Following Camden in the 50s

By Barbara F. Dyer | Aug 15, 2019
Pictured is an early postcard view of the Camden Arch.

Every decade has its shining moments, as does Camden and its suburbs. The year started with the Snow Bowl ready to be a site of activity, but being on the coast with its climate changes there wasn't enough snow for skiing. Skating was very good, as it was when the Snow Bowl was built, when there was little interest in skiing.

The firemen elected Allen Payson as chief for the 20th time, and the big discussion was that Camden needed a new fire station. Everyone agreed that a new location on the corner of Washington Street and Tannery Lane would be desirable. It was a much better exit for the fire trucks than it was across from the Town Office.

Did you know the Chamber of Commerce was in touch with Canadian officials to have a ferry terminal from Maine to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia? It never happened and our Camden Harbor would not be the same today, if it had happened.

The American Legion held some vaudeville shows and, as was common in the past, a minstrel show. All with local talent. The Legion was also busy collecting used toys for children in Europe. The Knox County Posts were 31 years old and celebrated their birthdays with their Auxiliaries. The Camden Post held their second annual banquet for members of the CHS basketball team.

A 60-mile per hour windstorm hit the area and knocked down power lines, poles, trees and the largest crane at the Shipyard. As it was ripped off its base, it went through the machinery house and left a large hole in the dock. Then it landed on top of a yacht captain's car. I remember that he was not concerned about his car, but asked if the bottle of rum in the back seat was broken. Everyone has a right to his priorities.

Myrtle Sherman died; she had served the town of Camden for 27 years as bookkeeper, 11 years as treasurer and was the first woman elected as selectman. She paved the way, as since the beginning only men were thought be be capable. Since then several women have served. The boys from Landhaven School boarded the “Queen Elizabeth” for Europe, when very few people from here traveled abroad.

Camden's population was about 3,600 residents. There were 312 pupils at the Brick School (MET), 162 at the Elm Street School and 225 students at the High School. Television had not yet come to Camden, so all the many clubs and organizations were having meetings and electing officers for the year. In Camden, Alex Gilmore, a lawyer, bought and installed what was said to be the first TV here in June of 1950. Bay View Street neighborhood held a picnic at the Laites' Public Beach and 85 people attended it. Tibbetts Industries put up their new building on Limerock Street and became one of the three highest payrolls in town.

In 1953 a group of women who had attended CHS in the 1940s wanted to continue their friendship after the war was over and things were now back to normal. They formed the Busy Fingers Club, meeting once a week to sew, knit or just chat. Mary Hatch lived in Rockland and belonged to a Federated Club and thought it would be nice if Camden formed one. They met at Edna Bland's home and started the Camden Junior Women's Club under a Federated Charter. They became a very active group and put on three large events each year to raise money for use in the community.

When a majority of them reached the age of 30, they felt they were too old to be called “Junior Women,” and became the Camden Women's Club. One year they entered a Community Achievement contest and were selected a winner (one of 10 Federated Clubs in the United States that were chosen). It was a large celebration by the town, because the judges were to appear in Camden. “Marion Village” was a nice restaurant on Route 1 and the owner provided a free dinner to the officers of the Camden Women's Club and the judges, who came to make a decision. It was in April and the Selectmen declared it “Camden Women's Club Day,” and even swept the streets a little early that spring. We toured them to see the projects accomplished. We showed them what 35 young women could do working together. After all was said and done, the judges left Camden and went on to tour the other nine winners. When the officers of Camden Women's Club went to receive the award, we did not win first prize, but received $1,000 which was more money than we had ever had. There was a lot of discussion on how we should spend it and finally the Club voted to give it to the Camden schools for playground equipment. It was the high point for the Club in the many years (40?) it was in existence. Whenever a new person moved to Camden, the women joined the Camden Women's Club and made friends immediately with many.

Probably one of the most noted events in Camden happened in 1957, and we shall ever be “Peyton Place.” Before the time the book was published, every movie and book had been censored, so that was a very shocking book. There was a copy in the Library, but Mrs. Pitcher kept it under lock and key. If someone insisted on taking it out, she had to give it to them. However, the book had such a reputation that a few did not want the movie filmed here. I was one of the few, but most people were excited because they wanted to be “in the movies.” It turned out well, as many donated the money they made to benefit the new Camden Hospital. Fox Movie donated quite a sum to the building fund of the hospital. We did get our own hospital, but it was small and most doctors and nurses went to Penobscot Bay Medical Center, and our new hospital became part of the Health Care Center, before Windward Gardens and Quarry Hill were built.

Yes, I have the video of “Peyton Place” and wonder now why I was upset by it. I enjoy watching the Camden people in it and the scenery. The content is so common now, with TV and movies no longer censored and when I look back at some of our own town characters, this could have been “Peyton Place,” as well as many other towns. Some people had planned a film festival in the year 2000 and were to feature that movie. They asked me to be on the committee, but I told them they did not want me, as I didn't want it filmed here. They just laughed and said I must, so I did. Russ Tamblyn, who played Norman, was the only movie star who came, and we really enjoyed him. The Committee went to the Whitehall Inn and had dinner, as one of the scenes used was the Whitehall Inn. It surprised me that some people came from New York and other places, because they loved the movie so much. One person wrote and asked me to take snapshots of all the scenes at that time, that were in the movies. I really had to search for many of them, so I made a scrapbook for the Camden Public Library to keep in their archives.

So much for Camden history, but in the years since the 1950s it seems like yesterday, not history. Therefore I have given you a glimpse of, what to me, is the past.


Barbara Dyer poses with actor Russ Tamblyn at the Camden Film Festival in 2000.
Pictured is the Knox County Courthouse, as it is today.
Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Aug 15, 2019 16:14

Thanks Barbara, for the memories. Yes we did live through Peyton Place and what a circus it was!  Keep writing as I love the memories. Here in Arizona and retired, I cherish the history rewrites I lived through. I love my on-line subscription.

I miss Maine but not the snow. I love the Arizona sunshine year round.

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever   +:0)

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