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October 2006



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Vol. 1, No. 10      October 2006 FREE

Profiles in Rural Maine: Chester, Maine
By Ken Anderson

Located along the Penobscot River and Route 116, north of Lincoln, south of Woodville, and across the river to the west of Winn, Chester is a town that many people couldn’t even locate on a map.

Chester has grown by only a couple of hundred people since it was incorporated as a town in 1834, and remains one of the smaller towns in Maine. Common Chester surnames in the late 1800s remain so today, and include Archer, Bailey, Berry, Brown, Chesley, Davis, Faloon, Farrington, Fleming, Glidden, Gordon, Hall, Haynes, Ireland, Jordan, Kimball, Lancaster, Libby, Nichols, Reed, Savage, Scott, Shaw, Smith, Spencer, Stratton, Tash, Twist, Whitney, White, and Wyman. Other early Chester families who can still be found in the surrounding areas are Adams, Babcock, Bartlett, Beathem, Booker, Coombs, Cram, Jackins, Kyle, Runnells, Walton, and Weston.

With a population of 323 people in 1837, there were 552 people at the time of the 2000 census. Traffic through Chester’s Main Road, also known as Route 116, consists mostly of people headed to Chester or Woodville, since I-95 takes most of the traffic to Medway, or points north.

Except for road maintenance in south Chester, traffic along Route 116 was peaceful, with houses, farms, and wood product businesses along either side of the road.

In the early 1800s, the land from Houlton to Passadumkeag, and from Fort Kent to Piscataquis Falls (now Howland), was wilderness, inhabited only by the various Indian tribes. Pioneers who came to Mattanawcook followed spotted trails where explorers had passed through, went by way of Indian trails, or paddled upriver by canoe. Henry David Thoreau camped there, along the banks of the Penobscot River, in August of 1857, and wrote of it in the record of his third trip to the Maine woods.

When the earliest settlers reached the area that is now Chester, Bangor was only a small village, Old Town hosted just a few families, and there were but a few scattered farms in Passadumkeag and Piscataquis Falls. The Penobscot Indians had settlements in Old Town, on the islands, which they still own, and at Mattanawcook. The Penobscot islands of Snow, Gordon, Brown, and Five Islands are between Chester and Winn.

One of the first settlers, Frink Stratton, came to Chester from Albion in 1823. He built a house, on a lot later owned by Joseph Wyman, in North Chester, along the banks of the Penobscot River. Frink was married to Lydia Coombs of Albion, and was a member of the Society of Quakers.

Other Quaker families residing in Chester in the early days were Aurilla Stratton, who married Charles Thompson, settling on the top of Thompson Hill. Daniel Stratton settled on a lot later occupied by his son, Ernest Stratton. Wilbur Stratton built a house, that was later owned by Mrs. Joseph Wyman, on the corner of the Woodville Road. Harriet Stratton married John W. Coombs. Another Stratton daughter married Captain Nicholas Houston, who later built a large two-story house in Mattawamkeag. Albertie Stratton, the youngest daughter, was drowned crossing the river in a canoe in 1872. Another Quaker family was that of Samuel G. Brown, whose son Abram B. Brown was to become a famous when, as a steamboat pilot, he grounded his boat in front of his house after the boat’s owners refused to provide the necessary money for repairs. John, Charles, and Moses Brown cleared the land that Samuel Brown lived on as early as 1824. They built the Brown house, which is still standing, and gave the name to Brown Island. Samuel Brown also came from Albion.

Chester’s second settler was Moses Babcock, who cleared land further down the Penobscot, about two miles from Frink Stratton’s place. His first home was a log cabin on the riverbank, later replaced by a house.

John Weston settled in the area about 1824, as his children, along with those of Moses Babcock, are named as students of the school taught by Jeremy Nelson at Mattanawcook (later known as Snowville, then South Winn) in the winter of 1824-25, as well as the following year. Other members of the Babcock family followed, including James and Jesse Babcock.
James Scott came to Chester in 1824, bringing a large family, including a son by the same name, who had eleven children, some of whom settled in the Woodville area.

