Preserving Treasures of the Past as an Investment for the Future
Historical Society of Wells & Ogunquit
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MEETINGHOUSE
This country was trapped in the throes of the Civil War, yet in 1862 the members of the First Congregational Church of Wells voted “to rebuild the Church in order to have a more modern edifice.” One wonders if perhaps the rigors of war enticed the membership in this direction. Wartime often causes communities “to get religion.” As, a century earlier, during the Revolutionary War, the previous church had been built.
Despite considerable opposition to the building, Robinson & Huzzey of Lynn, Massachusetts rebuilt this structure, utilizing the timbers from the previous church, at a cost of $3,500. For nine months the members met alternately at the Furbish, Bourne and Ogunquit schools until the building was completed. Through “prayer and revival” the membership increased, the pews sold and the rebuilding of the First Congregational Church was insured.
By 1870 a bell was purchased from the Paul Revere Foundry and its placement in the steeple was cause for great celebration with five hundred to one thousand people reportedly in attendance. In yet another twenty years an old store was purchased by the Ladies Benevolent Society, moved and attached to the rear of the church for use as a vestry for Sunday School rooms.
In the 1950s the vestry rooms were rebuilt and some enlarged with a kitchen upstairs to accommodate church suppers.
In 1963 the First and Second Congregational Churches merged and it was eventually decided to use the Second Congregational Church for their home. In 1966 the Society was approached to see if they would accept the building with stipulations to use as a Museum. In 1967 the Society agreed and in 1969 the deed with restrictions was passed.
As a homeowner the Society realized the need to maintain this landmark. Thus began the many efforts to raise the funding necessary. The towns of Wells & Ogunquit assisted with grants for that purpose.
The summer of 1980 the Museum first opened for tours. Initially the downstairs of the vestry and the church were utilized for displays. However, after the publication of Haley’s Roots, the interest in local genealogy increased sufficiently, resulting in the Library being moved upstairs to accommodate the numerous volumes of local histories, genealogies, diaries, scrapbooks, etc. Today the Library is one of the best in YorkCounty with folks from all over the country utilizing the resources either by visiting or by written inquiries. The auditorium continues to be used for musical and educational programs and weddings are now held here as a means of assisting in revenue raising.
Time Line of Events 1969 – Presented to Society by Congregational Churchof Wells with deed restrictions 1980 –Exterior painted and opened to the public as Museum one day per week in summer 1981 – Steeple repaired following lightning strike 1982 – Interior painted 1985 – Auditorium window coverings to diffuse the light damage 1986 –Exterior painted 1987 –Began year-round opening, first wedding for Society and Christmas lighting begun 1988 – Exterior painted 1989 – Roof shingled, new furnace for annex, summer concert series and weekly craft demonstrations initiated and open two days per week. 1990 – New outdoor sign hung and library upstairs carpeted 1991 – National Register status obtained and exterior of annex painted Name returned to original designation “Meetinghouse” Auditorium furnace and fuel tank replaced 1992 – Electrical wiring updated from 60 to 200 amp service and Green Thumb organization funded individual to catalog the library 1993 – Septic & plumbing installed with new handicap bathroom facilities. Driveway was graded, library shelving and handicap ramp at rear of building were installed. 1994 – Front walk repaired, railings added to granite steps and tower bell now ringing Memorial interior window shutters installed in the auditorium 1995 – Fire alarm system installed, front door threshold replaced and new exterior sign installed 1996 – New landscape for front of building 1997 – Updated exhibition rooms; new flagpole installed; steeple repaired & painted 1998 – Painted front and south side of the Meetinghouse 1999 – Painting north side of Meetinghouse and Brick Walk in front was launched 2000 – Balcony repaired and painted and removal of lead paint from exterior begun 2001 – Built stairway to library for chair lift, added library shelving and widened hallways 2003 – Steeple renovated and museum exhibits updated 2004 – Updated lighting in library, hallways and galleries 2005 – Painted and carpeted the museum galleries and hallway for professional exhibit Memorial sound system provided for the auditorium 2006 – Mother’s Day rains necessitated furnace repairs and textile collection appraised 2007 – Exterior of building refurbished 2008 – New shutters for the auditorium and renewal of landscaping in front
THE MEETINGHOUSE MUSEUM GALLERIES
The MeetinghouseMuseum was completely renovated and re-organized in 2005 according to a master plan developed by Tom Johnson, Curator of the Old York Historical Society, with assistance from Hope Shelley, Town Historian, Lisa Canino, Registrar and many volunteers. The master plan parallels the chapters of our history of Wells and Ogunquit -- My Name Is Wells - I Am The Town. The Museum encompasses exhibits in all of the hallways, as well as the People and Places, Work-A-Day-World, Service and Sacrifice, and Following the Sea Lanes Gallery; and, of course, the Historic Meetinghouse itself.
