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Azubah Freeman Ryder

Summarized by Judith Frost Gillis from an Orrington Centennial publication, June 1888, A short sketch of the Life of Azubah Freeman Ryder, A Centenarian and from Kay Washburn’s 1975 Bicentennial tribute, The Story of Samuel and Azubah Freeman Ryder, Early Settlers of Orrington, Maine.

Azubah Freeman Ryder was born in Eastham, Massachusetts on January 5, 1784. In November 1788, four-year-old Azubah arrived in South Orrington on a sailing vessel with her parents, Timothy and Zeruiah Nickerson Freeman, and her nine siblings. She was the youngest daughter. Timothy Freeman had built his cabin, arranged for provisions, and cut firewood to last the first winter, but he could not have prepared for his wife to die the next month giving birth to the Freeman’s last child, Baby Thomas.

In the spring of 1800, there was a memorial service for George Washington who died the previous December. Around a symbolic open grave, stood sixteen girls, sixteen years of age, representing the sixteen states of the young country. Azubah was one of the girls. A sermon was read. Participants walked slowly around the grave, scattering flowers, and singing a hymn composed for the occasion by an Orrington citizen.

The town was prosperous, and Azubah was hired to teach at the Pine Top School near Swett’s Pond, and daily she walked the mile to and from the schoolhouse in the woods. Samuel Ryder from Provincetown had built a successful store on the wharf and a two-story house on a point in South Orrington overlooking the Penobscot. Among his children was a son Samuel, who went to sea at a young age and became captain of his own ship while still in his twenties. A discreet courtship occurred between Capt. Samuel Ryder and Miss Azubah Freeman.  They married in 1807, and Azubah continued teaching until giving birth to her first child.

During the War of 1812, the U.S.S. Adams had done much damage to British naval shipping, and the British wanted to capture the ship and its officers. Herself damaged, the Adams was being towed up the Penobscot in a futile attempt to save her and her 24 guns. The Americans scuttled the Adams to keep her from the British. In the safety of darkness, Azubah’s husband, Samuel Ryder, rowed four of the ship’s officers to Boston. Samuel had been given up for dead when he finally returned to his wife and family.

On September 3, 1814, the American militia were marching up the road from Castine, turned right, and disappeared in the woods towards Goodale’s Corner. The British lost the men’s trail and continued up the main road. Azubah saw the uniformed men passing by her home and gathered her children to run through the woods towards Orrington Center, warning residents that the BRITISH WERE COMING. Azubah became the Paul Revere of Orrington, Massachusetts! That night at the Orrington Center home of Capt. Barzillai Rich and his wife, Azubah safely gave birth to her fourth child, a daughter named Deborah. Meanwhile from the Penobscot River, the British Sloop of War Sylph, chased the U.S.S. Adams while firing their cannons at Hampden and Orrington. At Orrington Corner, Capt. William Reed was shot and killed. He is buried with his wife Elizabeth at Riverview Cemetery in North Bucksport.  

Azubah Freeman Ryder died on September 30, 1888 at age 104 years, eight months, and twenty-five days. She was the oldest inhabitant of Orrington and thought to be the oldest person in New England. She outlived nineteen Presidents, five of her eight children, and her husband Samuel. Azubah was buried beside her beloved Captain in the old cemetery on a hill, located on what was the farm belonging to Frank Hoxie. These words were written on her stone:

Her pains all o’er, her sorrows past,
Life’s sermon laid aside,
She reaps the great reward at last,
In heaven to abide.


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They Refused to be Forgotten (Orrington Gazette, c. 1975)

by Kay Washburn

Thanks to Carolyn Crawford, Buster and Betty Albert, Raymond Perkins and George Fairfield for help on this article.

[Transcribed by P. Bickford-Duane, 11/6/17.]

