A growing museum, incomparable library and statewide educational resource, we are located in the heart of Portland’s downtown cultural district. Founded in 1822, the Maine Historical Society is the third oldest state historical society in the United States.
In June, Maine Historical Society kicked off a weekly guided introduction to genealogical research: Find Your Place in History.
On Thursday afternoons from June to October 2018, small groups gather in MHS’s renowned Brown Research Library and embark on the Find Your Place in History program from 4:00 to 5:30pm. During the program, participants explore history on all levels: from the history of their own family to artifacts that help tell the story of western civilization.
“Genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States, and many of our visitors to the Brown Research Library are genealogists doing research” says Nan Cumming, Director of Advancement and creator of the Find Your Place in History program. “But we have heard from a number of patrons that there is really no guided introduction to genealogy except reading a book or watching a couple of YouTube videos. We have the expertise, the information, and the collections here – this is certainly a gap in the market we can fill!”
During their afternoon session, Find Your Place in History participants dig into their own family story with the guidance of Maine Historical Society staff. In addition, they view artifacts from the collections of the Maine Historical Society and put on the white gloves and explore Maine Historical Society’s archives—off limits to regular visitors. After their work in the library, the participants gather in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House garden to enjoy refreshments.
“We’re delighted to kick off the Find Your Place in History program and to welcome those who have always had an interest in genealogy, but frankly didn’t know where to start!” said Cumming.
Find Your Place in History: A Maine Historical Society Genealogy Experience is offered Thursdays from June to October, from 4:00pm to 5:30pm. Check-in at the MHS Museum Store at 489 Congress Street.
This is a guided introduction to genealogical research—not for experienced genealogists. To ensure you have the most fascinating experience, bring the names and birthdates of a few relatives to your session.
Ticket Price: $75 each. There is a maximum of 6 people per tour. The deadline to register for each event is the Monday prior to the event. Available by advance registration online at mainehistory.org or by phone at 207-774-1822 ext. 216
The Waterhouse family of Kennebunk has found a new home in the Maine Historical Society archives! This collection of archival material primarily focuses on Homer T. Waterhouse, his wife Bessie (Harmon), and their three children.
Homer T. Waterhouse (1873-1948) was born in Kennebunkport to J. Taylor and Rebecca (Tarbox) Waterhouse. After graduating from Colby College in 1895, he pursued successful legal, business and political careers. He married Bessie Harmon in 1911, and they had three children; Lois (1912-2007), Homer (1914-2003) and Christine (1916-2004).
Of all the Waterhouse family members, Lois is the most prominently featured in the collection. Lois graduated as valedictorian from Kennebunk High School in 1930. She attended Mount Holyoke College where she majored in mathematics and graduated summa cum laude in 1934. She married Asa Foster Kinney in 1938 and they had two daughters. Lois’s papers and correspondence cover her childhood in Maine, her time at Mount Holyoke, a European tour in 1934, her wedding and her life in Massachusetts with her husband and children.
Homer attended Hebron Academy and graduated as valedictorian in 1932. He attended Bowdoin College and then earned a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1939. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance as Lieutenant Commander. Following the war, Homer continued his successful legal and business career. He married Geraldine Keating and was stepfather to her two children.
Christine followed her sister to Mount Holyoke (class of 1938) and later graduated from Columbia University School of Medicine. Following medical school, she was the director of a clinical research center, a professor of medicine and in 1979 she returned to Maine and opened a practice in Biddeford. She married John Raines III and had two daughters.
One of our favorite parts of the collection is four photo albums that contain wonderful candid photographs of the Waterhouse family during Lois, Homer and Christine’s childhoods. There are photos of the family at the beach, digging for clams and Lois and Homer outside after, what appears to be, a significant snowstorm. These albums are a nice change of pace from the usual staged portraits of the early 20th century and allow the personalities of the Waterhouse family to shine through.
Another gem from the collection is a letter seven-year-old Lois wrote to Santa Claus in 1919. Her gift requests were very modest by today’s standards. She asked for a box of candy, a new hair ribbon and something to embroider. Lois was also concerned about the logistics of Santa’s arrival. “Are you coming by airship or reindeer sleigh? Don’t forget our chimney please.”
The Waterhouse family collection (Coll. 2980) was donated by Lois’s daughter Carolyn and contains correspondence, photographs, photo albums, newspaper clippings, postcards, deeds, scrapbooks, diplomas, invoices/receipts and genealogical information.