The Museum Entrance Gallery The Entrances welcomes visitors with written and visual background information regarding the first Maine explorers, including John Cabot and Sir Walter Raleigh, and settlers in Maine and, specifically, in our area in the 1600s. Edmund Littlefield built the town’s first saw mill and grist mill at the Falls of the WebhannetRiver. His visionary talents enticed others to follow in his footsteps and settle in Wells. Edmund assumed leadership of Wells in 1647; He is considered the “Father of Wells. Wells was incorporated into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1653 and separated in 1820. The Entrance includes significant historic information regarding conflicts with the Indians. Fed up with the encroachment of the white men on Indian land, the Indian’s responded with violence. The uprising in Plymouth Colony by the Wampanoag’s spurred attacks throughout New England.Repeated attacks on settlers lead to homes and mills burned, fields laid waste and left many dead or captured. From 1675-1767 Wells settlers and their families were under almost constant attack from the Native peoples.Countless lives were lost on both sides.Many settlers were taken captive and homes and livelihoods had to be rebuilt.
The Religion Gallery and the Auditorium in the Historic Meetinghouse The town of Wells was founded by a single Congregation with the leadership of a Pastor of their own choosing and to be governed independently. Congregationalism combines the beliefs of the Puritans and Separatists.The Historic Meetinghouse is the fourth church located at this site, the first being built in 1662, burnt by the Indians in 1692.The second building began in 1699 but was not completed until much later because of the continuing Indian Wars. The third building was voted to be built as early as 1761 and again in 1766 but the Revolution prevented the completion until 1788.This building had originally had the long side adjacent to Route One.The Sanctuary was on the second floor and had the tall box-type pews with an elevated pulpit and sounding board.The town meeting room was on the first level. The current building was built in 1862.The back portion (what is now the museum and library) was added in 1888 being an old store that was moved to the site to provide Sunday school rooms.Placed on the National Register in 1992 its claim to fame is the balcony architecture.The candelabra that is hanging in the balcony is similar to the gas lights formerly used here prior to the installation of electricity. Concerts, programs and weddings are held here now; and, on the first Sunday of July, the Congregational Church, the trustees of which presented the building to the Historical Society in 1969, returns for Heritage Sunday. A plaque in the lobby commemorates the 300th anniversary of the death of Rev. George Burroughs, a former minister and chaplain here the place of his last earthly ministry.He was removed from here by Massachusetts officials, tried in the courts at Salem and hung for witchcraft there.Seventeen years later the courts awarded restitution to his children of 50 L.Little compensation for the sacrifice of so many innocent lives lost due to superstition and fanatical beliefs. The front entry area acknowledges John Wheelwright - the town’s first minister, his son, Samuel, his grandson, Col. John and his great granddaughter, Esther.The Wheelwright family depicts individuals making the best of situations in which they found themselves.Each continued to be productive members of society whether on the Maine frontier or in a Canadian convent.They are role models worthy to note.
The Schools and Education Gallery Wells first schools and districts (17), teachers and students are featured. The earliest education in Wells goes back to 1647 when the Massachusetts Puritan passed a law stating that every town of fifty families was to maintain a teacher for reading and writing.Every town of one hundred families was to maintain a grammar school. However, Wells didn’t have a schoolmaster until 1715/l6 due to constant Indian attacks in the area.In 1872 there were 17 one room rural schools dotting the landscape in Wells & Ogunquit. Ethel Weymouth taught at W.H.S. from 1920-1964.The library at W.H.S. was established by Ms. Weymouth in 1920 and she remained the school’s librarian until she retired.The Ethel M. Weymouth Scholarship Fund was established in her honor upon her retirement at age 70 in 1964.A plaque in her honor adorns the foyer of the Wells Public Library.
The Tourism Gallery The Tourism section shows the emerging tourism period in items from our vast pictorial collections. The railroads brought visitors to the Coast. Our earliest tourists were those of affluence.Whole families would come and stay for the summer season to places such as the Atlantic House (a full service facility complete with restaurant, bowling alley, and laundry) and the Island Ledge House. 1907-1923 brought Electric Cars to Wells followed by horse and buggy and finally the automobile - all of which helped to make tourism more accessible and affordable to more than just the wealthy. Hotels, guest houses, cottages, campgrounds and, later, auto/motor courts and motels, multiplied along the beaches. A camp for children with diabetes was established in the late 1920’s and early 30’s in Ogunquit called CampBrews-lin.The title of the camp unites the family names of Brewster and Joslin.It was located in what now is the Footbridge-Ocean Street area. CampWells By-the-Sea was a two and a half story Queen Anne style home that in 1945 was purchased by the Reverend William McCullough for the purpose of providing urban children with a vacation experience.The children came for an 8-week session and ranged in ages 6 to 16.The camp was located about a quarter of a mile back from what is now Moody Point. The McCulloughs and former campers still visit Wells and the Society.
