Last week marked a full year of weekly writing for the newspaper. For better or worse, I haven’t missed one yet, but I still can’t quite kick the habit of waiting until the very last minute to send something in. I guess it’s my own way of making sure I don’t let the exercise consume my entire week.

Without a deadline, the things I write tend to sit in the drafts folder, never quite finished. It’s usually not the writing itself that I find time consuming, but the urge to go back and read more beforehand. I sometimes envy the people who can confidently spew off a stream of consciousness consisting of whatever their memory makes available.

They sometimes get a lot more accomplished than those of us who entangle ourselves in the need to be certain of things before we say them. In our quest to answer a question completely, we will go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, and we often emerge with tidbits that are not widely known, and sometimes interesting. My favorite part is when I find things that directly contradict the prevailing narrative or my own assumptions and writing this column has been a good outlet for me in airing out some of the clutter bouncing around in my brain.

Being an elected official in Camden provides no shortage of little and big questions to answer and now, with the digitized Camden Herald archives at my disposal, it is possible to ride the curiosity wave over roughly 150 years of the official history of the town. The newspaper is certainly not the sole authority on the history of Camden, and this one is as guilty as any other in being primarily a tool of the elite and well connected to promote their own interests, but there’s a lot of information that you can trust.

Camden, like all towns, has done its fair share of arguing about silly things. Usually it’s hard to have perspective on these matters until much later when we look back and laugh at all the odd beliefs and arguments that influenced decision-making at one time or another. I wonder what my grandchildren will be shaking their heads at in 50 years as they read about the silly things we argued about in town back in 2022.

I hope by then they will have settled this issue of daylight saving time, because it seems to be one of those things where no one can agree, and every time it comes back up for discussion, it zaps the energy from every other important topic. It’s a story that has come up over and over again while I’ve been researching other things in the Camden Herald and now that the semi-annual clock change is here again, we’re all trying to remind ourselves why we do this in the first place.

Camden has voted on the issue of daylight savings time so many times that I grew tired of writing down all the dates. Believe it or not, the issue of time used to be a local one and towns voted which schedule to adopt, often independently of what the rest of the state and adjacent communities were doing.

Starting in 1918, President Roosevelt proposed and Congress implemented nationwide daylight savings time as part of the war effort designed to take better advantage of the daylight hours and burn less fuel. After the war, no one could agree on whether to go back to standard time or to continue saving daylight. Some felt they were gaining an hour of light at the preferred time by taking it from where it wasn’t so important.

In 1921, the editors of The Camden Herald were exhausted by the issue. They reported that the whole thing was just a nuisance because there was no standardized system and different states had different times as the official state time while individual municipalities were permitted to go their own way. Camden and Rockland had narrowly voted to go with daylight saving time whereas all the other surrounding towns were on standard time.

The Camden Herald editors in 1921 wrote that “the public or so equally divided, as to which time they want that there is no end of dissatisfaction, growling and argument going on about it, which ever way the town clock may stand.” Just weeks later, a petition drive forced another vote and the town reverted to standard time for the rest of the year. 900 people voted and just 22 votes made the difference.

At that point, those who opposed daylight saving time were apparently remarking that we had returned to “God’s time” and the editors of the Herald were clearly growing exasperated with the townspeople who seemed to have forgotten that standard time was no more God’s time than daylight saving time. After all, standard time was really a creation of the railroads and it was only in 1887 that the Camden Village Corporation abandoned sun dial time and imposed the system we have today, dividing the nation into four time zones.

“In the old days before the adoption of standard time, every place, north, and south, had the same time, and every place to the east and west had a different time of its own. In other words, every place on the same meridians of longitude have the same time and every place east or west of that Meridian had a different time. For example, when it was 9 o’clock in Camden, it was a little past nine in North Haven, and not quite nine in Hope.”

The newspaper was trying to make a statement about change and they jokingly reminded all the disgruntled townspeople that we had already made the transition away from sun dial time, despite the objections of many religious people and other purists who believed that standardized time amounted to man’s interference in the natural rhythm of things imposed by God. Essentially, our clocks were defying the sun and lying to us. By the 1920s we were arguing about time for entirely different reasons and no one was advocating for a return to the sun dial.

Last year, the Senate voted to make daylight saving time permanent, and some of us were naive enough to think that the issue had been settled once and for all and we would no longer be doing this flopping back and forth. From a medical perspective, it is widely recognized to be bad for your health and there’s a lot of research to show that it can even contribute to more car accidents and pedestrian deaths.

Well, not surprisingly, progress on a nationwide consensus around daylight saving time is nowhere in sight. The Senate voted almost without discussion to make daylight saving time permanent, but the House seems unlikely to even take up the matter. While experts agree that bouncing back and forth between standard and daylight saving time is bad, there is not much agreement on which system should be the permanent one. Doctors say it’s probably better to have the extra light in the morning, but the business community seems to want it in the evening.

I personally can’t really decide which side I come down on but I am glad that we’ve committed to a standardized system. By 1925, the Camden Selectmen had just about had it with the issue. Every time there was a public vote, another group on the losing side would rally for another vote and it became such a problem that the ballot questions started establishing that the issue couldn’t be revisited for at least a year.

Camden is one of the few towns that has an actual town clock. Not everyone agrees with the fact that it shares a support structure with a church steeple, but I think most are glad that we keep it tuned to a standard time agreed upon with our neighbors. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying watching the layers be peeled back on the Chestnut Street Baptist Church. The old wood and many rounds of renovations are visible underneath the white clapboards that we’re used to seeing. Much of the structure has been witness to all kinds of time-keeping methods from the sun dial to railroad time to daylight saving time. Certainly the trees that were felled to build the church would also tell their own stories about the nature of time before the arrival of Europeans.

Photo by Alison McKellar

The Editors of the Herald concluded one of their editorials in the following way and it seems like as good a message as any:

“Whatever time we have, if we do our duty and perform properly and faithfully, whatever work comes to our hands, we will get along all right, and there will be but little trouble with the world.”

Alison McKellar is an award-winning columnist and Camden resident and Select Board Vice-Chair. Her views are her own and do not reflect those of the Select Board.