On May 26th, Memorial Day, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post No. 4527 of Orrington, held memorial services at Pine Hill Cemetery, at the gravesite of George LeGasse, a veteran of World War 2, who served in the Coast Guard. There was a brief address by Eric Brennan, emphasizing the VFW pledge to “honor the dead by helping the living.” The reading of Gen. Logan’s General Order No. 11, issued on May 5, 1868, is always part of the service, as his statement hits the essence of the order. Then the post commander Vern Wardwell placed a small wreath on the grave, the symbol of remembrance, and three officers of the Post each placed a flower: a white flower, denoting purity; a red flower, for the heroic dead; and, by an officer of the Women’s Auxiliary, a blue flower, denoting eternity. Finally the commander laid a flag, the emblem of the nation, on the serviceman’s final resting place. (At seaside posts, wreaths are tossed overboard for those buried at sea. Betty Albert remembers, when she was 5 or 6 years old, in her home town of Cohasset, Mass., she had the honor of tossing on the water the wreath of lilacs her mother had made for the occassion.) The grave to be decorated is picked by the Post Commander, and may vary from year to year. Often it is the grave of Maurice E. Miles, for whom the post is named, and the only Orrington man to be killed in World War 2. But the important thing is that they are remembered, by their comrades in arms who survived them, and, persumably, by the country they served so nobly.

It wasn’t always thus. In 1899, Spanish-American war veterans had just returned home from the Cuban and Philippine battle fronts. They were young fellows, but they were prematurely aged by the ravages of tropical fever, bad food and medical neglect. They were the fighting men who had been victorious against foreign enemies. When they returned home they found that apparently no one cared. They were truly the forgotten. They received their discharge pay, $15.60 per man. Then they were turned loose as civilians – free to do as they pleased. They should have been happy but they couldn’t be. The men were ill, some of them desperately ill. They were too sick to work steadily. Most of them quickly became penniless. There were no government hospitals for the disabled, no helping hands, no financial assistance. It was a picture of deplorable neglect. Finally some of the Spanish-American war veterans decided that something must be done for their sick and needy comrades. They realized that they themselves would have to start the ball rolling. So, on the night of September 29, 1899, a young veteran of the Cuban campaign, James Romanis of Columbus, Ohio, called together about 12 of his veteran friends. They met in a back room of a tailoring shop in Columbus. And that was the very start of the VFW, the first veterans’ organization since the Civil War.

The objects of the Veterans of Foreign Wars are “fraternal, patriotic, historical and educational; to preserve and strengthen comradeship among its members; to assist worthy comrades; to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead; and to assist their widows and orphans. To maintain true allegiance to the government of the U.S.A. and fidelity to its constitution and laws; to foster true patriotism, to maintain and extend the institutions of American freedom, and to preserve and defend the U.S. from all her enemies whomsoever.”

Raymond Perkins joined the VFW while still serving in the armed forces overseas during World War 2. At the close of the war, he joined Norman N. Dow Post No. 1761 in Bangor, the nearest one to his home town. Then, on Saturday, Dec. 1st, 1945, at a supper installation and dance at the Grange Hall, Orrington launched its own Post, No. 4527, the Maurice W. Miles Post. Raymond Perkins was elected first Commander. By a wonderful stroke of luck, the Union Hall Corporation decided to dissolve, and deeded its building over to the “Vets,” so they had a fine meeting hall free of charge.

The VFW have contributed much to the community over the years. They were the moving force in organizing the local Senior Citizens Club. They sponsored Old Home Week for 21 years in a row. Incidentally, we’re glad to note that Old Home Week is being reactivated as part of the BiCentennial observance, and we’re sure the “Vets” will be very much a part of it as always.

Betty Albert remembers the time her father, Ralph F. Hines, here on a visit from Cohasset, Mass., played the part of the Unknown Soldier in an Old Home Week parade. He lay on a catalfaque, a cross at his feet with helmet and rifle laying against it, symbolizing those fallen in battle. The kids thought he was really dead. He got a big kick out of it. “It was the last great thing my father did,” says Betty.