Early days of tourism brought people from the arts, literary, and theatrical scene.The Village Studio Guild (1913) of Ogunquit was the precursor to the Ogunquit Playhouse which debuted on July 19, 1937 with “Boy Meets Girl”.
The People and Places Gallery One of the most popular galleries includes almost famous Wells and Ogunquit residents, as well as family treasures (artifacts, paintings, furniture), stories, cemeteries and farms. The Larkin Desk in this gallery was purchased with coupons distributed by The Larkin Soap Company with their soap. When enough coupons were saved one could obtain various pieces of Victorian style furniture. The painting by Chris Cloutier (a Wells resident) depicts the capture of Esther Wheelwright, of our history’s most well-known true stories.Esther was the daughter of Colonel John Wheelwright and the Great Granddaughter of the Rev. John Wheelwright, Wells’ first minister. Esther Wheelwright was taken captive at the age of 7 by the Indians in Aug. of 1703 during Queen Anne’s War (1702-13) and brought to Canada.She lived with the Indians for five years.A French priest named Father Bigot discovered her with the Indians and brought her to the attention of the then Canadian Governor, Marquis de Vaudreils.In 1708 Esther became the companion and playmate of the Governor’s daughter Louise.Ester was introduced to Catholicism and later became a French Nun by the name of sister Esther Marie Joseph de l’Enfant Jesus in 1713. Another painting is of tavern keeper Matthew Lindsey, who built The Lindsey Tavern in 1799; General Lafayette spoke to the towns’ people from the front steps in 1825 when he was touring the United States. The tavern served as a post office as well as providing rooms and meals.The building still stands just north of Wells Corner.
Work-A-Day-World Gallery This gallery displays the various livelihoods of earlier Wells residents. The small farms of Wells & Ogunquit’s first settlers were the mainstay of their existence.Although they had other occupations all had to farm their lands to provide food for their families. The open wooded areas provided various sources of foodstuffs. Assorted berries, roots, nuts, maple syrup and sugar all were picked and harvested to sustain the local diet.The sea provided fish such as cod, bass, eels, flounder, oysters, quahogs, clams, mussels, crab and lobster.Wild game was also in abundance - deer, bear, moose, partridge and many small animals. Farmers made use of the seaweed that washed ashore by using it for fertilizer on their crops and their wives used it to make a unique dessert called sea moss pudding.Hay from the marshes was harvested and used to feed their livestock as it contained nutrient rich minerals. Artifacts from the Moody Post Office & Store are displayed. The Moody section of Wells was named in 1897 when George H. Moody opened a store and post office. Besides groceries the store might have carried potato mashers, corn poppers, rug beaters, wash boards and even candle molds.The 100thanniversary of the post office was celebrated June 28, 1997 with the 100 year old former post mistress, Delia Moody, in attendance.The store and post office located at the corner of Route One and Kimball Lane closed in 1975 when the current post office was built.The Chamber of Commerce is located at the former location. The earliest settlers of Wells proved to be a resourceful people. They were willing to wear “many different hats” to see that their community survived and thrived.Although today it may appear that Wells is more or less dependent on tourism, there are many descendents from these earliest settlers who still make a living in much the same way as their ancestors did.
The Service and Sacrifice Gallery Wells and Ogunquit Men and women who served their country and towns in or in support of efforts of major wars. Featured is a picture of the Four School Chums -These four men decided to enlist together in the Union Army.The only thing was William Sherwin was too short. He failed the height requirement by one inch.On the day of his friend’s departure he devised a plan of standing on his toes inside his knee-high leather boots to gain that extra inch.As it was getting late and there were five miles to cover between home and the recruiting office, he “borrowed” a neighbor’s horse. He ran the old horse at full speed those five miles and when almost there the horse dropped dead.But William’s plan worked and he passed the exam.He and his Chum’s were off to War! On July 22, 1865 after having been exchanged (confederate and union prisoners) they were discharged from service. One of the 'Chums' - Gideon Littlefield’s normal weight was 185 lbs. at the outset of the war; on his return home he weighed 93 lbs. - a figure unrecognizable by his family. At some point and time after the Chum’s Reunion, Gideon, sadly, took his life by hanging himself in his barn.The portrait of Gideon was painted as he went off to the Civil War. A model of Storer’s Garrison sits in this gallery. Built by Joseph Storer in the later part of the 1600’s, the Garrison was located on a bluff closest to the marsh which is now behind the Garrison Suites located on Route 1 across from Congdon’s Donuts. This location afforded a wide view and the land was cleared some distance around to prevent sneak attacks. The timely erection of this garrison provided safety for those inhabitants fleeing from Indian encounters.A bronze tablet located next door to the Garrison Suites commemorates the “defense of the Storer Garrison by Captain James Converse, 29 Massachusetts soldiers and the friendly yeomanry of Wells and various heroic women.Whereby 600 French and Indians were successfully resisted and Wells remained the Easternmost town in the Province not destroyed by the enemy” on June 9, 10, and 11th 1692. The original garrison was torn down in 1816 by Captain John S. Pope who purchased the farm from Ebenezer Storer in 1779.Some of the timbers from the original garrison were used in the building that exists today.
