the hard water underground in sawdust, then shipping it down the canal for domestic use and shipping.

All ideas for reinventing the C. & O. Canal fell through, and efforts to sell it off fizzled. A portion of its footprint in Portland was sold for the construction of Commercial Street. Lumber and some manufactured items continued to ship on the canal, but heavy maintenance costs and low income caused it to descend into disrepair. The death knell came in 1868 when the Portland and Ogdensburg (New York) Railroad (later the Mountain Division of Maine Central) laid tracks that paralleled the canal all the way to the foot of Sebago Lake, and later to Sebago Lake Station. Now, there was little need for cargo to be canaled all the way to Portland for shipment. It was the end of the Cumberland & Oxford Canal. Official operations ceased in 1872.

The distinction of being the last canal boat captain to sail any portion of the Big Ditch, according to historian Herb Jones (Sebago Lake Land – 1949) goes to Lewis P. Crockett in the canal boat Arthur Willis “to the store and mill of Goff and Plummer at Middle Jam (North Gorham), about one mile from the entrance to the canal,” after which Mr. Crockett continued deliveries of apples on Sebago Lake.

Following the canal closure, the armada of canal boats (some had converted to steam) operated on Sebago and Long Lakes, hauling cargo and passengers to Sebago Lake Station to meet the train.

And there’s still another twist to our story. The Portland & Ogdensburg Railroad failed to make a profit and eventually leased operations to Maine Central Railroad.

There remain portions of the old C. & O. waterway that can still be seen today, the most conspicuous being the channel that crosses Route 35 in Standish just past the Presumpscot River. It has been raised and widened for use as a feeder stream to the Eel Weir Dam. Two other locations that seem to capture a vision of days gone by are at Babb’s Covered Bridge and at the remains of the Gambo Powder Mills in South Windham. Adjacent to a small parking lot on the Gorham side of Babb’s Bridge, there is a gully, grown in with trees and brush (sadly, often sullied with litter); this is the old canal bed. At Gambo Mills, a few hundred yards beyond the foot bridge going into Gorham, on the right, are the remains of the canal, still with water, and the towpath.

Third grade students, studying Windham history, hear the stories of the canal’s glory days from a tour guide and try to picture what it all must have been like. On one such visit a few years ago, one young visitor commented, “Wow, a lot sure happened here before I was born.” <

Friday, October 1, 2021

Sweet treats come to Raymond

By Ernest H. Knight

Ever since the late 19th or early 20th century, Raymond Village has been a mecca for tourists and summer visitors.

Along with the many advantages and attractions for them was refreshment to satisfy the summer palate in the form of homemade ice cream dispensed in the building that was used as a fishing tackle shop for years on Main Street in the village.

Several ice cream freezers like the one shown
were part of the original process of how ice 
cream was made and then sold in Raymond by
Daniel and Grace Mussey in the 19 century.
Built by Daniel and Grace Mussey, the buildings with a store on Maine Street with a dwelling in the rear and the very necessary ice house further behind that, were sandwiched between the old blacksmith shop, long since gone, and the Wharf Road.

Main Street at that time was the county road to Bridgton, later called Roosevelt Trail and Route 302. Wharf Road was the regularly traveled way from the village to the canal boat and steamboat landing built on the rocky shoal in front of Swan’s Island.

Before the days of minimum frontage lot sizes, village buildings were snuggled closely together, perhaps as a carryover from colonial days when closeness was a necessity for safety and survival. But with the towering elm trees through the village overshadowing the buildings, there was a charm and peacefulness in the combination that is now not as apparent.

Grace and Daniel built their shop for the sale of the ice cream that they made in the back room, together with homemade and commercial candies as well as novelty and souvenir items and a few necessities such as cigars and cut and plug tobacco. Also, Dan being the town barber kept an eye on two shops at once.

Ice cream that was made in the days before the invention of all the wonder chemicals and substitute food stuffs had to use natural ingredients – rich cream, fresh fruits and flavorings, without the solidifying sub-zero temperatures of mechanical refrigeration. Ice from the ice house, chipped and mixed with rock salt, provided the moderately low freezing temperatures and human muscle power provided the churning of the freezer that produced the soft texture for a tasty treat.

