The Cooper Shop of Sullivan Harbor

The Cooper Shop of Sullivan Harbor

The Cooperage, or Cooper Shop formerly stood on the rocks on the shore in Sullivan Harbor along what is now Harbor View Drive. This was the main road (often referred to in those days as the town or county road) through Sullivan before Route 1 was built and filled in. The shop was built in the early 1850s for Daniel Wilson, who moved his family first from Bradford to Franklin, where the 1850 industry census for the town recorded Wilson as having made 4,680 barrels by hand that year, using over 93,000 staves and 46,000 hoops to do so.

Within a couple of years, Wilson had moved his family to Sullivan and the cooperage was built. They lived next door in the former Capt. William Salter house which had been built in the 1830s and originally was located just up the hill before Salter moved it for the Wilsons (Salter then built a new house for his family in the old location). 

In 1863, Daniel Wilson purchased the parcel of land which held the shop and home. The 1863 deed also conveys “the points of rocks on which it now stands and also the stone wharf built expressly to accommodate said Cooper Shop.” Across the road was the childhood home of Sullivan author Alice Turner Curtis. According to Leila Johnson’s book Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760, Curtis remembered the Cooper Shop as being most active in the 1870s. “…the “Cooper Shop” is the building toward the “Cove”, where Daniel made barrels in the 1870s, which were loaded onto schooners and sent to various ports.”

Daniel Wilson was born in 1816 in Bradford and married Lorinda there in 1844. They had 9 children:

  1. Stanislaus, b. 1845 in Bradford, m. Georgia Simpson
  2. Alvin T., b. 1847 in Bradford, m. Alice J. Wooster
  3. Harvey, b. 1850 in Franklin, died in childhood
  4. Augustus H., b. 1852 in Sullivan
  5. Arabelle C., b. 1854, m. Capt. Charles Allen in 1898
  6. Andalusia, b. 1856, died in childhood
  7. Charles M., b. 1858
  8. John H., b. 1862
  9. Charlene (Lena), b. 1866 in Sullivan.


Sullivan Harbor before the new Route 1 ran through it, with the Cooper Shop and house in center and remnants of the stone wharf running to the right.

The family all lived together in the same house through Daniel’s death at age 73 in 1889.

His son Alvin kept the cooperage going for a few more years. An excerpt from the Ellsworth American in 1893 reads: “Sullivan – Mr. Alvin Wilson has manufactured and sold over 100 fish barrels this spring.” As the need for handmade barrels declined along with the shipping industry, the Cooper Shop was left silent by 1900. Alvin had moved on to the stone and cement manufacturing business, and in 1898 his sister Belle had married with the old family house becoming the Allen home.

When Belle married Charles Allen, a steamboat captain, she had been running the Sullivan Harbor post office on her own for several years. He was a widower and single father of a 7-year-old daughter, Ruth. Belle raised her as her own, and after Charles’ death in 1919, Ruth continued to live at home while she worked as a teacher at the nearby schoolhouse. Not for long though, as on Sept. 7, 1920, she married Elwood Morton Wilbur, a civil engineer, and off they went to live at the American consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Belle remained in her old family home until the last years of her life, and she passed in 1941. Her estate sold the home to Winifred Zulich and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Berwind, early followers of Rudolph Steiner and anthroposophy.

Within a few short years, a new chapter for the home and Sullivan’s history would begin, when…


Sullivan’s first public library found its home in 2 rooms in the second floor of the house in 1948 when the owners donated its use – the first incarnation of Frenchman Bay Library. Rev. Margaret Henrichsen was inspired by this charitable act and got a committee together made up of 14 local women to guide the library forward. By 1952, the library occupied the entire second floor of the home and thrived with community support.

In the winter of 1956, an overheated chimney resulted in the old house burning, but many books were rescued and stored in the basement of the Grammar School. A newly planned Rec Center would become the future and current home of Frenchman Bay Library.

Also in the 1950s, the new state highway which would become US Route 1 was built across the head of the harbor on a small causeway, causing the interior portion to become known as the tidal pool, and the old main road to be called Harbor View Drive.

Years after the Wilson/Allen home burned and the Cooper Shop was dismantled, new property owners used brick and granite from the old foundation to build a patio at the edge of the Mill Brook.

