In November 1996, James Kane sent Maine Historical Society a document about violin makers in Maine, which included the names of the violin makers, where they lived, and their birth and death dates. In his cover letter, Kane described a wealth of research papers on this topic and asked: “Would your organization be willing to eventually accept this material and house it there?”
Twenty years later, in May 2016, Kane sent us 18 notebooks of research papers about amateur and professional violin makers from Maine, including research notes, photographs, and newspaper clippings. Kane died shortly thereafter, in September of that year.
Who was James Kane, and what was his interest in violins?
James R. Kane (1948-2016) was from Portland, Maine, and graduated from Deering High School. He taught bands and orchestras in California for 36 years. His family summered in Maine since the 1960s at their camp on Sebago Lake, which had been in his family since the 1940s.
In 1978 Kane acquired a few locally made violins at an auction, and after trying to learn more about them he found there was very little to be learned from existing data in various books and historical institutions. His interest piqued, Kane researched and collected information on about 200 individuals in Maine who crafted violins, violas, fiddles, cellos, and basses from before the Civil War to the early 2000s.
He researched violin maker names online, in research libraries, historical societies, newspapers, and through writing letters to individual family members and friends. Whenever possible Kane traveled to examine individual instruments for authenticity and craftsmanship. Data collected by Kane verified that 200 Maine craftsmen constructed stringed instruments during the time span from before the Civil War to the early 2000s, for an estimated total of 2,500 to 3,000 instruments.
We are delighted to announce that this collection is now available for research (Coll. 2978)! Photographs of many of the instruments Kane researched can be found in the collection.
This rich collection provides a glimpse into one man’s passion, as well as providing detailed information on Maine’s legacy of violin makers over the past few centuries.
Below are several items from this collection featuring Henry Harris, considered one of Maine’s most famous violin makers and one of the instrument makers Kane researched.
Henry Harris (1832-1913) of Mercer, Maine, was a cobbler and farmer. Born in Winthrop, Maine to Caleb and Dorcas Harris, he made his first violin when he was 14 years old. Henry Harris was married three times: Abbie Maria Hatch, Ruth Works, and Rose Pickens (1840-1930).
Recently, I have been processing a collection regarding one Maine family’s travels aboard a Downeaster ship in the late 19th century. The family was the Athertons and the ship the C.F. Sargent.
To provide some background, David Hooper Atherton was captain of the Yarmouth-built ship, C.F. Sargent (circa 1883-1886). He married Cecelia (Celia) McDermott in 1856 and had four children: George, Frank, Carrie, and Cecelia. Celia, the matriarch, passed away in May 1881 while her husband David and son Frank were at sea. For a short time, oldest brother George and his wife Daisy cared for the two youngest girls, Carrie and two-year-old Cecelia, until they were able to join their father and brother in Liverpool.
This collection largely deals with Carrie and Cecelia’s voyages aboard the C.F. Sargent between 1883-86. Maine Historical Society was also gifted the narrative East with the Wind, written in the late 20th century by Cecelia’s daughter Hazel Hammond. The narrative is based on a 1932 typescript by Carrie Atherton. The typescripts, along with some corresponding photographs, have made this collection a joy to process! I was tickled to read these similar, yet differing in a way that only a large age gap can bring, accounts of Carrie and Cecelia’s time at a Governor’s Ball thrown by the American consul in Hong Kong.
According to Cecelia:
“In [Hong] Kong on the 22nd of February the American consul always gave a ball to which the captains and their families were invited. One voyage we were there. As my father had to chaperone my sister to any social event I went to because there was no one with whom I could be left. That was when Colonel John F. Mosby was consul, and he invited sister to be his partner to lead the grand march. There were many young men there than young women so when the young men were without a partner for dancing they devoted themselves to me, and taught me to dance. I must have been about five years old. I had a wonderful time and danced until five o’clock in the morning. The last dance was the Virginia Reel, which I danced with my father. I was so small that when we formed the arch at the end the other couples had to almost crawl on their hands and knees to pass under, even though my father held my hands as high as he could. Sister had not told anyone until everyone was ready to go home that it was her birthday, when she told Colonel Mosby. He clapped his hands to call everyone’s attention and told everyone. That was how I learned to dance.”
