ROCKVILLE — Nestled between bustling Rockland and Rockport, the village of Rockville, while hardly a ghost town, is just a shadow of the vibrant community that grew and prospered after its founding after the Revolutionary War.
During its heyday, Rockville supported three schoolhouses, several general stores, a wheelwright, blacksmith, cooper, a town farm, post office, gristmills, brickyards, lime kilns and a church. Rockville was prosperous and booming long before the Knox County seat of Rockland was even founded.
While a few of the original houses remain, the Rockville Community Chapel is the sole standing public building of those built by the earlier generations. The church is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year with a series of fundraisers and historical events.
Last Sunday, approximately 60 residents filled the church to hear a presentation on the origin of the community by local historian Vernon B. Hunter. “We are a forgotten village today,” Hunter said.
Rockville was settled shortly after the Revolutionary War by brothers Peter and Binah Barrows along the shores of Chickawaukie Lake and the surrounding hills. The Barrowses received grants to the land from the newly formed United States of America for their service in the Continental Army.
The brothers served more than six years, and their discharge papers were signed by Gen. George Washington at Saratoga, N.Y. Hunter is a descendant of the brothers on both sides of his family. The Barrows brothers are buried in the Reuben Howard, or Old Rockville, Cemetery just up the road from the chapel.
The last of the Barrows direct descendants was a local eccentric known as “Uncle Phil Barrows,” who died in a local nursing home in 1960. He was “one of the few remaining back-to-the-earth farmers around and was a real character,” Hunter recalled. “He continued to work with horses in an age of machines.” Uncle Phil rode his horse to the community chapel’s centennial celebration in 1951, he said.
Rockville was one of several villages of Camden, and at one time it was the third most populous, Hunter told the gathering. Other villages of Camden at the time were Rockport, West Camden, Simonton’s Corner and Glen Cove.
The demand for a local church became evident in 1815 when Camden was cited by the Federal Court in Hallowell for failing to provide a pastor to the community. The original church was located on the Bog Road, and the drive to build the meetinghouse or Rockville Community Chapel began in 1850, Hunter said. The men of the village pledged various amounts to cover the cost of construction. Hunter said he was unable to discover how much it cost to build the structure, but residents contributed anywhere from $13.93 to more than $100.
In order to be deemed suited to build the chapel, local carpenter Charles Studley first needed to be baptized in the faith. That occurred during the winter of 1850 on Tolman Pond when a hole was chopped in the ice and Studley and five other men were dipped below the icy surface. Six women of the village were baptized separately, the same day, Hunter said.
The new meetinghouse was dedicated on Nov. 25, 1851, a stormy and blowing day, Hunter said. Evans Knowlton was the village’s first pastor.
Rockville was also the site of Camden’s first high school, which was built in 1853. The initial class consisted of 36 men and 29 ladies, Hunter said, quoting from an article in the Rockland Courier Gazette. He noted that the students of the day were a bit rowdy and at one point apparently chased some of their teachers from the building. The high school was disbanded a few years later, and the building on Gurney Street eventually was abandoned and burned.
Hunter noted that the Civil War brought economic hardship to the village and the community population slowly began to shrink. Many of the men enlisted in the Army because of the bonuses offered, and many never returned. Those who remained lived by a barter system. “It was a struggle just to survive,” Hunter said.
Hunter recalled a similar struggle during World War II, when he was a child. Again, many local young men went away for years and those manning the home front were confronted with frequent blackouts and air raid drills. Although barely in his teens, Hunter was one of a few boys who would go from house to house to ensure that lights were extinguished or curtains drawn during the blackouts.
Still, it was a time far different from today, Hunter recalled. Everyone knew everyone and all took part in patriotic celebrations, community suppers and an unheard-of openness.
“When I was a kid here the doors of our neighbors were open. Almost everybody was part of everybody’s family,” Hunter said. “We had a lot of interesting, fun times here.”