Pittsfield on the Sebasticook
by Lois Labbe, 1997
I was born and raised in an area surrounded by historical places. The house I lived in
the the first thirteen years of my life was said to be one of the oldest in Hallowell.
Of course, at that time I didn't appreciate the historic value of the place where I
lived. In later years I grew to appreciate the Kennebec River and the towns along its
shores. I gathered an understanding of the past and what it took to build this place
called Hallowell. I was surrounded by the past.
In 1990 I moved to Dixmont, which was like moving to another country. The rolling hills
and open places were amazing. After living in a so-called big city of Augusta, this new
area was a real culture shock. It seemed as though this area was in a time warpe and was
about twenty years behind the rest of the state. I have always enjoyed riding in the
countryside and exploring old roads and places, so it was inevitable that I find
Pittsfield. I am a nurse and needed a place to work. I heard about the Sebasticook
Valley Hospital, in Pittsfield, and worked there for four years. It wasn't until a few
years later, while looking for land to buy, that I began to really explore Pittsfield.
My realtor told me of a piece of land that was for sale on the Snakeroot Road which runs
for approximately five miles in the western part of Pittsfield. There are a few dairy
farms and a lot of open fields and woods. This area is one of the highest points of
Pittsfield so I can see why the settlers who first came to this area would settle here
first. As we develop our fields and land, I can see that the soil is rich with history.
When starting this project I didn't envision that this small obscure town would be so
rich in history, but to my surprise, I am finding that I was wrong. As I began to study
this area called Pittsfield I started to understand the history of this area and began
to feel at home here.
I have found through my research that the western part of Pittsfield was one of the
first to be settled. The John Webb homestead was located on the Snakeroot Road, and was
a meeting place for the town the first fourteen years. In my conversations with Don
Hollenbeck, he couldn't speculate about the location of this homestead.(5) My thinking
is, there is a road leading to Snakeroot, called the Webb Road and the Webb homestead
must have been close to the road. There is one building, at the intersection of the
Snakeroot Road and Webb Road that used to be a schoolhouse. This may have been the site
of the Webb homestead. This area at one time was also called Snakeroot Hill. It would be
interesting to find out how they happened to name it, I think the Indians probably named
it from the wild plant. I have found this plant in the woods on my land.
The rock walls of Maine are a national treasure---nowhere but New England do you find
such a phenomenon---the tenacity of our forefathers to clear the land. When I first saw
my land it was bordered with such rock walls. The walls travel all along Snakeroot Road
and on further investigation I have found several throughout the woods. This is further
evidence that the land was once cleared for fields. How could I resist? I walked in on
an old woods road rutted from modern skidders and lumber trucks. About 800 feet in from
the road was a marvel---a three acre field opening, bordered with evergreen and poplar.
It was truly amazing, this would turn out to be my new home.
Pittsfield is a beautiful small Maine town situated in the Sebasticook Valley. It is
about fifty miles either way between the major central Maine towns of Augusta and
Bangor. For many years after it was settled the main roads circled around this town from
Palmyra to Skowhegan so it was very difficult to start a business here. In 1855, the
railroad began running from Waterville to Pittsfield, which greatly improved the
opportunities of this community. There are many small towns in Maine that can compare to
Pittsfield. Its population is approximately 4,000. The population has fluctuated with
changing times over the years and now at the level it was 100 years ago.
As many small towns there is a legend as to how the town started, and Pittsfield has
the Legend of Peltoma. Peltoma Avenue runs to the south just west of the Sebasticook
River, a tributary of the Kennebec River.
Before the Europeans settled in this area there were two great nations that reigned, the
Penobscot and the Norridgewock. The Norridgewock Indians were said to have traveled to
this valley and settled along the river. The legend goes:
The chief of this tribe had a beautiful daughter named Laughing Eyes, who was betrothed
to marry one of the Penobscot braves, Sly Fox, to promote friendship between the two
tribes. But Laughing Eyes was in love with a member of her own tribe, Peltoma, whom she
sought to marry.
One day, Peltoma and his braves were hunting in the forest when they met Sly Fox and his
band. A battle ensued in which it is written that Peltoma was severly wounded and
thought to be dead.
At that time, Laughing Eyes was camped with her father on a branch of the Sebasticook
River. Upon hearing of the death of Peltoma, and that she would be forced to marry the
man responsible for her lover's fate, her sorrow overcame her and she jumped into her
birch bark canoe and rode over the falls, ending her life.
