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Old Town House:

Pride of Place & Place of Pride

“Hmm. That little place on Route 9—it’s old, isn’t it? Is it some kind of meeting house? Wasn’t it a school?

Or a little church, or something? It’s not really near anything. What did people use it for?”

North Yarmouth’s Old Town House sits on a quiet stretch of road not far from the Royal River,

at the entrance to Old Town House Park. There hasn’t been much activity at this modest

19th- century structure for almost ten years, ever since Maine Preservation advised North

Yarmouth Historical Society against allowing public gatherings inside the building. Since then, Old

Town House has patiently endured engineers peering into its nooks and crannies and consultants

examining some alarmingly stressed roof timbers and ceiling supports. While we work to raise funds

to put Old Town House back into operation through moving and renovation, it’s a good time to

take a look at the long, rich history of North Yarmouth’s oldest surviving public building. This

special issue of the Gazette celebrates the history of Old Town House, and of North Yarmouth itself.

All material © North Yarmouth Historical Society. The North Yarmouth Gazette is published three times yearly and is a benefit of membership

in North Yarmouth Historical Society. We welcome suggestions, comments, contributions, and inquiries. Please direct all correspondence to NYHS,

10 Village Square Road, North Yarmouth, Maine 04097; nyhs1680@gmail.com Visit us at northyarmouthhistorical.org.

The GAZETTE 1


More Than 40 Years Ago...

North

Yarmouth

Historical

Society

Board of Directors

Katie Murphy, President

Sandy Burnell, Treasurer

Dixie Hayes, Secretary

Charles Bacall

Susie Doyle

Sandy Green

Mark Heath

Joy Malloy

Linc Merrill

Contact Info

NYHS, c/o NY Town Office

10 Village Square Road

North Yarmouth, Maine 04097

(207) 846-4379 (Pres.)

nyhs1680@gmail.com

northyarmouthhistorical.org

NYHS Archives

Walnut Hill Station

463 Walnut Hill Road

North Yarmouth

(also the home of North

Yarmouth Fire and Rescue)

Open 9 AM—12 noon, first

Saturday of each month

Information about town

history...your old house...your

road...family history...more!

For more info, call 846-4379.

NYHS is a member of Maine Archives

and Museums, a contributor to the

Maine Memory Network, and a grateful

recipient of grants from Maine

Historical Society’s Maine Community

Heritage Program and the MHRAB/

New Century Community Program.

During North Yarmouth’s Tricentennial year in 1980, Old Town House returned to its roots with a

reenactment of a Special Town Meeting, held at Old Town House on March 6, 1980. Town Selectmen

William Priest, M. Sandra Grover, and Scott Seaver, (photo, top left) presided, and “Major Robert

Hazelton of the Militia [in costume top right] arrested Pat Jackson from Yarmouth, who was wearing a red

coat and was suspected of infiltrating the meeting and spying on townspeople.“ The New Marblehead

Militia, a reenactment group, made an appearance complete with cannon.

From the Evening Express, March 7, 1980. Photos by Grace Hutchinson.

Sources consulted from the collections of North Yarmouth Historical Society:

• Pre-1849 and post-1849 Town Records collections

• Vertical file: obituaries, various subjects

• Diaries: Susie Sawyer, Ellen Marston Lawrence,

Samuel Sweetser

• Charlotte Lawrence, oral interview

• Ames, Pamela: “The Old Town House,” North

Yarmouth Gazette, v. II, Issue 4, Summer, 1976

• Baier, Ursula: Excerpts from Town Records (roads)

• Gerry, Sue: Early Yarmouth Schools, 1994

• Leighton, Nellie: Excerpts from Town Records

N

• Maule, Elizabeth Singer: Town of North Yarmouth, Maine

Inventory for Records, ca. 1681-1849

• Merrill, Linc: From Corner to Depot, © 2000, NYHS

Other sources:

• Diary of Isabel Hayes (private collection)

• Six Town Times (Maine Historical Society)

• Interviews with Dick Baston, Ginger Sawyer Collins,

Dot Freeman Hayward, Bill Hayward, Joan Tompson Labbe.

• Maineanencyclopedia.com; Ancestry.com

GAZETTE Writers through the years: Robert Appleby, Eric Austin, Hannah Austin, Charlie Bacall, Matt

Baier, Mary Bakke, Anne Bowdoin, Matti Bradley, Sue Clukey, Jill Copeland, Susie Doyle, Gordon Corbett,

Wayne Fordham, Ken Gallant, Dixie Hayes, Mark Heath, Holly Hurd, Karen Hutchinson, Tuck Irwin, Linc

Merrill, Tara Merrill, Katie Murphy, Everett Parker, Lorraine Smith, Norm Smith, Karen Stockmann, Shirley

Verrill, Bill Whitten, Kathy Whittier, Laurie Wood, Winty Woodbridge, Rob Wood, Kristi Wright.

2 The GAZETTE


North Yarmouth’s Old Town House: A History

Pride of Place

The birth of Old Town House really began 163

years ago in 1849 when, after years of squabbling, North

Yarmouth and Yarmouth parted ways. The separation story

itself is a fascinating tale, better told in another Gazette

article. For the purposes of this narrative, though, we can

start with the date of August 20, 1849, when the Maine

State Legislature approved the secession of Yarmouth from

North Yarmouth.

A few years ago in 2007, when Chebeague Island separated

from Cumberland, legislative approval was needed. It was the

same case back in 1849. The Maine State Legislature voted

to approved the secession of Yarmouth from North Yarmouth

in Chapter 264 of the 1849 Private and Special Laws, setting

most terms for the dissolution. Yarmouth was ordered to pay

North Yarmouth its share of taxes collected; the School Fund,

established in 1806, went to North Yarmouth; the boundary

between the two towns was established.

Haskell Rd.

GRAY

Gray Rd.

CUMBERLAND

(Rte. 115)

Mill Rd.

Lufkin Rd.

Walnut Hill Rd. (Route 115)

Thunder Rd.

New Gloucester Rd. (Route 231)

Parsonage

Rd.

Milliken Rd.

North Rd.

POWNAL

YARMOUTH

The Legislature also ordered a commission to be

appointed by Cumberland County to deal with several

other matters; one was to “estimate and determine the

Cluff Rd.