No mention of the VFW is complete without a report of the Military Order of Cooties, the honor degree of the organization. Founded in Washington D.C., in 1920, the primary function of the “Cooties” is work in Veterans’ hospitals. “The objects of this organization,” we are told, “are to be the official honor degree of the VFW, to promote social and reunion features among its own members, and to keep alive therein the spirit of optimism and humor, so characteristic of the American serviceman.” That last part, “the spirit of optimism and humor” covers a multitude of, shall we say, sins? Well, at least, practical jokes and eccentric behavior. The Orrington Pup tent, Miassis Dragon No. 19, containing only about 20 members out of a VFW roster of 80-plus, contribute a “spirit of optimism and humor” out of all proportion to their numbers. They travel a lot, appearing in parades and conventions throughout the state and the country. They visit the Veterans’ Hospital at Togus, taking gifts and remembrances, putting on shows, and in general contributing to the patients’ well-being. The four flags at Union Hall (the U.S., Cootie, VFW and State flag) have all marched in national conventions in New York City.

In State conventions, the Orrington group have been winning consistently the competitions for best color guards. Once, at Rockland, a jealous group decided to get even. The parades of the Cooties are always held at night – just one of their idiosyncrasies (we’ll describe some more later), so, in the dark, they tied a fishline across the road from telephone pole to telephone pole. As the boys of Miassis Dragon came stepping smartly along, they walked into the fishline and all four proud banners hit the dirt.

At that same parade, a woman motorist was held up at a side street as the parade was passing by, and irritatedly blew her horn at the delay. The Cooties picked the car up and calmly removed all four tires.

It was in Rockland, also, that the Orrington Pup tent held an impromptu swimming meet in their hotel pool. Dick Godfrey led off, doing a perfect back flip. Buster Albert, not to be outdone, decided to try a front flip, supposed to be much harder. He did a perfect one. They felt that these great dives were furthered enhanced by the fact that they were both in full uniform at the time.

Wally Bowden probably remembers the time he had a brand-new Rambler, and, on a trip to Togus, locked his keys in the trunk. They had to spring the cover up with a tire iron to free them.

The Cooties are born competitors – they once entered a fireman’s muster at Bar Mills, even though they weren’t firemen, and were beating all competition, causing so much consternation among the real firemen that they were disqualified.

As we said before, Cootie parades always start at night, and are preceeded by breakfast. Backwards, yes – but that’s the way they do things – backwards. When they take attendance, if you’re present, you’re marked “absent.” In voting, if you approve of a motion, you vote “no.” Likewise a “no” vote means “yes.” Balloting is done with coins, i.e., you drop in a penny. If you vote “yes,” which means “no,” you have to put in a piece of silver. All money thus raised goes to Togus. In making a motion, the motion is first seconded, and then made.

Betty Albert remembers one parade when the Orrington Cooties drove a ‘64 Caddy convertible with 21 people riding in, or on, it. In that same parade, she remembers someone had a Model T Ford with no brakes; the passengers had to drag their feet to stop it. Was that the Herring Chokers of Eastport? The Pooper Doopers of Skowhegan? The Ants in Pants? All pup tents have similar irreverent titles, but we doubt if any of them can beat our modest little Orrington group. The Cootie and VFW convention this year will be June 13, 14, and 15 at Boothbay Harbor.

And now for the ladies. As Carolyn Crawford told us: “Our community service is tremendous, but we don’t talk about it, so few people realize the scope of our activities. Cancer is our chief aim, along with the Voice of Democracy Essay Contest. Other projects include Buddy Poppy Day, Community activities, Keep America Beautiful, Safety, Legislative, Maine Scholarships, the National Home for orphans and some widows of veterans, Rehabilitation, Hospital VAVS, Youth Activities.”

