by Bruce Bowden
Article republished from http://www.curranhomestead.org/page30.php with permission of author Bruce Bowden and the Curran Homestead.
Photos courtesy of Barry Bowden.
Located on King’s Mountain in Orrington, just a short distance from The Curran Homestead, this farm was originally the homestead of an early Orrington settler, Ephraim Goodale. Born in Worcester County, Massachusetts in 1772, Ephraim was part of the large migration of early Americans leaving increasingly congested areas such as Boston and Cape Cod to seek their fortunes in the vast expanses of untamed wilderness in the District of Maine. (After the Revolutionary War, Maine remained a territory governed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts until achieving statehood in 1820.) He built a homestead at the intersection of the King’s Mountain Road (now called Center Drive) and the busy thoroughfare leading to Swett’s Pond (later known as the Goodale Road); the area came to be known as Goodale’s Corner, and, unlikely as it may seem today due to its rural location, in the nineteenth century it was a hub of activity and commerce, boasting a school, a small store, a brickyard, a harness-maker/cobbler, and a small inn which also housed a post office. Ephraim’s youngest son, Ephraim Jr., married Lucinda Martin (a great-granddaughter of Jonathan Buck, founder of the neighboring town of Bucksport) in 1831, and made this area his home until his death in 1887.
The next owner of the farm, Charles H. Chapman, had been a teacher at the nearby Goodale’s Corner School, and, having purchased the home with his wife Laura from Walter Goodale, resided there until his death in 1931.
Donald F. Bowden purchased this farm in 1932 from Charles Chapman’s daughter, Onata Deane. Abutting the dairy farm of the man who would soon be his father-in-law, Orrington selectman Raymond L. Perkins, Sr., the farm had fallen into disrepair as Mr. Chapman’s health declined. While courting Mr. Perkins’ eldest daughter, Thelma, Donald undertook major repairs to the farmhouse and its outbuildings, raising them up with jacks and cribbing, leveling them, hewing new sills and beams, and generally “setting things right.” Donald and Thelma were married in 1934 and began a half-century-long career in farming, which included a dairy herd, wood products, an apple orchard, raising vegetable crops and rearing six sons.
The farm Donald purchased was not overly large, even by modern standards; at the time of sale, it totaled just over six acres. With the gift of ten acres from his father-in-law’s adjoining farm and gradual purchases of abutting and nearby woodlands, the farm eventually comprised several hundred acres, though most of it was not contiguous.
Typical of most farmers in rural Maine, Donald supported his growing family by a variety of means; in addition to the dairy and orchards mentioned above, the farm income was supplemented by the sale of birch logs used for veneer and for plugs to be inserted into the ends of rolls of paper manufactured in nearby Brewer; by the cultivation of vegetable crops for the canning plant in Ellsworth; by the occasional sale of under-performing dairy cattle for beef; by wages Donald earned as the foreman on State road-building projects; and by numerous other industrious means of “getting by.”
The farm of Donald F. and Thelma (née Perkins) Bowden at Goodale’s Corner in the 1940s. Originally built by early Orrington settler Ephraim Goodale in the early 1800s for his son Walter, the structure was destroyed by fire in 1958. The small clapboard building at far right is the country store owned and operated by Donald’s first cousin (twice removed) Walter H. Bowden.
On February 15, 1958, in the wee hours of a bitterly cold Maine winter’s night, the wood-fired furnace failed and the tinder-dry timbers of the old farmhouse erected nearly a century and a half before caught fire. The family, clad only in their nightclothes, fled to a neighboring house to escape the subzero temperatures; Donald remained on the scene to await the fire department’s arrival and ensure that any potential passersby, seeing the house engulfed and unaware that all had escaped safely, would not attempt a rescue. The entire house burned to ashes. No one in the family was injured, but all of their personal possessions were consumed in the conflagration – with the exception of two leather coats and a chainsaw. Fortunately, due to the fledgling Orrington Volunteer Fire Department’s diligent efforts, the flames were stopped at the wood shed, thus sparing the remainder of the farm buildings and the dairy herd.
With their home destroyed, the family relocated to the nearby home of Clifford and Beulah Bowden (who were Donald’s brother and Thelma’s sister), and the Bowden dairy cattle and other farm chores were tended from a slightly greater distance. Over the course of the following spring and summer, the community rallied around the family, helping Donald saw lumber from timber harvested on his woodlots, pouring a new concrete foundation, and constructing the new farmhouse. Assistance from neighbors, relatives and concerned community members made work progress quickly, and the Bowden family celebrated Christmas in their new home that same year.
The Bowden farm in May of 1967. Donald and Thelma’s fourth son, Barry, who had graduated from the University of Maine at Orono that same month and was preparing to seek his destiny in the world, climbed to the top of a tall pine tree in the fencerow between the pasture and orchard, and took this photograph of his boyhood home in its last years as a dairy farm. At left is the barn and milk house; center, the garage, wood shed and farmhouse (which was rebuilt after fire destroyed the original in 1958); at right is the shingle mill.
After their youngest son Keith graduated from the University of Maine and left the area, Donald and Thelma sold the last of the dairy herd; the labor-intensive nature of dairy farming was not well-suited to a one-man operation. Donald and Thelma’s grandson Bruce remembers a visit from his grandparents just after the last cow had been sold; as they were about to leave, Donald stated the he was going to do something that he had never done before: After more than a half-century working as a dairy farmer, he was going to buy milk in a store on the way home.
Even though their dairy herd had been sold into other pastures, this was not the end of agricultural activity at the Bowden farm. With the demands of dairy chores such as milking and haying now absent, Donald and Thelma focused their attention on their apple orchards. Donald had planted an orchard comprising over 150 trees in the early 1930s, and these trees bore fruit for the rest of his life. In addition to favorite apple varieties such as MacIntosh and Cortland, there were also pears, plums and apple cultivars which are no longer common: Yellow Gravenstein, Red Astrachan, Red Spy and Northern Spy. In the early 1980s Donald renovated a cider press given to him by his neighbor and brother-in-law, Raymond Perkins Jr., and folks who were fans of Donald’s apples now had another reason to anticipate cool fall weather: cool gallon jugs of sweet cider, freshly pressed from his apples.
The Bowden orchard, May 1967. After taking the previous photograph of the farm buildings from atop a tall pine, Barry turned 180° and captured this image of the trees in his father’s apple orchard in full bloom. In the distance (though not discernable) is Brewer Lake.
Donald passed away in late 1992 after several years of declining health, and Thelma continued to reside at the farm for another decade, when her own failing health necessitated a move to an assisted-living facility in nearby Bangor. The farm sat idle for the better part of a decade, with the exception of annual mowing of the pastures by Donald and Thelma’s eldest son Richard. Thelma passed away in 2008, aged 96.
A new chapter in the history of the Bowden Farm has just begun: Donald and Thelma’s youngest son Keith has moved into the home of his youth, and another generation of Bowdens is in residence on the farm Ephraim Goodale carved out of the wilderness so many years ago.