Hallowell Rd. (Route 9)

The Lane

When

Cumberland (1821)

and Yarmouth (1849)

split off from North Yarmouth,

property owners along the

new bounds had to choose their

town of residence, resulting in uneven

“zipper” lines along the southwestern and

southeastern borders of North Yarmouth.

Route 9

Sweetser Rd.

Route 115

West Pownal Rd.

ROYAL RIVER

Sligo Rd.

North Rd.

Royal Rd.

Mountfort Rd.

In the official record book of the new town, constable Barbour

B. Porter wrote that he had “duly notified and warned the

Inhabitants of the town to meet ... at North Yarmouth’s first Town

Meeting ...” This significant event required a ceremonial touch!

value of the town house;” then located at the fork between

West Main Street and Sligo Road. Yarmouth was told to

“pay to the town of North Yarmouth its proportion of the

sum … according to the valuation.” In a sense, this could

be seen as “seed money” for the eventual building of what

would become Old Town House.

North Yarmouth retained the name of the original 1680

plantation, an important distinction for the “Northers,” or

farmers, of our now inland town. (Merchants and shipowners

in the new town of Yarmouth were called “Southers.”)

Although coastal Yarmouth is the site of the original European

settlement, inland North Yarmouth was granted possession

of the original town record books including the Proprietors’

Records—a bound book of handwritten pages dating to 1681

and documenting the administration of Ancient North

Yarmouth, which comprised seven current-day towns. The

records were kept a large iron safe in Yarmouth’s town house.

The possession of these early bound record books

involved great responsibility. In 1849, the records were

initially taken to the Walnut Hill Meeting House (North

Yarmouth Congregational Church), although many were

probably kept by individual town officers. This, however,

wasn’t the perfect solution. North Yarmouth’s new town

officials needed to have a secure place to store the records,

and a real administrative center from which to govern.

For four years after its first Town Meeting on August

28, 1849, North Yarmouth meetings and planning sessions

jumped around between the Walnut Hill Meeting House,

the Methodist Meeting House on the West Pownal Road,

and, at one point, a private home—Charles Mitchell’s house,

according to the record book. It was here on September 23,

1852, that residents met and voted (Article 3) to build a town

The GAZETTE 3


But two weeks later, on November 15, 1852, the committee

reported on yet another offer of land, and Dunn’s proposal

was rejected. Instead, the record shows that residents voted

to approve a new town house location on land donated by

Enoch Morse, a farmer with 117 acres on Route 9, mostly

planted out in corn and oats. His house sat where the current

Untracked.com supply center (once Gillespie’s Farm Market)

is located.

North Yarmouth’s first town meetings

after 1849 were held at

the Walnut Hill Meeting House

(above), the Methodist Meeting

House (upper right), and at

the Mitchell home on the New

Gloucester Road, Route 231.

house. A committee of nine—one representative from each

of the town’s school districts—was appointed and ordered to

start planning.

Aside from the schoolhouses and the property on

which they sat, the new town owned no lots of land,

so it was up to the town to buy a plot or a resident to

donate a parcel. Of course, the latter was preferable.

The committee went to work and, on November

2, 1852, they reported that they had successfully

located a site. The minutes of the meeting record

that it was voted “to accept the proposal of James

Dunn to give the town a lot to build the Town

House on if the town saw fit to do it.”

East North Yarmouth vs. Walnut Hill

There is no written record of why James Dunn’s proposition

was abandoned—no discussion was recorded and James

actually passed away scarcely two months later, on December

31, 1852, leaving his two sons to divide up the farm and the

store/post office. Perhaps James kept a diary that could shed

light on this situation, but we don’t know if one exists.

The new location for the town house, farther away from

a center of business and transportation, seems like an odd

Dunn lived and ran a prosperous enterprise,

Dunn’s Depot, at the North Road/Route 9 intersection,

at what was quickly becoming the heart of

the village of East North Yarmouth. The property

offered by Dunn was likely at this location.

Central to Dunn’s Depot were the tracks of the

Atlantic & St. Lawrence Railroad (later Grand

Trunk), which had come through in 1849, on land

purchased from Dunn. By 1852, the train offered

twelve daily stops to pick up and deliver passengers,

mail, and freight. From the Depot one could catch

a stagecoach and ride north to Pownal Center and

Durham or travel by boat on the Royal River to

Yarmouth. The Depot boasted a store and a post

office (James Dunn, postmaster), a district school,

and farms and houses at or near the road intersection.

Dunn’s would have been an excellent location, at a

developing commercial center with transportation

connections to Yarmouth, Portland, and beyond.

Above: Looking out at Dunn’s Depot from the store and post office. The photo was

taken on July 4, 1892. Tracks leading to the left went into Yarmouth. Below: Enoch

Morse’s place around 1900, then the Sawyer farm. Like other connected farmhouses,

the original structure was probably a one-story ell. Above photo courtesy Linc Merrill

4 The GAZETTE


choice. What caused the town to choose Morse’s land over

Dunn’s? Perhaps, after some wrangling, the decision was a

compromise between the town’s two villages.

The Royal River bisects North Yarmouth and, on

either side, two villages developed. East North Yarmouth

was literally east of the Royal River, with schools, the

Methodist Church, and a growing business/rail center

at the North Road/Route 9 intersection. Walnut

Hill, west of the Royal and three miles distant, had

its own schools, the Walnut Hill meeting house, and

a commercial center at Routes 9/115—although the

railroad would not come to Walnut Hill until 1870. Each

village had developed its own separate identity over time:

[b]y the 1890s, feelings of pride and competition

caused newspaper articles to refer to residents

from the other village as being “from away.” This

continued on into the 1920s when the Memorial

Highway was created with monuments at either

end, in both villages .... because townspeople

would not agree to place a traditional monument

in one village to the exclusion of the other!

—Hurd and Merrill, Around North Yarmouth

These days, we give little thought to crossing bridges that

span the Royal River on the New Gloucester Road (Route

231) and the Hallowell Road (Route 9). But in 1852, roads

were rough and high water or heaving ice could wreck a

bridge. Crossing the Royal to get to the town house can’t

have been a popular with Walnut Hill residents.

And so, a compromise was struck. Even though savvy

businessman James Dunn almost sealed the deal for East

North Yarmouth, apparently cooler (or hotter!) heads,

probably from Walnut Hill, prevailed at the November 2,

1852 meeting. The Morse land was chosen, a location that

avoided a river crossing for Walnut Hill, but was closer to

East North Yarmouth’s village.

