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City booming a century ago Pt I

By Nancy Chute Marcotte

In June, 2000, Walter Brown of South Paris spoke at an historical society meeting of his memories of the mills of South Waterford “City.” They were from a young boy's point of view, since, as Walter said, he lived there from birth until “Uncle Sam sent me greetings.”

His grandfather, Homer Brown, worked with a team of horses for W. K. Hamlin and son Albert Hamlin. Walter used to hang around W. K.'s businesses as well as “Uncle Fred and Uncle Henry” Haynes’ cider mill. He was “everybody's errand boy.”

Walter recalls that the carding mill (now at Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts) had a big tub downstairs for washing wool and a picker and carding machinery upstairs to pick wool clean and to create fibers. From big baskets the wool was put on a belt to take it to the other room to be made into wool batts. The batts were folded into pillow size, Walter Brown said, and wrapped in paper, marked with the owner's name and shipped by rail or post. Another machine made rolls which he thinks were sometimes sent to Harmony Mills to be spun into yarn.

Carding Mill as it sat along City Brook

The Hamlin box mill made mostly apple and butter boxes (4, 6 or 8 lbs.) to ship all over the United States. Boltwood logs for lumber would be hauled across the ice by Homer and others to be ready for spring when the box mill work began.

Walter remembered the box mill would shut down every hour for a pipe break. Albert's sons Bud and Stan Hamlin used to make apple boxes in the fall for Morse Orchards and other places.
The lumber had to be knot-free or it became kindling. There was a “four-sider” machine — an adjustable planer which planed four sides of each board.

Six to eight people worked on box making. In Walter Brown's time, Bud ran the automatic nailer. The patent of the box was changed at one point, redesigned to eliminate triangular corner pieces. Charles Fillebrown once said they were “the best apple boxes ever, anywhere.” Some were sent to the state experimental farm in Monmouth.

Sometimes they made caskets and also doll furniture at the box mill! The carding operation took two to three people and the Hill Marr long lumber mill also used two to three. That mill existed at the outlet to the lake, which became a millpond as logs filled it before cutting. In the basement of that mill, Earl Marr had a barrel stave machine, with a shaper to groove the end to hold the head of a barrel. A cooper shop was near the mill.

Walter remembered a few other things about the town of his childhood. On the lawn above the former Bear Mt. Library is a grist mill stone which his grandfather hauled up from the cider mill. Another large stone remains down near the bridge.

The “east side of the stream” was a dump where one could find things like Dr. Harry Watson's empty whiskey bottles. Veterinary and auctioneer, Dr. Watson was one of the “world's worst drivers,” Walter remembered (along with Dr. Hubbard!)

Walter said there were lots of “Bills” working in “The City” in those days, including Will Green, Bill Goodwin, Will Abbott (husband of W. K.'s daughter Flora) and “Buttermaker Bill” Abbott, who “didn't drink buttermilk.”

At the Haynes cider mill in the 1930s and early 40s, young Walter Brown helped grind cores, press cider in a cloth with a paddle, and run upstairs to tell deaf “Uncle Henry” to stop sending apples downstairs to deaf “Uncle Fred!” They called the boy “Hen” because he followed Henry Haynes everywhere. He remembered there was a tin cup at the mill for anyone's use in tasting the cider. It certainly was a way of life which we will not see again.


Walter Keyes Hamlin was born in Waterford at the Hamlin Farm on Skunk Alley, October 27, 1854. His parents were Albert Hamlin (son of America II) and Sarah Woodsum of Harrison, who grew up on the farm now known as Frosty Hollow Farm on Rt. 117. The 1909 History of the Town of Harrison described W. K. Hamlin as “a man of cultivated intellect and versatile tastes and capabilities.” In 1878 he married Clara J. Bell, daughter of Eben and Jane M. Bell of Blackguard neighborhood. They lived in Connecticut in their early married life, where he worked for the carriage manufactory of Henry Hook & Co., and where their first daughters were born — Alice May in 1879 and Jennie
Bell in 1882.

By 1883 they had returned to Maine and opened the Waterford Wheel Mfg. Co., a carriage shop of their own. In 1884 Flora Gertrude was born; in 1886 Carrie Augusta (my grandmother); and in 1890 their only son Albert Wilton Hamlin was born.

By 1921, the date of his earliest extant journal in the possession of the Waterford Historical Society, W. K. Hamlin was also proprietor of the wool carding business, the box mill, the Waterford Creamery and a flour, grain and feed business. He was active in two churches, the Knights of Pythias, the Grange and Mt. Tire'm Masonic Lodge as well. You will see from reading excerpts from his journals exactly how busy people were in South Waterford “City” in the past century.

In January of 1921, W. K. Hamlin was 67 years old and had been in bed since November with some unspecified ailments, one of which seems to have been rheumatism. His wife Clara was writing in his daily journal for him, and not liking it very much! She was also helping to care for her ailing three-year-old granddaughter Helen Jane, daughter of Carrie and Harry Haynes.