Cancer research is the most vital work of the Auxiliary. Last year they contributed $100,000 to build the Dorothy Mann Memorial Unit at the Jackson Lab. For construction and furnishing of Labs, research library and other buildings, the Auxiliary has contributed $200,000. In fact, if it had not been for the Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW, the Jackson Lab may never have been rebuilt after the fire of 1947.

In this year’s 28th annual Voice of Democracy contest, about 5,000 students in 8,000 public schools and parochial secondary schools participated, from the 10th to the 12th grades. State scholarships totaling $1,500 and National prizes totaling $22,500 were awarded.

One of the Auxiliary’s projects which we found most appealing and interesting is the annual birthday party for the Statue of Liberty. Yes, that’s right – every year, on the anniversary of the unveiling of this great statue, the gift of France to the U.S. in 1886, the VFW Auxiliary celebrates the occasion, with impressive gifts for the lasy. Each year a different state brings the gift, and the year that Carolyn Crawford was State President, she presented 600 chairs for ceremonial use at the statue. Other impressive gifts have been: $50,000 to the American Museum of Immigration located in the base of the statue, furniture for the museum, amplifying equipment, public address system, landscaping, official donor’s registry, and two wheel chairs for handicapped visitors. This year’s gift was a magnificent 20 x 30 foot nylon flat – one of a pair. If it were not for Auxiliaries such as Orrington and the rest of the posts throughout the U.S. none of this would be possible. Says Carolyn: “We are the largest volunteer group in the world.” The Orrington group, Maurice W. Miles Auxiliary was Instituted in 1948, with Mary LeGasse as first president.

As this is Memorial week, we’d like to include this passage from “Little Talks on Great Things,” by Arthur Mee, because it seems to sum up what we’ve been trying to cover about the VFW and the patriots in general: “The great patriots of the world – who are they? Their lives make up the common story of our land, and it is the lives of unnumbered common people, and not of a few heroic figures in the center of the stage, that make a nation. Out of the ranks of the people come the shining heroes. The spirit of sacrifice and service that endures all the time, and the sudden heroism that rises to the great occasion, are elements in that broad basis of patriotism on which the heart of the nation rests. The enduring strength of a country is drawn, not from its dramatic forces or its mighty figures, but from the steady flow of life which never fails, which is always there to be called upon – the reservoir of power which we know can be turned on at any moment to sustain those great causes for which the nation stands. Great men are like comets, sweeping now and then across the sky and startling us by their dazzling light; but the people are like the stars, that shine forever and ever.”

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Transcribed by Anne (Bowden) Allen from Henry Buxton’s column for the Bangor Daily News.

Feb. 22, 1937 


        I was awed when he exhibited a cannon ball fired from the gun deck of the British sloop-of-war Sylph as the English ship was sailing by the town of Orrington in the War of 1812.  Mr. Brooks’ grandfather, James Brooks, was perched on a fence near his home when the ball passed so close to his head that he was literally blown off the fence to the ground, but escaped injury.

        Mr. Brooks’ justifiable pride in the achievements of his ancestors caused him to visit Bradford, England, where perusal of the ancient records in the vicar’s house revealed that his forebears had resided there since the sixteenth century, and many of them were artisans of distinction.

        It is a poetic coincidence that this Brewer potter and brickmaker married Edith White, granddaughter of Joseph White, proprietor of the noted Baptist Mills Pottery, Bristol, England, and a contemporary of Josiah Wedgwood, maker of the famous Wedgwood ware. Mr. Brooks is the proud possessor of several pieces of this ancient ware, including a snuff box, two cream pitchers and a sugar bowl. Mrs. Brooks died recently.

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Transcribed by Anne (Bowden) Allen from Henry Buxton’s column for the Bangor Daily News.

Feb. 22, 1937 


George Brooks Built First Grist Mill in the Town


H.N. Brooks of Brewer Upholds Tradition of Craftsmanship

A strong, dominating strain of expert craftsmanship and artisanry which prevailed among forebears in Bradford, England, centuries ago, and persisted down through the generations until it found expression in America in the genius of shipbuilding, railroad construction and pottery making, are conspicuous in the background of the Brooks family of Orrington.

