“ A Far Away Place With a Strange Sounding Name”
as submitted by Eddie Ketchen
Francis Joseph’s map of 1798 calls the lake, Madambontis and this looks very much like Madamiscontis, “plenty of alewives”.
Indians of the Etchemin tribe arrived first by coming up the winding Denny River from the coast and set up camp on shore, west of the rapids where they came tumbling down out of the lake.
It was a place they must have marveled at, plumb full of hope and adventure protected from the cold northwest winds and open to the south sunshiny realm.
Salmon and trout abounded in the river and deer, partridge and other game in the forest. They crafted arrow and spearheads that can still be found to this day.
Washington County was organized and surveyed in 1789. At that time, Maine was still part of Massachusetts, becoming the twenty-third state on March 15, 1820.
The first settlers of Meddybemps had been arriving by 1812, to face the challenge and freedom of pioneering with all its uncertainties. Being proud and sturdy stock thy cut pine and spruce, built mills, sawed timber, cleared land, erected houses and barns, tilled the soil, plated crops, and hunted, fished and trapped.
Becoming a thriving community, as time went on they desired to become a seperate town of their own. With good kinship among the people of Charlotte, Cooper, and Baring the township of Meddybemps was formed consisting of land granted from the three towns and incorporated on February 20, 1841.
During these early times oxen outnumbered horses and were used extensively on the farms and for lumbering. The Dennysville Lumber Company built a sawmill on the river near where it courses out of the lake. Just below, at the head of more rapids a girst ill was built. These mills used water power and two of the grist mill grinding stones are still in Meddybemps.
When Stone and Rockwell’s circus came to Calais once a year from 1836 on, it beconed the children and adults alike to hitch up the mare and head for fun.
In 1841, town folks who were members of the Calais Temperance Society pledged themselves to total abstinance except on the Fourth of July, Washington’s birthday and their own birthdays. By 1851, when the wind was right, the stirring whistle of the railroad steam engines could be heard from the crossing in Baring. In 1862, kerosene lamps showed up intown and oil for them was sold at $1.20 per gallon. Around this time a Mr. Tucker,John Wood, William Harrison, Warren Gilman, and a Mr. Lombard joined up with the other Yankees and went off to the Civil War.
The population reached 172 in 1880 and a Baptist church was built. The Tarbell farm was built in 1829 and in 1909, a Mr. Cornick while repairing a chimney found an iron chest with some very old coins in it.
The Dwelley boys came over fromAlexander and mostly using hand tools dug a canal from the lake to enter the river approximately one-fourth mile downstream. A sawmill was built at the headof the canal and a novelty mill and dam run by Forest Wilder was constructed down near the river. They turned out mustard spoons, wooden pegs, and brush handles that can be found preserved under the riverbed to the present time.
A stream bed was dug out and a dam and sawmill built down stream from Bearce Lake at the Meddybemps Baring town line. Walter Bearce landed a 28 1/2 inch pickerel from the lake and the head alone weighed a pund. The Bearce children (early 1900’s) used to ride in a two-wheeled cart pulled by a mule all the way to town to play with the Gillespie boys.
The wagon sleds they hauled logs on were ten feet wide and the average load was 3,000 feet. One teamster with a beautiful pair of matched blacks hauled out 3,400 feet. They referred to reins as ribbons.
Smallmouth bass were not native to Maine and were stocked in the Bellgrade regionin 1869. Somewhat later they were introduced to Washington County and soon became the leading game fish in Meddybemps Lake.
By 1898, the W.C. Railroad had established a freight and passenger station at Ayers Junction in Charlotte. This enabled folks from away to reach Meddybemps Lake. They could be met by town folks or perhaps catch the stage coach and be transported to town.
On the way in from the top of Conant hill they could view the beautiful panorama of lake,islands, and forests stretching on to the scimitared skyline, surely a place to rest and contemplate.
The early 1900’s were indeed a busy time. A whole new enterprise started from then on, boarding houses opened up; the Gilman house, Lombard house, J.L. Morrison house. A public town dock was built. From1898, camps began to spring up on lakeshore and islands. The bass, pickerel, and white perch fishing was great and someone lamded a 6 1/2 pound landlocked salmon at the outlet.
Joe Jefferson, a famous stage actor after the turn of the century, built a camp on Moss Island (now Jefferson) some three miles north of town, a distinguished guest spent a very enjoyable summer there -- former President Grover Cleveland! Cecil Ward’s father, Bert, rowed him all the way up from the Meddybemps landing.
Severe winter storms pounded the area in the winters of 1896, ‘97, ‘98 and in 1901. On Friday night into Saturday, December 21, 1916, a shouting icy gale from the nor’eat grew into a snow lashed night. Four inches and hour careened down at times and blanketed the town with up to 40 inches.
During some of these storms the drifts would soar upward on Conant Hill as they still do and a crew of men would come out from the town to shovel out the stage coach so the passengers, mill, and freight could get through.
Some of the children on the outlying farms would get to school by horse drawn pung. The horses would stay in the school woodshed.
Mr. Chatto, a very respected teacher, taught both grade and high school. They had a box lunch to raise money for a school clock.
The town folks would celebrate theFourth of July with a delicious picnic, contests, and a dance at the new town hall (1905-1910). (1908) J.N. Bridges raised squabs to send to the New York market.
In 1866 the school budget was $225, in 1867 $167.25, and from 1868 it came to around $300 with 48 scholars in District #1 and 51 scholars in District #2. A third district called Bearce was added in 1871 and $300 was the operating figure for many more years.
There were also three fire districts mentioned from 1892 on through the years.
Every winter ice cutting took place on the lake to fill the home ice houses as well as those of the summer “resorters”, as they were called in those days. It was hand cut with great long saws and paced in plentiful sawdust.
The cutting area would be marked overnight with fir boughs but even so accidents happened. Warren Long, 16 years old, skated over a newly frozen hole and went through. Russell Tarbell, 10 years old, came to the rescue by extending out a hockey stick and hauling him out.
Blueberry farming started in earnest after World War I and later on potato farming by Charles GIllespie and his son, Robert. As they do today, early settlers harvested bountiful cranberries on the vast Meddybemps Heath.
Joy Masters Trouant, from Pennsylvania, recalls when she first came to Meddybemps, “I thought Meddybemps Lake with its many islands the nicest lake I had ever been on, with the Dennys River flowing out of it, and the village the prettiest I had ever seen.
The Town Hall and School House stood proudly onits little hill, with well cut grass around it,the church was beside the small canal with water running swiftly from the lake to the river.
I have many happy memories of my summers at Meddybemps, all sixty-three of them.”
Early camps on the lake were constructed of locally cut white cedar. Some by Charles “Trapper” Lombard and Ronald Cousins. They also were excellent guides and great storytellers.
Our special thanks fo to Chester Ward who shared his Aunt Della Dwelly’s scrap book and all the others who brough forth ancedotes from far in the past.
Edward P. Ketchen
January 22, 1988