Americans have a particular interest in animal welfare, which is evident in the establishment of Be Kind to Animals Week in 1914. American Humane created Be Kind to Animals Week in response to the deaths of millions of horses during the First World War. Its purpose was to educate Americans, especially children, about how to care for animals with kindness and respect. This theme was an easy sell for Mainers, who have always had a special relationship with animals.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a frequent visitor to Maine, wrote about Be Kind to Animals Week in her newspaper column, My Day, in 1943. With World War II in mind, she wrote:
Though it may seem to a good many people that a time when the world is hardly a kind world is not a time to emphasize kindness to animals, and that we should think primarily of our attitude toward human beings, I believe there is great value in continuing to train children in the proper attitude toward their pets.
Her message continues to ring true. Teaching children about caring for their pets is a way to prepare them for caring for people as they mature and enter society as adults.
In 1927, children gladly posed for Portland Press Herald photographers with their dogs, cats, and horses. It is clear that these animals were special to the children who cared for them.
Treating animals with respect is not limited to pets and domestic animals. Since there are rural areas in Maine, it was, and is, fairly common to run into wild animals in populated places from time to time. Some of the animals Mainers encountered in the 1920s and 1930s included deer, turkeys, raccoons, and foxes.
In the photos below (ca. 1925), several fawns follow a little boy, who may be proving their meal, through a meadow. In another instance, a man feeds a young fawn with a baby bottle while a small child watches.
Raccoons also interacted with Mainers in different ways. Sometimes they were hunted for their pelts, but other times they were treated more as beloved pets.
More recently, in 1993, President Bill Clinton made a proclamation at the start of Be Kind to Animals Week. He said:
We celebrate this week in order to remember the many ways that animals help us. By serving as guides, animals aid the blind. As lookouts and detectives, animals assist in our military, customs, and law enforcement efforts. As friends and companions, pets befriend our children, ease the loneliness of the elderly and the ill, and entertain our families in our daily lives. We also salute the veterinary professionals and animal protection organizations that help us provide food, shelter, and medical care for animals and pets.
Garden lilies: L. testaceum, L. washingtonianum, L. humboldtii, and more – they came by the dozens from across North America, and they came to a small corner of mid-coast Maine.
Their destination? The gardens of the Spite House in Rockport, Maine.
Despite some plants having come thousands of miles their travels are not nearly as impressive as that of the Spite House itself. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974, the Spite House owes its existence to a family dispute from the early 19th century.
When Captain Thomas McCobb returned from a long voyage at sea, he discovered that his relatives had broken his father’s will and moved into the fine house his father had built in Phippsburg. In retaliation, or “spite,” he had an even more ornate home built strikingly close to his father’s usurped house.
The house was completed in 1806. By the early 20th century the house had seen better times and, in 1925, it was bought by Mr. and Mrs. Donald D. Dodge.
Shortly after purchasing the home, Mr. Dodge arranged for it to be moved (completely intact) from Phippsburg to Deadman’s Point in Rockport. The house was braced, lifted onto a barge, and shipped 85 miles to its present location. Once safely back on dry land, two more wings were built.
The following year, Mr. Dodge had gardens installed according to a design by the landscape architect Robert Wheelwright. Now, thanks to a recent donation to the Maine Historical Society, we know just what bloomed!
Relatives of Mr. Dodge donated his documents pertaining to the gardens of the Spite House to the Maine Historical Society. Among the papers are purchase orders, receipts, plant lists, notes on plant care and propagation, catalogs, and letters.
Looking through the correspondence with over half a dozen plant nurseries (most of which appear to no longer exist), you discover the wide variety of lilies, roses, and alpine plants ordered and planted by Mr. Dodge and his gardener, Henry B. Williams, during the 1950’s. Mr. Dodge kept carbon copies of his letters detailing their successes and failures. It’s clear that he was an avid gardener with a keen interest in learning all he could about lily propagation.
Reviewing the papers, you’re regaled with their struggles to control a common plant disease, Botrytis, that plagued particular species, especially during wet and damp periods of weather. Controlling the local woodcock population also took precedence, as it’s assumed the gamebirds – primarily an insect eating species – rooted around in the flower beds, disturbing young seedlings and causing general havoc to the flower beds.
Here’s a passage from a letter addressed to A.D. Rothman of Strawberry Hill Nurseries, dated October 15th, 1954:
I am having a wonderful time in my garden now preparing the planting arrangements for these lilies and planning where to put them. You can be assured they will have every care possible. They are planted amongst shrubs – Azaleas, Kalmia, Rhododendron, Mahonia, Bayberry – but I have learned to give them plenty of room and I have also learned to restrict the roots of the Mahonias and Bayberries by putting in sheets of zinc to give the lilies a head start. The Kalmias and Rhododendron are no problem and the same applies to most Azaleas but some of the Azaleas do have runners. However, I am having a hard time keeping up with my woodcock shooting and getting the lilies planted too!
