Camden's secret treasures
Camden has a secret, although it isn’t meant to be. Camden has lots of secrets (better than Peyton Place). When Weymouth, Laite and Dyer get together, they have a hilarious discussion of days gone by, but this is not one of those secrets.
This apparently is a hidden secret of wonderful things, but people say they don’t know where it is. I shall tell you, because you really do not want to miss the place. After the traffic light at Hannaford, a very short distance on the right is a small gatehouse and a winding dirt road to treasures. The Camden-Rockport Historical Society is up there on spacious grounds.
You will go by a “maple sugaring” building from the Howe Brother Farm. Then you will note a complex of a museum, Conway House, old barn, caretaker’s cottage and black smith shop. For a minimal price of admission, you can see it all, or if you have become a member, it is free. Also by becoming a member, the money is used to keep every place in good shape.
In 1936, John Tewskbury, a former Town Auditor and Town Clerk, started collecting old memorabilia of Camden. Mr. A. R. Ripley, a musical instrument dealer, wrote to the Camden Historical Society that he had a beautifully inscribed silver bugle that belonged to a Camden man named Paul Stevens. He would gladly send it back to Camden, if they had a historical society. The postmaster almost sent the letter back, but thought how John Tewskbury had collected many Camden artifacts, so gave the letter to him. Mr. Tewksbury said he would buy the bugle himself, but was told that it would not be sold at any price. So John got a few friends together: Mr.Leon Crockett, Horatio Stevens (Paul’s son), and Mr. and Mrs. John Tewksbury and formed the Camden Historical Society in 1938. Meanwhile, Mr. Ripley had moved to New Brunswick, Canada and the Society was told there would be 100 percent duty fee if the bugle were to be sent to Camden. So, Mr. Stevens, Mr. and Mrs. Crockett and daughter Margaret drove to Canada and brought back the bugle. That was the beginning of Camden-Rockport Historical Society.
July 1, 1940, those artifacts were displayed for the first time. In the Masonic Building (now Lord Camden Inn) there were some rooms for the Society and about 50 members joined. August 1, 1941 the annual meeting was held and Leon Crockett was elected President, with J. Hugh Montgomery as vice president, Evelyn Tewkesbury as secretary and Helen Dougherty, treasurer.
The silver bugle is still on display, along with many other artifacts. The “Conway House" was purchased for the museum in 1961, from Loren Bowley, who had recently acquired the property to use as a mill on another part of the land for his Camden Wood Working Shop. It is believed to be one of the earliest houses in Camden, built between 1760 and 1790. The owner could have been a Thorndike, Hosmer or Richards. The property consisted of the small house, large old barn and about five acres of land. Later a known deed to the property read: “On June 28, 1786, lot 27 (100 acres) was sold by Mary Lynde and Andrew Oliver to William McGlathry for 15 pounds. On April 27 1799, lot 27 was sold by William McGlathry to Rev. William Walter, son-in-law of the Hon. Benjamin Lynde of Salem for $50. On June 9, 1799, lot 27 was sold by Rev. William Walter to Simeon Tyler for $800. On August 21, 1807, part of lot 27 where the Conway House stands was sold by Simeon Tyler to Robert Thorndike, Jr., for $65.”
The same Robert Thorndike, Jr., considered to be the first white male child born in Camden, lived in this house from 1807 to 1825. They feel he added on the parlor, the child’s room above and the borning room. Frederick (brother to Camden’s hero of the Civil War, William Conway) purchased the home in 1826, and it remained in the Conway family for 90 years.
On the lot with the Conway house was the big old barn and a building they made into a blacksmith shop.
In 1963 the little house from Waldoboro, a gift from Mr. George Hunt, was moved over to the Conway House. Camden and Rockland both gave the Society granite from other demolished houses to use for a foundation. It became the caretaker’s cottage.
The wonderful collection needed a proper home. So June 21, 1969, ground was broken for the Museum. Kenneth Ryder of Camden was the contractor and present were directors and members of the building committee: Richard H. L. Sexton. Mrs. Ambrose Cramer, Mrs. Donald Anderson, and Winthrop Barnard. It was a 40-by-48-foot cement block building, designed by Bunker and Savage of Augusta. It opened Wednesday June 24, 1970, a home for all its collections.
The old steam fire engine that first went into service in 1892 was given to the Camden-Rockport Historical Society in 1968 for safe care and keeping. It remained until about 1993, when the curator came to the Select Board’s meeting and said she was going to sell it because they needed the money. Many history lovers were very upset. Camden did not have any extra money. Fortunately, Charlie Cawley was present at that meeting and bought the steam engine and had it encased in glass in front of our Camden Fire Department.
Over the years there have been many speakers and events.
Today the officers are: Brenda Barrett, President Frank Carr, Vice President Lynn Feldborg, Secretary Lynn Feldborg and Treasurer Elizabeth Moran.
The present upcoming events are the very popular bean suppers. The beans are baked in the ground by Maynard Stanley Jr. from 4:30 a.m. until about 5 p.m. These are served with hot dogs, coleslaw, biscuits, drinks and home-made pies by members. The dates are July 12, Aug. 9 and Sept. 13 at 5 p.m. The “Miners Creek Bluegrass Band´is there to play for entertainment or dancing.
The Museum is open June through September on Thursday through Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. Come and see what you have missed.
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian. While she claims to have retired from writing columns, she keeps sending "just one more."