All Maine Matters

June 2006



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Profiles in Rural Maine: Brooks, Maine
By Ken Anderson

Before selecting it as our featured profile this month, I had never been in Brooks. I had been near there many times. For nearly two years, we made weekly trips along Route 1A through Winterport to Belfast, and back; and, early for a meeting of the Jeremiah Project in Plymouth, I had driven south on Route 7 once, turning back at Dixmont.

But I had never been in Brooks. Having selected it, the first thing that I do is see what I can learn of its history, even before going there. A lot of people are under the impression that history covers only the larger towns and cities of Maine, but the reality is that a written history can be found for even the smallest communities in the state. Last month’s profile of Onawa, with its three year-round residents, demonstrated that.

In the past, I’ve driven to the Bangor library, which as a nice selection of regional history; and I’ve used the libraries in Augusta, as well as the University of Maine in Fort Kent; but even the smaller libraries throughout the state usually have collections of regional reference books. The same was true of Brooks. In this case, our library in Millinocket carried a book, published in 1935, on the history of Brooks, Maine, as it did for Onawa.
So we’ll start out with the history of Brooks, moving on to what the town appears to be today.

The Great Charter for New England was granted in 1620 by King James I to forty individuals, known collectively as “The Council Established at Plymouth in the County of Devon.” This grant included all of New England, New York, New Jersey, and parts of Pennsylvania.

The Council made several grants of land, including the Muscongus Patent, which derived its name from the Muscongus River. It later became known as the Lincolnshire Patent and, still later, the Waldo Patent. The Waldo Patent included all of what is now Knox County, most of Waldo County, and portions of Penobscot County.

About 1630, Edward Ashley and William Pierce came to develop the territory, although not that which included the current town of Brooks. Bringing engineers and laborers, they first established a trading house at Thomaston, located on the Gorges River. This settlement didn’t last long, as it was abandoned during King Philip’s War between the English and the Indian tribes.

One of the original patentees was a man named Bauchamp, a London merchant who was one of the company who sent over the Mayflower, but there is no record that he himself ever visited the American continent. After his death, the patent passed to Thomas Leverett, who came to this continent in 1633 with John Cotton, and others. He died in 1650, and the patent passed on to his son, John Leverett; and in 1714, it passed on to his grandson by the same name, a great-grandson of Thomas Leverett.

Meanwhile, Governor Phipps had purchased a large tract of land from Madocawando, Sagamore of the Penobscot tribe, but the Penobscots had always denied that their leader held the authority to sell this property. Ownership of the property was still in dispute when John Leverett bought it from Spencer Phipps, the heir to Governor Phipps.

He divided the land into ten shares, granting them to individuals known as the “Ten Proprietors.” These proprietors admitted twenty associates, and among them was Cornelius and Jonathan Waldo. The Waldos were later given another 100,000 acres; and still later, an additional 300,000 acres. In 1734, he purchased one-half of the remaining shares. Upon Waldo’s death, the patent descended to his four children: Samuel, Francis, Lucy, and Hannah.

During the Revolutionary War, Francis Waldo and Hannah’s husband, Thomas Flucker, who were Tories, fled to England, and their land became the property of the state. In 1773 or 1774, Henry Knox, who became a general during the Revolutionary War, married Lucy Flucker, the daughter of Thomas and Hannah Flucker. The couple purchased Samuel Waldo’s property, and acquired the remainder of the Patent from the state.

By that time, the Patent included nine towns; which Knox named in honor of several officers whom he had served with during the war. What is now Searsmont and Belmont were named Greene and Greene Plantation respectively, after General Nathaniel Greene. Monroe was named Lee, for General Henry Lee. Jackson was named for Colonel Henry Jackson; while Troy became Montgomery, who fell at Quebec. Thorndike became Lincoln, and Washington became Putnam. Brooks was first named Washington Plantation, after George Washington. Only Jackson retained the name given it by Knox. Knox died in 1806, much in debt, and his property in mortgage.

The first settlers of Washington Plantation were poor, and they had no roads except for bridle paths cut through the forest. The nearest store was in Belfast, so people lived off of what they could grow, hunt, or fish. These early settlers carried groceries from Belfast on their shoulders, or on crude litters along a blazed path.

Lumbering came slowly to Washington Plantation because lumber had to be transported to Belfast by oxen or horses on wagons in the summer, and by sled in the winter, and the absence of passable roads made this difficult. But as the roads were cleared, the routes from Dixmont, Jackson, Troy, Thorndike, Unity, and Knox led through Washington Plantation. At first, oxen were the most common beasts of burden, but by the early 1900s, as the roads were improved, horses became the rule.

The lands once owned by General Knox were mortgaged to Generals Lincoln and Jackson. The proprietors for the property were Israel Thorndike, William Prescott, and David Sears, two of whom were to have towns named after them.

It is generally accepted that the first permanent settler in the region was Joseph Roberts, Jr., who moved to Washington Plantation in 1799, selecting a spot about a mile north of where the village was later to be built. He cleared the land for the first home, which became known as the Thorndike Place.