And so a part of the day’s ritual for travelers, for boarders at the nearby guest houses, and for the local gentry was apt to be a cooling dish of delicious homemade ice cream or a sweet.  

Later, the Mussey Ice Cream Parlor was taken over by Leta and John Leavitt, and the building and the business was expanded. A wide porch was added to the front and side to give more room for tables and provide comfortable relaxation on a hot summer day. While perhaps not equaling the “29 Flavors” made popular by the later Howard Johnson chain, there was a great variety of flavors, fruit and nutty mixtures and various toppings (all non-fattening of course) to suit at least some of the individual choices.

Natural ingredients were still the rule, but somewhere along the line, muscle power gave way to an engine-driven mixer, and after electricity came to Raymond in 1924, the acme of easy labor arrived with the electric motor that could be put to work with the mere flick of a switch.

The career of the building as a place of gastronomical refreshment ended with its years as a quick lunch emporium operated by Arnold Knox, where ice cream was still on the bill of fare, but now of the more prosaic commercial variety. It was colder and perhaps less apt to drip, but not the delectably rich, smooth and satisfying product of previous days.

For those who, along with the ice cream, appreciated local atmosphere, there was next door the old blacksmith shop of Irving (Scott) Morton with its flame-belching forge, the clang of a hammer on anvil and the pungent odor of hoof as the red-hot shoe was applied for a better fit as a horse or an ox was prepared for its work. And if the wind was right, perhaps a garnish of soft coal soot from the forge chimney in lieu of chocolate sprinkles crowning the topping. <

This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-655-4646.  

Friday, September 24, 2021

A matter of historical record: The Wolfman of the Cumberland & Oxford Canal and an account of a headless horse – more stories and legends

Part seven of a series

By Walter Lunt

Although hard to imagine today, over a century and a half ago, and for about 40 years, a canal measuring 30-feet across and just shy of 4-feet deep wound its way through Windham and Gorham on the westerly side of the Presumpscot River between North and South Windham. Boats, 60-feet long and loaded down with merchandise weighing many tons, were pulled by horses as they proceeded at a walker’s pace, occasionally being raised or lowered through locks.

The Wolfman of the Cumberland &
Oxford Canal. His hideous appearance
precluded daytime activity, so to survive
he robbed canal boats by night.
Drawing by Hannah Bowker, age 14,
of Windham.  

The canal enterprise added a special nuance to the culture of the neighborhoods through which it passed. Children, in particular, were fascinated by the big boats, the cargo and especially the men who maneuvered them. Crews that steered, sailed and poled the ungainly looking vessels tended to be high spirited, outspoken and tough. Most worked seven to 10 days at a stretch and were, at times, short-tempered with inattentive crewmen, bank cave-ins or slow (or absent) lock tenders. After all, time was money. Late shipments could affect shipping schedules at Portland harbor or hold up production at various mills along the Presumpscot. Still, there was always time for a friendly wave or a trumpet blow for children who had paused their play to greet the passing fresh-water ships.

Horns, whistles, conch shells or trumpets were familiar sounds along the “big ditch,” as they were used to alert lock tenders of an approaching canal boat. Residents along the route were also accustomed to the shouts of the canal boat captain as he bellowed orders to crewmen. There was also the flurry of activity when horse-drawn wagons pulled in and out of neighborhoods to meet the boats that had stopped at local wharves. Men with loud voices scurried to load or unload cargo, such as the one located near the South Windham/Little Falls bridge (Note Towpath Road at that location which follows roughly the path used by hoggies – young men who led the horses pulling the canal boats).

At nightfall, tired and sometimes disgruntled canalers would frequent taverns that lined the route of the C. & O. Canal, sometimes resulting in loud liquor-induced altercations, replete with inglorious language that spilled out into streets. In Portland, deep water sailors from the tall-masted sloops and schooners would spot canalers at Broad’s Tavern and begin shouting “Fresh water sailors from the raging canal.” The taunting would inevitably lead to a boisterous full-scale brawl.