Seldom may one family boast of such varied and distinctive achievement as this family whose ancestors were among the first settlers of that beautiful Maine village on the west bank of the Penobscot river a few miles south of Bangor.

One of these Orrington Brookses built himself a covered wagon from Penobscot spruce, journeyed westward with his family, settled in Cincinnati and built the first brig and the first steamboat to run on the Ohio River.

Still another of these gifted Orrington Brookses constructed the first railroad to connect the Ohio river with the Great Lakes, during the Civil War served as quartermaster general of the western Union army under Secretary of War Stanton, and at Louisville, Ky., accumulated millions of dollars worth of supplies which enabled General Sherman to make his epochal march from Atlanta to the sea and break the backbone of the rebellion.

And not less distinctive than these Brookses who helped to make history for the United States is Harrison Nash Brooks of the Brooks brickyard, Brewer, who inherits in a large measure the artistry and craftsmanship which has run like a golden thread for centuries in the Brooks family fabric.
Mr. Brooks is a potter of exceptional genius as well as an expert manufacturer of brick, and his excavations in clay deposits in the Penobscot River region have furnished valuable contributions to the anthropological and historical lore of the Maine district.  His house in Brewer is a veritable museum of relics, which have to do not only with the early history of his family in Maine, but with the stirring events of the Revolution and War of 1812.

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Orrington Waterways

Edited work by Lois-Ann Holmes, formerly of South Orrington, April 2011.

Clark Falls on Johnson Mill Road, Orrington, Maine

The Clark Falls location is documented back to 1839, when a member of the Freeman family built a flour mill at this site. This mill did not prove successful.

In 1850, Vinal Cooper took over this mill site and operated what was probably the first paper mill in the area. The mill made paper from rags, not wood pulp. Rag paper is superior but cannot be produced in large quantities. The mill was still operating in 1860.

Sometime after that date, the paper mill burned. Vinal Cooper replaced the mill with a shingle mill which the Johnson Brothers took over after 1880 and converted to sawing barrel headers. They also added a gristmill and cider mill to the operation.

The 1900s arrived with automobiles and electricity; there was a decline of industry in town. As of the 1920s, there seems to be no findable record of this mill. There also seems to be no record of the destruction of the buildings which must have been on this site.

The site has plenty of remnants of the old mill with some concrete footings, stone foundation remnants, etc.

For a video of Clark Falls, see the OHS Facebook page.

Walin’tuk Creek from Swetts Pond to the Penobscot River, Orrington, Maine

Another waterway connected to Clark Falls spills into the Penboscot River at the boat landing in South Orrington.  It is Walin’tuk Creek.  Located in a historic area of Orrington, the name of this creek is now Mill Creek. If one looks upstream, visible are the footings where an old mill used to rest.

If you were to follow that stream back from the Penobscot to its origin, you would be at Swetts Pond by the dam.  From Swetts Pond the stream meanders down along Dow Road, crosses under the road, crosses below the dead end of Stump Lane, coming down along Clarks Falls Road, going under Johnson Mill Road, over the Clark Falls, meandering some more along Johnson Mill Road, and crossing under Rt. 15 by the railroad tracks near Quarry Road on its way to the Penobscot.  In fact, were the concrete and earthen Swetts Pond Dam to breech, this is the flood plain it would affect as has happened twice due to beaver.

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Remarkable Record of Capt. Brown, Who Made 101 West India Voyages

This article was likely published around the year 1919. Although the author and newspaper are unknown at this time, it’s possible that it was published in the Bangor Commercial.

Remarkable Record of Capt. Brown, Who Made 101 West India Voyages

The death last week of Captain Joseph Atwood Brown of Orrington marks the passing of one of the last old time ship captains. He was born in North Orrington July 1, 1831, oldest of the five children of Cornelius and Eliza (Smith) Brown.