Carrie notes more specifically:
“Papa had made several trips to Hong Kong and this was our (Celia and I) second trip so we had several friends looking for us… I think it was this trip an Italian Opera Co. were playing. Papa got tickets for the season. It was my first opera hearing. Celia always went and kept her little eyes wide open all the time. We were as a rule on shore to dinner, entertained by friends. This would mean dinner at 7 o’clock till 9 o’clock. Portuguese musicians were ready to play and we would dance till midnight or past. Celia would enjoy this as well as I, as the young men seemed happy to teach her little steps and dance with her. She was always full of life, happy and wide awake, until we would get on board Ship. There she would insist she was not sleepy and wouldn’t go to bed, then there was a cry when she had to. She was so tired she would be asleep almost before I got her into bed. This was the trip too that I went to the Governor’s Ball with Colonel Mosby… [he] was ‘Mosby the Gorilla’ of the Civil War.
Bust of Colonel Mosby
He was a Southern Gentleman. Very quiet but known as a man of honesty and integrity. He held the respect of our governments’ representatives for himself and his government as but few consuls commanded. Papa said he was the most sober, not intoxicated, and honest consul he had ever dealt with.”
Here are a few of my favorite photographs from the sisters’ time in Hong Kong. Though the photographer(s) are unknown, these were all found in Carrie Atherton’s photo album.
City of Victoria and Hong Kong Harbor from Carrie G Atherton’s album (photographer unknown)
Notes from the Archives by Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist & Cataloger
The sitting room once held Stephen Longfellow’s law office. Stephen (1776-1849), the father of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, used a sideboard-bookcase, which had a center drawer that folded down to form a writing space. It was the books in this bookcase that I cataloged this winter. I assumed they would be dry and dull law books, but to my delight and surprise I found more books associated with the family, which give more insight into the Longfellows.
Granted, many of these books did belong to Stephen, and had to do with law, and his work as a legislator. But other Longfellow family members make their appearance, by signing some of the books. These include…
-Stephen Longfellow (1805-1850). A teenaged Stephen doodled men’s profiles, ships, and a dog in ink on the endpages of The Elements of Greek Grammar.
-Elizabeth Wadsworth Longfellow (1808-1829). Elizabeth died at the age of 20, so it’s wonderful to have evidence of her life, with some of her textbooks in the house.
-Anne Longfellow Pierce (1810-1901). Although most of Anne’s books are in her bedroom, a few of them are also in this book case. They include poetry, fiction, and devotional writings.
-Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow (1814-1901). Elements of Chemistry by Edward Turner (1830) has an inscription by Alexander, dated 1831, when he was acting as secretary for his uncle Alexander during a tour of duty in the Pacific, off the coast of Chile. He later became a surveyor, and worked for the U.S. Coast Survey.
-Mary Longfellow Greenleaf (1816-1902). Mary signed several of the books, including textbooks, probably used by her at the Portland Female Academy.
-Samuel Longfellow (1819-1892). Samuel gave his sister Mary Yarrow Revisited: And Other Poems (1835) by William Wordsworth.
-Mary Potter Longfellow (1812-1835). One of the most poignant books in the house is Mary Potter’s Bible. It was given to her in 1819 by her cousin George Chase, three days before his death, “as a memento of his affectionate love.” Mary was 7 years old. In between the Old Testament and the New Testament is the Potter family genealogy. Mary’s husband, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, added the dates of their marriage in 1831 and her death in 1835. Mary died in Rotterdam from a miscarriage, when she and Henry were touring Europe.
-Fanny Appleton Longfellow (1817-1861). Gems of Sacred Poetry (1841) is inscribed: “Anne L. Pierce 1845, from her sister Fanny, with much love.” Fanny Appleton Longfellow was the second wife of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, therefore, Fanny’s “sister-in-law.”
-Anne Sophia Longfellow Balkam (born in 1818). Anne Sophia, gave her cousins Mary and Anne Longfellow books as gifts. She was the only child of Captain Samuel Longfellow (1789-1818), Stephen Longfellow’s (1776-1849) younger brother. She inherited part of the estate of her grandfather Stephen Longfellow (1750-1824). Although she lived outside of Portland during most of her girlhood, she corresponded with and visited her Portland cousins. She was a bridesmaid at Mary Longfellow’s wedding to James Greenleaf in 1839.
-Mary King Longfellow (1852-1945). Mary, the daughter of Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, Henry’s brother, owned The Child’s Matins and Vespers (1853).
-Henry’s great grandfather, Stephen Longfellow (1728-1790). Stephen owned a book called Essays Upon Field-Husbandry in New-England, which is inscribed on the front: “This book belonged to Stephen Longfellow the School Master, see his autograph on outer cover.” Stephen Longfellow was Falmouth’s first schoolmaster and filled many important civic offices.
