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NEW ENGLAND MAGAZINE
VOL. XXVII No. 1
The Door-Step of New England
By Joseph Kennard Wilson
LYMOUTH ROCK, of course." Certainly not. The historic rock under the canopy at the foot of Cole's Hill shall be the corner stone if you please; and all honor to it. But it was discovered a little too late to play the part of a door-step. Thirteen years. before the light foot of Mary Chilton touched its rugged surface, a broad ledge one hundred and fifty miles and more to the eastward had echoed the tread of the feet of the first settlers of New England. That the settlement there and then made was not permanent, abates no jot nor tittle of the claim. The stone which has lain at the door has a right to its name of "doorstep," even after its function of welcoming the coming and speeding the parting guest has ceased, and the
house itself has been deserted and dismantled. By this test, when we look for New England's door-step, the place where first stood the forerunners of the race which has dominated this western world, we must turn to the Maine, and not the Massachusetts coast, and find it not at Plymouth, but at Popham.
It is a story unknown to many, and forgotten by other many. It is told in a few sentences in some of our histories, and quite overlooked in others. It is of no great and lasting importance-like the Jamestown story, or the Plymouth story; yet as a veritable bit of the history of colonization in New England, it is of exceeding interest, and ought not to be allowed to perish from national remembrance.
At the islanded mouth of that great waterway of Maine which George
Weymouth in 1605 called "the most excellent and beneficyall river of Sachedahoc," but which we more prosaically call the Kennebec, we find the site of this original settlement. Nature has been very lavish in her gifts to the chosen spot, scattering charms in such profusion and variety as to constitute it, as it has been termed, "a unique corner of the earth"-one of the most delightful bits of the everywhere delightful Maine coast-line. Here are tall pines, singing somniferous songs under the breath of the western breezes; and wind-strewn sand dunes; and great gray rock ledges; and quiet reaches of a sheltered bay; and miles of broad, hard beaches; and thunderous surf breaking upon the shore; and, as final gift, almost whimsical in the incongruity of its position and relations, a beautiful fresh water lake forty feet above the level of the sea, and only a few hundred feet from it. It is small wonder that they who have once
Maine stock, and exemplify most of the characteristics usually assumed in the name "Yankee." Among these are a sturdy independence, temperance, and a thrift which, if it does not make them rich, at least keeps them from abject poverty. Said an oldtime resident to the writer, "I don't know a Popham man who is what you would call a drinking man." And almost in the same breath he continued, as though in sequence to his former statement, "Popham has never sent a pauper to the town farm." Family names are few, for the inhabitants have frequently intermarried. Address the next man you meet as "Oliver." (Better prefix "Captain," for many of these quiet-mannered men have made their voyages in "deep water," and have handled their crews of men.) If he doesn't respond to "Oliver," try "Spinney." If that doesn't strike him right, give him another chance,
with "Perkins." If that doesn't touch him, it is safe to ask him where he came from, and how long he is going to stay, for it's long odds that he is a stranger in town.
The point of contact of this secluded village with the busy world is the shipbuilding city of Bath, thirteen miles. away on the river. During the winter the only means of communication is a daily "stage," which illustrates in itself a curious law of evolution. Starting from Popham Beach in the early morning as a "top buggy," with one seat, under which the mail bag is tucked away, it arrives in Bath as a properly constituted stage or mail wagon, with two or three seats, and with its name and destination painted on its side, and drawn by two horses. On the return trip the law works in the inverse order, and that which leaves the city as stage, crawls into the little seaside hamlet in the gloaming as plain, one-horse
buggy. The effect is atmospheric, no doubt; the sea air contracts, while the breezes of the inland tend to expansion. Whether the law works automatically in the case of the traveller, fitting him without volition of his own to his changing environment, or whether each step of the development means abrupt, and possibly grumbling, change on his part from one vehicle to another, it is not the purpose of this paper to disclose. It must be allowed to science to have some secrets.
But in the summer Popham Beach is almost metropolitan, so many and so easy are its means of communication with "the regions beyond." For, not only does its all-the-year-round stage still pursue its devious way, but the great boats of the Kennebec Line poke their noses in at its wharf twice each day, on their way to and from Boston, while a saucy little craft with a somewhat profane pro-syllable, the "Damarin"-makes two trips daily to Bath. It is one of the most delightful of all river trips, that between the two places. The Kennebec has been called a "melancholy" river. Perhaps "stately" or "dignified," would describe it more exactly. It is not a river to take liberties with; not one of your mouthy, frothy, frolicsome streams, continually tumbling over itself and laughing at its own clumsiness. It is sober and sedate; it takes itself seriously, as one of the great waterways of a great State: it attends strictly to business, and rolls its floods along in the most matter-offact and business-like way imaginable. Up and down it go all manner of craft. Here is a fleet of ice-laden schooners, drawn by a puffing tug, carrying a bit of Maine's winter breath for the cooling of sultry New York or Philadel
only two six-masted schooners in the world-the "Eleanor A. Percy" or the "George W. Wells"-stretching out its great length like leviathan of old. is a constantly changing panorama of charming views. And you will enjoy it all the more if you are lucky enough to get an invitation into the pilot house of the "Damarin," and to have Captain Perkins for a cicerone and interpreter. "Captain Jimmie," as almost every one hereabouts calls him, has sailed these waters from boyhood, and what he
doesn't know about the river, with what is in it, or on it, or under it, would make, if written out, a remarkably small volume.
Two institutions at Popham serve to keep the general Government constantly in mind-the fort and the Life Saving Service station. Since 1812 an old brick fort, scarcely more than a shelter for riflemen, has stood on the point of land near the site of the ancient Fort St. George. In 1861 the Government began the erection here of a granite fortification, to which the name of Fort Popham was given, in honor of the president of the original colony. The work was never completed-probably never will be. The structure belongs to a bygone age of warfare. A single shot from the "Oregon's" thirteen-inch guns would shiver its walls like window glass. It would be folly to spend good money in fin
ishing that which can never be of practical use. In the meantime it is a distinct addition to the attractions of the place, lending picturesqueness and dignity with its frowning walls and threatening guns. Formerly its grounds were open to visitors; but according to the later regulations regarding Government Reservations, its gates are now kept closed and locked; possibly to keep the guns from "going off," as a speculative summer boarder has remarked. The fort is garrisoned; but when one sees that garrison on parade, he is reminded of "Sam." "Sam," queried an interested friend; "Sam, where are your father and mother?" "Ain't got none, boss," was the answer. "No fader, no mudder, only jist Sam. When yo' shakes Sam, yo' shakes all dar is ob us." If any one were brave enough to "shake" Sergeant Richardson, he would thereby cause the whole