Oral tradition has always referred to Old Town House as

sitting at “the geographic center of North Yarmouth.” This is

probably not the primary reason for picking the Morse site, but

the concept could have helped convince the unconvinced.

There were still rumblings. A year later, at the April 25,

1853 Town Meeting, construction on the town house still

hadn’t begun and the Warrant included an article “to see if the

town will authorize the committee … to set the [town house] at

or near the center of travel—said committee being authorized

to ascertain as near as can be to the center of travel.”

Again, no discussion is recorded, and all we know is that

both articles were dismissed—with irritation, I’m sure! The

construction of the Town House was finally on track.

Top: The Town House in Yarmouth, originally built in 1833. It once stood next

to the two brick schoolhouses at the Sligo Road/Main Street intersection.

Above: The North Yarmouth Town House in a pre-1900s photo.

Finally, a Time to Build

Supervising the Town House construction were Reuben

Humphrey, Barbour B. Porter, and Benjamin Cole. Their

instructions were that the building contract be awarded to

the lowest bidder and that “said house [was] to be placed on

stone posts,” that it “be completed by Sept. 1, 1853…[and]

a suitable fireproof safe in said house [be built] of brick or

stone”—for storage of the town records.

The builders no doubt started during the summer or fall of

1853. The construction was simple and spare, very similar to

Yarmouth’s Town House. No front porch; that would come

more than half a century later. brick room with a heavy iron

door for records storage was included. This small Town House

serviced the town’s population of just over 1,000.

It must have been a proud day on March 27, 1854, when

Town Meeting was held for the first time in the new town

hall.

The GAZETTE 5


Town Meetings

The Town House was used by selectmen and other town

officials, but was probably at its busiest during Town Meeting

day. North Yarmouth’s meetings were always held in March,

so ordered of all towns by the Massachusetts General Court

(our colonial legislature) in 1691.

Horse-drawn carts and wagons would have crowded the

yard. Town meetings, then as now, could be long, drawn-out

affairs, and, while residents discussed and debated, animals

stood out in the cold. In 1879, hitching posts were set for

horses, and the animals were truly given relief from the

weather sometime after the 1924 Town Meeting. Selectman

Bert Lawrence had assembled a team of volunteers to construct

horse sheds using materials that came from the old Sligo Road

schoolhouse in the preceding year, and he was recognized at

Town Meeting for his efforts. It was ordered that the men who

labored on the construction of the sheds be paid.

Ironically, the automobile was on a rapid rise throughout

the country in the 1920s. A growing number of residents

owned the contraptions, but horses still worked farmland

and provided transport.

The Scene

We can tell from early town records that Town Meetings

were often well-attended events, falling at a time when

winter weather prevented most outdoor farm work, and

gatherings of any sort, social or business, were especially

welcome. Dick Baston, who was born in North Yarmouth in

1927, recalls that there were often spontaneous “caucuses”

on the porch behind the Town House, when one or more

attendees strolled outside with a bottle in his pocket during

a break in the proceedings.

Men attended, mostly; any mention of Town Meeting

by Ellen Marston Lawrence in her journals (1868 to 1932)

notes only that her male family members went to Meeting.

Women gained the right to vote in 1919, so it’s unlikely they

were welcome before then, anyway. It has only been within

the last seventy years that women were represented at the

town’s administration, beginning with Asenath York, Town

Clerk from 1946–1963.

Isabel Hayes (1887–1965) served as a ballot clerk for many

years and had quite a lot to say about Town Meeting in her

voluminous diary, now in the possession of her granddaughter

Dixie Hayes. On Monday, March 9, 1959, she wrote: “Town

Meeting day and our first crack at the Australian ballot

system thanks to some crackpot at last year’s meeting. I don’t

How They Did it in Freeport

from the Six Town Times, Dec. 1, 1892

The Town Meeting was called for Saturday Nov. 26,

called out a large crowd, mostly noisy boys and

decided farmers. The town clerk called the meeting

to order and the warrant read. Hon. J.C. Kendall was

chosen moderator.

The article to see if town would instruct selectmen

to pay $700 to Electric Light Co. was read, when a

farmer rose and made a motion to dismiss the article.

This motion was lost by a vote of 126 to 137.

Several motions were then made to see how they

should vote on this article, but the noise of the boys

prevented any business. The boys were hollering all

the time, and some men were not slow. Tax collector

went round and collected poll-taxes from many.

Remarks by Hon. E. B. Mallets, Jr. against the town laying

out money at present for such purposes. Remarks

by gentlemen from Portland in favor of it. Finally the

constable arose and made the startling statement that

the meeting was not legal as the notice had not been

posted long enough, whereupon the entire crowd

vanished to await the expiation of time of calling a

legal meeting.

remember who but if I have him pointed out today I’ll tell

him what I think of him … I dread this day … from 1 o’clock

to who knows what time in the evening.” (Between 1954

and 1971, residents cast their ballots on Town Meeting day

from 1 PM on, and the meeting itself started at around 7 PM.)

Despite her previous comments, Isabel notes the next day

that “Dwight Verrill’s wife Patricia cast the first vote under

the new Australian system. A very good meeting all in all,

was home just before midnight with 136 ballots cast.”

Discussions could last for a good part of the day as participants

made careful decisions about how to spend precious tax

dollars, and reading the warrants and minutes gives the sense

of some painfully long debates. “Putting in a culvert would be

good for half an hour,” laughs Dick Baston. “And if there was

disagreement, well, there’d be a secret ballot.” At that point,

he said, everybody would be called to vote. This would include

the three or four women who contributed to Town Meeting by

providing a meal during the midday break in the proceedings.

6 The GAZETTE


They would stop their bean dinner preparations in the kitchen

and would come cast their ballots.