Saturday, Jan. 1, 1921
Cloudy and not very cold. Snowed a little in night. Pa doing well. Helen not gaining. Chas. Kimball sick. Albert (Hamlin), Henry (Wentworth), Joe (?), and Horace (Skinner) in mill. Will Abbott and Flora tested (cream--a process that was done each month to ascertain butterfat.)
Sunday, Jan. 2
Fair and warm enough for April. Pa and Helen about the same. K. of P.'s sent Pa some flowers yesterday.
Thursday, Jan. 6
Snowed a little this morning. Pa had egg on toast tonight. Thought such an event should be spread on the records of this diary . . . the boys worked in mill, finished everything, taking vacation now . . . 
Friday, Jan. 7
Fair and colder today. Pa extremely smart. Helen more comfortable, had good night and day. Chas. and Joe hauled manure, hauled back a load of hay (from the old Hamlin Farm.)
Tuesday, Jan. 11
Fair and fairly cold. Boys all working on ice today. Pa still thinks he is very smart. Talks as if we might expect to see him downstairs now any minute. Helen seems better today, is quite bright and talkative. "The boys" scraped snow off the ice of the pond on January 10th and worked cutting ice until January 13th. Then Will Abbott, Albert Hamlin, Joe (?) and Will Green worked covering it up with hay in the creamery icehouse. Chas. Kimball went up to the log cabin pasture after wood several times.
Saturday, Jan. 15
Cloudy and warm. Chas. and Joe unloaded grain and hauled up load of wood (that) Joe and Albert sawed up yesterday this a.m. This p.m. Chas. went up (to the old Hamlin Farm) with dressing (manure!). Joe hauled wood to creamery. Grange installation this p.m. Dance this evening. Dr. Bradbury came over to see Helen, thought she would come out all right in time.
Wednesday, Jan. 19
Fair and cold. Chas. Kimball been hauling pine bolts today. Joe hauled slabs and kindling down to house. Pa and Helen doing well, want to eat the WHOLE ENDURING TIME. The men were hauling wood most of January — bolts to the mill, wood to the cooper shop and the creamery.

On Jan. 25th it was “colder than fury” and the wind blew so hard business was suspended for the day. Chas. “worked around at one thing and another.”

On Jan. 26th,  Chas. dropped a bolt on his ankle — it wasn't broken but he was “pretty badly used up.” Bolts were hauled out of the woods through Feb. 2nd. There were numerous trips to Norway or Harrison for grain or freight. On Feb. 2nd Dr. Hunter came to see baby Helen, who had an abscess at her hip. He took her to Portland the next day, along with Carrie and Harry. They came back on the 4th with a nurse for the baby.

On Feb. 5th Dr. Abbott came up from Portland and operated on the baby — took out pieces of bone and put her hip back in place. On Feb. 6th they got Miss Kimball, a nurse for “Pa” because “Mama('s) getting tired.” On that same day Helen's day nurse “let her arms loose today so now she can suck her thumb.” Clara writes that the baby is “awfully good,” not fussy when Dr. Bradbury came from Norway to dress her hip. Bolts were being hauled again and box shook was loaded all week. The roads were rolled by W. K.'s crew and horses all day 2/15 (after a snowstorm.) Joe “chored around all day.” By 2/17 Clara was writing, “Thank the LORD Pa's temperature is normal tonight,” but the next day “Mama” was sick all day. Clara's sense of humor still came through — something one seldom saw in W. K.’s journal entries! On Feb. 18th, she wrote, “Joe went to Norway today, got back at 4:30 p.m. A proceeding which stands here recorded as being most unheard of.”

On Feb. 22nd, 1921, the “electric lights (were) turned on up to the Flat, but not here.” This was the brand-new Waterford Power and Light Co., of which W. K. was a shareholder. The “City” electric lights were connected on March 17th.

On 2/23 “Pa” took a few steps and sat up a while. Little Helen's nurse left and her mother “Cad” (Carrie) took over her care. Big sister Mildred Haynes, 5, went down across the street to stay with her grandparents, W. K. and Clara. The men were busy hauling cord wood, logs and bolts. They were logging and making trips to Norway for freight.

On 2/27 Clara wrote, “Cloudy. Snowed a little. If anything happened, I don't know what it was.” By then Pa was up and walking. His nurse left on March 1st and he came downstairs to dinner on 3/5--the first time since November! (I think he just wanted to see how the electric light crew was doing, stringing wire!)

On 3/10 Chas. Kimball shod a dozen horses in one morning. On 3/12 “Chas. Bell went on WHEELS to collect today” — he was getting milk from area farms for the creamery and if he went on wheels instead of a sleigh the snow must have been melting.

On 3/17, Clara writes about town meeting: “About a dozen women there.” I'm not sure of the significance of this — is that a lot? — but it's one of the last glimpses we have of the women's life in the village, because W. K. is well enough to take over the journal again by the end of the month and he writes mostly to keep track of all his businesses. No personal journals exist from Clara Bell Hamlin herself, as far as I know.

