More gifts from the Bok benefactors
Last week I wrote about Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist and some of the wonderful gifts she gave to Camden. I also mentioned her two sons. The eldest was Curtis, who was at one time Judge in a Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia, and Cary lived in Camden and owned the shipyard from 1941 to 1963. They built many vessels for the World War II effort. Mary Louise sponsored a large wooden coal barge MCc853, needed to bring coal to New England for fuel, on the Fourth of July in 1943. It was at one minute past midnight that she smashed the christening bottle over its bow.
Her husband, Edward Bok, also donated to beautify Camden. In June 1936, The Camden Herald had an article on the front page that Edward Bok Awards were to be given for the 11th year. Everyone realized the value of these awards were to arouse interest and help make Camden beautiful. One could apply for an application and the prizes were for the Best Lawns, Best Gardens, New Gardens, New Lawns, Community Planting, Business Building Improved by Planting, Homes Attractively Planted and Rock Gardens. Winners of the previous year in a category could not win again, except in another classification. One could compete in only one class per year so the prizes would be distributed more generally. Bessie Bowers was the secretary for the Garden Club and handled the entry blanks. The prizes were money, but I do not remember just how much. My old mind tells me it was about $100 for first prize. Many did enter, and many homes looked much nicer with the gardens. These awards were presented at Camden Yacht Club for the first two years, but because of great interest to the town people, Camden Opera House was later used for the ceremony.
Camden’s business district was dressed up by flower boxes on the lamp posts. The idea of this unique, lovely custom I was told, Cary W. Bok had seen in Europe and told his parents about them. So, Edward Bok started the tradition in the mid-1920s and when he died it was carried on by his wife Mary Louise Curtis Bok. The flowers were to be cared for by those merchants whose stores immediately adjoin the various lamp standards. But for many years and today the Camden Garden Club has had them planted and cared for. Frank Alexander had a blacksmith shop, when the custom started, and he forged the first baskets. On the corner of Elm and Washington Streets the first flower-filled box appeared on the lamp post near what was then Chandler’s Drug Store.
This trend continued to make Camden one of the most talked about and one of the most admired towns on the entire New England coast. Many businessmen supported the plan to paint all framed buildings white with green trim. In 1936, the list had increased from eight to twenty-four. Work had already started on the F.L. Spear shop on Bay View Street and followed next door to A.H. Parsons building, then along Main Street to the Perry estate building housing L.O. Gross, Carr’s Beauty Shop and the DeLuxe Restaurant. The next group is the building in which the Village Shop, Eugene Beauty Shop and Joe Talbot’s Sandwich Shop were located. Isadore Gordon of Rockland, owner of that building, had given his assurance of a paint job on the green trim of the entire front of the building. Next door Mann’s Garage, which was owned by J. Hugh Montgomery, would be painted white, with green blinds and flower boxes would be added. Lloyd Thomas’ Antique Shop and Lenfest’s Garage (now the Smiling Cow) would be painted white. There was a question of repainting white, the grey front of the Central Maine Power building, but it was under consideration. Across the street Frank Kennedy’s Store and Pool Room (now House of Logan) was going to repaint his building green and white, plus eliminate the large Coca-Cola sign on the Megunticook River side of that building. Around the corner on Mechanic Street Harold Corthell was going to repaint his own store front and the three adjoining buildings occupied by Rankin Harness Shop, Charlie Ronco’s Place and Wlibur’s Pool Room. Next to the Post Office, Potter’s Photographic Studio was also to have white paint. Many others changed their trim. I have specifically mentioned each of these places, not just that they cooperated to make the business district much nicer, but also because some of my readers may be interested in what businesses were down town in 1936, and will note the ones of today are much different.
Another major contribution by the Bok family was $100,000 to Knox Hospital for construction of a nurse’s home in memory of Edward Bok’s brother William. Although located in Rockland, it was very important to Camden also.
Edward Bok was a great supporter of the Camden baseball team. He created the “Camden Prize” of $250. After two years, the Camden boys won it and he treated them to a banquet at the Megunticook Golf Club. He also treated them to dinner aboard the yacht Lyndonia, the largest yacht every summer in Camden Harbor.
In 1929, he donated $5,000 to the Camden Library Maintenance Fund. Edward Bok died the following January in lake Wales, Fla., where the Bok family had built a 26-acre national park with the Bok Singing Tower.
Cyrus Curtis was a Portland boy who became very successful with the Saturday Evening Post and The Ladies Home Journal. He created The Curtis Publishing Company. He gave generously to any projects that his daughter started. It was through his legacy and her generosity that Mary Louise could beautify Camden and Rockport.
Mr. Curtis had three large yachts, and the last two were called Lyndonia. The second Lyndonia had three decks, 230-feet in length and a 30-foot beam. It cost $1,250,000 in 1920. It took a crew of 38 men to run it and cost $1,000 a day. It gave employment to many Camden men. It was used as the flagship for the speed boat Regattas held every year in the 1930s. In 1927 he had President and Mrs. Coolidge aboard and on the Fourth of July in 1930, he entertained all the governors.
Cyrus Curtis also built Camden Yacht Club, where there were once lime kilns, and he gave it to the inhabitants of Camden.
In the 1930s he donated a beautiful pipe organ to St. Thomas Episcopal Church and also the same to First Congregational Church in Camden. The Congregationalists still are using theirs and the music is beautiful. He added on to the church to accommodate the pipes that go to the second floor. A wonderful book was compiled by Professor Albert Bennett called "The Lyndonia Collection" and can be seen at Camden Public Library. His grandfather, Albert Bradley Bennett, was Chief Engineer of the Lyndonia.
Camden has been very fortunate to have had these benefactors and others.
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.