Hearty food was necessary. The weather often played a

big part in Town Meeting. March weather could howl, and

Isabel’s diary recalls details of blizzards, heavy winds, and

whiteouts. On the morning of that 1959 town meeting,

Isabel says that “I am very sure that I came out of hibernation

a little early. 10 degrees when I got up, and at 9 AM only

about 20 degrees and snowing hard.” Three years earlier, on

March 17, she records “20 inches of snow in some parts of

Maine, and I guess that’s us … the kids were bug-eyed with

excitement. Went to bed by kerosene lamplight. Certainly

was a humdinger, lots of accidents.” All this was nothing new:

On March 9, 1931, Ellen Lawrence wrote that “They had the

Town meeting, not so many out as usual. They went over

the road with the tractor and down through our dooryard …

couldn’t get through the drifts …”

Accoutrements and Activities

After its construction, the Town House was outfitted and

residents were paid for its care and maintenence. Receipts

through the years note payment for maintaining the wood

floor, mowing the grounds, painting, supplying stove wood,

filling oil lamps, repairs, and supplying janitorial services

(billed to the town by Chester Lawrence, 1937). Supplies

were bought, too, and Dick Baston commented that

selectmen tried to be fair in their purchases by patronizing

businesses in both Walnut Hill and East North Yarmouth!

Charlotte Lawrence 1908–2003, niece of Chester,

remembered the Town House in a 1977 interview. There

were “unpainted wooden benches with sawdust on the floor.”

Spittoons were placed around the room. Oil lamps were set

in brackets along the walls, and there was a woodstove in the

corner.

The stove was vented by a chimney in the building’s large,

open room (see photo, p. 5). Sometime later, the Town House

was altered and the front section of the building was walled

off, creating a selectmen’s office to the left and a kitchen to

the right. Two corresponding chimneys were installed for

stoves to warm the crowd during those cold March meeting

days. Dick Baston remembers that these stoves had to be well

fed. “I’d go to Meeting with my father, when I was a boy of 10

or so, and I’d be underfoot. ‘Go get a stick of wood,’ he’d say

to me. That would be my job.”

On election day, voting booths were set up in the main

hall, Charlotte remembered. She recalled casting her first

vote at age 21 at the Town House in 1929.

Dick Baston recalls

that the town

always tried to be

fair by purchasing

from both East

North Yarmouth

and Walnut Hill

businesses.

In 1923 it was decided to “allow the Selectmen to let the

Town Hall to such parties and for such occasions and for

what price they judge to be right.” As a result, said Charlotte,

many lively events were held at the Town House—card

parties, dances, and minstrel shows. From an insurance bill

dated 1924, we know that the Town House was outfitted

with a piano!

Susie Sawyer lived next door in the former Chase house

with her parents Herbert and Minnie and four siblings. In

a 1937 diary, she records going to the movies at the Town

House several times during the summer. Horror and drama

were on the bill—she and “Millie Millard and Mary and Ed”

saw the 1934 Black Cat with Béla Lugosi and Boris Karloff. The

Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923, with Lon Chaney Sr.) was

shown on another night. Dot and Bill Hayward remember that

George Crichton ran the projector for Town House movies.

But of course, the Town House’s purpose was for official

business. Selectmen and other town officials used it as an

office, although in later years this was somewhat sporadic

and dependent on where they lived. According to town

historian Ursula Baier, Tax Collector and Treasurer Ernest

Allen and Town Clerk Carle Henry worked from their

The GAZETTE 7


homes in the 1960s. Since early times, active or current

records were often kept with the Town Clerk or Treasurer

in his or her home. Dick Baston remembers that selectmen

would meet for several days before Town Meeting to get

everything organized and this would often be done at each

others’ houses. “They’d be here, sitting around the dining

room table,” he says; Dick’s father Harold was a selectman at

one time; his grandfather served as town treasurer. In earlier

years Selectman Bert Lawrence spent much time at the Town

House; he lived nearby on North Road. Bert’s father James

Lawrence was often at the Town House on town business,

and he attended North Yarmouth Mutual Fire Insurance

meetings there. We know this from the diary of his wife,

Ellen Marston Lawrence. Samuel Sweetser, in his 1889–1891

diary, also records his attendance and both Fire Insurance

and School Fund meetings.

Still Not Happy

The Town House was in regular use, but around the turn of

the century some were still not happy with its location—and

it’s very possible that it had something to do with the roads.

Few roads were consistently good in pre-asphalt days, but

Route 9, not completely paved until the 1950s, could be

particularly bad. Walnut Hill residents traveling north along

Route 9 to the Town House would be on a downward slope

after the crest of the hill passing through the current Toddy

Brook Golf course. (The railroad overpass was not built until

1911.) Walnut Hill resident Sam Sweetser records in March

1890 that “The county road from Railroad [Route 9] is about

as bad as it can well be, deep mud, and very sticky.” ... [Route

115 from Gray] is very muddy but not nearly as bad as the

town house way…”

Coming from East North Yarmouth, residents had to

contend with crossing the bridge over the Royal River

to get to the Town House, and that was often extremely

problematic. “Big flood,” recorded Ellen Lawrence on March

1, 1896. “Rained hard all day. … Bert and Chet went up with

the boat and carried people across the river. Road bridge by

the station gone.” Town Meeting that year was a little more

than a week later, on March 9. Was there enough time to get

any kind of bridge back up by then?

Like any building that had to weather Maine winters, the

Town House also had its share of maintenance costs. Early

town reports often cite the cost of maintaining the town’s

school buildings; the town house was another public building

demanding taxpayers’ money for stove wood, oil lamps,

supplies, and upkeep. Voters were asked every few years to

The Six Town Times was a sixcolumn,

eight-page weekly

“devoted to local news of

the six towns which anciently

comprised the towns of North

Yarmouth, Cumberland,

Pownal, Yarmouth, Freeport and

Harpswell.” The newspaper was

published from November 3,

1892 until September 29, 1916

by Libby & Smith in Portland,

selling for $1.50 per year.

Charles Thornton Libby was

the editor, “a most industrious,

enterprising and persevering

man.” (Report of the Maine Press

Association,1884)

Other local newspapers of the

era include the Cumberland

Globe (1877–1880), published

by Cumberland resident

George Blanchard and George

B. Bagley; and F. E. Merrill’s

Freeport Sentinel (1889 to

1892). Both papers were

merged with the Six Town Times

with the June 17, 1898 issue.

authorize repairs on the Town House and, although money

was sometimes raised, it was also recorded that voters often

turned down expenditures of larger sums of money for repairs.

Irritation over the Town House’s condition and its location

again seems to have come to a head at the March 12, 1900

Town Meeting. Voters were asked to decide whether the

town should “repair Town House or build new” and “change

location of the Town House.” The idea was to rebuild closer

to the Route 9/North Road intersection, adjacent to the

Dunn’s Depot Post Office.