Another of his children became well known as Deacon William Scott, who was probably a member of the Chester Church when it was organized in 1831. He served as Deacon of that church for forty-two years. Deacon Scott was not only involved in the Freewill Church in Chester, but also in helping many weaker churches in the area.

Christopher Jackins moved into what later became known as the Jo Davis place, the first farm below the Brown Schoolhouse, within a mile and a half of Winn Village.

Some time in 1825, Ben Walton cleared land for a farm. John Weston, whose children settled in Molunkus, resided on the same property.

James Lindsay built a home and hotel in the lower part of Chester, while George and John Lindsay kept a store. Prior to moving to Chester, the Lindsays had built a dam and a mill, known as the Webber Mill, on the Combalasse Stream at Lincoln Center, but sold out to a man named Bemis.

In 1826, Jerry Bartlett cleared land for a farm near the mouth of the Woodville Road. That same year, S. Warren Coombs, a brother of Mrs. Frank Stratton, came to Chester from Albion. A carpenter and surveyor, he taught at several of the schools i town and built many of the houses.

Edward Bethame came from Pittston in 1827, first settling in the lower end of town, but later moving just above the David Ireland place at the Beatham ferry. The ferry was first operated by Lot Beatham, then John and Theodore Fleming, until a bridge was built in 1950.

Rice of Bangor, and Prescott of Boston, built a sawmill and a grist mill, in 1825 and 1826, along the Medunkeunk Stream, near where the Hatch place was later built. Still later, John Pratt was to operate a shingle mill near that location.

Walter Haynes came from Dover in 1829, clearing land in the lower part of town, near the James Wyman farm. A few years later, he built a large set of buildings in the center of town, at Raymond Jordan’s place, which was to become the home of his son, Martin H. Haynes. He built a mill and dam on the Eber Horse Stream. It burned in 1843, but was rebuilt the same year.

Walter Haynes was a descendant of Deacon Samuel Haynes of Wiltshire, England, who emigrated in June of 1635 in the ship, “Angel Gabriel.” On August 15th, the ship was caught in a fierce gale, and sunk off the coast of Pemaquid, Maine. Most of the passengers were rescued, including Haynes, who settled in New Hampshire.

Other early Chester residents included Samuel Chesley, David Bunker, Freeman Crocker, Ephraim Kyle, and Deacon John Boober, who became one of the original members of the Chester Church.

In 1827, Samuel Chester came from Chester, New Hampshire, and gave the name to the town, where he lived for many years. He built a large two-story house near the middle of town, and kept a hotel and large orchard there.

Early settlers lived in log cabins, mostly located along the banks of the river. Andrew Fleming built his cabin just below the spot where he was later to build a house, and most of his children were born in the cabin, with only the youngest girl being born in the house. Some of the cabins didn’t have glass in the windows, the light from the fireplace being the only light available at night. The fireplace was used, not only to heat the cabin, but to cook all of the meals.

Later, candles were made by dipping wicks of cotton in melted tallow. Later, people began using lamps that burned fish oil, and kerosene came into use in the area about 1862.

Shoemakers traveled through the settlements, their tools and materials in a kit, sometimes staying in people’s homes for a week or more, making and repairing shoes for the whole family. Children generally went barefoot throughout the summer.

As with most of New England, early settlers were rigid in their religious and social views. A strict observance of the Sabbath began on Saturday evening, and was enforced by Tything Men.
Money was scarce, and roads were difficult to nearly impassable much of the year. Hay and grain were transported by sled, or carried by two men on a couple of slender poles to a place where it could be stacked. Scythes were made so that men had to bend over almost at a right angle when mowing, and the hay was dried by tedding sticks, operated by boys using the right end of the stick, and then the left, throwing the hay into the air.

Bread was made of cornmeal, cooked either on a board before an open fire, blazing in a fireplace, or in an oven built of flat stones laid in clay mortar. Sugar and molasses was rare and seldom seen in most homes. Instead, maple sugar was made from the sap of rock maple trees.