The proprietors - Thorndike, Prescott, and Sears - wanted the improvements made by Roberts, so they exchanged with him for a large tract of land about a mile west of the first farm. Here, Joseph and his sons cleared another farm, later building a saw mill and a grist mill, on the site where the “Page Mills” would later be built.

Tradition has it that General Knox had promised 500 acres of land to Roberts, but had never followed through with this pledge.
Roberts was in Washington Plantation for many years before his family joined him, as his wife did not wish to leave Buckfield. It wasn’t until after the death of his first wife, and his remarriage to a local girl, Margaret Hall, the daughter of Hatevil and Ruth Hall, that his family joined him. Joseph and his first wife had 12 children and 104 granchildren; while he and his second wife had 12 children and 53 grandchildren.

Their second child, Benjamin, was the first white child born in Washington Plantation. He married Nancy Cilley, and their family was to include five children: Delphina, Rose, Leila, Charles, and Julia. Benjamin Roberts died in a rebel prison during the Civil War.
Upon moving to Washington Plantation, Roberts was soon joined by his brothers, John and Jonathan Roberts, Jr.; and by Benjamin Cilley, who was accompanied by his sons, Benjamin, Jr. and Simon. In this year also, came William Doble and James Jordan.
Shadrack Hall is sometimes credited with being the second settler in Washington Plantation. After marrying Sarah Roberts, the couple first settled in Buckfield, but moved to Washington Plantation in 1802, settling on the “Brown Hill.” He and his wife were to have 11 children: Hatevil, Ann, Mary, William, Eliza, Arthur, Ruth, Nathan, Abigail, Enoch, and Miriam.

According to the census lists, however, Hall was preceded by Joseph, John, and Jonathan Roberts, Benjamin Sr. and Jr., as well as Peter and Simon Cilley, John Young, William Doble, William Kimball, Nathaniel Emerson, and James Jordan. By 1804, there were nine heads of families in Washington Plantation, and most of the subsequent early settlers were related to these families.

Other early settlers included David Record, Joseph, Allen, and Marshall Davis. A Mr. Chase built a log house near the top of the “Dean Hill,” and lived there for many years. There was also a man named Palmer, who settled on Oak Hill; as well as Josiah Stickney, Lucius Curtis, Seth Brown, Samuel Jones, Nathan Wiggin, Benjamin Leathers, Calvin and Luther Fogg, and Benjamin Rowe, who some claim was the first settler in the area. Jonathan Lang came to Brooks from New Hampshire, along with his sons, Daniel and Jonathan.

Captain John Sawyer came to Brooks in 1801. He and his son, General Thomas Sawyer, built a sawmill, as well as a grist mill. Other members of the Sawyer family who were to play prominent roles in the area’s history include Abner and Phineas Sawyer, General Sawyer’s sons, and their families.

In 1816, the citizens of Washington Plantation petitioned the legislature to incorporate as the town of Brooks, in honor of Governor John Brooks, the 9th governor of Massachusetts. Governor Brooks played a prominent role in the Revolutionary War, and was a confidant of Washington. He served as governor for six terms before retiring from public office in 1822.

Brooks is bounded on the north by Jackson and Monroe, on the east by Swanville, the south by Waldo, and on the west by Knox. The Marsh Stream rises in Knox, is supported by two tributaries, and flows into the Frankfort Marsh, which is where it derives its name. There are three falls within the village limits, which furnished water power for about nine months out of the year.
When the region was first settled, people subsisted on what they could grow, hunt, or fish. Later, there was some lumbering. Shortly after 1867, when the railroad came in, Brooks enjoyed seven large pants manufacturing plants, employing about three hundred people.

H. H. Pilley was the first station agent.

Early residents included John Pilley who, after moving to Brooks in 1821, married Hannah Cilley, the daughter of Peter Cilley, one of the town’s pioneers, and became one of the town’s oldest and well-known citizens. Loren Rose came to Brooks from Greene in 1836, buying a place near the church. In 1873, he built an elegant two-story public house.

The population rose from 210 people in 1820 to 910 in 1840, then remained relatively stable throughout the remainder of its history. There were 900 people living in Brooks in 1990. At the time of the 2000 census, there were 1,022 people in the town, one more than there were in 1850.

In 1843, there were four stores, one tannery, two grist mills, four sawmills, eight schools, and three churches in Brooks.
Brooks was also home to apple canneries, creameries, and companies manufacturing wood products, such as furniture, carriages, and sleighs. Agriculture played a significant role in the history of the town up until recent years. Potatoes and apples were grown in abundance, and the dairy industry was strong up until recent years.

Many of the first settlers were members of the Society of the First Baptist Church. Among them were Joseph Roberts, Sr., Joseph Roberts, Jr., William Doble, William Cilley, Jonathan Roberts, John Roberts, Benjamin Cilley, and Enoch Hall. They met first in private homes, then at the school house, until the first church was erected.

The first church was built by the Society of Friends in 1822. Also known as the Quakers, they were active in the early history of Brooks. In 1919, they sold their church building to the Harvest Home Grange, which still stands and is in use as a Grange Hall.
In 1832, the Congregational Church was built. Although it has been moved from its original location to its present site near the bridge crossing the Marsh Stream, it still stands and is in use today.

