On Sunday, August 20, 2023, a new flagpole was raised at the RSU 24 District Services Facility on US Route 1 in Sullivan. Friends and family donated the pole and flag in honor of Mrs. Barbara Potter, longtime Sullivan resident and her late husband, Robert “Bob” Potter. Life members of S-SHS, Barbara and Bob contributed much to the growth of the Society for many years.
Barabara was curator for a number of years and still keeps in touch on a regular basis. Bob researched the early history of the area, and his works are an important part of the Society’s collection and some are in the archive of the Maine Historical Society as well.
We are glad to see the flag put in place and even more so that Barbara could be there to see it happen.
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.
Over fifty years ago, Myles Connor Jr., rock ‘n’ roll singer turned legendary outlaw and suspect in one of the largest art heists of all time, made his first big move in Sullivan, Maine.
It was July of 1965, and Connor was visiting family in Sullivan where he had spent many summers growing up. While eating dinner at his granduncle’s house, Connor heard his relatives talking about an elderly lady who had died, leaving everything to children she had apparently despised. Connor had begun to develop an interest in art and antiques, and he went to the dead woman’s house to take a look. He was carrying a grandfather clock out to his car when sheriff’s Deputy Hank Hosking pulled into the driveway. After a confrontation in which Connor fired a couple shots at the deputy, who also worked as a janitor at Sumner Memorial High School, Connor drove off only to be apprehended a short distance away on Route 1 and taken to the Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth.
Back in Massachusetts, Connor had left his apartment full of high-quality antiques, including a silver plate made by Paul Revere that had been stolen from Harvard University’s Peabody Museum. Connor has said that he felt that it was highly important that he get back to Massachusetts quickly as he was concerned that people he knew would help themselves to the antiques while he was held up in Maine. With Connor desperate to escape, his small scuffle in Sullivan turned into the site of his first major criminal incident—one that involved breaking out of jail with a gun carved out of soap and blackened with shoe polish, hiding for two days in the attic of the Ellsworth Public Library, and a manhunt throughout the town of Hancock.
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Myles Connor is brought into a Dedham courthouse on July 9, 1985. Netflix.
Myles J. Connor Jr. grew up in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Myles Joseph Connor, a police officer, and Lucy Johnson Connor. Connor’s maternal grandfather was from Sullivan, and Connor has said that as a child he spent almost every summer visiting family in Sullivan. The Connors often stayed in the Johnson cottage just east of Tunk Lake Road.
A budding young musician, Connor gained attention in the early 1960s as the leader of a Boston-area rock band called Myles and the Wild Ones. His daring jailbreak in 1965 at the age of 22 was just the beginning of a long career of law-breaking. Over the years, Connor has been accused of theft, assault, drug trafficking, shooting a police officer, and murdering two Boston women, the last of which he was ultimately acquitted. In 2010, he published a memoir, The Art of the Heist: Confessions of a Master Thief, which tells an unapologetic story of his life of crime.
Lately, Connor was featured in This is a Robbery, a four-part documentary series that premiered on Netflix on April 7, 2021 and centers around the infamous 1990 burglary at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The series breaks down the heist in which art collectively worth $500 million went missing, including works by Rembrandt, Manet, and Vermeer. The art remains missing 31 years later, and no one was ever arrested for the crime.
Although Connor was in prison for drug trafficking at the time of the robbery, the FBI considered him a prime suspect. Connor has claimed in various interviews and published works that he was involved in the planning of the heist but that it was carried out by associates of his who have now since died. He is also said to have phoned the police himself after the Gardner robbery to claim that he had nothing to do with it.
The Connors often stayed in the Johnson cottage just east of Tunk Lake Road in East Sullivan. The cottage was built in 1925 by Clarissa (Johnson) Sutherland as a summer camp for children on the land of her parents, Herbert & Lelia (Clark) Johnson. Herbert Johnson’s nephew, Charles Johnson, was Myles Connor Jr.’s grandfather. The cottage still stands today. Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society.
Over his lifetime, Connor has spent over two decades in prison and says he has been part of over 30 art heists, including many that authorities know very little about. In one of his most famous heists, Connor stole and then returned the Boston Museum of Fine Art’s Rembrandt in exchange for a lighter prison sentence. In This is a Robbery, Connor’s defense attorney, Martin Leppo, says that stealing from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was always on Connor’s “bucket list.”
“Depends on who you ask but, in general, I’m known as an art thief,” Connor shares in the series. “And, some people consider me the biggest art thief in this country because I’ve robbed a number of museums. But, then again, I was a rock and roll guy.”
You can watch This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist on Netflix.
Myles Connor in the news: Infamous art thief revisits criminal past in Ellsworth, Bangor Daily News, 2014.
“Rock ‘n’ roll” outlaw Myles Connor returning to Ellsworth, the Ellsworth American, 2017.