People raising pigs for food usually marked them, then turned them loose in the early spring, not driving them home until it was time to fatten them up in the fall. Each year, Hog Reeves were elected to capture and impound any pigs found trespassing on settler’s growing crops. It was the custom to elect newly married men as one of the Hog Reeves at the next town meeting.

Boards were fastened to frames by way of wooden pegs or pins, as nails had to be hammered out, one at a time, by the blacksmith. Newly built barns or stables were often used as meeting places for churches.

Range 8 was surveyed by George H. Moore between 1827 and 1828, the front lots made into narrow strips with a river frontage of 60 to 70 rods, a rod being equal to 16.5 feet, while the back part was left in large lots.

In 1829, the Military Road (Route 2) was built, providing easy access and communication. Prior to that, getting to the area was difficult, with most goods having to be brought upriver by boat, while heavier items were hauled by oxen on the ice in winter. At that time, a man named Miller from Portland owned Chester, which was then still known as T1R8.

The town of Chester was incorporated by act of the legislature on February 26, 1834; and its first town meeting was held at the residence of Jeremiah Hildreth, near the center of town, on March 29th of that year. David Haynes was appointed Justice of the Peace for the town, while Samuel Chesley, John Lindsey, and Alvah Chesley were elected Selectmen, with Samuel Chesley serving as Moderator. David Haynes was elected Constable, and Samuel Chesley served a dual role as Treasurer.

On April 21st, a meeting was called and the Selectmen were named to serve on the School Committee, which formed six school districts, which were as follows:

No. 1: From the lower end of town to Pea Ridge Road; and from the southwest line of River Lot 13 to the west line of town (Lincoln Center, Ferry Road, the Wyman Road below Medunkeunk Bridge and the road from William Shaw’s, on Shaw Hill, to Silas Smith’s line of Lot 22). Lot 22 was owned by Seneca Kein, Elbridge Kein, and John Powers in 1894.

No. 2: From the southwest line of River Lot 13 to the north (or head) of River Lot 25 on the Ireland Road. River Lot 25 was owned by Nathan Ireland and David Cole.

No. 3: From the northeast line of River Lot 37 to County Road, near Eben Spencer’s. In 1894, Lot 37 was owned by Fred Scott and William Whitney.

No. 4: From the southwest line of River Lot 38, belonging to Joseph Wyman, north to Lot 49, which was Charles Thompson’s, at the upper end of Chester.

No. 5: From River Lot 25, in the center of town, owned by Nathan Ireland, to the north line of town, also the road from Temple Ireland’s to Alfred Berry’s in the Little Settlement.

No. 6: From the River Road near Andrew Heald’s, in by Silas Smith’s (Pea Ridge Road), to the Keene line, and from the bridge near Smith’s Mill to the north line of Lot 17 (Pea Ridge Road).

Each district had a highway surveyor. In 1862, the surveyor for District 1 was Peter Chase; District 2, George Thayer; District 3, William Scott; District 4, Frink Stratton; District 5, Temple Ireland; and District 6, Silas Smith.

When the first settlers came to Chester in the early 1800s, the only roads were scattered trails left by explorers, Indian trails, and the Penobscot River.

The first real road through Chester was the River Road, which followed the bank of the river from Howland to Medway, curving in back of Beaver Chester, coming out at the south end of what is now the Medunkeunk Bridge. Above the stream was a shallow place in the river, which could be crossed throughout the summer unless the water was unusually high. From there, the road went up a short way, then turned right and went down to the river once again, just across from Lincoln Center.
The lower end of Medunkeunk Stream was shallow and rocky, but there was a very deep place called Board Eddy, about a half mile from the road, which was used to hold pulpwood during the spring log drive.

The road followed the river up to the Libby place, where a bridge was built over the road with a stone abutment. It then came up by the Beathem Ferry, through Andrew Fleming’s land to the Wadleigh woods, and up the hill to the Walter Haynes house. It was just wide enough for a cart or carriage.