Currently, Brooks has three churches: the Congregational Church on Route 9, the Pentecostal Church on Route 139, and the Bible Church on Jewell Street. The Friends Church still stands, but has been used as a Grange Hall for nearly a century.

In 1843, there were eight schools in Brooks. Although none of the earliest schools are still standing, the names of early Brooks school teachers include Eliza Hall, Isaac Roberts, Milton Roberts, Dr. Jacob Roberts, Jacob Wellington Roberts, Barnabas Myrich Roberts, Charles Linneus Roberts, Emily Esther Roberts, Linda Chase, and Grace E. Dow.

In 1913, the Brooks High School opened with eight students. The 1915 graduating class was made up of Phyllis Reynolds, Mabel Johnson, Alice Reynolds, Hazel Hall, Frances Eaton, Leroy Staples, Clair Wentworth, and Marshall Ellis.

In 1931, the Willis Morse estate left $61,000 for the construction of a new school. Located at what was formerly called the Rider lot, the school was completed by December of that year. The original school burned in 1947, and was rebuilt in 1949. Today, Morse Memorial School has an enrollment of under 200 students, from grades kindergarten to 6th grade. Junior and Senior High School students commute to Mount View, in Thorndike.

I spent a couple of days in Brooks; certainly not enough time to come to know the town intimately, or to appreciate it in the way of those who have lived there for years, and whose families were themselves a part of the history of Brooks. But I did speak to a couple of folks who do.

I found Delmont Clark in his shop across the street from Ralph’s Cafe which, unfortunately, was closed both days that I was in Brooks. Mr. Clark was born in Brooks and, except for one year at the University of Maine, he has always lived there. He spent much of his life growing potatoes, farming 60-70 acres, before he began selling farm machinery, including milking machines. He has also built several of the buildings in town; among them, his shop and the building across the street.

Over the past several years, he has witnessed a decline in the businesses that Brooks people have depended on. He’s seen the decline of the farming industry, to a point where no one is growing potatoes in Brooks anymore. The decline of the apple industry has led to the closure of local canneries. And while the dairy industry was once strong, there are only six dairy farms in Brooks today. Since his own business was dependent upon the dairy farms, his own business has declined to almost nothing.
He blames over-regulation for much of this, insisting that state requirements are unreasonable. “All of these regulations are killing businesses, and especially hurting the small towns in Maine.”

“This doesn’t leave people with much to do.”

I asked what people in Brooks do for a living these days, and the answer was that some of them had worked at MBNA, and many commute to Bangor. Of those who work in town, quite a few are employed at Morse Memorial School, many are retirees, and others are running small businesses, in shops for from their own homes.

“These country stores are the backbone of our towns now,” he said.

And Brooks Village Grocery and J.P. Wentworth’s General Store both appeared to be doing good business both days I was there; as did the hardware store.

Delmont Clark was a big help in filling in the gaps in the history of Brooks. Since the book that I’ve used for the early history of the town was published in 1935, and Clark graduated from high school in 1939, he was able to put much of the history together for me.

There were ten students in his graduating class, by the way; and seven of them were there for the last class reunion. Besides Delmont Clark, the 1939 graduating class consisted of Parker Johnson, Norman Kenney, Eben Elwell, Margaret Carr, Hazel Cookson, Chesla O’Brien, Edith Hawkins, Frances Roberts, and Arlene Hamlin.

Next I spoke to Betty Littleton, the President of the Brooks Historical Society. She was born at a private hospital in Brooks, and grew up on a farm that sat on the Brooks-Monroe line, the house in Brooks and the yard in Monroe. Except for her time as a student at the University of Maine and one year teaching in Bradford, she has always lived in Brooks. She then taught at Morse Memorial until School District 3 was formed, at which time she taught at Mount View for a time.

Even after she retired from teaching, she says she didn’t truly appreciate the importance of preserving history. It wasn’t until her husband died that she became interested in the historical society.

“I realized that we should bring out history together,” she said.
She has also come to appreciate the generosity of the many people who have come together to work with the Brooks Historical Society, donating pieces for the museum that will be opening soon. The Pilley House was donated to the museum, and the Society is in the process of repairing and restoring the historical residence. To that end, they are also indebted to a grant that they received from MBNA.

“There is a lot of work yet to be done, but people have been generous.”

On my first day in Brooks, I had taken a lot of photographs of buildings that seemed like they might have historical or other significance, but I didn’t know what some of them were. Mrs. Littleton was a tremendous help in being able to put names to the buildings that I had already photographed, and in suggesting others that I had overlooked.

As I always feel at this point, I wish I had been able to spend more time in Brooks; to have talked to more people, and to have gotten to know my subject better.

Brooks is a town that many people have gone through, since Routes 7 and 139 are well traveled, but I expect that most people haven’t slowed down enough to look, or stopped to appreciate the wonderful town that is Brooks, Maine.

Ken is, among other things, the editor of the online news outlet Magic City Morning Star, on the web at

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