Little Talks #292, February 12, 1956

One hundred and forty-seven years ago today was born the man who in our time

has become the best loved and most revered of a I lour pres i dents. The he i ght to

wh i ch history has rai sed Abraham Li nco I n need not di m the fame of that other great

American born in February, George WaShington. But there is something grand and

austere, almost i mpersona I, about the Revol uti onary’ ,hero and fi rst pres i dent, in

spite of all that conscientious biographers have done to humanize him. One could

not possibly picture WaShington as telling a funny story at a cabinet meeting or

being soft to soldiers legally convicted by court-martial. His striking figure

in careful mi litary dress is in aristocratic contrast to Lincoln’s awkward body in

i II-fitting clothes with trouser knees always baggy. A simple man of the people

who pulled himself to greatness by his own bootstraps has found an enduring place

in the hearts of a gratefu I .peop Ie.

But it was not a Iways so. When we see how hot Iy controversy can rage in our

time around national leaders, how bitter is the hatred and how extravagant the

praise, depending upon which side you favor, we ought to remember the plight of

Abraham Lincoln in the spring of 1864. In Apri I of that year scarcely half a

dozen of the Republican leaders thought Lincoln stood any chance of re-election;

hence they had begun to consider not even giving him a renomination. Salmon P.Chase

was fast winning favor as the likely Republican candidate, whi Ie the Democratic

choice was almost certain to be General George McClellan.

So pessimistic was Lincoln himself that he wrote a memorandum and placed it

in a sealed envelope in care of John Hay, his secretary, not to be opened unti I after

the elect ion. He wrote it even after the Rep ub I i cans had renomi nated him, but

when anti-Lincoln sentiment was so strong that a Union worker in New York wrote to

secretary We lies: “There are no Li nco I n men anywhere. We know not wh i ch way to

turn.” Even Lincoln’s close friend Orvi lie Browning wrote toa Pennsylvania senator,

“I thought Lincoln might get through, as many a boy has got through college,

withoUT disgrace, and without know ledge. But any fears that he cou I d nOT measure

up to The posi ti on are now rea I i zed. As Pres i dent, he is a fa i lure.”

In such an atmosphere this is what Lincoln wrote in that famous sealed memorandum:

“It now seems exceedingly probable that this administration wi II not be reelected.

Then it will be my duty-to so cooperate with the President-elect as to

save the Un i on between the e I ecti on and The i naugurati on. ”

Do you see what that means? It was one of the greatest acts of a great man -his

solemn promise practically to let the newly elected President take over between

the election in November and the inauguration in March. Nobly and fearlessly he put

the salvation of the Union above whatever might happen to himself.

ForTunately his fears did not materialize. Sherman had captured Atlanta, had

made his famous march to the sea, and was already demanding the surrender of Savannah.

Other Union generals began to win victories. The favorable turn in the war

broughT a scurry of waverers to the Lincoln bandwagon. It was a tide that the malcontenTs

could not stop, and in November, on a coalition Union ticket, supported

mainly by Republicans, Abraham Lincoln was elected for a second term, a Term that

was to last a scant forty days when it was ignominiously ended by a bul let from

Wi Ikes Booth’s pistol in the box at Ford’s Theater.

Now I want to te II you an i nci denT about the Li ncoln fami Iy that I am sure

very few, if any, of you ever heard before.

Ouri ng the fi rst three years of the Ci vi I War, Abraham Li ncol n ‘s 0 I dest son,

Robert, was a student at Harvard. At the end of the college year in the summer of

1863, Robert Lincoln one evening went to the rai I road station in Boston To take a

night Train home to Washington. It was then the custom for passengers TO buy

sleeping car accommodations from the conductor as they boarded the train. The con-

ductor stood on The station platform at the entrance to the car. The platform was

about the heighT of the car floor, and between platform and train was a narrow open

space. The crowding of passengers eager to get first chance with the conductor

crowded Robert across the opening against the train. The train suddenly began to

move as another car was attached, and its noti on Twi sted young Li ncol n off his feet

so that he dropped down into the open space quite helpless unti I a friendly hand

se; zed his coat collar and pu lied him up and out TO a secure footi ng on the pi atform.