The final vote that day gave thumbs up for a new Town

House, with $2,000 to fund its construction, but thumbs

down on moving it closer to Dunn’s Depot.

As in 1852, some were not happy with this decision. Two

weeks later, a special town meeting was called to consider a

8 The GAZETTE


new proposal: to build the new town house “on land of Horatio

Hamilton, nearly opposite the house of S.C. Loring, the lot to

extend from New Gloucester Road to the Hallowell Road.”

In other words—in Walnut Hill.

No diaries have been found that give an idea of the

disagreement. The Six Town Times gives some cursory mention

of the debate, but no more than that. The official record gives

less! Without any eyewitness accounts it’s hard to know just

what went on at that meeting, but we can assume there were

more than a few angry words, judging from the motion made:

to overturn the $2,000 expenditure for a brand new Town

House and to cancel all other ideas about repairing the existing

building OR moving it away from its present location.

The final vote was 96 yeas and 54 nays. East North

Yarmouth had prevailed; the Town House’s granite supporting

posts, it might be imagined, burrowed themselves a little

deeper into the soil!

Updating and Upkeep

For the next several town meetings, any article that dealt

with repairing the Town House was promptly dismissed.

Finally, in 1914, a Town House Committee composed of local

contractor A. E. (Albert) Hodsdon and the Selectmen—A.

L. Dunn, J. M. Prince, and E.M. Lombard—were appointed

to “investigate” building a new Town House. But at the 1915

Town Meeting voters postponed any action on this idea and

instead allocated $100 to shingle the building.

Starting in the summer of 1917 through 1924, there was a

flurry of activity, and the Town House was renovated. After a

1918 presentation of a plan by Albert Hodsdon, the town raised

$400 for repairs ($9,000 in current dollars). Old furniture was

disposed of. Windows were revamped; a new one was installed

in the gable end. The abandoned Sligo Road schoolhouse

was moved to the Town House lot and its materials were used

to construct the Town House’s horse sheds. (The District #9

schoohouse known as the Washington School, located across

from 881 Sligo Road, had closed in 1903.)

The Selectmen were directed in 1918 to “procure a Roll

of Honor for those men that have been called to the service

from this town [to] be framed and hung in the Town Hall

and … a copy of the Roll of Honor be given to the Town

Clerk ...” If this was done, it has not survived. But instead

(or in addition to) this idea, a committee was formed to raise

funds for developing a North Yarmouth Memorial Highway,

the stretch of Route 9 between Walnut Hill and East North

Yarmouth that stands today as a unique remembrance to the

town’s veterans.

In 1923 the Selectmen’s office was finished off, and the

modern administrative center of the town was now nicely

updated. This was the last extensive work done until 1943

when the building was altered to accommodate schoolchildren,

and until 1976 when North Yarmouth Historical Society

volunteers restored the interior to its 1920s appearance.

The modern era arrived at the Town House on June

28, 1931, when Henry G. Rogers installed electric lights.

Electricity for the town’s schoolhouses, however, was voted

down at Town Meeting that year! It was finally done in 1936.

Town Records

The town turned its attention to the care of its old records

in 1919. Possibly, this was the result of some urging by

Edward Loring after a scare. An undated newspaper clipping

noted that “Town Clerk E. D. Loring says that in the recent acts

of vandalism connected with the town house at North Yarmouth

none of the town records were destroyed. Other papers and articles

were damaged by the vandals, but the town clerk’s records were

not disturbed. This statement is a very important one, because

many historical facts connected with the early history of six towns

are determined by the early records of old North Yarmouth …”

These early records refer to late 17th and 18th century

bound volumes, including the Proprietors’ Records. Since

the Town House’s “brick safe [was] beginning to leak &

door needs repair” it was voted in 1923 to spend $500 on

a “modern” safe for the most valuable records, probably to

Loring’s great relief. (Edward Dafforne Loring served as

Town Clerk for 50 years until his death at age 81 on February

13, 1923.) The brick safe was demolished and in its place

a “ladies” dressing room” was constructed.This area is now

the kitchen; no sign remains of any brick construction.

A great deal of loose receipts, voters lists, election results,

tax records, and notes had also been kept over the years. At

the end of a certain period of time, and/or at the end of their

tenure, clerks would bundle up the records with strips of paper

as wrappers. Each wrapper was given a date and notes about

the contents. These were all packed in boxes and stored in

the Town House attic. More about these papers later.

Around 1933, the Works Progress Administration (WPA)

inventoried the town records, sorting them and putting

them into wooden boxes. They rebound one early volume;

some typescripts were created. They also uncovered many

items not known to exist, including a letter from Thomas

Jefferson. This document unfortunately disappeared in the

1960s. However, thankfully, WPA workers had carefully

photographed the letter.

The GAZETTE 9


School Days

In 1942 School Superintendent Rolf Motz proposed that

students in the upper grades be grouped together in the

Town House to try to solve overcrowding in the town’s oneroom

schools. The town granted the School Commission

permission to do so, starting with grade 8. By 1948, grades 7

and 8 were also meeting in the Town House.

Students at the “Town Hall School” shared the building

with North Yarmouth selectmen, who occupied the small

room at the front of the building for town business. For eight

years school and town administration shared space until

the big day in 1950 when the North Yarmouth Memorial

School opened its doors. Finally, all of North Yarmouth’s

schoolchildren from four one-room schoolhouses and the

Town House were gathered under one roof.

The new school building was so modern, warm, and wellequipped

that it was proposed that the town offices be moved

there. But this idea was turned down by the electorate and

instead, more money was raised at Town Meeting to make

repairs to the Town House. In fact, voters even decided to

buy a new safe for the town records in 1952.

A Quiet Time

With the schoolchildren gone, the Town House was a quiet

place once again, although some extracurricular groups found

a home there. Starting in the fall of 1946, North Yarmouth

Girl Scouts began meeting after school at the Town House.

Dot Hayward remembers that she convinced her mother,

Madelyn Freeman, and Mrs. DeRoche to start the troop since

girls from North Yarmouth didn’t have one of their own and

had to go to Yarmouth. Other leaders were Minnie Long, a

Dunn School schoolteacher, and Marion Reed, who farmed

Spring Brook Farm along with her husband Norman.