His father being a ship captain, he was early attracted to the sea and at the tender age of eleven went summers as cookee with his uncles Charles and Stillman Brown. At sixteen he began in earnest, making long voyages to foreign ports. He continued in this chosen calling for fifty-one years, making 101 round trips to the West Indies alone, besides visiting many European countries.

In 1854 he married Rebecca Bartlett, daughter of Samuel and Mary (Snow) Bartlett, who died nine years ago. He leaves two daughters, Mrs. Cara M. Conley of Brewer and Mrs. Leland B. Blake of South Orrington, and two grandchildren, Mrs. Charles Spinney of Brewer and Mrs. Fred Dionne of Dorchester, Mass.

In the early seventies he made a trading voyage up the west coast of Africa, sailing up and down that coast and trading at the different ports. He remained there eighteen months, the entire voyage taking about three years. While there he contracted the dread disease, yellow fever, the effects of which followed him through life.

Two other times he was stricken with this disease. Once in Pensacola, Fla., where the Masons saved his life by taking him into their private hospital and nursing him until he was able to join his ship. The third time was in Havana, Cuba. His vessel was due to sail and the American consul said he must leave her and go to a hospital, but he pleaded so hard that they put on board an old negress, who had relatives in New York and who understood handling the fever, and he sailed. The negress tended him so well that when the ship reached New York he was able to be on deck.

For many years he commanded the schooner Fred Smith, sailing for the old firm of Smith Brothers of New York. On many of these voyages he carried his family, visiting many South American and West Indian ports and remaining away from home months at a time.

Later, leaving the Fred Smith, he turned his attention to barging, at the time when that business was in its height. Among others, he commanded the barge Roman, remodeled from the old steamship of that name. On a voyage in her, heavily laden with 1,700 tons of coal, and having with him as mate his son-in-law, the late Capt. Samuel M. Conley, he was shipwrecked off the coast of Virginia. Thinking the barge was riding heavily, Mr. Conley lowered a lantern into the forward hold, when the rush of water swept it out of his hands. Hurriedly reporting the condition and signaling to the tug boat, he rushed to the captain’s cabin, seized a dunnage bag and filled it with what he could find, ordered the life boat to be lowered and then went to report to the captain, whom he found calmly steering.

“Come, captain,” said he, “the boat is ready.”

“My place is here; I shall not desert my ship,” was the reply.

Mr. Conley did not stop to bandy words. He called the men and they bore him kicking and struggling to the boat, where he collapsed in the stern. As they pushed off from the sinking ship it was discovered that a great hole had been made in the boat while lowering her. A sailor thrust his oil jacket into the aperature, Mr. Conley took charge; the sailors rowed with almost superhuman strength, and the boat made its way over the waves mountain high to the tug, Storm King, which, a few days later, landed them safely in New York. A humorous incident of the affair was that, although the dunnage bag contained quite a number of boots, no two were mates, and when the captain reported at the office in New York he had only the water-soaked garments in which he stood. All his nautical instruments, marine glasses, charts, etc., were lost, as well as his clothes.

In 1892, being a yellow fever immune, Capt. Brown was sent to Santos, Brazil, to recover the bark Archer, whose crew all had died with the fever. Orders were to take her to Turk’s Island, load with salt and proceed to New York. The bark had lain so long in that terrible heat of Brazil that her calking was poor, but, in spite of this, picking up a scrub crew in the fever-stricken port of Santos he set out to follow directions. All went well till the salt was loaded and they were started homeward, when the vessel began to leak like a sieve. The crew became mutinous; they said they would leave her, would not pump, etc., and when told by Capt. Brown that they must, said they would soon dispose of that little man and desert the doomed ship while land was near.

In the midst of this confusion, Capt. Brown appeared on deck, a small but formidable, figure, with a revolver in each hand.

“The first man who refuses to pump, dies,” he calmly announced. One look decided them. They turned to the pumps.