Monday, Mar. 21, 1921
Fair and unseasonably warm. Chas. and Joe worked at mill w/pair of horses. Dr. Bradbury came over to see Pa and Helen— had to leave his car at East Waterford and get a team. (Mud season.) Afraid Helen has got to go to hospital right away. Thinks Pa must have x-ray of his shoulder taken and see what trouble is.
Wednesday, Mar. 23
Fair. Chas. put sleds away a.m. Joe helped him. Chas. hauled the manure from Hall place and dumped it into our cellar. Joe went to N. Bridgton and got cream wagon of George Kimball.

On 3/25, W. K. began taking new medicine from Dr. Bradbury and from now on he's back at work. He decided to formally incorporate the creamery and met with a lawyer. He began looking over his seed potatoes. He went to Portland, had an x-ray and injections for rheumatism. Helen's x-rays showed more disease and the need for another operation. Harry, Carrie, W. K. and the baby went to Harrison and “staid” overnight with Harry's sister, Edna Tarbox, before going down to Portland on the 5:35 (a.m.?) train. In the city they stayed with daughter Alice and her husband Raymond Warren. Back in town, the men were sawing out box stock by this time, getting ready to make boxes.

Friday, April 1
Fair. Came home from Portland, John Evans met us at Harrison with auto. Got home about noon. Chas. K. went to Harrison and got . . . some frt. (freight) for Freeman (Hapgood's store.)

The first week in April the men sawed lumber and delivered it to Norway “w/4 horses,” several trips. Joe raked the dooryard. One pair of horses was at the mill.


The Carding Mill in the winter of 1955. Guy Wescott, right, and Holman Swinney stand in the doorway. The men were investigating the mill for Old Sturbridge Village.

On 4/6, Dr. Abbott came from Portland with two nurses and Drs. Bradbury and Blake came over from Norway to help with another operation on Helen's “bone sore.” Spring had arrived. W. K. grew experimental seed potatoes to sell, in conjunction with the Dept. of Agriculture, so state and county agents inspected and okayed them. He put his men to work bagging the seed, trimming apple trees, putting in new water pipes to Harry Haynes' house (across the street from his house.) Meanwhile, they were also doing more chores, such as selling horses, hauling manure, sawdust, shavings and furnace wood, and still sawing lumber.

On 4/7, he wrote, “George Hill taking Will and Earl Marr in company in mill business” — this would be the Hill and Marr mill of which Walter Brown spoke. (George Hill was married to Bessie Hamlin, the niece of W. K. Hamlin and the namesake of “Bessie's Beach” — where Keoka Beach is today. The Marrs were related to Harry Haynes, whose mother was a Marr.)

On 4/28, they began working on trucks to get them back on the road — GMC, Ford and REO. Also, W. K. writes, “commenced sawing pine logs.”

On 4/30: “got forefinger taken off on buzz planer. Dr. Hubbard done it up. Dr. Bradbury came. Did not take ether.” Bert Hill came up from Bridgton about this time with a Cadillac car he wanted to sell and the Hamlins went on a test ride. They didn't buy it. The “Waterford Improvement Society” met on May 4th. Joe picked over potatoes. “Flotie” (Flora) and her husband Will tested cream. Life seemed to be rolling along normally but in fact that was all about to change.

Sunday, May 8, 1921
Fair. Carrie went with Helen to C.M.G. Hospital. Fred Haynes took them down in his auto. Harry and Fannie Green went with them.
Monday, May 9
Mostly fair. Chas. K. and Joe at mill, 4 horses. Chas. B(ell) and I started for Lewiston, got to South Paris when it began to rain and we came back, took 40 bushel potatoes to station, shipped to Everett Wiswell, Colebrook, N.H., recv'd his check for same today, $100.00. Dr. came and done up my fingers. Paid him for the whole job. $8.00. Came 3 times.
Tuesday, May 10
Mostly fair, some showery and hail. Chas. K. & Joe, 4 horses at mill. Chas. B. and (W.K.) went to Lewiston with little Ford truck . . . Chas. came home and I staid with Hattie (Harriet Hamlin Morgan, his sister.) Alice came from Portland and staid with Hattie.
Wednesday, May 11
Fair, cool. Chas. K. and Joe, 4 horses at mill. Finished sawing hemlock.  Alice and I went to hospital early, found little Helen bright and chipper. Fred and Henry Haynes came. Dr. Bradbury came about 11 a.m. Helen operated on about noon, did not live to come out from the ether.

On Tuesday May 12th, his sister Semantha and her husband Joshua Bennett came from Bridgton to stay the night, as well as his daughter Alice and Raymond from Portland. Some of the men did Harry's chores. The baby was buried at 2 p.m. on May 13th, with Rev. Miller of Norway preaching the sermon. “An immense quantity of flowers sent in.”

Helen’s obituary said she was stricken with typhoid fever in November, 1920 and had been cared for at her grandparents’. It’s possible W.K.’s illness was also typhoid.