More Fletcher's Annals of Camden, part VII
The thought never entered my head, when writing about Fletcher’s Annals of Camden, 130 years ago, that I would receive a nice letter from a distant cousin of his. David Fletcher, from Gardner, Mass., had been sent one of my articles that told about history we were learning from Colonel Nathan Fletcher. He gave me information on the family genealogy and more about Nathan.
He married Lucy A. Prescott in 1830 and they had the following children: Edwin C., Adelaide R., Eliza Jane and Ann F. The Colonel comes from Robert Fletcher, who settled in Concord, Mass., in 1630, coming from Yorkshire, England. From Robert’s son Francis, to Hezekiah, to William, to Jabez and then his son was Nathan Cleveland Fletcher, whom we thank for much of Camden’s early history. Our Nathan had two sisters: Maria and Matilda, as well as a brother Jabez Jr., who was lost at sea.
Colonel Fletcher was editor of the Christian Telescope in Thomaston, and a colonel on the governor’s staff. Nathan was a chaplain in the Navy and Camden’s Town Clerk in the 1870s.
A fascinating thing about this job, is that I receive many responses from my readers and many of them are relatives to the people I write about. They fill me in on things I did not know when writing and researching, but they also say that I tell them things they did not know about their family.
Fletcher, in his columns, says he discards stories he is told, because the statements looked unreasonable to him, and what first was a simple matter grew in process of time to such enormous proportions as to encroach on the borders of ridiculous.
Something else that has changed in 130 years is that Fletcher calls it “Mount Batty,” where we who lived at its feet have called it “Mt. Battie” for 80-some years that I know of. But that is a minor change compared to many other things of today.
In the summer of 1836, he accompanied Dr. Charles T. Jackson on a climb to our two mountains because Dr. Jackson was employed as a state geologist. I quote:
”It was a tearfully hot day in August when we left Rockland in a private carriage, and my faithful horse, ”Lightfoot”, soon reached Camden and landed us at the doorway of the old Megunticook Tavern. We soon prepared ourselves for ascending the mountains to obtain the true altitude of the same, and to make a preliminary survey of the coast in and around Camden. The Doctor’s staff was to follow us with the necessary instruments. Accordingly, we were driven to the base, where we alighted and proceeded on our upward way. The Doctor was a thin wiry man, all nerve and muscle and very enthusiastic in anything he did, and he soon outstripped me in the race. I plodded after him as best I could. At length we reached the summit of Mount Batty, seated ourselves on a granite boulder, and gazed around with delight. After resting a while, we continued on and crossed over to the base of old Megunticook. How to ascend this precipitous cliff, I knew not. I followed his footsteps until we reached the highest elevation of the mountain. Here, we paused, and I, completely exhausted, stretched myself at length in a solid ledge of rocks to rest my weary limbs. I actually fell asleep, while the Doctor continued his survey. The visions were so deeply impressed in his mind that he had not a doubt of its truthfulness. “
He speaks of a view of looking down on some low black buildings along the river, having the appearance of a western village lately visited by a tornado. He was writing about Dr. Bisbee’s powder factory. They manufactured gun powder and powder used to blast in the lime quarries. I quote Nathan Fletcher:
“They are finely located far from the business part of the village, as to cause no fear in the minds of the timid in case of an explosion. There is not the slighted danger of an accident, as long as Robert C. Duffle, their foreman, is superintendent of the works. It is thirty-five years since an explosion took place, that one killing two or three men. Since that time improvements have been made to the machinery. The grinding mill is, I should think, the most dangerous of all the departments in the manufacture of an explosive article.”
Well, I read that only a few men would work there and no one worked at night, when it might explode. Before it had operated a year, there was a report of an explosion in our local paper. It read:
“The powder mill in Camden was blown up on Friday evening last about 9 o’clock. The accident occurred after the workmen had left; consequently no person was injured by the explosion, but we learn that considerable glass was broken in the immediate vicinity. The flash was seen some seconds before the report was heard. The loss was estimated at $1,000.”
This interesting and exciting business changed ownership several times. Workers were difficult to find. Then another explosion was reported in the Rockland Gazette in 1853. Houses shook, windows were broken and the lights on Negro Island [now Curtis Island] were extinguished from the explosion, even though the island was a couple of miles away. According to account, there were nine explosions in all. So when Colonel Fletcher was writing improvements had been made.
Back to Colonel Fletcher and Dr. Jackson, who had been on the mountain for five hours, and their horse and carriage was waiting at Mr. Fay’s old place. Fletcher had seen quite enough of mountain scenery. They had dinner at a hotel and then went back to Rockland. I believe the hotel he referred to was the same Megunticook Tavern at which they stopped on the way in Camden. It probably was the Megunticook Hall, located approximately where the Camden Opera House is now and the building was burned in the Great Fire of Camden.
Thus ended their exhausting journey.
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.