Most boat crews, however, spent their evenings in more sedate surroundings. Night travel on the waterway was prohibited. Boatmen would drop anchor, stable their horse at a boarding house and enjoy a meal and a comfortable place to sleep. Others would catch and cook trout from the canal, boil potatoes and dandelion greens on the stove in the small, square cabin at the stern of the boat where they would also sleep.

In late August of 1859, a writer for the Bridgton Reporter newspaper traveled the C. & O. Canal from Bridgton to Portland aboard the canal boat Green Lake. Notes from his log-book recorded the start of his voyage back “up” the canal:

“Leaving Portland, the scenery becomes beautiful – fair cottages, elegant mansions half hidden by the rich foliage; green lawns sloping down to the water’s edge, where the willow and other shrubs bend gracefully down and are reflected in the glassy surface of the Canal; little boats drawn upon the bank; the many bridges; the view of some distant village; the occasional appearance of a canal boat…At one place we pass a host of naked urchins bathing in the canal – all comprise to form a picture seldom surpassed.”

Farther on, upon leaving the canal at Sebago Basin, the writer described what seemed to be a perilous lake crossing:

“The waves ran high and our boat tipped sideways to a fearful extent, as ever and anon a big wave dashed over the deck; but our little vessel ploughed gallantly through the waters under the guidance of our skilled helmsman; while the faint light of the moon aided in making the scene of unusual grandeur…the dark outline of the opposite shore (appeared) around 9 o’clock (and) we ran safely into the mouth of the Songo. (Here) the scene changed as if by magic – no sound of wind and waves…but a death-like stillness.”

Entry from Sebago Pond into the Songo River was notorious for the change of atmosphere and scenery. The poet, Henry W. Longfellow, describing the river’s tricky twists and turns and its umbilical hitch to Sebago and Long Ponds, penned these words following his journey on a canal boat:

Nowhere such a devious stream,
Save in fancy or in dream,
Winding slow through bush and brake
Links together lake and lake.

Two of the most peculiar stories from C. & O. Canal days involve a “headless” horse and a Wolfman (not the New York disc jockey type):

Before night travel on the canal was banned around 1835, passengers and crews were aware of nocturnal animals following the boats on the waterway. Passengers and crew reported seeing eyes reflected from the bush, following the progress of the boats. Big cats, known variously as cougars, mountain lions or catamounts, in search of a meal, were usually stalking the horse as it slowly pulled the floating cargo along the 20-mile channel.

The Bridgton newspaper writer recorded a story he heard from a crewman during his journey on the canal. His log-book entry read:

“Mr. Plummer (the crewman) who had had long experience as a voyager, related many thrilling stories of the adventures of the Canal when boating was in its infancy, how he and others had been followed by catamounts and being met by other wild beasts; how boat crews had been frightened and fled in the cabins. One night while following the horse on the towpaths, seeing a horse without a head coming towards (them) bearing some fearful monster on its back.”

And then there’s the story, both fascinating and tragic, of the Wolfman of the Cumberland & Oxford Canal.

Irish immigrants were largely responsible for construction of the canal in the late 1820s. After completion, many were left homeless and destitute. Some moved on, a few even became canalers – one, the individual who would become known as the Wolfman, suffered horrible facial burns in a fire. Taunted mercilessly by children, he grew long hair and an unruly mustache and beard to hide his deformity. To ease pain and depression, the poor soul took to drink and stealing brandy and foodstuffs from moored canal boats at night. Some boat crews were aware of his thievery but chose to ignore it out of sympathy. The boat owners felt no such compassion and hired detectives to rout out the scoundrel. According to the legend, Wolfman broke his ankle in the midst of a robbery one night and escaped to his cave in Stroudwater, detectives in pursuit. A posse smoked him out and killed him. The Wolfman now resides in an unmarked grave somewhere at Stroudwater Cemetery.