The Scouts practiced cooking, tobogganed down the steep

slope behind the Town House, played baseball in the side

yard, and hiked to Bradbury Mountain.

The Town House’s major function was finally taken away

when the last town meeting was held there on March 11,

1957. The following year, on March 10, 1958, Town Meeting

moved to the newly completed Wescustogo Grange Hall.

The inevitable move of the town’s administrative presence

from East North Yarmouth to Walnut Hill began this year.

East North Yarmouth had become a quiet place after

World War II. The depot store and post office had closed

in 1943 and the railroad ceased its stops. The automobile

brought mobility, and people took their business and activities

elsewhere. In contrast, Walnut Hill had a small commercial

center including, for a time, a post office. The Grange

provided a social life to the town’s farming population. The

Congregational Church and the school were close by. The

Town House continued to serve as North Yarmouth’s town

office but since the town’s population and the responsibilities

of its officials were growing, and it was clear that the Town

House, with its now truly isolated location and constant

repair needs, was becoming obsolete.

Decline

Its obsolescence became a reality at a special town meeting

on October 23, 1967, when voters made the big decision

to move ahead on plans for a new municipal building. In

June 1968 the building committee was ordered to draw up

specifications, and by early fall construction had begun.

By Town Meeting in March, 1969 it was reported that the

building would be done that year “as weather permits.” North

Yarmouth was on its way into the modern age.

And now there was another decision to be made: What

was to be done with the soon-to-be “Old” Town House?

Carle Semmes suggested that the building be remodeled into

a town garage at little expense. Instead, the selectmen “voted

to turn [the Town House] over … for use as a Boy Scout, Cub

Scout, Girl Scout, and Four-H center. We have hope … that

these kids will turn this into something to be proud of.”

For the next few years, it appears that some in town worked

mightily to turn Old Town House into a Youth Center. In

1971 $300 was appropriated for “repair and maintenance

of the Youth Center,” and a committee—Robert Dorr,

Thomas Golding, John Sloat, John Ames, Ernest Allen,

Kenneth Allen, Fulton Brown, Merle Campbell, and Cedric

Brackett—was appointed to oversee its use.

From 1972 to 1975, the Center had mixed success. Lack

of leadership for Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts was a great

disappointment, as was the lack of “facilities” at the old

building! The Royal River Snowmobile Club installed some

rudimentary toilets, but it doesn’t appear they were long-lived.

Vandalism in 1974 resulted in “over 40 glass panes (broken)

and front door broken in.” This seems to have knocked the

wind out of the Youth Center committee and occupants,

because there are no further reports of their activities.

Beyond a new rear exit installed in 1948 “to meet State

fire laws,” thanks to the initiative of the newly formed North

Yarmouth Fire Company, the Town House’s recent renovations

had been no more than utilitarian.

10 The GAZETTE


Old Town House in 1976. Although

it had suffered from neglect in recent

years and looked at its worst in these

photos, its “bones” still showed it as

a beautiful old building.

Partitions had been put up to box in the toilets, and

sewer pipes ran to a septic tank. An oil-burning heating

system installed in 1961—acquired as government

surplus for $37—heated the building, but no one would

call it elegant. A utilitarian boiler with huge 12-inch

heating ducts suspended by wires from the ceiling filled

the entire front room opposite the selectman’s office,

which was heated by smaller oil-burning stove; both

units were fueled by an underground oil tank.

The selectmen’s office was outfitted with rudimentary

furniture. A safe and shelving containing some reference

books and other material remained, but most of the town’s

early bound record books, other volumes, and a collection

of papers had made their way to the new town office.

In 1961-1962, an investigative committee of Neal York,

Maurice Hayes, and Elizabeth Woodward took a look at the

remaining loose records in the attic, reporting on “numerous

boxes in various states of preservation.” As a result, the papers

were placed in 24 labeled metal filing cases (docket boxes)

and stored in one of two huge iron safes in the Town House.

They also announced that the best way to preserve the town’s

reports might be to “procure steamer trunks or something of

that nature and place them in a Bank Vault” and it was voted

to raise $100 for “preserving old town reports.”

In 1968, the planning committee for the new municipal

building included a vault in their list of requirements for

the new building, and a small room was constructed for

that purpose. Records were gathered from the homes of

selectmen, the town treasurer, the town clerk, and from the

two Town House safes. According to John Ames Sr., the safes

were so big that the door casings had to be removed from the

selectman’s office to get them out!

North Yarmouth Historical Steps In

Ongoing efforts to preserve the town records by a highly

motivated group of volunteers—long time residents and

newcomers alike—led to the founding of North Yarmouth

Historical Society (NYHS) in March 1975. Both the town’s

written record and its architectural heritage were high on the

The GAZETTE 11


list of priorities, so it was no wonder that

the alarm went off for NYHS when, at the

March 13, 1976 Town Meeting, a warrant

article was proposed “to see if the town will

authorize the Board of Selectmen to sell or

dispose of the Old Town Hall ...”

Some in town felt that the neglected

building was obsolete and probably beyond

repair; it was suggested that it be destroyed

by pushing it over the edge of the slope

created by the Royal River-associated

landslide of the 1830s.

Fortunately, the idea of losing what

they knew was an integral part of North

Yarmouth’s history galvanized the newly

formed historical society and a group of

residents, especially Nellie Leighton,

Ursula Baier, and Shirley Fountain sprang

into action.

Signatures with pledges of money and

volunteer effort needed to refurbish Old

Town House were collected and certificates

were issued to supporters (at right). A special

town meeting was called on August 16,

1976 and it was then that North Yarmouth

Historical Society officially purchased Old

Town House for $1.00, beginning an era

of remodeling and upkeep of the building

by Society members and residents. This

has been proudly remembered as a time of

wonderful community cooperation.

A massive renovation effort occupied

many volunteers over the next four years,

financed by acquired pledges. A crowd of

workers assembled on at least six Saturdays

over three years and tackled the project,

inside and out.

The lawn was seeded and mulched one

warm May day in 1977, and the town fire

truck was brought up to wet the ground.

