HOLDEN, Maine — Horse-drawn sleds lined The Bangor Road. Fires in the town hall’s two fireplaces kept the assembly warm and comfortable. A local chorus sang.
The Rev. Wells of Dedham gave the invocation and blessed the structure, which was built on the side of the old stage route between Bangor and Ellsworth.
On that day, Jan. 9, 1873, residents packed the building to listen to dedication speeches given by Dr. B.F. Tefft, Judge John E. Godfrey, local lawyers Franklin Wilson and James Dunning, and other “distinguished gentlemen,” according to the town’s history.
More than 137 years later, town officials and residents again braved the cold to mark another milestone at the building. On Tuesday, as townsfolk watched, workers from Kenneth D. Jordan Inc., Building Movers, of Ellsworth used rollers and winches to inch the historic edifice away from the road, today known as Route 1A.
“They rebuilt the road [years ago] and widened it,” which placed the front steps basically on the high-traffic roadway, Town Councilor Robert Harvey said while watching the building slowly retreat.
The 105-ton white building was lifted over a period of days and placed onto massive I-beams and rollers for the move. It took about an hour to maneuver the structure about 100 feet back where it will stay until a foundation is finished this spring, said Harvey, who also serves as president of the Holden Historical Society. The foundation will be about another 100 feet back.
“Leadbetter’s is donating the excavation for the foundation,” Steve Condon, Holden code enforcement officer, said as backhoes worked the ground.
Jeff Leadbetter of Bangor is constructing a 4,000-square-foot convenience store next door at the former Sinclair’s Log Cabin General Store. Leadbetter and the town did a land swap that benefits both entities, giving the store a larger area for its septic system and more visibility, and the town is getting free access to utilities through the store, and a good setback from the busy road.
Over its 137-year history, the facility has been a meeting place and housed the town hall and Grange 544 until a new Holden municipal facility opened in 1975. An old well in the back provided water and an outhouse provided the sanitation. For decades, however, the building has sat vacant, silently awaiting its fate.
It’s not clear whether the “Patrons of Husbandry” ever met at the hall, but the group formed in town as Union Star Grange 168 on May 5, 1875, according to the 1882 “History of Penobscot County, Maine.”
Where the historic “Town House” was to be located, its size and how to pay for constructing it became controversial issues before the construction phase started in 1872. Two Harts, Russell and Henry, sat on the building committee along with residents Harvey Clark, Charles Shepard and A.P. Levenseller.
The question of location caused a feud between residents on each side of the town’s center.
“Capt. Russell Hart supposedly gave away salt pork to win followers for the Hart’s Corner location; and thus that group was dubbed ‘Pork Eaters,’” the town history says. “Since the other faction gave no such bribery, they were rather inelegantly designated as ‘Pinch Guts.’”
The Pork Eaters won out and the building was constructed at what still is known as Hart’s Corner, located where the South Road connects to Route 1A, instead of closer to Brewer in the town’s center.
After arguing over whether it should be a 1½-story or two-story building, town leaders decided on the smaller form, but “Capt. Hart resorted to trickery by managing to have the second story so high that the result was nearly equivalent to a structure of two full stories,” the history states.
“It has a rounded ceiling upstairs,” said Harvey, adding that the building is home to an antique loom, an armoire and other historic items.
“The town discord extended even into the matter of financing the project,” the history says. “During construction, the town treasurer refused to sign any bank orders. As a result, Capt. Hart obtained personal loans from the banks” totaling around $2,000.
When it came time for Hart to pay his taxes, “He said, ‘I’m not going to pay, until you pay me for the building,’” Harvey said of the historic event.
Town reports between 1873 and 1875 state Hart was paid $106.35 in 1874 and that he had a note against the town for $1,845.46 the next year, which included $104.46 in interest. The town’s history does not reveal whether or when Hart was paid the remainder.
Harvey said the recent land swap with Leadbetter saved the historic building, with its tall, narrow windows. Over the last couple of decades, town leaders discussed demolishing it, selling it and moving it, but basically let it just sit idle.
Once the building is on its new foundation, plans may include a farmers market or antique flea market on the first floor with artisans and the historical society possibly using the top floor to display artifacts, Harvey has said.
“It’s really an economic development move,” Condon said, adding that the “increased assessed value [of the convenience store] will move to the tax rolls” and safety will be increased with a clearer view for those leaving the store parking lot and South Road.
Trying to imagine that January day in 1873 when the building was dedicated, Condon remarked that the wood stoves “must have been roaring,” and that with the whole town gathered, “it must have been a fantastic day.”