Robert looked up and at once recogn i zed The greatest actor of the ti me.

Robert Lincoln had been saved from serious injury by Edwin Booth, brother of the man

Who, less than Two years later, ki lied Robert Li ncoln ‘s father.

Several times on this program I have mentioned the trolley line known as the

Waterv,i lie, <Fcrlrfi~d ~ ~ St:I:e:t Failway. M:n1y ‘; of my listeners remember that

trolley line, because it ceased operations only 19 years ago in 1937. But I don’T

recall saying anything about what we called the Toonervi lie Trolleys of the Watervi

lie area, the Benton and Fairfield Rai Iway, and The Fairfield and Shawmut Rai Iway.

Either one deserved the name of Toonervi lie Trolley when I fi rst knew those I; nes

in 1909, although it was the little passenger car on the Shawmut line that seemed

to me to best fiT the cartoonist’s notion.

The older of the two roads was the Senton and Fairfield. Curiously enough,

that great trolley bui Ider, Amos Gerald, was not one of its founders. It was started

in 1898 by Edward M. Heath of Watervi lie and H. M. Mansfie Id of Fai rfie Id, ai ded

by three intereSTed parties from outside. The first track laid extended from the

Maine Central Station in Benton to the Sebasticook River near the Kennebec Fibre

Company’s mi II, a di stance of two and a quarter mi les. The line opened on December

7, 1898.

An extens i on from the Benton Stati on datln to The Benton side of the three

bri dges was opened about two months later, and in The fo II ow i ng summer a second ex-

tension crossed the bridges to the corner of Main and Bridge Streets in Fairfield.

In 1900 another extension at Benton Falls crossed the Sebasticook to the Somerset

and Kennebec Company’s paper mi II s on the east side of the ri ver. Fi na Ily,

in 1901, the tracks were connected with those of the Watervi lie and Fai rfie I d Rai 1-

way at Fairfield Vi Ilage.

The initial rolling stock consisted of one single truck closed car, one combination

snow plow and work car, one four wheel flat car, and one tower car; but

within a couple of years there were added two box freight cars, and four platform

freight cars. But throughout its lifetime, the road had only one passenger car.

That was because it was always essentially a carrier of freight. Its primary purpose

was to haul pulpwood from the Maine Central Railroad to the paper mi I Is in


It was the motor truck that spelled the doom of this little trolley line. Its

last car ran in 1928, after which most of the rolling stock was scrapped, although

one car stood idle in the car barn at Benton Falls unti I into the mid-thirties.

Although Amos Gerald had no part in bui Iding the 89nton and Fairfield line, he

was the chief promoter of what I have always considered Central Maine’s real Toonervi

lie Trolley, the Fairfield and Shawmut Rai Iway. With Wi Iliam T. Haines and George

F. Terry of Waterville, Gerald organized the company in 1903, but it was not until

1907 that construction began to run a trol ley line from the terminus of the Watervi

lie and Fairfield Rai Iway on Main Street in Fairfield to Shawmut Vi lIage, a distance

of a little nore than “three mi les.

Half way between the two vi I I ages was a small carhouse. The rolling stock consisted

of one freight car, a work car, a snow plow and two passenger· cars, one open

and one closed, both taken over from the already defunct Skowhegan and Norridgewock

line, which was also owned by Gerald.

Operating schedules on the Shawmut road were correlated with those of the

Wate rvi lie – Fa i rf i e I d line, and ha I f houri y servi ce was p rovi ded, the one-way

running time between Fairfield and Shawmut being fifteen minutes.

Unlike the Benton and Fairfield road, which rarely showed a profit, and annually

had to be subsidized by its mi II ownership, the Shawmut road was fairly profitable.

Although its earnings were never large, it kept out of the red unti I 1913,

when the company reported that its 1912 surplus had been wiped out and its valuation

had been appreciably reduced.

This little Toonervi lie kept in operation, however, unti I 1927, when the 20-

year mortgage bonds issued in 1907 fe II due and cou I d not be redeerred. The last

caron the line ran on July 23, 1927.

