When a new boat is built and christened, it is generally a happy time for all involved.
But in the case of the Spindrift, no one could have expected it to truly live up to its name! The boat was built in the Machias River in the winter of 1918 with Sullivan to be her home port under Captain Mitchell of Milbridge. Her inaugural trip in March of 1919 was to be a simple one to Halifax to pick up a load of lumber, with a partial crew of 9. The names we know to be on the crew were Clarence, Howard and Leonard Martin, Alfred and Ott Preble, and E.E. and Jessie Bragdon. Years later, Clarence Martin would give a detailed account of what happened on that fateful maiden voyage.
To start, the ship wasn’t loaded with much ballast as it was thought the trip would be short and sweet. On board there was enough bread and coffee for the four days expected. However, after one full day in the Bay of Fundy, a great gale struck and carried the Spindrift with it. The ship, being lightweight and bobbing like a cork over the water, was at the mercy of the wind, and on the high seas, the planks began to loosen. The crew focused on keeping the ship afloat as the gale blew her further and further off course.
Out of food, some of the boys wanted to try their luck on a lifeboat but were persuaded by the others that the rough seas would swallow them up. After a couple of weeks, there was a lull in the weather, and a Patagonian ship passing by gave them some beef and flour, but it wasn’t enough. The drinking water they had on board went bad and sickened all of the men. 32 days later, when the winds finally eased up, the men found themselves in the Azores – on the other side of the Atlantic!
There, they were given enough victuals and a course for Nassau, with the ship barely making the trip. The crew spent a month there while repairs were done, and then were sent to Jacksonville, Florida, where the Spindrift and its crew were sent by train up the East Coast back to Maine. Amazingly, none of the crew perished in their ordeal, but the experience did turn a few of them off to mariner life for good. As for the Spindrift, it made one more trip – to deliver a load of lumber to Puerto Rico – but sprang a leak on the way back and sank off Norfolk, VA, bringing an end to the short career of the ship built in Machias.
Merriam-Webster gives the definition of a spindrift as “spray blown from waves during a gale”; and true to its name, the Spindrift was indeed blown across the tops of the waves during a gale.
Have you ever wondered who how the Bert Gray Road got its name?
The Bert Gray Road (Route 200) was previously known as the Franklin Road, or the Franklin Woods Road. This route was established many generations ago, and historically only a handful of families lived along it. This included a branch of the Simpson family – specifically Richard Simpson (1791-1858) and his wife Lovisa Wooster Simpson (1799-1888). Both were born in Sullivan and spent their lives on a farm here. They had three children: Albert (1820-1873), Eliza (1823-1896), and David Aaron (1825-1915). All three spent their lives on the farm, never marrying. Eliza was a schoolteacher. Aaron, the name he preferred, served in the Civil War with Maine Company A, Coast Guard Infantry alongside the Vice President, Hannibal Hamlin!
He returned from the war intact and ran the family farm for many years. He’d outlived his family and as he grew older, found himself in need of help. So around 1900, Aaron Simpson had his friend Albert Stephen Gray move his family in permanently to help run the farm and take care of Mr. Simpson in the twilight of his years. Bert Gray bought the farm and his family continued to care for Mr. Simpson there. This was an ideal arrangement – Mr. Simpson got to live out his days on his family land, and to see it prosper again as the Pleasant Hill Farm.
Bert Gray was born in 1856 in Sedgwick on a farm there. Later, he became a quarryman, and that is what originally brought him to Sullivan, with his wife Eleanor Mary (“Nellie”) and four children in tow: Sarah, Abbie, Joel, and Linwood. Farming life suited Bert much better, and the kids all helped out. Sadly, in 1907, their son Joel died there at the age of 22 from tuberculosis.
A sawmill was in use for many years there, and the present marshy area used to be a much fuller pond before the road was filled in. The Pleasant Hill Farm was located a little over a mile up the Franklin Road and still encompasses a great area of land. The old farmhouse still stands, and a family cemetery is there as well.
Old Mr. Simpson passed away in 1915, and Bert continued to run the farm until his own passing in 1936. The farm was passed down to his son Linwood who lived there with his wife, eventually becoming a successful merchant. The Grays were a musical family, with a pianist, opera singer, and composer among them, and performances were common at the house.
