March 17, 2020
Midcoast Latest News | Coronavirus | Bangor Metro | Tom Brady | Today's Paper

175 years ago, they ‘argued and drank’ before agreeing to name their town Searsport

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Downtown Searsport is seen in this Dec. 16, 2014, file photo.

SEARSPORT, Maine — When Charlene Knox Farris was growing up here, the now-retired elementary school teacher said she never learned the history of her town.

But now, Farris serves as the town’s historian, and said she feels inspired to share stories she’s learned about the seafaring community’s past. On Thursday, she’ll revive a historical play she wrote detailing Searsport’s first official town meeting, which took place 175 years ago this week. It will be performed at Searsport United Methodist Church — the town’s inaugural meeting place back in 1845.

“It’s such a part of my being,” Farris said of her connection with the town’s past. “I feel sometimes like I lived through it.”

Prior to 1845, Searsport was split between neighboring Belfast and Prospect. But that year, the growing town incorporated, and residents convened to settle a major point of disagreement — whether to name the new community Searsport or Maineport.

She said townspeople eventually left the church and deliberated at a nearby tavern.

“They argued and they drank, I suppose,” Farris said. “They came back and voted for Searsport.”

Abigail Curtis | BDN
Abigail Curtis | BDN
Searsport Town Historian Charlene Knox Farris is seen in this Oct. 13, 2015, file photo.

As town officials and others get into character this week, Farris said she hopes her play will transport the audience to an important moment in the town’s history.

Farris, who originally wrote the play for the community’s 150th anniversary, is glad to see it revived and hopes it will inspire more to learn about some important people from the town’s early history.

One of the community’s earliest European settlers was Richard Stimson, she said, a surveyor who in 1768 laid out both the original plan of Belfast and part of the coastal thoroughfare that became Route 1.

Stimson was paid for his work in land, and chose a 100-acre plot 7 miles north of where the Searsport town wharf is now located. He lived there with his family and his brother, Ephraim Stimson, who had a farm next door.

“The thing I think is so amazing is that these men lived 7 miles north of the water,” she said. “They would grow their wheat, walk 7 miles down to the bay, row from Sears Island to Castine, where they would mill their wheat into flour, row back and then walk all the way back up the hill. That blows my mind every time I think about it.”

A tragedy befell the Stimson family one winter, Farris said. The brothers would go to the top of Mount Waldo in Frankfort to hunt and cut wood, and on one fateful day, their oldest sons were sent to bring them food. But the boys got caught in a snowstorm and perished.

“Richard found his son by stepping on his frozen hand, which was sticking up out of the snow,” the historian said.

Courtesy of the Penobscot Marine Museum
Courtesy of the Penobscot Marine Museum
A painting of David Sears and his sons by an unknown artist that is in the Penobscot Marine Museum collection. Sears was the namesake and early benefactor of Searsport.

Another less tragic story dates back to 1845 or so. Town fathers named the community after David Sears, a rich Boston lawyer who had bought a huge piece of land in the area, including Sears Island. Sears gave the town $1,000 to build a town hall.

“The world goes around on money,” Farris said. “The big reason to name it Searsport was so he would continue to be the benefactor and give them money.”

The community got to work, building a brick town hall that today is part of the Penobscot Marine Museum campus. But the plan backfired when Sears came back to Maine for the summer and checked out the town hall.

“He took one look at it and said, ‘Huh. It looks like a damn powderhouse,’” Farris said. “He hated it. Turned around, walked off and never gave us another cent.”

She hopes that the re-enactment of the first town meeting may inspire more people to learn more of these stories.

“We still have so few people who know very much about the history of the town,” she said. “To me, that’s a shame.”

The re-enactment of Searsport’s inaugural meeting will begin at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Searsport United Methodist Church, 43 E. Main St.

 


Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

You may also like