By all appearances, the time period covered in the collection marked one of the high points in the history of the Spite House Gardens. While under the care of Mr. Williams, the gardens underwent an extensive expansion with a lily and wildflower garden planted in the woods south of the house, installations of a rock garden, an enclosed rose garden, island gardens in the lawns surrounding the property, and the construction of a greenhouse.
All in all, the collection provides a glimpse into what it took to plan, execute, and nurture flower gardens on the coast of Maine nearly 70 years ago!
By Jessica Vogel, Simmons College Library Science intern, Fall 2018
Recently, I have had the pleasure of processing the Poor-Parsons-Frellick family collection. The family spent many years living on Peaks Island and in the Portland area. The collection includes a great deal of correspondence between husbands and wives, as the men worked out at sea. Letters illustrate the difficulties of being away from family, the endless assault of weather, and the often futile search for fish.
David Poor was born in Portland in 1818 and went to sea at the age of 11 working first as a cabin boy. He rose up over the years finally becoming a captain of his own ship. He worked for many years as a Portland Harbor Pilot. Captain Poor married Hannah Haskell of New Gloucester, Maine in 1843 and together they had three children: Frances Ella, Melissa Aurora, and Truletta.
Life as a family in the maritime profession could be difficult and lonely as a letter from Captain Poor to his wife Hannah illustrates.
October 5, 1857 New Bedford
I have had a hard long day this time hard luck and everything seems to work against me. I shall loose more this trip than I have made on any other but I must make the best of it. I think that when I get home I shan’t go away more this fall. You spoke of some money but I can’t get aney until I get to dischargin my cargo and then I will send you some and when you write again I don’t want you to rite such melancholy letters for you must now dear that it is very unpleasant to me. I don’t now what I have done that makes you feel so down hearted and speaking of promises I have not broke any that I now. of what folks say about me I can’t help when I am away but dam them I can when I am at home. I am very sorry to hear that Francis is no better and that lotty is sick to but my dear these troubles we can’t help I hope that they will soon get better I wish I was at home with you but I must finish out this trip and do the best I can and then I will be with you
I right as often as any man that goes to sea and when I make up my mind to run away and leave you I will right twice a day. these long and lonesome letters are not very cheering to any one so I hope that when you rite again you won’t have so much lonely in it now you won’t will you dear say you won’t and I don’t think you will break your promise.
Following his retirement, Captain Poor and Hannah spent their winters in St. Augustine, Florida. Captain Poor also found time to charter boats for residents. The Poor-Parsons-Frellick family collection includes stereoscopes of Florida and letters from their grandchildren during this time.
Captain Poor’s second daughter Melissa married Edward L. Parsons in June of 1865. Parsons, like Captain Poor held a variety of maritime jobs. Parsons worked for a time alongside his father-in-law as a Portland Harbor Pilot. Edward Parsons many letters to his wife describe battles with weather and the endless search for fish from Calais, Gloucester, Portsmouth, Provincetown, and beyond.
Sunday October 4,1868 Portsmouth
Dear Wife, It is with pleasure that I write a few lines to let you know that we are all well and hope you are the same. We have not got many mackerel for the weather is so bad. We have got 5 and if the weather had been good we should have done well but we was one day to late the day we came from home some of the vessels got as high as 90, your father, or our father was in the fleet but I don’t know how many he got we expected to have been at home to day bit I don’t know now when we shall be. We shall keep with the mackerel until we get some if we have to go to Cape Cod. I have felt some worried about you since we left but I want you to write as soon as you get this and let me know how you are and the baby how is she and has she got any big?
Edward L. Parsons and his wife Melissa had five children in total: Arlette, Arlette, Charles, Truletta, and Charlotte, however only three lived past childhood. Their second daughter Arlette, enjoyed a courtship with fellow Peaks Islander William Frellick before their marriage in 1893.
Peaks Island October 26
My dear Will, So you have really left the home of your childhood- but for a short time only, I’m so glad of that. Thought I’d send this to you it’s been waiting for you since the 9th. I made it for you and every stich was a prayer for my dear Will. Mama asked me why I was so still when I worked on it. Hope you will like it well enough to wear it. Ellen A. advised me not to send it, ‘He’ll wear it to see some other girl” I replied I can trust him anywhere. Your letters are a great comfort to me. Sat. Eve. I looked and I looked thought I heard you coming twice and went to the door. Did not know then that you were not coming home. Evelyn told me yesterday in S.S. It was rather hard yesterday to say goodbye and to miss you of so much. I just sat and cried about all the time in church yesterday
Lawrence, Mass October15 1891
Dear Arlette, your letter was most welcome and comforting. It is nice to travel but when a fellow is still he begins to think. This is a nice country but there is no place like home. Wednesday eve is a hard eve with me, I can think of nothing else but the pleasant times we have had on that particular evening.