Before reaching New York, however, they were overtaken by a severe gale, dismasted, and finally driven into Bermuda, where the vessel was sold. This was Capt. Brown’s last voyage.

Later, he entered the employ of the late J. Weston Hopkins, working in the Hampden Creamery, when it was located in Hampden, following it to Bangor when it was moved and remained here till 1899, when he sustained a severe injury, being thrown violently from a high cream cart onto a concrete floor, breaking his collar bone and injuring his head.

After recovering somewhat from this injury, he moved onto his little farm in Orrington, making his home there till the death of his wife in 1913. During the last six years he has lived in the home of his daughter, Mrs. Leland Blake, gradually failing until the end found him in fancy once again the commander on the quarter deck, giving his orders, guiding, directing, until his Ship of Life floated out of the troubled waters and found anchor in the peaceful Haven of Rest.

Twilight and evening bell,

And one clear call for me,

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I put out to sea.

For if from out that bourne of time and place

The tide shall bear me far;

I hope to meet my pilot face to face,

When I shall cross the Bar.


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“Earl on the River” – S. Orrington shipwright models 19th century vessels

by Harry Gratwick

Originally Posted: March 1st, 2005 in The Working Waterfront.

This article has been republished with the permission of The Island Institute

He calls himself “Earl on the River” and when you hear his story, you’ll know why. Earl Morrill is a 58-year-old resident of South Orrington who specializes in building scale models of 19th-century Maine sailing vessels. I first met him in the summer of 2003 while I was doing research for an article on the history of the Penobscot River. I soon discovered, however, that in addition to being a superb builder of historic model ships, Morrill was a veritable storehouse of information about the Penobscot. But that’s another story.

The second of six children, Earl Morrill grew up in South Orrington, eight miles south of Bangor. He was born and raised in a house that was built by his great-great grandfather in 1867. From an early age, he remembers hanging around an old trapper named Joe Hurd who, according to Earl, “knew everyone and had lots of stories to tell about the days of sailing ships on the river.” Morrill credits Hurd with teaching him how to row and “get up and down the river no matter what the tide, by using the eddies.” He also remembers sailing on the river when he was 14 in a flat-bottomed rowboat. “She had a plank keel under her, one mast, a square yardarm, a tough sheet and a tiller on the stern.”

“I guess it was Old Joe,” says Morrill, “who was the beginning of my maritime studies and my desires to build models of Maine sailing vessels.”

Earl’s great-great-grandfather, Joseph H. Atwood, was another influence. Atwood was captain of a three-masted schooner, the CHARLES S. HAZZARD, built in Essex, Massachusetts. In the 1850s and 1860s, the HAZZARD hauled lumber from Bangor down the Penobscot to Boston and New York three times a year. On return voyages she would bring back a load of produce. Winters she was “iced into the cove” behind the house Atwood built on Mill Creek and where Morrill still lives. As recently as 1955, Earl remembers there were still a few hulks lying on the shore. “Even today,” he says, “there is an old two-master washing out of the cove by Ryders Point, just north of here. She has yielded two half-pennies and an 1836 dime. The ship was named the PLANTER and was used for hauling split wood up and down the river to feed the lime kilns in Rockport.”

“All this history, and my great-great gramp being part of it, just got me started researching,” Earl remembers. “The more I found out, the more I wanted to build an historic model from the keel up.” Earl was in his 20s when he began a model of Atwood’s ship, the HAZZARD. “I had done the research,” he recalls. “However, I soon realized that I was way over my head trying to build a model boat.” He stopped for three months and gave himself a crash course in shipbuilding, which included studying everything he could find on the subject in the Bangor library. When Earl finally finished the HAZZARD, he admits, “She was a little crude, but eventually I sold her to the owner of The Harris Co. in Portland.” The owner, Austin Harris, has since retired, but when I spoke with him recently he assured me the CHARLES S. HAZZARD is prominently displayed in his parlor in Yarmouth.