Next time, the final installment of our series will examine the demise of the canal, and one man’s modern- day tribute to this intriguing era in regional history. <

Friday, September 17, 2021

An eventful baseball trip to Bridgton by canal boat

A canal boat converted to seam, like this vessel,
was grounded while taking a baseball team and
its supporters home from a game in Bridgton 
back to Raymond in 1904. The group was
rescued the next morning. COURTESY PHOTO 
By Ernest H. Knight

Shipwrecks anywhere in the world are now instant news everywhere, thanks to such modern aids as satellite communications and rapid air travel by various news media to the scene, but it was not many years past that even local events happened beyond the knowledge of those nearby.

The people of Raymond were once faced with the imagined possibility of a nautical emergency due to slow communication that turned out to be only a minor inconvenience though it did cause much concern to those involved on the scene and back at home. 

On Aug. 6, 1904, an excursion was arranged for a group of people from Raymond made up of the Raymond Red Stripe Baseball Team and supporters from both local families and summer vacationers from the many hotels and boarding houses in the area. A canal boat once used on the old Cumberland & Oxford Canal, still being used on Sebago and Long Ponds, and owned by the Crockett Family that had a sawmill, store and other enterprises on the Muddy River on the north shore on Sebago not far from the Songo River, was chartered to convey them to Bridgton for a baseball game.

In those days, baseball was a very popular activity with any respectable town having its own team to uphold its honor and public spirit, and enthusiasm ran high throughout the summer season. But with the roads of the day very poor and vehicles limited to horse and wagon, the main means of transportation was by boat on Sebago and its connecting waters, for which there were many boats left over from the canal days plus the newer steamboats for both passenger and freight transport, providing more comfort, speed and scenery to travel.

The Crockett canal boat, as were many others still in use, had been converted to steam power in addition to the two original sails to permit operation on somewhat of a schedule independent of the weather. As the weather that weekend was threatening, the group on board totaled only about 75, all carried on deck except for a few who might get into the tiny cabin along with the steam engine and its engineer.

The events of the day were a great success as the traveling team from Raymond defeated Bridgton by a wide margin and all was joyful as they started home after the game. Darkness came on early and travel through the winding and treacherous Songo River was slow so that when they emerged on Sebago, visibility was very poor.

From the mouth of the river to deep water there was a half-mile long channel that still had to be followed even though the level of Sebago had been raised. In the darkness, the craft grounded on the channel bank and remained stuck in spite of efforts of the captain and engineer to refloat, which suited the captain as the weather conditions and lack of navigational aids made running on the rocks while rounding Raymond Cape a real possibility.

Rowboats, presumably carried or towed by the canal boat but perhaps also provided by cottagers on the nearby shore, ferried the passengers to land. The women were taken into the cottages for shelter while the men made themselves as comfortable as possible on the beach with whatever means were at hand and cheered somewhat by a bonfire of driftwood. Totally out of contact with anyone except for the cottagers, Raymond seemed a long way off.

But four of the more resourceful undertook to walk to the first farm they could find where a horse and carriage were obtained and they drove on to Raymond, Paul Revere style.

Word spread quickly along the way and at Raymond Village to allay the fears of the families and the hotels waiting for the overdue travelers.

Now knowing where to go, a small steamer was dispatched to rescue the stranded group, which arrived back at the wharf about 6 a.m. Sunday morning. Those who were weary had part of Sunday to recover from that ordeal, and for some of those there was no doubt a need for explanation. <

This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-655-4646.   

Friday, September 10, 2021

A matter of historical record: Traditional and true stories, fascinating facts and the subculture created by the 50-mile route of the Cumberland & Oxford Canal

A C.&O. boat, converted to steam power, in the 1890s is shown
here at the rail depot at Sebago Lake Station. Captain Benjamin 
Knight (tall, bearded fellow at center of standing gentlemen) was
the grandfather of C. & O. Canal historian Ernest Knight.
Part six of a series

By Walter Lunt

Recent installments of this series discussed the origin and operation of one of the most advanced and celebrated engineering feats of 19th century Maine: the Cumberland & Oxford Canal.

In the next two parts of the series, we attempt to capture the life and times, and the subculture created by the 50-mile transportation corridor that stretched from the town of Harrison near Oxford County, to the seaport of Portland in Cumberland County. What follows, in no particular order, are some of those facts and stories.