arly residents depended on navigation for their supplies and trade before decent roads were built.Docks and wharves appeared as well as ship building along the tidal inlets of the Webhannet & Ogunquit Rivers.In Ogunquit the docks and wharves were located on the OgunquitRiver as the cove had not been dredged.The Wells locations were Upper and Lower Landing (Harbor) roads and adjacent to the Mile Road. There is no record of shipbuilding in Wells before 1750 but it was highly likely - the availability of rivers, fisheries and timber made it a lucrative/logical spot. As early as 1679 the Webhannet was used by trading vessels.The tidal inlets of the Webhannet and OgunquitRivers were excellent locations for boat building or repair. All trade halted in 1675 as the Indian Wars began and men had to spend their time defending their homes and families and staying close or retreating to a nearby garrison. 1677 - Indians captured at least 20 vessels between Wells and Casco Bay. By 1728 many inhabitants had become very poor due to the destructive wars.Milling and farming were dependent upon navigation for profit.Massachusetts Provincial Legislature authorized loans of credit which inspired Wells residents to venture into shipbuilding. Wells vessels were mostly two masted schooners used for coastal trading.Three masted schooners were used for Atlantic trading.
John Bourne, a master shipwright from Kittery, married Mary Cousens of Wells and initiated shipbuilding here.For 50 years he built various size vessels on the Webhannet, Kennebunk, and MousamRivers (according to a descendant).There was a long history of Bourne shipbuilding well into the 1800’s.Common ships built were sloops, schooners, and brigs.
Wars and financial depressions seriously affected the maritime industry but always resumed following each event. The long lists of Wells & Ogunquit sea captains confirm the number of local men who followed the sea.Many were involved in the coastal trade but several followed the trade routes to the West Indies, Africa or New York.
We cordially invite you to visit our MeetinghouseMuseum!
A FAMILY HEIRLOOM COMES HOME TO WELLS
In January, Homer C. Littlefield, of Exeter, New Hampshire, gave an extraordinary gift to the Society -- a wonderful grandfather clock, properly called an American tall clock, built by Abner Rogers of North Berwick in the latter part of the 18th century. The clock had been in Homer’s family for at least six generations. Homer, a direct descendant of Edmund Littlefield, the father of Wells, wasthe son of Otis Moulton Littlefield, a dentist, and Ora Vivian (Gould) Littlefield; he was named for his grandfather Homer Hobbs Littlefield. ‘Grandpa’ Homer lived in Wells and, in 1883, was working at the Pope House(Ye Old Garrison House, the Garrison Suites main building today). In 1884, he moved to Manchester and worked on the Woodman Family Farm. Subsequently, he went to work for the Amoskeag Mills as a carpenter and later became a superintendent of real estate and tenement repairs.Although Homer and his parents lived in Manchester, they always had very fond feelings for and strong ties to Wells and their Littlefield heritage. In the early 1950s, Otis and Ora purchased a cottage on Moody Beach (and named it Welikeit), which Homer C. still owns. In 1948, he married Joyce M. Lothrop, also a direct descendant of Edmund Littlefield. They lived for years in Needham, Massachusetts. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire and worked for Northeastern University. Homer’s mother wrote the following about the Clock: “Grandpa Littlefield10 (Homer H.) is sure the clock belonged to Josiah Jr.7 and it probably belonged to his father, Josiah6. It was made by Abner Rogers of Berwick, Maine. Nahum owned it, then Nicholas, Homer H. and Otis. Homer H. took it in 1900. Otis took it in 1941.
The Clock was made by Abner Rogers of North Berwick. His father Paul, the son of Isaac and Lydia (Varney) Rogers, was born in North Berwick in 1752. Abner Rogers was born in North Berwick in 1777 and learned the clock making trade from his father. Together, they produced clocks for about fifteen years…In addition to the tall case examples he and his father made together (marked P. Rogers and Son), Abner created smaller “grandmother” clocks and shelf clocks with iron plate mechanisms that bear his signature, ‘Abner Rogers, Berwick,’ on the dial...Whether we refer to the Clock as the “Rogers” or the “Littlefield” Clock, we are proud to have it stand in our Museum, thanks to Homer Littlefield’s generosity.
The Historical Society of Wells & Ogunquit Copyright 2007