Lawrence Mass. Nov 8, 1891
Dear Arlette, I bless the man who invented writing for that is the only outlet I have for my feelings. You in Portland and I in Lawrence. What would we do without pen and paper. Your last was quite pleasing to one who hasn’t seen a familiar face for a whole moth. Still it is quite pleasant to go away a while and have folks tell you how they miss you. I was sorry for your sore throat. Hope you are well by this time, see plainly that I am not to blame for all your sore throats though I have been to blame for a good many.
Arlette and William were married in October of 1893 on Peaks Island by Rev. B. Freeman who had married Arlette’s parents. According to news reports of the day the couple was well-known to residents and generally popular on the island. Frellick held a variety of positions over the years working at carriage and sleigh manufacturers, Zenas Thompson & Brothers on Elm Street in their blacksmith shop, the Post Office on Peaks Island, and was licensed to sell milk from a cart on Peaks Island.
In her later years, Arlette helped start the Calends Study Club on the island and was known as a local historian. She wrote a History of Peaks Island and Landmarks of Peaks Island in which she remembers the island of her youth.
This collection was generously donated by Arlette and William’s granddaughter Elisabeth Smith.
In the 1920s and 1930s City Hall was the place to enjoy special events in Portland, Maine!
Parades and processions marched to City Hall, presidents and politicians spoke from its front steps to crowds gathered in the street, and honorees received awards and recognition outside of City Hall. Essentially, when something exciting happened in Portland, at least a part of it took place at City Hall.
Below are event images at City Hall in the 1920s and 1930s from the Gannett Glass Plate Negative Collection (Coll. 1949) given to the Society by the Portland Press Herald. These images are being digitized and made available on Maine Memory Network thanks to a grant in 2016 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
At the Maine Centennial celebration in 1920, several high-ranking Naval officers visited City Hall during the celebration. City Hall was decorated in patriotic colors, and a large crowd was gathered around the officers.
From left to right: Commander Joss Manoel de Carvalho of the Portuguese battle cruiser, San Gabriel; Rear Admiral E.W. Erbele, U.S.N. commanding Battleship Division 5, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and U.S.S. Utah, Flagship; Rear Admiral Allan F. Everett, R.N. of M.M.S. Calcutta; Captain Henry H. Hough, U.S. commanding the U.S.S. Utah; Captain P.N. Olmstead U.S.N. commanding the U.S.S. Florida. This image appeared on page six of the Tuesday, June 29, 1920, issue of the Portland Evening Express.
In the summer of 1921, President Warren Harding visited New Hampshire and Maine. In Maine, Harding addressed a crowd from the steps of City Hall in Portland and concluded his visit with a game of golf at the Poland Spring House. People congregated on Congress Street during the President’s speech. He was joined by the First Lady and other politicians during his address.
In 1925, the annual convention of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs (NFBPWC) was held in Portland. Delegates from all over the country came to Portland for the event. Many arrived by train at Union Station and traveled by special train cars for delegates. Two women (below) from Wyoming posed for a photograph beside their car and outside of City Hall.
Franklin D. Roosevelt also made a trip to Portland and City Hall on October 31, 1932. Governor-Elect Louis Brann (right), introduced him to the crowd. Presidential candidate Roosevelt gave a campaign address to the people of Maine at this event. In his address, he explained his plans to work with Democrats and Republicans and to work in harmony with the other branches of government. Roosevelt went on to win the 1932 presidential election; although Maine was one of the six states he lost.
Memorial Day parades and celebration in often concluded at City Hall in the 1920s and 1930s. Many military officers and their spouses were honored for their service or honored those who died in service. Families often attended these events and gathered on Congress Street outside of City Hall.
Large-scale celebrations usually happened at City Hall, but smaller events often happened here as well. Many group photographs were taken on the front steps throughout the years: Boy Scout troops, Portland High School clubs, winners of Miss Portland Beauty Pageants, etc. often posed on the steps.
We hope you have enjoyed this brief walk down memory lane to Portland’s City Hall almost a century ago!
All photographs in this post are Collections of Maine Historical Society/Maine Today Media