How Did the Bert Gray Road Get Its Name?

How Did the Bert Gray Road Get Its Name?

Have you ever wondered who how the Bert Gray Road got its name?

Bert Gray’s signature, 1915.

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.

Pleasant Hill Farm House, c1930.

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!

Linwood and Mary Gray at Pleasant Hill Farm on the Bert Gray Road, 1957.
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.

The Singing Bridge: “Built to Break the Worms’ Teeth”

The Singing Bridge: “Built to Break the Worms’ Teeth”

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.

 

 

Building Sorrento: 1911 – 1971

Building Sorrento: 1911 – 1971

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. 

Wabanaki: People of the Dawnland

Wabanaki: People of the Dawnland

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.   

  1. Holding up the Sky

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.

 

  1. Dawnland

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.

 

  1. Wabanaki Heritage Stories from Maine Memory Net

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.

 

  1. Abbe Museum

 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.

 

Additional Resources.

 

 

Sullivan Ghosts and Other Stories

Sullivan Ghosts and Other Stories

In the winter of 1799, residents of Sullivan, Maine witnessed a very strange thing. A disembodied voice emerged from the cellar of Abner Blaisdell’s house on the rocky shores of Taunton Bay and announced itself to be the spirit of Nelly Butler, a young woman who had died a few years prior. Over the following months, the ghost of Nelly Butler appeared and spoke to over a hundred witnesses. The specter orchestrated a marriage, predicted a death, and brought chaos upon the small town.

The legend of Nelly Butler is widely recognized as the first recorded and documented ghost story in American history. After the spiritual encounters culminated on one fateful night in August of 1800—the specter led a crowd of nearly 50 people to the house of a vocal disbeliever—local legends and folklore continued to manifest. From the spirit of an old tinker haunting the old Stone Store to an attic filled with ghosts above the Even Exchange, Sullivan’s past is full of mysteries that may never be solved.

1. The Preble Piano

Miss Preble had one of the first pianos in Sullivan and played it often. When she died, her house was left to a cousin coming up from Saco. In the meantime, Miss Preble’s house and belongings were left untouched.

A few months after Miss Preble’s passing, a peddler came to town. David Blaisdell, one of Miss Preble’s neighbors, watched the peddler ring the doorbell of the Preble house, then rap on the side window and call inside, to no avail. Then the peddler came over to Dave’s place, looking alarmed.

As Aunt Nebbie Havey recalled to Samuel Scovill Jr., the conversation went something like this:

“That ol’ lady, she be of a deafness extraordinaire,” he says.

“What old lady,” Dave says.

“Why, the one who live in ze house opposite,” goes on the peddler. “She sit in front of     ze piano, but she don’t play, nor do she hear, though I rap an’ rap on ze window an’ call    out loud to her.”

“What did she look like?” goes on Dave, feeling kind of sick.

“She have ze white hair an’ wear ze white mantilla on her head, an’ she have a kind face, but very sad,” says the peddler.

After the other man had left, Dave mustered all his strength and walked up on Miss Preble’s porch and peered through the window. Nothing looked unusual, except one thing: the piano, which had been closed ever since Miss Preble died, was wide open.

 

Source: Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760 by Lelia Clark Johnson, 1953. The dialogue comes from Samuel Scovill Jr.’s essay, “The Preble Piano,” which first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, May 1930, and is included in Johnson’s book.  

“2. Cling Clang and the Old Stone Store

Standing at the heart of Sullivan Harbor, the old Stone Store was constructed from local granite perhaps as many as two-hundred years ago. The Stone Store was first home to a salt store for fishermen, then to the headquarters of a shipyard, later to an antique shop, and now, some say, to the ghost of “Cling Clang,” a man shrouded in mystery who came to Sullivan many years ago.

The man known as “Cling Clang” arrived in Sullivan on a ship from England. Exactly how and why Cling Clang, or John Cling, as he was also known, came ashore in Sullivan remained a subject of much speculation, and the peculiarity of the newcomer only started there. Cling Clang roamed the countryside on stilts, dressed in discarded salt bags. He made his living repairing watches and clocks for people along the coast from Bar Harbor to Calais. He carried a salt bag filled with tools for his work and an array of tin pots and utensils for cooking. Using two long poles, Cling Clang travelled with large leaps and bounds, swinging easily over fences and ditches. With each jump Cling made, the resulting “Clang” was so loud that it was said you could hear him coming from half a mile away. In the winter, Cling Clang lived in an overturned boat behind the Stone Store.

Cling Clang was strange and mysterious, and everyone speculated on his past. Rumors circulated that he was the most wanted man in England—he was of noble birth, he had murdered his sweetheart, or both. He talked sensibly, sometimes sarcastically, and never complained about the cold, nor allowed himself any comforts. Many wondered if he was practicing self-denials as some penance for a crime. Cling Clang endured through many winters, but one cold February, he was found frozen to death underneath his boat.

In the 1980s, long after Cling Clang, strange things began to happen around the Stone Store. Gail and Jim Stamp, owners of the antique shop there, spoke publicly about ghosts in the building. The doorbell rang, but no one was there. Lights would come on. Portraits disappeared. Guests were awakened in the night to the sounds of footsteps and breathing. Alone in the living quarters above the store one night, Gail heard a noise in the stairway and made out the gray form of a man, who froze, then headed down the stairs. Gail had no doubt of the ghost’s identity. It was Cling Clang.