-George Wadsworth. George is the lone “Wadsworth” in this group. He was possibly Henry’s uncle, the brother of Henry’s mother Zilpah. George may have owned a French dictionary in the book case, which was later owned by his brother-in-law Stephen, and niece Mary.
Another Wadsworth, however, can be found in this collection, by association. Abel Bowen’s The Naval Monument (1816) is inscribed: “Reuben Goff, Charlestown, Mass.” Reuben Goff was in the navy yard in Charlestown more than forty years. He made models, including one of the bridge from Charlestown to Boston. He was considered one of the finest workmen in wood, and when he died was at the head in one of the departments in the yard. What’s the connection to the Wadsworth and Longfellow families?
Some of the books have a connection to Henry himself, some from his student days at Portland Academy and Bowdoin College, as well as his professor days at Bowdoin. And not only Henry, but his brothers Stephen and Alexander, who also attended, and his father Stephen, an overseer and trustee of Bowdoin College. Henry used a Latin dictionary at the age of 13 when a student at Portland Academy. Apparently this dictionary was also used by Samuel, his brother.
Most charming is a book written in Spanish and inscribed by Henry to his brother Alexander: “Alex. W. Longfellow, de la hermano, Enrique, Brunswick, Me. 1830.” Alexander attended Bowdoin College in 1829, and for a while stayed with his brother Henry and his first wife Mary Storer Potter. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a professor of modern languages at Bowdoin – during his years teaching at the college, he translated textbooks in French, Italian and Spanish; his first published book was in 1833, a translation of the poetry of medieval Spanish poet Jorge Manrique. This book, by Garcilasco de la Vega, a Spanish poet, may have been inscribed by Henry (“Enrique”) to his brother Alexander.
Several of the books, including textbooks, were signed by “T. G. Kimball.” Thomas G. Kimball of Monmouth was a student at Bowdoin around 1835, and possibly a student of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
There is also a pamphlet entitled Acts Relative to Bowdoin College and the Standing Rules and Orders of the Overseers of the College, printed in 1826, which is inscribed: “S. Longfellow, 1831.” This may have been Stephen, father of Henry, as he was an overseer of the college from 1811-1817, and a trustee from 1817-1836.
One of the oddest finds is a book printed in 1830, which has the inscription: “Presented to his Majesty Louis Philippe, King of the French, by the Editor.” It is also inscribed, in different and later handwriting: “From the family of A. W. Longfellow.” This may have been Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, brother of Henry. Louis Philippe (1773-1850) was the French King from 1830 to 1848 as the leader of the Orleanist party. He was sworn in as King Louis-Philippe I on August 9, 1830. The book, The Debates, Resolutions, and Other Proceedings, in Convention, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution…was collected by Jonathan Elliot. One can only surmise at the connections.
The most exciting find of the project was to come across a “Scherenschnitte,” or scissor-cutting, by Martha Honeywell, lying loosely in Gems of Sacred Literature (1841). The book is inscribed: “Anne L. Pierce from her brother Henry, Jan. 1, 1845.” Martha Ann Honeywell, (about 1787-after 1848), was an itinerant silhouette artist who was born without hands and had only three toes on one foot. She cut paper for her silhouettes and profiles by holding the scissors in her teeth, using her toes for steadiness and guidance. The cutting is signed by Martha Honeywell and may have been collected by Anne from a performance by Honeywell who appeared at one time in Portland and in Boston. The scissor-cutting is now housed in the museum.
To learn more about these books you can search our Minerva catalog (Dewey Call Number Search) for W-L. This will bring up all the books in the Wadsworth Longfellow House, including the books in Anne Longfellow Pierce’s bedroom (see blog Part 1), and the sitting room. It also includes books that originally were in the house but are now located in the Brown Research Library.
Happy New Year! Can we just take a minute and say Thanks?! 2014 was an incredible year for MHS, much due to all the wonderful people who visited us for public programs, listened to our podcasts, became members, researched in our library, contributed to our collections, and engaged with us in person (throughout the state) and online.
We love creating programs and exhibitions for our diverse audiences (in Maine and around the world) and hope that if you haven’t had a chance to join the MHS community, 2015 will be your year to do it. Drop us a line if there’s something of particular interest that you’d like to see us doing in the new year–we welcome your feedback!
