Artifacts in the Bird house

By Daniel Dunkle | Feb 22, 2018
Courtesy of: Ian Emmott Hanson and A.J. Bird appear on the far right in this photo taken at Hewett's Island. The family outing turned tragic after the prominent brothers fell off these ruins and Hanson was fatally injured in August 1900.

These old Victorian houses on Rockland's streets have stories to tell, as one city couple recently found out.

Ian Emmott and Emily Gentile moved into the large vintage house at 13 Talbot Ave. in March of last year and started restoring it. Like many of the stately, beautiful houses in the city, it has good bones, but over the years had suffered various fads and fashions in decorating. Gentile said the couple are working to remove the "1980s" look.

In a small shadowy room by the chimney on the third floor, they found several books and artifacts stored. They also discovered a child's white dress from many years ago jammed into the space around an upstairs drawer. Numerous such drawers are built into the walls throughout the house.

Ian, as a devoted history buff, began researching the history of the house and discovered it was owned by the prominent Bird family of Rockland.

There is quite a bit of history surrounding the Birds going back to John Bird, who opened a small store and manufactured lime in 1825, according to "Shore Village Story." His sons eventually got into the business and over time the John Bird Co. grew, and became known for manufacturing spices. Its Three Crow Brand became famous and that name remains known in Rockland to this day. There is also a Bird block downtown.

Adoniram J. Bird started A.J. Bird & Co., selling groceries, lime, coal, wood and other commodities, again from "Shore Village Story." I happened to find an ad for A.J. Bird & Co. coal in a 1900 edition of The Courier-Gazette.

On Aug. 28, 1900, the Courier reported that A.J. Bird (who was also the son of an A.J. Bird) and his brother Hanson had accidentally fallen from a height into a cellar full of sharp stones after posing for a picture high on a stone ruin on Hewett's Island. The event had started as a summer outing.

"Mr. Bird [Hanson] and his brother, A.J. Bird, were the last to descend and in doing so the latter accidentally loosened a stone, which supported both of them, and both men were precipitated into the cellar. A.J. Bird was hanging by his hands when the accident occurred and his fall was not so severe, although he had a narrow escape from being struck by the stone."

Hanson struck his head and shoulders and was carried unconscious and bleeding from the island. For a while the family held out hope that he would survive.

However the next edition of the Courier carried a followup story saying he had died at his home on Talbot Avenue (then known as Middle Street).

Hanson was 41 years old. He had served as the city's fire chief for five years at one point. He had also served two years on the common council.

He was survived by his wife, Jennie Willey, who was also from a prominent lime family, and they had three young children, William, Madeline and Dorothy.

It was to these children that the items recently found in the house seemed to belong. There is a family Bible, a school writing book in which William practiced his handwriting, and his yearbook from Phillips Exeter Academy. There are also books inscribed as belonging to Madeline.

Among the curious artifacts found in the house were several tickets for polo events. And indeed, the article had noted that Hanson had helped bring about three years of first-class polo playing in the area. He had apparently been helped in this effort by one W. C. French.

Ian decided not only to research the history and preserve the artifacts, but to actually reach out to the Bird family and try to return the items. He contacted Jane Bird, 90, of Massachusetts, and invited her to visit his house Feb. 16. Jane Bird is the granddaughter of Hanson Bird, who died so tragically, and the daughter of William. The dress likely belonged to one of her aunts, Madeline or Dorothy.

Ian said it was very rewarding to meet with Jane and her husband, Scott, and get to talk to her about the history of her family and this house that he has been renovating. She spent private time in her father's former home looking through his books. They believe the dress was actually a baptismal gown for one or all of the three children in the family.

"I was also able to fill in gaps that were keeping my mind in perpetual research mode," Ian said.

"I have personally been to the island and seen the ruins... very eerie for me to see this!" he added, concerning the photo Jane provided of the fateful island outing.

Ian and Emily moved to the city from Massachusetts themselves. Ian had been stationed here at one point while he served in the Coast Guard. He now works for the VA at Togus. Emily works from home in the biotech industry.

For now they have the answers to their nagging questions, but I know from experience Ian will soon be back in research mode, if not for this story, for another.

There are just too many stories in these old houses that remain to be told.

Special thanks to Ian and Emily for bringing this story to me.

Editor Daniel Dunkle of The Courier-Gazette lives in Rockland. Send in your stories, photos and memories via email at: ddunkle@villagesoup.com; or snail mail to: 91 Camden St., Suite 403, Rockland, ME 04841.

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Hanson Bird appears in the center of this photo. (Courtesy of: Rockland Historical Society)
Ian Emmott, center, reached out to members of the Bird family, Jane Bird and her husband, Scott, to return artifacts he found in his home on Talbot Avenue that belonged to Bird family members in the early 1900s. (Courtesy of: Ian Emmott)
Artifacts from the Bird family discovered by new owners at 13 Talbot Ave. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
This writing book belonged to a child in the Bird family at the beginning of the 20th century. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Hanson Bird helped bring polo to Rockland before his tragic death in 1900. Tickets for the events have been found in his house at 13 Talbot Ave. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
An ad in The Courier-Gazette for A.J. Bird & Co. coal in 1900. The Bird family was prominent in Rockland in the 19th and 20th centuries and this was only one of their business interests.
Comments (2)
Posted by: Alison S McKellar | Feb 22, 2018 18:30

What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing. I love the reading the historical stuff.



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Feb 22, 2018 16:36

I love this historic record and hope more like this is forthcoming.



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