On a still summer’s night, with the sound of tree frogs and nighthawks in the air, one can almost imagine the faint sound of music emanating from the old farm on the hill and down into the surrounding woods.
Do you have any old photos or memories of the Gray farm? We’d love to hear from you!
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.
Why was the Singing Bridge built to ‘break the worms’ teeth?'”
It makes sense if you know the story of the first bridge that spanned the Taunton River between Hancock and Sullivan. Built in the 1820s, the Sargent Bridge fell victim to teredos, also known as “shipworms.” Microscopic teeth worked away at the wooden structure until an ice flow took the bridge out completely just a few years after its construction. About 25 years after the Sargent Bridge collapsed, a second bridge was started but never completed. The next bridge that spanned the Taunton River was dedicated on May 1, 1926. According to legend, an oldster familiar with the history of the first wooden bridge took one look at the steel and concrete structure and famously announced, “This one will break the worms’ teeth.”
Read the full newspaper article by Jonas Crane of Winter Harbor. Published in the 1950s or 1960s.
It’s impossible to think of buildings in Sorrento without thinking about Ed and Clif Hale. Between 1911 and 1971, two generations of Hales built the majority of the summer homes seen in Sorrento today.
Charles Edgar “Ed” Hale was born and raised in Brooksville and came to Sorrento in 1911. He began working for the Chafee family. Over the following 38 years, Ed Hale built over 25 houses, including the new Sorrento Grammar School (now the Community Building), and the Sumner Memorial High School gymnasium with Eddy Bragdon.
In 1949, Ed retired and turned the business over to his nephew Clifton K. Hale. Clif built at least 25 more houses, in addition to finishing the house on Doane’s Point for Mrs. Hughson that his uncle had started. Clif’s last house was an A-frame on Treasure Island for Carl and Terry Patten in 1971. Clif’s wife, Martha, supported the business as secretary and bookkeeper.
“They were an important part of that core of Sorrento, the people and the houses,” wrote Clif’s daughter, Thelma Hale White, in 2001. “As people, they took pride in their membership and involvement in the community; and their houses stand as reminders of their pride in workmanship.”
The compiled lists of houses built by Ed and Clif Hale are the work of Sturgis Haskins. Additional resources include “Torna a Sorrento, 1835 – 1973” by Lawrence Lewis and “Sorrento: A Well-Kept Secret” by Catherine O’Clair Herson.
Ed Hale built this Colonial Revival for Gifford Ewing in 1929.
The Sorrento Grammar School, now the Community Center, was built by Ed Hale after the old High Head school burned in 1941.
This house was built for Mildred Hughson by Ed Hale, Clif Hale, Harold Kelly, L.A. Spratt, Donald G. Perry, and M.A. McKenzie. They broke ground in August 1946.
Native American Heritage Month raises awareness of the histories and diverse cultures of Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. The Wabanaki people, including the Abenaki, Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Nations, have inhabited the land we now call Maine for over 12,000 years.
In Sullivan and Sorrento, we acknowledge that we are on the land of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot People.
Here are some resources for learning more about Native American history in Maine.
What does it mean to live in one place for over 13,000 years? Holding up the Sky, a companion exhibit to State of Mind: Becoming Maine, tells the story of Wabanaki people, culture, history and art over the course of 13,000 years. Holding up the Sky was on display at the Maine Historical Society in 2019 and 2020, but you can still view the online exhibit here.
Dawnland, an Emmy award winning documentary, tells the story of Indigenous child removal in the United States. In Maine, the first official Truth and Reconciliation Commission travels across the state to gather evidence and bear witness to the impact of the state’s child welfare policies on families in Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot communities. Released in 2018, Dawnland follows the Commission as they grapple with difficult truths, charter a new path towards better state and tribal relations, and share stories that have never been told before.
The Wabanaki Heritage Stories is a collection from My Maine Stories, a project by the Maine Memory Network. History happens person to person, and everyone has a story to tell. From learning basketmaking to pairing indigenous knowledge with western science, the collection comprises a wide variety of primary source historic material.
The Abbe is a museum of Wabanaki art, history, and culture. In the Abbe’s downtown location in Bar Harbor and the trailside museum at Sieur de Monts Spring, exhibits explore the history and culture of the Wabanaki. Although the museum is currently closed for the season, you can continue to explore their educational resources and programs online.
Visit this map to see the native land where you live.