Aroostook Seventy Years Ago
Recollections of an Old Timer
The Star-Herald
July 22, 1909

On the 11th of November, 1841, the writer was one of a crew of ten men, which, with four pairs of horses loaded with camp supplies, left Shepard Cary’s store in Houlton bound for the Big Machias, to swamp and haul pine timber.  The wages paid by Mr. Cary was ten dollars a month for narrow axe men and twelve dollars for broad axe men.

At that time the principal men of Houlton were Shepard Cary, Patrick Collins, Rufus Mansur, merchants and lumbermen; George Page, general country store; Timothy Frisbee, tailor; Dr. French, Drug store.  James Houlton kept store near where the C. P. Station is now located, Mr. Hussey where the Putnam block now is, Charles Butter across the bridge.  There were a few settlers along the road through Houlton, a few in the south part of Littleton.  The middle part of this town was locally known as the “Long Swamp.”  On the hill south of Monticello was a tavern kept by Mr. Gould.  From the Creek to Bridgewater it was all woods.  Mr. Joseph Ketchum kept tavern at the Corner; Mr. Joel Valley of Blaine.  Westfield was represented by Mr. Thorne, who run a two-room log tavern with an immense double fireplace in the middle, built of stone and clay, a catty chimney built of wood, straw and clay.  At South Presque Isle there was a tavern kept by Mr. Rackliffe, afterwards occupied by Mr. Sprague, the noted bear hunter.  At Presque Isle there was a tavern kept by Mr. Fairbanks, three other houses and a primitive saw mill.  Across the bridge there was about three acres of cleared land with a small frame barn, the roof shingled and the walls open.

Three miles from Presque Isle, on a blazed spruce tree there was an index finger pointing along the narrow woods road.  Under the index finger was penciled, John Beckwith, Peter Bull, Nathaniel Churchill.  Twelve miles from Presque Isle Mr. Trask had the walls of a log house built.  Not a tree was cut all the way from Presque Isle to Ashland for farming purposes.  IN 1843 Mr. Isaac Wilder came to Washburn.  They cut a chopping one mile long, got a good burn and cleared it for a crop the next year.

We left Fairbanks tavern on the 19th at four o’clock in the morning, expecting to get through to Ashland that night.  There had not been a team through that fall, the snow was a foot and a half deep, the swamps unfrozen.  To make matters worse for traveling, trees had fallen across the track during the summer, and we soon found we were up against a hard proposition.  We left one load, doubled up the team, took part of the load of the others, and so wallowed along.  We arrived at Trasks at 1 o’clock P.M., built a log fire, opened a barrel of flour and pork, and the cook stirred up a mixture of flour, salaratus and water and made what might be called by a stretch of the imagination a batch of bread.  We made our supper on this bread, raw salt pork and tea made from birch twigs.  We left Mr. Trask’s at 3 o’clock A.M., and arrived at Ezra Cook’s at 7 P.M. tired and dirty, with boots and pant legs frozen stiff with snow and mud.  Next morning we drove to the river, ferried our stuff over in a batteau; waded the horses across, the anchor ice running thick.  We stayed that night at a mill at the mouth of the Machias, and the next day made Cary’s camp.  The next day we hauled three-quarters of a mile on deadwater on the brook.

The teams broke through the ice and we pulled them out, led them to the head of deadwater, hauled the load by hand and then hitched up and drove to camp.  The language used by the crew during this experience was not exactly suited to the meeting house or Sunday School.

In the forties the Bangor mail from Mattawamkeag to Houlton was owned and driven by Eben Woodbury and George Bailey, daily mail, with four horses and a Concord coach in the summer.  The Calais mail, from Jackson Brook to Houlton, was owned and driven by James Lander.  The Woodstock mail was owned and driven by Charles Glidden.  The principal six horse teams that hauled freight from Bangor to Houlton were owned and driven by John Dow, Quaker Estey, Bangor; Eph Osborne, Dick Sinclair, Henry Smith, Houton; Lewis Johnson and Lewis DeLaite, Littleton.

Tradition says that the first potatoes grown in Aroostook were planted by James Holton, on lot 14, Cook’s Brook.  The first cash on market for potatoes in Aroostook was when Thomas White, James Taylor and some others contracted with the government to furnish potatoes for the troops at Houlton during the Aroostook War.  The first potatoes grown in the County for the Boston market were grown by Elder William Kinney, Hodgdon.  He hauled them to Woodstock, N. B., and sold them to Joel D. Beardsley.  They were shipped by tow boat to Fredericton, by wood boat to St. John and to Boston by coaster.  E. Merritt & Sons bought potatoes in 1867, hauled them by teams to Richmond Station, N. B., from which point they were shipped by rail to St. Andrews and by schooner to Boston.  The writer bought potatoes for Chas. Kimball, Boston, in the first potato house in the County.  During that year there were bought potatoes that were hauled by team from Bridgewater, Blaine, Mars Hill, Easton, Presque Isle, Washburn, Patten, Masardis and Ashland.  From that small beginning potatoes are now shipped by the million bushel.  The prosperity of the farmers of Aroostook depends largely on their potato crops.  Today they are independent, with large farms composed of smooth level fields.  They conduct their farming operations on more modern and scientific principles than the farmers of any other part of New England, and they are provided with a higher average of the comforts and luxuries of life than are any other class of farmers in the east.

Consider for a moment the difference between today and the pioneer period of the County’s history.  The early settlers, whose humble log cabins were sparcely scattered through the County, planted their potatoes with a grub hoe, harrowed in their grain between the stumps with a crotch harrow and cut their grain with a sickle or hand cradle.  There was no money in circulation, and shaved cedar shingles were the chief legal tender in exchange for tea, molasses, salaratus, etc.  Some of the wives were accustomed to help in clearing the new land, and in planting and harvesting the crops.  They carded and spun the wool, wove the cloth and made it up into clothing for their families, cooked their food before an open fire.  All the outfit for the kitchen, from the Dutch oven to the griddle for the buckwheat flipper, was not worth enough to buy an up-to-date cook stove.

One of the early pioneer wives actually rocked her first four baby boys in a sap trough.  Today these babies are independent farmers, though gray-haired grandfathers.  Their mother lived to wheel many of her grand children in modern baby carriages.  I have not words sufficient to express my respect and admiration for the pioneer wives of Aroostook.  Kings may reign, statesmen make the laws, armies fight the battles, men may combine for mutual benefit, but the woman that spanks the baby rules them all.