Windows were replaced by Ed Hall and Dick Baston. Matt

Baier organized a Boy Scouts workday, and the troop cleaned

and painted the exterior. A fence was added, and a large

garage door on the back of the building was removed by John

Ames, Dick Baston, Jere Townsend, and Ed Hall. The door

had ben added to accommodate Maynard Scott’s boatbuilding

business, which had rented the structure around 1970.

Roll of Honor: Old Town House

Restoration Sponsors & Workers

• Nellie Leighton • Clark &

• Shirley Fountain

• John & Beth Ames

• John & Pam Ames

• Linda Wentworth

• Philip Knight

• Marjorie Leighton

• Richard &

Rosalyn Baston

• Lee & Ursula Baier

• Ann Warner

• Sue Clukey

• Helen McLean

• Gray Leighton

• Gladys Hamilton

• Elizabeth Stowell

• Martin Stowell

• Kathleen Jones

• Douglas &

Esther Mitchell

• Harriet Bowie

• Charlotte Lawrence

• David Boynton

• Ulysses Hincks

• Liza Chandler

Kathy Whittier

• Vena Aldridge

• Ronald &

Carol Burgess

• John Schnupp

• Russell Ross

• Donna Curtis

• Mildred Baston

• Ruth Swanson

• John Sloat

• Gloria Burrell

• Linda Dexter

• Richard &

Judith Maddox

• James &

Blanche Mays

• Ed & Joyce Gervais

• Myra Barter

• McIntire, Meggier

Insurance, Inc.

• Frances Barter

• Polly Grindle

• Suzanne McGuffey

• Judy Marden

• Trudy Pilsbury

• Harold Freeman

• Donald McLean

• Hazel Anderson

• Jane Curtis

• Donald Smith

• Carroll Baston

• Nancy &

Harold Hopkins

• Donna Olsen

• Edward Vogeler

• Claudia Quatticci

• Herman &

Phyllis Smith

• Pat Emmerson

• Sharon Miller

• Jennifer Curwood

• Joan Kidman

• Corinne Greene

• John Vento

• George Warchol

Donna Thurston

• Donald &

Harriet Thurston

• Joyce Lawrence

• Florence Baston

• Lucy Hatch John

• Theodore &

Isabel Clark

• James Baker

• WIlliam &

Carolyn Verrill

• Neil &

Peggy Jensen

• Vivian Rodick

• Angelia Foster

• David & Jane Ayers

• Shirley Verrill

• Ted & Karen Walcott

• Jere, Pat, &

Tiffany Townsend

• Ed Hall

• Bill & Dot Hayward

• Al Grover

• Dana, Jim, &

Kellyjean Kelly

• Dare Foley

• Norman &

Marion Reed

... and many others

Ursula and Lee Baier, Joyce Gervais, Liza Chandler,

and Suzanne (Quirk) McGuffey removed the rotting

upper bricks from the selectmen’s office chimney. The

oil-burning furnace and underground fuel tank were

removed, freeing the front room for a replicated oldfashioned

kitchen. The new kitchen’s chimney was rebuilt

and re-lined by mason Rick Hossman of the Royal

River Brickyard. A six-plate schoolhouse woodstove was

12 The GAZETTE


May 22, 1977. Left: Tiffany Townsend, Jim Kelley, and John Ames at the rear of Old Town House. Right: Some of the work crew. Standing in door: Sandi

Boynton. On porch, l-r: Pat Townsend, Pam Ames, Ursula Baier, Matthew Baier, Lee Baier, Simon Baier. Standing: Nellie Leighton, Linda Wentworth.

October 16, 1977. Left: Nellie Leighton and Pat Townsend inspecting the details. Center: Ed Hall at work on the windows; he removed them with Dick

Baston and painted them all at home. Right: Ursula Baier and Ros Baston taking a break.

Left: Donna Thurston atop the porch roof. The sign below her was painted by Gray Leighton (restored in 2011 by Rob Dransfield). Right: The Route 9

scene as a new privy was transported to Old Town House by four yoke of oxen in May 1985.

The GAZETTE 13


found for the large room by Donna Thurston in Windham;

it was repaired by Les Peters and hooked up to the chimney.

A wood-burning cookstove for the kitchen was donated by

the Jensen family. Original brackets that held kerosene lights

in the large meeting room were left in place. They are there

to this day.

Signage for Old Town house was executed by Gray

Leighton and Sue Clukey, who painted the plaque documenting

North Yarmouth’s history in shorthand. It was

mounted to right of front door. (This plaque is currently

being evaluated for restoration by signmaker Rob

Dransfield.)Charlotte Lawrence donated a flag to fly over

Old Town House. The flag was used at the funeral of her

grandfather James Lawrence, a Civil War veteran who died

in 1939.

To solve the problem of “facilities” at Old Town House it

was proposed that a privy be built to replace the outhouses

that once stood on a platform behind the building when

it was in use as a school. In the spring of 1985, Wendall

McCollor’s Industrial Arts class at Greely High School took

on this unusual community service project and built a brandnew

privy for Old Town House. A unique delivery for the

outhouse was proposed and, on a rainy May day, the Brass

Knobs 4H Steer Club loaded the privy onto a sturdy cart and

transported it up Route 9, drawn by an impressive team of

eight oxen!

Landscaping for the building included transplanted yew

bushes from the original Memorial School that had burned

down in 1976. In 1980, two sugar maples were planted in the

side yard to mark the town’s Tricentennial. Lilacs from a 100-

year old stand were donated by Elizabeth Woodward.

Hundreds of hours of work restored and enhanced the

once neglected old building, accentuating its classical lines

so that its design heritage as a Greek Revival structure can

now be seen. To mark its successful restoration, a sign was

installed on the south side of the building naming it as the

home of the North Yarmouth Historical Society.

A Place for the Community

Since its renovation, Old Town House has hosted Historical

Society meetings and programs, community gatherings,

contradances, daycare activities, a May Day celebration,

senior luncheons, reunions, a flower show, weddings, several

band concerts, birthday parties, Boy Scout campouts, sports

team celebrations, a colonial reenactment (see p. 2) and

many other celebrations. Two annual programs, Cider Day

and NYHS’s Holiday Party, deserve special mention.

Liza Chandler and Kathryn Dion at the wood cookstove in 1998.