The dug portion of the C. & O. Canal extending from Portland to Sebago Lake Basin, was approximately 20 miles long and, for most of the way, ran on the westerly side of the Presumpscot River. It passed through Little Falls Village (South Windham) and the farmland along River Road.

As a young boy living beside the canal in Little Falls, Ernest Bragdon would “go for rides” on the waterway by jumping onto a canal boat from the South Windham bridge, riding down to Horsebeef locks (Mallison Falls) and then hopping another boat back.

Although mainly a freighting operation, the canal boats would occasionally carry passengers, who would usually ride atop sacks of merchandise. Some would travel from Portland to Harrison, but it was more common to travel partial distances between neighborhoods. Some of the travelers paid a fee, others just hitched a ride. Many were pressed into service, helping to raise or lower masts for lake travel, or wield 20-foot poles during the trip on the Songo River. One passenger, lacking experience with the maneuver, described the task this way: “They have long poles with one end padded and the other pointed with iron. First placing the pole perpendicularly, they sent it with a quick motion to the bottom, then lean with their shoulders against the padded end and walk toward the stern as the boat moves along…We found upon trial that even this work required some practice, as we were unable to throw the pole to the bottom. When placed for us and we had walked to the end of the boat, we could not get it out of the mud again.”

Poling was also necessary when boats entered and exited locks, when moving across Sebago Basin from the canal headgate to White’s Bridge and when traversing a dug channel in Sebago Lake leading into the Songo River.

Once in operation, the canal’s sole source of income was tolls placed on the value of cargo moving through the locks. Sawed plank, boards and joists, for example, were assessed at 3-cents per thousand feet per mile and molasses at 2-cents a hogshead. In the five-year period from 1832 to 1836, users paid the canal corporation an average of $14,000 annually. The revenue went to pay the interest on loans secured from the Canal Bank and for upkeep and damage costs on the canal.

Repairs were never ending; they included flooding, cave-ins, vandalism and lock damage (malleable clay soil at Saccarappa and Stroudwater pressed against lock walls causing major damage). Where the canal cut across pasture land, the canal corporation was obligated to build fences, and when public roads were bisected, bridges had to be built – 13 in all.

In 1836, William Whitney submitted a claim for the value of his horse that drowned in the canal. Alley Hawkes, an ancestor of a well-known Windham farming family, placed a claim for damages to his horse and carriage after busting through what he insisted was weak planking on the bridge at Great Falls.

Following opening day of the canal in 1830, the 50-mile corridor became busy, even crowded, almost immediately. At its peak of activity in the 1840s and 50s, almost 150 boats plied its waters. Red-shirted captains and crews carried all manner of merchandise to and from Portland, and numerous wharves in between; wood products were the most common. The town of Portland, for example, burned about 20,000 cords of firewood a year. With the advent of the canal, transportation costs for cordwood were reduced from $4 per cord to one dollar. Other products flowing into Portland for local consumption or for shipment to foreign ports were lumber, shook and staves, farm products – especially apples (500 to 700 bushels per boatload) – powder kegs for the Gambo gunpowder mills, clapboard and shingles, and even shade trees to be planted around Portland, a municipality destined to be known as the “Forest City.” It was also not uncommon to see disassembled barns and other structures being transported from town to town for re-building. Granite slabs, quarried on Raymond Neck, were also hauled on the canal.

Products moving north into the Sebago hinterland included salt, sugar, chests of tea, coffee, ingredients for the manufacture of gunpowder at Gambo, molasses and rum by the hogshead, tobacco and certain dry goods.

Canal boats approaching each other, travelling in opposite directions, had to deal with tow lines getting crossed. The tow-horses, pulling the boats from the same tow path, also came face-to-face. The two boats were able to pass when one hoggie (person leading the tow horse) disconnected the tow rope and dropped it onto the tow path, clearing the way for the other horse to continue on. The “downstream” boat always had the right of way.

Next time, we’ll discuss the foils and frustrations of the crusty canal boat captains and crews. And we meet the tragic “Wolfman of the Cumberland & Oxford Canal. <