Annals of Camden, Part IX
Probably you all thought Col. Nathan Fletcher and I had parted company by this time, but he still tells us a few more things we need to know.
We are all interested in businesses in Camden and Rockport. One of the descendants of Robert Thorndike, first settler of Goose River [now Rockport], had given Colonel Fletcher the following information that he shared in his writings in 1884.
It appears the first stock of goods brought into the town of Camden was offered for sale by Robert Thorndike in 1770. He lived in Portland before coming to Camden (that still included Rockport). He was owner and master of a small schooner, making several trips to Camden, both from Beverly, Mass., (his birthplace), and also from Portland. In so doing, he chose Goose River harbor, rather than the harbor (in Camden) to settle.
Robert Thorndike came to this town in July 1769 and brought his wife and seven children with him. James Richards preceded him by a few months. Thorndike built a log hut as a temporary structure until he could build a building large enough to accommodate his growing family, as well as a convenient place in which to do business as a trader. He erected a frame house on the lot just below the old Methodist meeting house by the river side. Here he built a lime kiln and burned lime for many years. He also built another vessel for the conveyance of his lime to different markets in adjoining states and brought back in return West India goods and groceries to supply the wants of this sparsely settled region around him.
The second log cabin at Goose River was built by Alexander McGlathry, on the west side of the river, where later the Carleton, Norwood & Company built large vessels.
“Peddlers” were not considered traders then, or when Fletcher was writing about businesses. They did, however, make their appearance in Camden. One was an Irishman, and the other was Ward. The later did not stay long enough for the settlers to learn his Christian name. He shouldered his pack and left for parts unknown.
The Irishman, John Durgin, took his pack and went to the harbor in Camden, into a small building James Richards prepared for him on the site of today’s French & Brawn, at the corner of Elm Street and “Market Square.” He kept only a few articles at first, but as new settlers came into town, he increased his stock, until he built up quite a large business for the place and time. He had been here about eight or 10 years when he left for good. He accumulated enough wealth to return to his country, the “Green Emerald Isle.”
Fletcher writes about businesses there in his day;
“At the base, the road leading to Rockland winds along gracefully, the whole extent of the village, until we reach the extensive shipyard of Carleton, Norwood & Co., and the incessant clattering of the carpenters’ tools upon the ship of over two thousand burthen, which is now in process of building, falls harmoniously upon the ears of the passing traveler. From this point, traveling north towards the bridge which spans the stream, are mechanic shops of all descriptions including steam power, and lime kilns sending up their wreaths of smoke as black as Erebus, until it loses itself in the pure atmosphere which is ever sweeping over the elevated hills in the rear, or wafted up the harbor from the murmuring waters of the bay. On turning toward the east, I discover numerous pleasure yachts dancing upon the waters of the pool, and further on, by the river side, are the lines of ice houses, somber and forbidding, with no windows to admit a ray of light, but which contain the frozen fluid, to cool the parched tongues of the denizens of torrid clime; and here lie the ships ready to convey it to any part of the world where there is demand for it. There are cozy cottages all along the eastern side of the harbor, streets intersecting each other in different directions. At the entrance to Rockport Harbor is Indian Island Light, whose twinkling beacon guides the mariner to his destined port. The lighthouse was erected by an act of Congress in the year 1850. It is known by several names: Beauchamp Point light, McIntire’s Point light and Indian Island light — the latter is the correct one, and that by which it is called and recognized by the Lighthouse Board of Inspectors. The first light keeper was Silas Piper, and he was succeeded in 1853 by William McLaughlin; then Richard Grinnel was appointed in 1857. After a few years the light was discontinued for some years, and then relighted when the present keeper was appointed. The island is small, and is but a continuation of McIntire’s Point; you can pass over the bar at low water dry shod, for in 1857 when Grinnel was appointed keeper, to succeed McLaughlin, Judge Bass and myself were appointed by the collector of customs at Portland to take an account of stock, and pass the property over to Richard Grinnel, which we did; we passed over from the mainland to the island without difficulty on foot. The island took its name in early times, from the frequent visits of the Indians. They made it their camping place for many years, and always retained the name given it by the first settlers, ”Indian Island.”"
We are fortunate Colonel Fletcher wrote his Annals of Camden 130 years ago and it gives us some interesting history we would not otherwise have. Next week I will tell you about what he has to say of the history of Rockport Village in his day. My hope is that Rockport will be as fascinated with these facts as I am.
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.