As time goes by, part II
Last week, I reminisced about earlier days, this week continues where I left off:
Camden Public Library is much larger today and a beehive of activities. Back in the 1940s and '50s one could only whisper in the library, because people were reading. It took years to overcome that habit.
Then there was only what is now the third floor and called the “Reading Room.” The Centennial Wing” was a dream come true, with thanks to some generous donors, and it was dedicated by Barbara Bush in 1996. That lower section is very active for children of all ages with Miss Amy and Miss Stefanie to tell them stories. The Picker Room always has a display of paintings for the month, and some wonderful programs for adults organized by Ken Gross. The Walsh History Center, on the second floor of the library, is very busy locating pictures and all sorts of information about Camden, Rockport and Lincolnville, headed by Heather Moran. It contains postcard collections, many photograph books, cemetery data base, microfilms of all the Camden Heralds, Camden High School yearbooks, and Manning Directories.
After 111 years the Camden Businessmen’s Club gave up the ghost. They had been on the second floor for many years, before the Kay Tucker Room was made so beautiful to match the Opera House, and used quite a bit for some events. The Camden Businessmen then moved to the third floor in the Opera House building to a smaller room, but the members became fewer and fewer. Joe Talbot was the last secretary and treasurer and tried to keep it going. But times have changed and people did not think they needed people when television came in.
The Club was formed in 1888 and disbanded Oct. 31, 1999, serving as a social club, where members could relax and have” a men-only atmosphere” featuring cards, pool, billiards and conversation. In the beginning they played cribbage and pinochle. The members paid $25 dues, and their last four years MBNA helped with the rent for them. The last active members were Joe Talbot, Orren and Elmer Wadsworth and Jim Wannop. Talbot was a Camden native but went to California and Colorado for 30 years. He returned and tried to help run the Club, after Edwin Ames, the last president died. No other presidents were elected. Joe offered me the records to keep, when they closed, which I took to preserve. They are now at Walsh History Center. There was a time when the Camden Businessmen’s Club had 139 members.
Then there is the history of hospitals. Camden no longer has its own. The first one was at 86 Chestnut St., in 1925, started by nurse Eunice Gale. It was too much for one person to run. So they formed Camden Hospital Association and bought the Outhouse home on Mountain Street. It was there during the time period about which I write today. Many Camden people were born in that hospital, died there and had a few operations. One more hospital was built in 1964, where Quarry Hill is today. Penobscot Bay Hospital was built a few years after and Camden’s hospital became doctors’ offices and the Camden Health Care Facility was added. That was torn down a few years later to build Quarry Hill.
Windjammers are quite an attraction in Camden today, and I have lost count of the number in our harbor. However, the cruises were started by Captain Frank Swift in the time period about which we are writing. He began by buying old sailing vessels and then restoring, patching and painting them. He had about five or six. It became quite a profitable business and many people from the cities enjoyed sailing for a week and getting a different view of the coast of Maine. The vessels were very old and did not go too far from the coastline, but the view, the cooking and the good times aboard made it worth the price of a different vacation. Today, it is still a great business for many, and some have built new sailing vessels. They are also a tourist attraction for Camden, when people watch them go out on Monday mornings about nine o’clock and arrive back in on Saturday.
How about banks? Camden National is the largest one, having 44 branches in Maine and about 480 employees. It also has a record of being one of the oldest businesses in Camden. In 1875, it started as a very small building on the corner of Elm and Bay View streets and had an apartment above it. In the 1940s, when I began working and went into Camden National Bank every day for business, I remember there were four tellers, one in the note department and a bookkeeper. Also there was a president and probably directors. It expanded to a larger building and today goes on Chestnut Street from the Corner of Elm to the Post Office property. An anchor is their logo, and everyone needs an anchor. They always had a commitment to the community and support a variety of business, community, social and nonprofit organizations. The bank encourages volunteerism and believes “choosing service over self-interest, choosing what is best for the whole, as opposed to what is best for the individual .” Camden National Bank is listed in the stock exchange and has received many awards including: Governor’s Award, Fame Award, Corporate Select Honor Roll, listed as 12th in 2010 as top-performing mid-tier banks and an award by the Small Business Administration.
Camden has a larger population than we had in the 1940s. We have more automobiles today; sometimes there are three to a family. But, we do not have all the garages or car dealerships in town that we once had. During that period, we also had probably eight grocery stores in the business section, but French and Brawn is the one that has remained in town for many years. It is one of the oldest businesses.
Well, these last two articles pretty much cover some of what was, what is and who knows what will be?
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.