Peltoma, who had not been killed, recovered from his wounds and three days later
appeared at the wigwam of his sweetheart only to hear of Laughing Eyes sad fate.
It is said that Peltoma made his home on the point now bearing his grave and lived the
rest of his life near the spot where Laughing Eyes took her life.
As evidenced by this story, a bridge, a point, and a street bear the name of Peltoma.
I also found an excerpt written for the "Tuesday Club", October, 1898, by A.
J. Brackett. (The Tuesday Club still meets in Pittsfield.)
"Very little is known of the early history connected with the tract of land now
known as Pittsfield, but it is supposed to have been once the home of the Indian; and
tradition tells us that at Phlentoma Point [Peltoma] the remains of one of their old
burying grounds has been found which was the resting place of a chief bearing that name.
"Towns in the vicinity were settled in the early part of 1700's but it was not
until 1794, that Moses Martin came from Norridgewock, built a log house, and commenced a
clearing for a farm at the bend of the Sebasticook, two miles below this village. [The
farm is still in the possession of his grandson, Berry Martin, whose house, which is
among the oldest in town, stands on the site formerly occupied by the first habitation
built in this town]. Mr. Martin married Miss Parker, and reared a family of twelve
children, and his son Aaron was the first white child born in the settlement. He lived
to be 90 years old, and by his request was buried near the old homestead. Among the
early settlers were Ephram Higgins, Phillip Powers, [grandfather of our present
Governor], the Willis family, John Webb, John Merrick who came in 1806, Dominicus
Getchell 1811, and Joseph McCauslin in 1813. The pater of Isaac and David Simons was
also among the first settlers. That part of the town now known as west Pittsfield first
attracted the settlers, and was the prominent part of the town for many years, although
on account of the absence of any water power it was not destined to become a business
"The town was at first called Plymouth Gore, but in 1815 it was organized under the
name of Sebasticook Plantation. This organization was however soon abandoned on account
of the difficulty in collecting the taxes.
"In 1819 by a petition of the inhabitants to the Legislature of Massachusetts, this
state being then the District of Maine, and under jurisdiction of Massachusetts, the
town become incorporated under the name of Warsaw, Esq. Bridges, one of its prominent
land owners selecting the name. In the same year, Stevens Kendall was elected a delegate
to frame the state constitution. The warrant for the first town meeting of Warsaw was
issued by Joseph Haskell, Justice of the Peace of Canaan, [Pater of Aretus Haskell] and
the meeting was held in John Webb's house, which stood on the Place now occupied by
Edgar Johnson. They were held in this house, on the Snake Route Road for fourteen years,
when the schoolhouse in District No. 3 being built, they were held there till the Lancey
House was built in 1868.
"The inhabitants of the town not being satisfied with the name of Warsaw, in
February 1824, the name was changed to Pittsfield in honor of Wm. Pitts, Esq., of
Belgrade, who owned large tracts of land there. The town suffered from the "hard
times" for several years after this, as with the incorporation of the town new
roads were laid out and built, new school houses became necessary, which, together with
the salary of town officers, increased the taxes to such an extent that their collection
became each year more difficult, till in 1827 the paupers becoming a burden to the town
were boarded out at thirty three cents per week; and the town voted that "the taxes
may be payable in corn at four shillings per bushel, and wheat at one shilling,
delivered at the Treasurer's dwelling house", and that "each school district
shall draw its proportion of school money in wheat and corn at the same prices".
"In 1827 John W. Pattern [father of Jacob and Isiah Patten] and 19 others
petitioned for the annexation of the tract of land belonging to Joseph Warren of Boston
known as Palmyra Ell, which the town voted to accept, and it become a part of this town
from that date. [To this day this parcel of land is called L Hill]." (2)
There is another story of the town that is quite amusing. It involves the cemetery.
Brackett writes further:
"The subject of a burying ground having been agitated for some time, it was voted
in March, 1829, to purchase a lot of land for that purpose; but it was not till 1848,
nineteen years after, that the lot was purchased and laid out near the site lately
occupied by the Hathorn mansion. The burying ground was some years after changed to a
place nearly back of where the new Universalist church now stands; and in 1854, when the
rail road was built, the bodies again removed to the present cemetery. This last removal
became necessary in order to cut down the hill on which the burying place stood to
obtain gravel with which to grade the road, [as its present condition indicates].