Among the blocks in the foundation, they found a large piece matching the Paul Dudley Sargent monument, inscribed with his name and year of death, 1828. It’s unknown how it became a part of that foundation, though the reason would have been known by Captain William Salter who put it there in 1862.

Today, the Tidal Pool along Harbor View Drive fills and drains as ever, and though the two bustling buildings are long gone, the “points of rocks” on which the Cooper Shop was built are still in place, along with the remnants of the age-old stone wharf that once kept schooners steadily supplied with barrels to move goods to and from ports far away and long ago.

Side view from west of the Cooper Shop and the Wilson/Allen house on Sullivan Harbor, before Route 1 filled in the area.

Down By the Old Mill Stream

Down By the Old Mill Stream

Did you know that one of the most popular songs of the early 20th century was inspired and written right here in Sullivan? “Down by the Old Mill Stream” was originally penned by local barber Frank L. Carleton, who was persuaded to sell the work for $60 to a summer visitor by the name of Tell Taylor, who heard the song while having a shave. Taylor, a music publisher from Ohio, knew a hit when he heard it, and published the song under his own name in 1910, without giving Carleton any credit. It became a staple of barbershop quartets, vaudeville, and eventually mainstream music, and went on to bring in over $80,000 in profits.

Back in Sullivan, Frank Carleton, who’d been writing his own songs and poems since the 1870s, continued working in his barbershop. Locally, everyone knew that the song was his, even as it was covered by the Marx Brothers, Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, Nat King Cole – even John Denver and the Muppets! Over the years, the issue of authorship was brought up by Carleton’s family, but as no written contract was made when Tell Taylor handed Carleton the $60, there was no way to prove it. In those old days, things were done on a handshake and a smile in the barbershop, but Carleton would have had no idea he was passing up the chance to become a wealthy man. He published other songs in the same vein, such as “My Rosalie of Tennessee” and “When I Tied the Bow of Blue on Bessie’s Hair”.

Frank Logan Carleton, c. 1920.

Sheet music cover art for another of Carleton’s songs, published in 1922.

There is some debate over which stream Carleton referred to in the song. In 1939, after Carleton’s death, Chief Stanwood of Big Chief Camps at Tunk Lake wrote to the paper and declared that Frank had told him it was Morancy Stream. Carleton’s granddaughters later remembered that it was the small stream behind Frank’s house on present-day US Route 1 and Route 200, by the Mill Pond. That was the Mill Brook, though a mill never existed on it, nor could one be supported by the meager water flow. Another issue is that accounts vary as to when Carleton wrote the song. Chief Stanwood asserted that he had written it prior to 1882, as he had heard it himself then. If that is the case, Carleton didn’t live by the Mill Brook at that time. Others maintain that he wrote the song in 1908, which would align with the family’s time in that house, as well as making sense of the lyrics which refer to his bride as now having hair of gray after many years of happy marriage.

In the 1980s, much research was done – a collaboration between Carleton’s granddaughters, local reporter Glen Dalton, and the Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society. Dalton concluded that Morancy Stream must be the inspiration as it was the only stream capable of supporting a mill, and at least two existed there in the 19th century – notably, Reuben Smith’s textile operation established in 1810. He published his findings in both Yankee Magazine and the Ellsworth American in 1984. In 1989, at the Sullivan Bicentennial Celebration, the historical society had a float featuring a mill on a stream to honor the song’s true history. The float won first place!

Whichever stream the song refers to (and why not both?), it was Frank Carleton’s experience here in Sullivan that served as the true inspiration. The song is sentimental, a love song, and starts with the memory of meeting his love, Martha Connors (“With your eyes of blue, dressed in gingham too”), whom he married in 1886, and finishes with a reflection on a life well lived together. They had two daughters, Rae and Bessie. Rae married Dallas Ashe of Gouldsboro and had a daughter, Anne Pauline, before tragically dying of septicemia at the age of 23. Their daughter became a dancer in New York before marrying a Hollywood songwriter and going on to work as an actress there. Frank and Martha’s daughter Bessie married Fred Neale, and they had three children with descendants still living in the area. Frank is buried at York Hill Cemetery in Sullivan.


You can listen to the 1911 recording of the song here

The old Smith mill on Morancy Stream, built 1810. 

Parade float honoring “Down by the Old Mill Stream” and Frank Carleton at the 1989 Sullivan Bicentennial. The float won first place.