Morrill’s second model-building effort was the four-masted schooner JAMES E. COBURN. He remembers finding a picture of her while she was being built on Mill Creek in 1919. “Historic model building took a long time in those days,” he recalls. Mostly this was because of the time it took for research and the fact that everything came by regular mail. Even now, before he begins a project, Morrill does months of research on a ship. His model of the COBURN can be seen today in the Orrington Historical Society. He continued to improve his skills when he next built a model of the S.S. ROOSEVELT, the ship Admiral Robert E. Peary took to the North Pole in 1908. Earl’s great-great uncle, Maynard Wardwell, was Peary’s chief engineer on that expedition. The ROOSEVELT was built in 1905 on Verona Island just south of Bucksport. Appropriately, Earl’s model of the ship has been on display in the Buck Library in Bucksport for the last 10 years.

“By the third ship, you are hooked,” he says. “You know you can do a better job on the next vessel and you drive yourself to a higher level of accuracy.” Earl now waits for orders before starting to work on a ship.

Today he posts pictures of his models on his website, www.geocities.com/mainecoastersriggers. [This article was published in 2005, and this link is no longer valid.] He builds his ships to scale 1/4″=1′, plank on frame. “I can scratch-build a schooner from the keel up in about 7-9 months,” he says. Morrill works only on Maine sailing ships and insists they must be documentable and original (the first model to be built). A number of years ago, the owner of a local newspaper saw the S.S. ROOSEVELT on display in Bucksport and asked Morrill to build him a vessel. After some negotiating, he agreed to build a historic model of the brig TELOS, out of Bangor, for $9,000. In this case, his client even agreed to do the research.

Morrill is particularly proud of the model he made of the SPITFIRE, a fast clipper ship built in 1853. At one point, she held the record of 106 days for the fastest trip from New York to San Francisco. The SPITFIRE is currently on display in the Searsport Marine Museum. His research included examining 19th century maps of the Penobscot River area in an effort to locate a slipway large enough to accommodate a 200-foot vessel. His challenge was that in the 19th century, there were 40 towns on the Penobscot with slipways for constructing ships and he had to find a specific site. After careful study he found both the slipway and house of the builder, Isaac Dunham, in present-day Winterport. Earl finished the SPITFIRE in 2000 and it was sold at the Maritime Museum’s annual fund-raiser for $20,000.

Historic model shipbuilding has always been much more than just a hobby for Morrill, and yet he has had to earn a living. After graduating from Brewer High School (class of ’64) he joined the Navy and served for six years as a damage control man on a nuclear submarine off Vietnam. Following his discharge he lived in Portland, first as an engineer on a coastal tanker, the W.M. MCLOON. Later he worked at The Harris Co. making fishing gear. For the last 15 years Earl’s “day job” has been at U.S. Blades, a knife and saw shop in nearby Hampden. And yet wherever he is, Morrill admits he “always has a model ship building project going on.”

Morrill works up to 30 hours evenings and weekends on his “second” job, rarely taking a vacation. To date, he estimates, he has built almost 20 historic sailing ships from scratch. Included are eight or nine schooners, one barkentine, two brigs, three clippers, two frigates and a packet ship. In addition, he figures he has restored “close to” another 30 ships. Morrill plans to retire from his job at U.S. Blades in the not-too-distant future and yet, unlike many retirees, he has more than enough to keep himself busy for the rest of his life. Over the years he has developed a database of more than 4,000 vessels, including 2,800 built on the Penobscot River from 1780 to 1940. “I am self-taught on the computer,” he says. “I had to learn to be able to do quicker research on maritime history.” Morrill has always had a number of students to whom he sends lessons, compiled from his old model-building records, once a week. “We are all set up with the same graphic software so I can send drawings, pictures and ship plans,” he says. Most of his students live in the United States, though he says a student from Australia built a “really nice Maine schooner a couple of years ago — some guys get it and some give it up. You gotta love it or leave it alone.”

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