When surveyed in 1859, the road was intended to run up behind the Walter Haynes house to the Blood place up on the hill. Haynes didn’t want the road to run behind his house, so he bribed the road crew with cider each morning, prompting them to build the road in front of his house instead, making a curve in the road and leaving Blood with a long driveway.
The Keene Road, at the foot of Shaw Hill, went into Pea Ridge. Pea Ridge got its name after a winter in the early 1800s, when people would have starved without peas to eat, as killing frosts the previous summer left only peas and potatoes as surviving crops.

Once known as the Tash Road, the Pea Ridge Road goes to the railroad track, then continues onto the Dill Road, to connect with the Woodville Road, which was then known as the County Road.

The County Road started somewhere near Abram Ireland’s place on the River Road and continued in near the Little Settlement.

About two miles in on the County Road, a Winter Road was built, coming through the woods to the Beathem Ferry Road, just below the Bridge Road. This road was used in the winter because the snow didn’t drift as badly.

At one time, there were four Ferry Roads. The Beathem Ferry Road was just below what is now Bridge Road. The Lovett Ferry Road, at the lower end of Chester, was part of the River Road. The Scott Ferry Road was on the Moses Scott Farm; and the Stratton Ferry Road was at the northern end of town, across from Winn.

The Town Road, also called Main Road (Route 116), was built in 1859. A short length of road from the northern end of Chester to the Woodville line was called the Butterfield Ridge Road.
A highway tax was first levied in 1860, and Chester was divided into Highway Districts, with a surveyor elected for each. The job of the surveyor was to keep the roads in his district in good repair and the road open in winter, or get someone else to do it. When a road was cut through someone’s property, the property owner was given six months to cut the standing timber and remove any line fences.

Temple Ireland built a road to the Little Settlement, which was no more than an ox cart road maintained by the people of Little Settlement, as the Town of Chester refused to take responsibility for it. It was a rough and rocky road, with tree roots that a traveler had to either go over or around.

A Singing School was organized in September of 1861, under the direction of George Hammond of North Lincoln. The school met once or twice a week in different schoolhouses and continued throughout the fall, dismissing for the winter. This school became a focal point for the social life of many Chester residents. Hymn Sings were a favorite social function in Chester, especially after people began to sing by note.

A Good Templar’s Lodge was organized at the Kyle Schoolhouse in August of 1880, and quickly became a force for temperance, prohibiting the sale and use of intoxicating beverages. The lodge also provided entertainment for the people of Chester, including events and functions in which there were music, recitation, readings, etc. The charter of Chester Star Lodge No. 264, as organized August 15, 1880, lists the following members: George H. Haynes, Henry Whitney, C. E. More, Forest S. Whitney, Frank Wyman, Hattie Wyman, William M. Scott, Jackson Davis Kyle, Maria S. Kyle, Georgia J. Kyle, William E. Whitney, Elmer E. Haynes, Bradford Wyman, Milton H. Scott, Minnie M. Kyle, Alma Wyman, Clinton Haynes, Abbie Wyman, Clara A. Whitney, and Joseph L. Wyman.

When built in the late 1880s, the Lake Megantic Railroad connected Lake Megantic to Vanceboro, running through the towns of Greenville, Brownville, Chester, and Mattawamkeag, with a spur going to Millinocket.

Serving the lower end of Chest, the school building was built on the upper side of Medunkeunk Stream.

Sometimes called the “Hamilton District,” the school building was generally known as the “Red Schoolhouse,” although it was initially painted white. It was on the lot that was later owned by Joe Solomon.

The “Blood Schoolhouse” was located on the E. P. Blood farm, near the road.

The first schoolhouse built in Chester was the “Kyle Schoolhouse,” located on the Robert’s place. It was replaced in 1890 by a new building on the opposite side of the road, just above the Wyman Farm.

Serving the area from Temple Ireland’s to the Little Settlement on the Woodville Road, a schoolhouse was built about a mile before the Woodville line.

From Andrew Heald’s to Silas Smith’s on Pea Ridge Road.
In 1831, a school was built on one of the Robert’s lots near Mr. Kyle’s in the upper end of Chester. Later, another was built where the Mattamiscontis and Wyman Roads separate near the Medunkeunk Stream, near Sylvanus Hatch’s place. Another was built near Chesley’s (Blood).