In 1819 there were 19 voters, in 1830 there were 79, and in 1833, 123. The first post
office established in town was at West Pittsfield and Mr. Barnabas P. Merrick was the
first post master. The first post office as East Pittsfield was kept over the hill on
the Burnham road, opposite the Jerry McCarty place by James Willis; who brought mail
from Palmyra on foot, Palmyra being then one of the most thriving towns in this part of
the state. This post office was called East Pittsfield till 1863, when it was changed to
Pittsfield. Until 1846 no stage was run through this village, the stage route being from
Bangor to Skowhegan through Palmyra. At that time a route was started from Bangor to
Waterville through this village.
"Among the earlier settlers who came to this part of the town, and contributed to
its prosperity and growth was Jesse Connor, who came from Gardiner in 1814, when his son
Hiram was two years old, and lived in a house that stood near the site now occupied by
the Hunter & McMaster store. He opened the first store for the sale of goods in a
room in one end of his house finished for that purpose. He purchased the mill property
of Mr. Bradford and built the first dam just below the bridges, just above where the
stone dam is now. Mr. Connor built the first saw mill in town, and continued in the mill
business till 1832 when he sold out to Going Hathorn. When Mr. Connor first came to this
town he was obliged to go to Gardiner through the woods, on horseback for corn and meal,
bringing only such quantities as could be brought on a horse. He married Ann Parks of
Dresden and reared a family of eight children, four sons and four daughters, of whom
Jesse Connor and Gustavus still reside here. Mr. Connor lived for twenty years in the
house above mentioned when he removed to the site now occupied the G. J. Connor
homestead, where he died in 1869 at the age of 87 years. His wife who survived him some
years, died in 1887.
"Capt. David Pushor, father of Prescott Samuel came to this town in December, 1816,
from Fairfield and settled on the farm in West Pittsfield now known as the McMaster
place. There were no roads through the woods, and he was obliged to find his way by
marked trees; this trail being the only connecting link with the outside world. There
was but one framed house in town, the majority being built of logs. Capt. Pushor held
many town offices both in Warsaw and Pittsfield and was appointed a Captain in the State
Militia in 1821 by Gov. King.
"Another early settler who has many descendants in this village was Col. William
Lancey, who came here with his family from Palmyra in 1828, having removed to that town
from Tyngsboro, Mass., a few years previous. He moved into a house that was built some
years before by a Mr. Brown on the site now occupied by the Lancey homestead, and was
licensed an innholder. The school was kept for some time in a front room of his house,
and among the teachers was one Dan'l Robinson. Col. Lancey was married several years
before he came to this town to Susanna Wheat of Chesford, Mass. by whom he reared a
family of nine children. [at the time this was written only one child survived, Mrs.
Maria Nickles]. When they came to this place there were not more than a half dozen
houses within the present limits of the village. He was Captain of the Sixth Regiment of
State Militia, and was promoted to Colonel by Gov. King in 1821 and held important town
offices. He was engaged in lumbering and other branches of business till his death in
1836. His son, Josiah L. Lancey built the first store in town in an orchard back of the
law office of J. W. Manson, but it was afterward moved to the street south of the Lancey
homestead not far from where the present post office stands. Later it was occupied by
the late Wm. R. Lancey. After Col. Lancey's death, his wife, who was a capable business
woman continued in the hotel business assisted by her children; and at her death her son
Isaac H., bought out the heirs and acquired control of the business; so the hotel
business in Pittsfield has continued in the Lancey name to the present time."
The Lancey Hotel continued in business until the early 1960's. When it closed most of
its contents where sold or displaced to other parts of the world. Despite much effort to
retrieve some of the original artifacts from the hotel by the Pittsfield Historical
Society, much of it remains lost.(5) The building burned almost to the ground in 1906.
The hotel stood idle and in virtual ruin until 1911, when a group of citizens got
together and financed the repairs. It went through various owners over the years and
several fires, it's doors were closed for good in 1965. The spot where the grand hotel
stood now holds a bank. Much of the Lancey legacy remains in town in the form of a
street, an old school building that has been restored into offices called The Lancey
Street School Building, and of course in the town cemetery is the Lancey family. They
occupy a prominent lot atop the hill next to the Sebasticook River.(6)
Pittsfield went through many different periods. People would come into town and open
business and the town would thrive for a while. The best times seemed to be between 1870
and 1900. The town was full of promise and energetic business men. These men had daring
and were pioneers from the beginning. Some of the names are still seen everyday in
Pittsfield. Hathorn Park, Park Street, Lancey Street, the Vickory Building, J. R. Conner
Building all stand as reminders of the men who build this town. Cotton, shoes, and
woolen mills have all been a part of the past. Most of the mills stand idle now. One
recently burned to the ground in a freak fire. It makes you wonder if there might be a
reason long lost. The roads, streets, and parks pay tribute to the people who build this
town. There is Hathorn Park, named for Going Hathorn, who founded the first woolen mill,
and was instrumental in founding the Maine Central Institute. Park Street, in memory of
one of the towns early leaders. Lancey Street, Manson Park, the list goes on.