We’ve created 7 ways to look back on all that you’ve helped us accomplish in 2014–check out these posts compiled by our staff:
By the first week of August of 1914, nearly all of continental Europe was embroiled in war. Russia and France had entered the conflict at the same time, with Russia crossing the border into Germany on August 1. Germany crossed into Luxembourg the next day in preparation for invading France, while Belgium desperately attempted to maintain its neutrality. Their resolution did not last long; within two days, Germany had declared war on Belgium as well, in order to secure their route into France. By August 7 the British military had been mobilized, and the first of the British Expeditionary Forces had landed on French soil.
Throughout June and July, King George V of England was in constant contact with his fellow sovereigns and leaders across Europe, searching for a way to keep his country out of the conflict. The last of the major European countries to join the fight, Britain had tried to act as a mediator between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their closest neighbors in Continental Europe. However, once the threat of violence and the reality of formal war crept towards the borders of Britain, the country was swift to join the action. Word of mouth was not sufficient for instructing the population as to why they had joined a greater conflict, especially with a large amount of pro-German propaganda being printed and distributed on a regular basis. As such, both the British Government and private individuals took advantage of the vast printing and publishing resources available to them to produce material that was used not only by British citizens throughout the course of the war, but sent to the United States in an effort to sway public opinion.
Britain’s entry into the war was not confined to the citizens of the British Isles; the entire Empire came with them. Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, and all the other protectorates were encouraged to send men, munitions, and any materials they could spare as soon as possible. Australia and Canada, in particular, would have a great deal of influence on the progress of the war, particularly in Turkey and France. Astoundingly, many of the nations of Europe were enthusiastic about entering into combat, certain of their own country’s victory. Most though the war would be over in a matter of months, likely by Christmas or the New Year. That it would continue much longer, and claim many more lives than originally thought, would come as a terrible shock to all involved.
The Maine Historical Society’s Brown Research Library is currently in the process of preparing this collection of First World War documents for research, in time for the commemoration of the United States’ entry into the conflict. The collection materials cover the entire span of World War I, from works published at the very beginning that call it “The War of 1914” to documents produced at the end of the conflict that discuss the rebuilding of a devastated Europe.
Walking through the Maine Historical Society exhibition, Home: The Longfellow House and the Emergence of Portland, I am surrounded by beautiful objects that have been carefully preserved by MHS for centuries, each telling stories of how the Wadsworth-Longfellow House remained an anchor amidst the city’s unfolding drama. As I near the far end of the museum, I spot something out of place: a display of objects that do not seem to have been carefully preserved—there are cracked pieces of china, a mug with a hole in it, fragments of glass, mismatched buttons, a pipe that appears quite filthy, and an indiscernible object that I learn from the label is part of a man’s shoe.
What are these orphan objects and what do they have to do with each other or with the Wadsworth-Longfellow House? I read up on the display in the panel that is titled “The Privy.” Wait, isn’t a privy an outhouse?
The Brown Library at MHS was renovated a few years ago, and the adjacent Longfellow Garden had to be dismantled to allow for the crews and machines to access the building project. In 2008, workers who were rebuilding the garden wall noticed objects in the soil—broken glass and ceramics at first. This prompted an archaeological investigation by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission of the space and, according to the exhibition panel, “determined the ceramics had been thrown into a privy that was once used by residents who lived next door at 47 Brown Street.” So, these objects I’m looking at were in a latrine?
Reading on, I am relieved to learn that when Portland established a sewer system the privy was no longer needed and filled with debris—precisely the objects I see before me. These items serve as a humble reminder of how the immigrant and working class residents of the Brown Street apartments and boarding houses experienced urban living in the mid-19th century.
I am also relieved to see that, despite the fragile condition these former castaways were found in, MHS has dedicated itself to carefully preserving the privy artifacts for centuries to come.
Home: The Longfellow House & the Emergence of Portland is open daily from 10am – 5pm and has an online component on the Maine Memory Network.
This exhibition uses the House as a prism to explore how Portland has grown and changed over more than 230 years. When Peleg Wadsworth built the House on Back Street in 1785, it was on the rural outskirts of Portland. By the early 1800s, the House was at the center of a bustling, modern New England city. Since then, Portland has boomed, burned, boomed again, busted, and reemerged as a vibrant, forward-looking city. Through it all, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House has been a constant, and witness to the life of an emerging community.
Here are some images from the opening, taken by MHS Creative Manager Dani Fazio:
Learn how you can participate in the display “Your Home, Past & Present” here.