Another school was built in the Tash neighborhood, at Pea Ridge; and one in the Temple Ireland neighborhood.

The records of the Chester Church have been lost, but there is some history recorded by the families who made up the first congregation. When the Chester Church was organized in 1831, the Freewill Baptists were just beginning to function as a separate body.

The Free Will Baptist are distinguished from other Baptist groups in that they reject the traditional Baptist doctine of eternal security. Instead, they hold to an Arminian tradition which holds that it is possible for a Christian to willingly reject one’s faith. They also observe footwashing as a third ordinance of the church, along with baptism and communion.

It is believed that the majority of those who made up the initial body of the Chester Church were Freewill Baptists before they moved to Chester. Others, such as Elder Samuel Lewis and Elder Moses Stevens, were probably converts.

In 1831, a group of about fifty people assembled outside the John Kyle residence and organized the first church in Chester, called the Freewill Baptist Church of Chester. John Kyle was the first deacon, and it is thought that he was succeeded by Deacon John Booker. Rev. Samuel Haggett served as regular pastor of the church beginning in April of 1854 to May of 1858, when he moved to Springfield, but maintained close ties with the congregation until his death in 1878.

A church building was not built in Chester until 1911, however; the congregation alternating its meetings between John Kyle’s barn and that of William Thom, an arrangement that appeared to have worked well. The records of the Springfield Quarterly meeting of September 1, 1894, includes the following item:
“Deacon William Scott, speaking for the Building Committee of Chester, reported that it was thought best to wait until some more favorable time to build a chapel in Chester.”

That time arrived seventeen years later, in the fall of 1911. The lot on which the church was built was donated by John G. Fleming, a former resident of Chester then living in Lincoln. With prompting from a man known as Rev. “Cyclone” I.T. Johnson of Vermont and Rev. Frederick McNeill, a man who “saw visions and dreamed dreams,” money was raised to build the chapel. Services were first held in the new chapel on October 22, 1911, and the Springfield Quarterly Meeting was held in the new chapel in June of 1812.

The congregation has since joined the United Baptist Convention, but remains active, its building and grounds well maintained.

Chester doesn’t appear to have much in the way of a town center, but the church, municipal building, and the town’s only store are near one another, in the area of Main and Bridge roads, where Route 116 turns north toward Woodville. That may be it; or you might consider Pea Ridge Road, north of Route 116, where you’ll find a cluster of houses, farms, some mills, and the animal hospital, to be the town hub.

Chester is not without businesses, albeit not many of the walk in kind. With its offices along Access Road, Robin A. Crawford & Son Woods Company employs about fifty people. Other forest product companies include H.C. Haynes Woodyard, the Gardner Chip Mill, and Chester Forest Products, which originally operated under the name of Northeast Lumber Company, on Main Road, as well as a couple of wood mills along Pea Ridge Road. The Treeline Service Center serves the trucking industry from its location at the corner of Access Road and Route 116.

The Beaver Chester Power Plant, along Route 116, used biomass technology to produce energy by burning sawdust, chips, bark, and other waste wood. In operation for only a few years, from 1986 to 1992, it was closed after being fined $134,000 for air emissions violations. As the long dormant facility has recently been purchased by Evergreen Energy Company, there is some hope that it might be revitalized, although it doesn’t appear that anyone has been in there for a long while.

In north Chester, just past Bridge Road, the Chester General Store, also known as Lori’s Market, has a nice selection of convenience store items, as well as a small restaurant.
According to the 2000 census, there were 206 households in Chester. More than half the residents of Chester earn more than $75,000 a year, the median income being $36,250. With Main Road following the Penobscot River, there is a lot of waterfront property in Chester, some of it for sale.

But the roads leading off of Main Road are very nice as well, especially the Pea Ridge Road; as is north Chester, especially if seclusion is important to you.

In Chester, one can have the privacy and seclusion of a very rural location, yet be near the Penobscot River and I-95, within an hour of Bangor.

Maine is full of lovely places, and Chester counts among them.

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

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