Another point of interest in the town is the library, which is on the National
Historical Society's list of historic places. It was a gift to the town by Andrew
Carnegie and Robert Dobson, who was one of the founders of the towns woolen industry. It
was designed by Albert Randolph Ross, of New York, in 1903. Ross designed libraries at
Hinkley and Old Town and the public library in Washington, D.C. It is a Palladian Villa
consisting of a circular central chamber, capped by a shallow dome from which two
identical rectangular wings sweep outward to form a 135 degree angle.(4) Outside the
library as you enter is a statue dedicated to the Civil War veterans of Pittsfield. The
plaques which surround the base read as follows; Home & Country, A Tribute to the
Brave, Manhood & Womanhood, 1861 to1865. This statue was erected when the library
Route 100, [Bangor Road], leads out of Pittsfield, south to Burnham. As you travel about
a mile from town, there is an old cemetery on the right. Not forgotton, there is a chain
link fence around it and the grass is kept mowed.(7) One thing that struck me as I
entered the cemetery, all the stones are facing away from the highway! Behind the
cemetery is an open field, but there is not a sign remaining of an old road. I am sure
though that Route 100 came after the cemetery. After discussing this with Don, there
doesn't seem to be any record of the road being on the other side of the cemetery.(5)
There were several markers beside the headstones indicative of veterans of war. One was
for the War of 1776, there were several for the War of 1812, but the one I was searching
for was the Civil War. I found it:
Wm. Everett Hill
Son of Mary and Isaac
Born Pittsfield, November 17, 1841
Died at the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5, 1864
20th Maine Volunteers.
The irony of this find is that the date I was there was May 5! The cemetery could tell
tales, the names on some of the headstones were Bennett, Gray, and Blaisdell. I couldn't
find any names that appear in the town history so it makes me wonder about their lives
and why this separate cemetery?(7)
Another famous person who resided in Pittsfield was Col.Walter G. Morrill. He won a
Congressional Medal of Honor, serving with the 20th Maine Infantry during the Civil War.
His grave is in the Pittsfield Cemetery, on the Peltoma Road. Col. Morrill was also
quite famous for his race horses, and established a very popular racing track in
Pittsfield. Col. Morrill lived to be eighty-three and contributed much to the
I did not find a lot of information on the town before the eighteen seventies partly because the
town newspaper didn't start until 1882. At the turn of the century Pittsfield seemed to
loose its zeal. Many of the civic minded business people were no longer on the scene.
Many were moving away and many more were dieing of old age. Sanger Cook called this era,
Surging Ahead, and relates the surge to the great fire that destroyed most of the
businesses on Main Street. He further states that old saying, We grow out of
diversity.(4) This is certainly true of Pittsfield. The period between 1880 and 1900
showed great promise. The start of the raiload, electricity, the Pittsfield Water Works,
and the great manufacturing companies, all added to the prosperity of the town. There
were not many hardship cases at this time and most people were living very well. At the
turn of the century, Cook writes, complacency comes from a job well done, lethargy set
in, and not much was happening in the town until World War I.(4)
I can come to the conclusion that Pittsfield has a long rich history that can compare
to any city or town in Maine. I really marvel at the "Yankee" ingenuity and
diversity, and it makes me proud to be a native of this great state and can't imagine
myself living anywhere but here.
(1) "Legend of Peltoma", anonymous, Pittsfield Public Library, vertical file.
(2) "Early History of Pittsfield" by A. J. Brackett, paper written for the Tuesday Club in October 1898. Pittsfield Public Library, vertical file.
(4) Pittsfield on the Sebasticook by Sanger Cook, Furbush-Roberts Printing Co, Inc., Bangor Maine, 1966.
(5) Conversation with Donald Hallenbeck, Pittsfield Historical Society.
(6) Pittsfield Cemetery, Peltoma Road, Pittsfield.
(7) Cemetery on Route 100, Pittsfield.