Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More of Maine's Abandoned Neighborhoods

I. Saunders cellar hole

Soft, white-and-yellow flowers poked up through last fall’s leaves and contrasted with hard, gray granite. Whoever lived there had been very good with stone, and with flowers. The people who positioned each were long dead. Their house had fallen in and rotted away, but I knew I would have liked them if only for where and how they chose to live. The cellar hole still perched beside the steep dirt road. Holes don’t usually perch but this one did. Through deep woods, I pulled my ATV into what would have been their dooryard on the uphill side. From there, I could oversee what would have been the view from the house when it stood. Hardwoods across the road were bare of leaves and a mountainous horizon was visible to the west. The view would have been unobstructed when the farm operated back in the nineteenth century and sunsets must have been stunning. That was my second indication of how much intelligence and planning went into laying out that farmstead. Getting off my machine, I was careful not to step on more beds of flowers the like of which I’d never seen before. Next, I noticed a dug well covered with an old piece of galvanized steel roofing. Then I walked down to the cellar hole for a closer look. It was impressive. Massive chimney bases told me the house had probably been a cape with large fireplaces on the gable ends. From one uphill corner a galvanized, steel pipe stuck out - a gravity feed from the uphill well still trickled after all these years.

When I got home I pulled out my maps. One old Oxford County map told me that someone named “I. Saunders” lived there in 1858. Another showed him still there in 1880.

It was spring vacation and I’d finally found time to renew one of my favorite pastimes - exploring abandoned neighborhoods. I had focused on Albany Township, Maine. It’s not a municipality anymore, but it was once. Judging from the 1858 map, it had almost as many people as Lovell did, but seems to have lost many more in the post-Civil War outmigration to the west - so many that it ceased being a town and gave over control to the State of Maine. I’d looked it over from my pickup truck over the past ten years when I felt like driving around on Friday-night dates with my wife, and noticed some building going on. Some of the old neighborhoods are being repopulated. I saw homes going up next to or behind two-hundred-year-old cellar holes. People today obviously agree with 19th century pioneers about the best places to site a house.
1858 Map

Nobody built near the Saunders cellar hole though - too steep for them I’d guess. There are ledges on the hillside above and it looks like Mr. I. Saunders pulled some large flat stone down for his house foundation. He used two massive 5X5-foot slabs to form one corner and a few others to form parts of the cellar walls. Don’t know exactly how long they’ve been in place, but they haven’t moved after at least a century-and-a-half of freezing and thawing. As I said, he was good with stone. He might have been assisted by relatives as the 1858 map shows other Saunders farmsteads above and below his. Brothers perhaps? The Saunders farm above had disappeared on the 1880 map. Did that brother seek his fortune in America’s west as so many others from western Maine did?1880 Map

Looking at a 1915 USGS map to be found online on a University of New Hampshire web site, I could see there was still a house there where I. Saunders had built it and quite a few acres were still clear on both sides of the steep dirt road.1915 USGS map

On the 1943 map, some of the land was still clear but the house was gone. The 1963 map shows the forest having overtaken everything.1941 USGS map

As of last week, a few trees left from his apple orchard stood here and there between stone walls, and those delicate, white-and-yellow flowers were still blooming.


Diane Gurien (Kearsarge) said...

Let's give credit where credit is due:

A fascinating, well-researched and warmly nostalgic piece by Tom McLaughlin that can't fail to please everyone who reads it.

It made my day; I really enjoyed it.

Thank you, Tom!

aliledar said...

Another lovely and interesting column. I think the flowers are rue anemone.

Anonymous said...

I wish you could go to the "Jack Flint" farm in West Baldwin. It was orriginally settled by the Deacon Ephram Flint. There is a tunnel under the road that went to an orchard. The barn could be entered at ground level on all three levels. What a foundation that is. Wish you could see it.

Harvey in North Baldwin

Sam Stone said...

Thanks for the glimpse into the past Tom.
I too hold a fascination for cellar holes, wondering what the homes may have been like back then and what their builders and occupants were like.

Tom McLaughlin said...

I grew up in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. That's a remarkable coincidence considering this information I received by private email last night from David Crouse, publisher of the "Cold River Chronicle":


In reading your latest blog, I was curious to know more about the Saunders family. So I did some research on the Internet and found quite a bit of info. Perhaps you already have at least some info, but if not I'm sending what I found.

David Crouse

Amos Saunders, born 1764, in Billerica, MA; married Dorcas Frost of Tewksbury, MA, in 1789. They moved to Albany, ME, between 1805 and 1810. In 1850, at least three of their sons were listed in the census of Albany:

(1) Joshua Saunders, born 1791, in Tewksbury; married Elizabeth. Joshua died before 1860, since his widowed wife was living with their son Ira in 1860 and 1870.

(2) George W. Saunders, born 1795, in Tewksbury.

(3) Zadoc Saunders, born 1805, in Tewksbury

Ira H. Saunders, son of Joshua, was born about 1826, in Albany, and married Eveline Eames in 1854. He is undoubtedly the "I. Saunders" on the 1858 map of Albany, and may have been living on the original Saunders homestead, since his widowed mother was living with him in 1860 and 1870.

There are two "G. W. Saunders" on the 1858 map, one probably George W., born 1795, son of Amos; and the other probably George W., born about 1821, son of Joshua and brother of Ira.

Ira H. Saunders last appears in the 1880 census of Albany, listed as having consumption. From censuses it appears that Ira had the following children:
(1) Ora H., b. 1854;
(2) son b. about 1858, listed as Eli H..in 1860 and as Kendall in 1870;
(3) Elbridge, b. 1860;
(4) Elmer, b. about 1866;
(5) daughter Aglena or Eglena, b. about 1868; and
(6) Mary, b. about 1874.

The only son of Ira living in Albany by 1906 was Ora H. (1854-1946), who married Etta Sanborn and had two sons: Carlton (b. 1888; d. 1969, in Augusta, ME), and Elmer (b. 1895; d. 1961, in Augusta, ME). Ora, Carlton and Elmer were all in Albany in 1930.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info Tom. Ha, had to laugh at "mosquito pond". Sounds like something up north where I used to be in Cold Lake.


Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,
really enjoyed the pictures and account of your visit to the Saunders farm - since I farm and his son Carlton was my grandmothers mother it makes it special to have this account. There is a hill top cemetary where all are buried and lots of interesting facts abound. There is a family story about an murder of a young woman possibly a wife? of Carlton or ? found in a cellar ? any ideas or stories in your research

Anonymous said...

Thanks for directing me here for an explanation of the abandoned neighborhoods. Sad, really, that no one wanted the house on the beautiful stone cellar. Maybe, like you said, it was too steep. Enjoyed looking at the maps also.