 

 Sources:

“Cling Clang” by Chief Stanwood, October 1, 1947, included in Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760 by Lelia Clark Johnson, 1953.

“Ghosts don’t spook Down East Couple,” Bangor Daily News, August 16, 1983.

3. The Spirit of the Black’s Woods

Although not quite in Sullivan, the spirit of the Black’s Woods Road running between the towns of Franklin and Cherryfield is worthy of a mention. According to local legend, the specter of a young woman who was decapitated in an automobile accident stalks the road at night. Those who pass and see her spirit must stop and offer her a ride, or they may die soon afterward.

The stories of Catherine’s demise and wayward spirit vary greatly. Many accounts tell of a young woman and her boyfriend traveling back from prom in the 1970s when their car hit a tree. Other versions are set in the 1960s, the 1950s, the 1920s, and even the 1800s, when Catherine died in Black’s Woods on her wedding night when the stagecoach lost control and crashed in a sudden, strange fog.

In one tale, a man encounters the headless figure on the side of the road. He speeds past in terror only to look in his rearview mirror and see the ghost in his backseat, then crashes the car and dies. Other encounters tell of travelers stopping to give the ghostly woman a lift, only to find she has vanished from the car moments later.

Variations aside, most stories of encounters with Catherine’s spirit over the years tell a similar tale: a young woman in a gown, sometimes headless and sometimes not, haunts the road by Catherine’s Hill. As the legend goes, if she asks for a ride, be careful not to refuse.

 

Source: Dark Woods, Chill Waters: Ghost Tales from Down East Maine by Marcus LiBrizzi, 2007.

4. The Nelly Butler Hauntings

The ghost of Nelly Butler is one of the most famous ghosts in America. It all began in 1799, when a voice emerged from Abner Blaisdell’s cellar, claiming to be Nelly Butler, who had died three years before after giving birth.

In the first phase of haunting, the specter sought to orchestrate the marriage between Nelly Butler’s widower, Captain George Butler, and Abner Blaisdell’s 15-year-old daughter, Lydia. George Butler was then 29 years old. While instances of women marrying as young as fifteen or sixteen were not uncommon, there was great opposition to the match, especially from Abner Blaisdell. Eventually, the spirit had its way, and the marriage took place on Butler’s Point in May of 1800. The next day, the apparition returned to predict that Lydia would die in childbirth; ten months later, Lydia, then sixteen years old, bore one child and died.

The second phase of haunting occurred in August of 1800 with more remarkable encounters. The apparition directly summoned outspoken critics, spoke on religious subjects to crowds of people, and led forty-eight community members for over a mile through the night of August 13-14, 1800. Most accounts of the ghost abruptly disappeared after this event.

The story of Nelly Butler left confusion and controversy in its wake. Over one hundred people witnessed the apparition. Abraham Cummings, a traveling evangelist, collected 37 eyewitness testimonies and recorded all meetings and accounts, including his own.

 

Source: The Nelly Butler Hauntings: A Documentary History by Marcus LiBrizzi, 2010.

5. Ghosts in the Even Exchange

When the Martins bought the Even Exchange, an antique and used furniture business housed in the old Hanna Bros’ General Store building on the corner of Route 1 and Tunk Lake Road, there was one problem with the apartment above the store. It had a ghost.

It all started when Beatrice Martin and a friend came up to spend the summer in the apartment. One night, they heard the door crash open, and heavy, booted footsteps cross the floor of the attic. After this resumed for three nights in a row, Beatrice and her friends tried to exorcise the ghost with the help of a spiritualist from Franklin, but the ghost continued to trouble them all summer long. Books fell off the table. Footprints appeared under the bed. One visitor felt her feet swept out from under her and almost fell down the stairs.

As the store had been built in the 1890s, the Martins heard numerous stories about what had happened in the apartment over the years. Some said that there had been a fight upstairs: one man stabbed another man, who later died of his wounds. They heard that the building had many spirits—that it functioned as a sort of commune for spirits, even—and there was one very angry spirit tormenting everybody. For the most part, the activity ceased in following years, but every once in a while, another strange occurrence would signify that at least one of the ghosts had returned.

After the Martins completely remodeled the apartment, nothing unusual happened again.

 

Source: “Spirits in the Rocks: The Even Exchange, East Sullivan,” Clamdiggers and Downeast Country Stores by Allan Lockyer, 1993.

6. A Few More Ghosts…

Falls Point – According to local lore, the ghost of old Josiah Simpson haunts Falls Point. Some nights, you might hear him down there sawing wood.

The Emery House – In the old John Urann house, later belonging to the Emery family, it has been said that a ghost used to walk down the stairs at midnight, always stopping for a couple breaths on the thirteenth step. As the story goes, the Uranns were used to it, and thought nothing of it at all.

Source: Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760 by Lelia Clark Johnson, 1953.

For additional reading, consider: Dark Woods, Chill Waters: Ghost Tales from Down East Maine by Marcus LiBrizzi. This collection of chilling ghost tales from Down East includes the Nelly Butler Hauntings of Sullivan and the spirit of Black’s Woods, among many others.

These stories were written by Raina Sciocchetti, Island Institute Fellow at the Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society. Sources of information used for each story are included above.