French, who served as a liaison for the Massachusetts-based landowners and later became a judge of the Court of Sessions for Penobscot County, would take prospective settlers to his home where he offered them a meal and an overnight stay.
While there, the guests were grilled about their backgrounds and lifestyles to determine if they were good enough to live in the town later called Dexter, according to Rick Whitney, curator of the Dexter Historical Society Museum.
Based on the outcome of the interview, French would either offer the visitors land to purchase or send them on their way, the curator said. “He was kind of shaping the character of the town in the first 20 years or so,” Whitney said Friday.
French’s contribution, as well as the contributions made by countless others like him over the years who helped shape this Penobscot County town, will be recognized and celebrated during the town’s 200th anniversary on Aug. 11.
As with any town, there are those characters who distinguish themselves from others because they are colorful and flamboyant, such as Dr. Orrin Fitzgerald Jr., who traveled throughout the state in the late 1890s as a spiritualist healer. Historical reports and newspaper articles in his era claimed the famous doctor could operate with his eyes closed because he was guided by an Indian spirit.
Contributing the most to this community, however, were the early settlers who constructed woolen mills, industries that served the town for more than a century.
The distinction of having worked to improve the economy of the region went to such men as Amos and Jeremiah Abbott, who ran the Abbott woolen mill, a mill whose operation spanned more than 150 years; Henry Paine Dexter who constructed more than 80 buildings in the town, most of which remain standing today; Norman Fay and Walter Scott who founded the Fay and Scott machine shop and foundry; and Jonathan Farrar, who started a woolen mill below the gristmill.
Although the town had its movers and shakers, who helped make the community prosper in early years, it was not without its tragedies.
In 1878, John Wilson Barron was murdered during a robbery at the Dexter Savings Bank. Barron, treasurer of the bank, was working on a holiday when he was killed. There were several suspects, but no one was ever convicted of his murder.
In 1848, a tornado ripped through the region. It spared the downtown but caused thousands of dollars in damage elsewhere in the community.
Later tragedies included a fire in 1907 that destroyed the middle section of the south side of Main Street, and the collapse of the roof on Renys Department Store in 1990.
Highlights for the community include the town’s position during the 1963 total eclipse of the sun. Because Dexter was in the path of the eclipse, thousands of people, including scientists, came from throughout the world to view the spectacle. A parade was held and special postcards were made.
“It was an amazing event,” said Whitney, who witnessed it firsthand.
Other highlights included the large celebration the town conducted for its centennial, for the country’s bicentennial, and the gift of a town clock. John Morrison left funds to the town in 1925 to have a town clock constructed on the municipal building in memory of his wife. Named for her, Nancy remains there today providing locals with the correct time.
“The town has a rich history,” Whitney said.
That rich history has been preserved for the future thanks to people like him and members of the historical society who will keep the museum open during the bicentennial and throughout the summer.
Activities scheduled for the town’s 200th anniversary on Aug. 11 include the following:
"This content originally appeared as a copyrighted article in the Tuesday, June 26, 2001 edition of the Bangor Daily NEWS and is used here with permission."
|Back to News||Home||Print This Story|