I n my collection of souveni rs of the old days is a strip of ti ckets good for

rides on one of the shortest-lived electric roads ever bui It in all New England,

The Skowhegan and Norridgewock Railway. It operated for just nine years, 1894 to

1903, and curiously enough came to its end just at the time when many other of

Ma i ne’ s e lectri c roads were just comi ng into exi stence. Th is road had the honor of

be i ng one of the first in Centra I Ma j ne. On Iy two years before, in 1892, the horse

car line between Watervi I Ie and Fairfield had been electrified, so that when the first

car ran from Skowhegan to Norridgewock on October 14, 1894, it marked the opening

of this area’s second electric rai I road. The route covered 5 3/4 mi les, beginning on

Main Street in Skowhegan, crossing the Maine Central tracks near the Skowhegan sTaTion,

and following the county road along the river to the station of the Somerset

Rai I road in Norridgewock.

The carhouse was in Norridgewock, and the initial rolling STock consisted of

Two single-truck open cars, two combination passenger-freight cars, and one homemade

snow plow.

Just as Amos Gerald had done with the island at Fairfield, and as was later

done in creating Cascade Park beTween Watervi lie and Oakland, the Skowhegan-Norridgewock

owners planned a recreational center. In 1898 they purchased a woodland

lot ha I f way between the two towns and ::created a pi cn i c grove ca J led “The Pi nes!l •

Although more than $2,000 was spent on improving the site, it was never popular.

Because it did not develop any appreciable freight business, the line was never

profitable. Only two years after its start it had a deficit of $694, but in

1897 it showed a profit of $5.23. After that the deficits began to pi Ie up: $3,200

in 1898, $3,700 in 1899, and so on unti I the total accrued losses in 1900 had risen

to $57,000. In 1903, when the total deficit had reached $66,000, the end came.

The cars were sold and the line was dismantled.

Almost, but not quite, as old as the Skowhegan-Norridgewock line was the longer

lived and much more successfu I Somerset Tracti on Company, wh i ch opened a trolley

line between Skowhegan and Madison in 1895. It was a long road for its day, operating

twelve mi les of track. Much of its success resulted from the popular response

to its recreation venture — the very thing that had been a dismal failure on

the Skowhegan-Norridgewock road. For it was in 1899, nearly 57 years ago, that the

Somerset Traction Company initiated what has today become the nationally famous

Lakewood Theater. The rai Iway company bought a tract of :1 and on the shore of what

was then cal led Hayden Lake (now Lake Wesserunsett) and began the development of

Lakeood Park, complete with a hotel, outdoor theater, dance hall, and other attracti

ons. The company even purchased a steamer and bui It a I arge wharf to provi de

cruises around the lake.

Summer schedules saw hourly service beginning at 5:45 A.M. In addition the _

Lakewood Theater patrons were accommodated by trips from Skowhegan at 6:30 and 7:30,

and from Mad ison at 7: 30, as we II as return trips to both tOlins after the theater

performance:~ On special occasions, like the fourth of July and Labor Day, service

was ha If-hourly, and called for every passenger car owned by the road to be out

on the line.

The fare from Skowhegan to Madison was 30 cents, with division into six five-

cent zones. From either town to Lakewood, the fare was 15 cents, or 25 cents for

the round trip. For many years the 25 cent round trip ticket included admission

to Lakewood Park.

The road had nore roll ing stock than any other in Central Maine, except the

Watervi lie, Fairfield and Oakland. In its last year of operation, 1927, it had

nine passenger cars, three frebght cars, a work car, and a snow plow which it bui It

at its own car barn on Madison Avenue.

Many of these little roads operated for a long time without accident. Not so

the Skowhegan and Madison. In its first year one man lost a leg. The next year a

head-on coil is ion ki lied a motorman. On another occasi on a young woman was th rown

from a sleigh by the shying of a frightened horse. She landed between the rai Is

and the car passed over her, cutting off a portion of her hair. Fortunately she

was not othe rw i se i nj ured •

For many years the general manager of this trolley line was Herbert L. Swett,

whom many of us came to know bette r as the manage r an d promote r of Ame ri ca f s most

farrous summer theater, Lakewood, which was the outgrowth of :the Somerset Traction

Company’s Lakewood Park.