On a fall day not long after the building was renovated,

NYHS members borrowed a small cider press from Maine

Audubon, gathered together a few donated bushels of apples,

and tried their hand at pressing a few gallons of cider. Not

long after, NYHS became the proud owner of its own cider

press thanks to Liza Chandler, who heard about one through

Mario and Lucretia Pascarelli of Durham. It came from

the Sagadahoc chapter of the Maine Organic Farmers and

Gardeners Association (MOFGA) and had been stored in a

barn in Arrowsic.

For at least 20 years, this venerable cider press has made

Soup and Cider Day possible. Hansel’s Orchard, a historic

property on the Sweetser Road, donates bushels of apples for

the event and dozens of volunteers, from Old Town House

caretaker Ed Antz to soup makers Joyce Gilbert and Kathryn

Dion, to bakers Holly Day and Holly Hurd, have brought

contributions; everyone gets the chance to turn the crank,

and the press works its magic as the cider flows. Leftover

gallons are frozen until the NYHS Holiday Party and North

Yarmouth potluck and treelighting in early December.

North Yarmouth Historical’s first Holiday Party was a

small gathering at Old Town House in December 1985. As

NYHS developed the party into a deliberately simple nod to

times past, its simplicity has attracted families eagar to put

aside the commercialism of December holidays. Volunteers

contribute gingerbread dough for kids to roll out and decorate

with raisins and red hots. The tree is festooned with paper

chains, and everybody sings “Jingle Bells” and “Dreidel”

around the piano. Partygoers stitch simple balsam pillows,

making the Holiday Party probably one of the few places

these days where a youngster can learn how to use a needle

and thread!

14 The GAZETTE


Clockwise from top left: Cider Day in 1997 with the Kressbach and Chandler family; The scene

at the 2010 Holiday Party; stringing cranberries and popcorn and making pomanders; Margie

Hansel of Hansel’s Orchard, generous providers of apples for Cider Day.

The Future

Throughout the years, Old Town House has had a few

modest upgrades. A handicapped-accessible ramp was built

by David Sprague in 1990. A historically accurate stone

post fence encloses the building’s side yard, constructed in

2004 by John Tarbox as an Eagle Scout project. The roof was

reshingled in 2008. A new rear door was installed by Alex

Rose in 2011. But more than four decades after its last major

renovation, the “OTH” now needs some major “TLC.” This

simple structure has stood the test of time but, without careful

restoration, we can’t expect it to last another 168 years. A

detailed study by Resurgence Engineering of Portland has

provided North Yarmouth Historical Society with a long list

of recommendated updates.

Old Town House is now poised for new life. It is the

town’s oldest civic building, and its recent past use as a space

for events and programs by North Yarmouth Historical is

another part of town history that is ready for revival. Its

deteriorated state might hide its authentic 19th–century

bones and its isolated location might cause passers-by to

ignore it completely. But its presence is essential to the

town’s history and its re-siting and restoration will give it

new prominence and enable new programming and activity.

North Yarmouth Historical invites everyone to participate

in bringing Old Town House to the center of North

Yarmouth: to be a visible and vital symbol of a community’s

history and an active participant in its future.

The GAZETTE 15


Collections and Records: In Need of a New Home

Back in 1976, when every nook and cranny of Old

Town House was explored by North Yarmouth

Historical Society volunteers, boxes and papers

were found in the building’s attic and in the unoccupied

Selectmen’s office. They were “… trash and clutter

at first glance,” as Joyce Gilbert wrote in 1995.

“Fortunately, someone in North Yarmouth did a poor

job of housekeeping and shoved bunches of papers into

[storage]. The papers … were removed by caring hands

during renovation. Dusty, dog–eared, flat, rolled, fastened

with rusty pins and clips—and altogether marvelous.”

Tattered, worn, and aged, but

still “marvelous.”

This material joined the

collection of town records

that, back in the late 1960s,

had been emptied out of

Old Town House’s safes

and transferred to the new

municipal building’s record

storage room.

The entire collection was—

and is—astonishing. “There are some 300 handwritten

books, most in very fragile condition, as well as many

printed Province and state law books,” reads a 1980

report to the Town. “There are two dozen metal boxes

tightly packed with very old papers, covering a variety

of subjects from schools to military affairs. Another twenty

archival boxes contain partially sorted miscellaneous

papers. There are many old maps and surveyors’ plans.”

Although much of the material was remarkably wellpreserved

(due to good quality paper), documents were

water-damaged, covered with mildew and mold, and

fouled by vermin. The collections were taken to the Maine

State Archives to be fumigated. The town’s old record

books were also microfilmed there.

In 1980, clear-headed NYHS members proposed a

modern facility for protection and storage. With $22,500

from the town, NYHS built a workroom and an enlarged,

fireproof vault as an addition to the municipal building,

now North Yarmouth’s Fire Rescue headquarters and

current location for NYHS’s workroom and archives.

Volunteers worked hard to arrange for cleaning and

fumigation but, after a visit by a consultant from the

Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover,

Massachusetts, it became clear that a professional

archivist’s services were needed to envision, plan, and

organize this huge preservation project. In 1999, NYHS

was awarded a grant from the Maine Historical Records

Advisory Board and archivist Elizabeth Maule was hired

to direct the separation of pre- and post 1849 documents

(the year North Yarmouth and Yarmouth split). In 2000, a

grant from the Maine Cultural Resources Information Center

was awarded to NYHS to fully process the records. The

Town of North Yarmouth funded the purchase of acid free

storage boxes and folders.

Under the direction of Ms. Maule and historian Ursula Baier,

volunteers pored through a cache of bills, correspondence,

tax lists, road records, and other documentation. A finding

aid was created. A timeline of early North Yarmouth history

was written. Treasures were discovered: Militia records,

early road, school, cemetery, and tax records, surveys,

deeds, records about the care of the poor, voter lists, maps,

a book of cattle and sheep markings, and more.

Several years later, a

post-1849 collection

of papers and records

were organized by

another volunteer team

under the direction of

historian Holly Hurd.

Thousands of records,

papers, ephemera, and

artifacts are now packed

into the NYHS vault

at North Yarmouth’s

Fire Rescue Station.

This historical record

has been successfully

saved, but without a

display space, these

items are rarely seen

and difficult to access

for research. The plan to

re-house these items in a

secure, below-groundlevel

area of Old Town

House is a long-awaited

solution for preserving

North Yarmouth’s

340+ history.

The NYHS vault: Archives overload.

16 The GAZETTE

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