Visiting a shut in at a nursing home or an elderly member of a small Maine town that is house bound can yield much rich local history.
Meg and I visited one gentleman in the local Gardiner Nursing home yesterday. And it made all three of our days. As you listen to the yesteryear stories, you see the energy and vitality return to the tale teller. Our local resource in the Maine nursing home shared much on local buildings now gone or replaced. The folks who lived in the neighborhood houses, recounting tid bits of information about their families. All local history facts that fade with time but need to be documented to pass on and stay alive.
This person grew up on Prospect Street in Houlton Maine and talked at length about a wagon or carriage factory that was three stories high. The top level for painted fancier carriages, the bottom level used more for working wagons. He explained his uncle had patented in 1902 a special wagon for the local Northern Maine potato farmers to save wear and tear on their backs. The design of the axle to lower the platform was very popular. To make it easier for their help, the families working on the farm to load barrels of potatoes out of the field up and onto the wagon platform. For the journey to the local potato house for storage over the winter months. To draw from and empty the bins in one by one load sales to the consumer down country that was accessed by railroad. No overnight, just in time inventory deliveries from trailer trucks at this time in history available.
We also had a local Aroostook County tinkerer who invented a tong potato barrel hoist that had three claws.
That you could toss from the loading flat bed truck used to collect the barrels. Attaching itself like a spider on the top of potato storage barrel made of cedar staves or sheets of plywood. The hoist tong would tighten and hold tightly to the straps of wood that held the barrel frame together as it was pulled upward and swung over to be lowered on to to the stake truck platform loading area. Using an electric motor first and then modified with hydraulic pump running off the truck’s engine.
I had taken this same gentleman through a house we had listed for sale a few years back. That was being shown to a friend of his, a classmate who moved back to retire in Houlton Maine. The retired builder came along to explain how the home was built, what was the custom at the time in the local construction of neighborhoods in my small Maine town. He was like a building inspector of sorts, like a shop teacher on the home tour. The flooring was oak when 90% of the same type homes of the period were constructed with maple stock. I asked the builder who had hung up his saw and hammer, nail pouch but able to drive himself around, who had created this house back in 1957, just why that was.
He smiled as the story started like it was yesterday and crystal clear in his memory.
Explaining he did not want to use oak but maple flooring was not to be found. There was a shortage of any local building supply inventory of maple flooring to use in this ranch style home on the southern end of the village. The oak flooring cost $100 more for the entire home and was a last resort to keep his men busy and the project moving along so he could finish up one house to begin another next door.
As one by one the structures popped up on both sides of the street. To hook to existing water and sewer, the electrical utilities. And have the street built to specs so the local municipality would adopt the roadway and take on responsibility for paving, snow plowing, lighting and the routine maintenance that would be required in the years ahead. These houses sold for $4000, $5000 and a high of $6000 which was big money at the time for a Northern Maine home.
In small Maine towns, walking scores are off the chart too.
You don’t need to rate the area for how easy it is or safe you are if you decide to take a stroll for some fresh air. Day or night, we walk any chance we get. Often it is quicker not just healthier than firing up the steel horse, parking it and bee-lining for the destination in mind. You see other members of the community along the way and I find myself thinking about who lived in this house before the current owner. And to try to think back through the chain of ownership and to consider what was it like in my small Maine town when it was first built.
Not knowing that a great great uncle lived in this home or moved to that one over there after a fire. The local news and how the town grew and what was the industry at the time is all exciting when it is your home town that is a source of pride and respect.
It is easy to get busy. To put off things you know should be part of the daily, weekly, yearly schedule. We made a promise. I want to return to visit and make notes that contain local history that may not be headline Earth shattering news but very interesting just the same.
The blog topics benefit from the inspiration older members of the small Maine towns eagerly supply. We told this nursing home resident the pair of us would be back to listen and learn. He said come anytime, with a smile “I have all the time in the World”. Do you have family members in a local nursing home or elderly care facility that you visit and learn from too?
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