May 30, 2020
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History of Stockton Springs yacht flag a mystery

STOCKTON SPRINGS - The large American flag found stuffed in a storage box at the Stockton Spring Town Office has been identified as a "Yacht Flag," according to town officials. The flag's 13 stars surround an anchor, and the mystery now is to determine how, and why, it came into the town's possession. Donna Sanborn, who works in the Stockton Spring's assessor's department, rescued the flag and is now working to solve its puzzle.

STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — Town office officials are asking for help to solve a 100-year-old mystery that features 13 stars and an anchor and keeps getting stuffed into storage boxes.

Donna Sanborn, who works in the assessor’s office, was helping to pack up the attic of the old town office in 2000 when she found an oversize, moth-eaten flag balled up in a box along with other odds and ends.

She’d never seen anything like it and tried to set it aside, but the flag again disappeared into storage. A few weeks ago, someone in the public works department rediscovered it — and this time town officials don’t plan to lose track of the flag.

“We really want to know if anybody has an idea why and how we have it,” Sanborn said.

To that end, she and First Selectperson Sara Bradford have reached out, asking through the media for the public’s help in determining the flag’s origins.

“We’ve had some interesting suppositions about what it could be,” Bradford said. “We found out a lot about the flag, but we don’t have anything definitive.”

So far, the women have been inundated with phone calls, e-mails and information from history-minded people. To date, all those people seem to agree that the 13 stars circling an anchor mean that it is a yacht flag. That design was authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1848 as the official signal to be flown by yachts holding special licenses from the secretary of the treasury that would allow them to bypass customs, according to the Sea Flags Web site.

Bradford said that yacht flags were popular into the 1920s, although Congress apparently revoked the legislation in the 1880s. She thinks the flag may date to the late 1800s, while Sanborn said it might be from the early 1900s.

But even a general idea of its age doesn’t entirely solve the puzzle. Yacht flags usually are made of wool, but this flag is all cotton. The stripes are machine-stitched, but the stars are hand-sewn. Its large, 90-square-foot size also is perplexing.

“It is unique,” Sanborn said. “There’s nothing exactly like this.”

She said that it is possible that Stockton Springs — a working harbor known for shipping and shipbuilding until 1870 — may once have had a yacht club. In Alice V. Ellis’ 1955 book “The Story of Stockton Springs, Maine,” she reported that a New York man once organized a yacht club at Fort Point.

Even so, Sanborn and Bradford don’t think that the flag ever was flown but was used for display. It’s too big for most flagpoles, for one thing, according to Sanborn.

They’re hoping that someone might be able to point them to more information.

“How did it wind up in the attic of the town office?” Bradford asked. “When we find out what it is, we’d like to preserve it in some manner and have it on display — along with the story of what we know so far.”

Although tracing the origins of such an old, forgotten flag might be difficult, the town officials say that it’s important to try.

“I love history,” Bradford said. “It’s fun living in a town that has a lot of history.”

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