Friday, October 29, 2021

Legendary Ben Smith and the allure of Rattlesnake Mountain

By Ernest H. Knight

One of the early settlers in Raymond on Raymond Hill was Ben Smith, who came to the area from Dover, New Hampshire as a runaway boy in 1787.

On a trip to explore a nearby mountain, Smith found it infested with timber and common rattlesnakes and gave that spot its present familiar name.

Ben Smith, who came to Raymond Hill as a 
runaway boy in 1787, is credited with naming
Rattlesnake Mountain shown here. On a trip to explore
the mountain, Smith found it infested with timber and 
common rattlesnakes and later turned selling the snake's
venom into a liniment business. FILE PHOTO
The mountain was about five miles from his farm and Smith became famous in Maine for his business of peddling Rattlesnake Oil for rheumatic and neuralgic pains. 

As a sideline to farming, Smith’s business involved catching rattlesnakes, extracting their oil and venom, and then selling it locally and the Portland area for its therapeutic value as a liniment for rheumatism and anything else needing a sure cure.

To prove his product genuine, he carried live snakes with him on his travels and attracted attention by putting a live snake inside his shirt and letting it crawl around his body.

Smith was bitten at least once, and it was reported by his friends that he ultimately took on one of the characteristics of rattlesnakes in that his tongue constantly darted in and out of his mouth.

He had experimented to eliminate the hazards of his act by pulling out the snake’s fangs with the pincers he used in repairing his boots and apparently his research paid off as he lived to the age of 82, expiring in bed surrounded by a few of his reptilian pets.

Through overkill and forest fires, the rattlers eventually became extinct on the mountain and the last known capture of a rattlesnake in Raymond was reported at Webbs Mills about 1870.

Rattlesnake Mountain with its rocky terrain and once massive oak forests were a source of knee, stem, keel and other pieces required for building Maine sailing vessels. Rather than haul heavy and awkward timbers, forks and roots to the waterfront shipyards, patterns for needed shapes were brought to the mountain for the hewers to use in removing the excess material.

With a limited supply of suitable trees which nature could only make by 100 or more years of growth, it is fitting that the building of wooden ships was abdicated when the use of iron became popular for shipbuilding.

Another product of never-ending supply but of diminished demand is split granite building foundation for stones and walls. It was once an active business as it was split from boulders and ledges by hand with a hammer, rock drill and wedges.

The Berry Brothers, John, Charles, and George, who lived on Plains Road, were practitioners of this craft and who from their outcropping on Rattlesnake Mountain split all the stone wall surrounding Riverside Cemetery near their home. Split stone has since given way understandably to concrete, brick, and cement blocks though the glamour has been lost. <

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 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.