Maine Genealogy Blog

The School on Alder River

This is the second in a series of posts I am writing in celebration of the bicentennial of my hometown of Greenwood in Oxford County, incorporated February 2, 1816.

This past week came the expected destruction of another historic building on Main Street. The last class at the old village school was dismissed 126 years ago, but the building lingered as a reminder to some of the bustling village that grew up around Samuel B. Locke's mills.

District Number Ten

Greenwood was divided into school districts in 1814, but a description of the districts did not appear in town records until 1820. The area known still to those with deepest roots as Locke's Mills was then included in District Number Nine.1 The district encompassed the entire northeastern corner of the town, but was home to just three families–those of Isaac Howe, Isaac Howe Jr. and Isaac W. Grant — all living on Howe Hill. The boundaries of District Nine were adjusted in 1834 and 1839 to accommodate families settling to the west and south, and in 1839 Locke's Mills was set off as District Number Ten.

Samuel Barron Locke Sr. is said to have begun building his mills on Alder River in the spring of 1819, but he parceled out just two lots in the nascent village before selling his remaining land and improvements to son Samuel Jr. of Buxton in 1838, "in consideration of love and good will and one thousand Dollars."2 It was only after this conveyance and Samuel Sr.'s death in 1840 that the village really began to grow. The saw, grist and shingle mills burned in December 1841, but were soon rebuilt several hundred feet downstream, and by the summer of 1844 a woolen mill was operating, equipped with "one Jack three carding machines four Looms, one Dresser one Picker &c &c."3 With new industry came more laborers, and more demand for goods and services than the mill owner could satisfy.

After S. B. Locke, jr., came to Locke's Mills, he kept a small stock of goods, chiefly to be used in paying of his help, and also put up travelers so far as his limited accommodations would admit. After occupying another house, Daniel Dunn, jr., came here and kept a tavern in the old house, and a store of goods, consisting mostly of intoxicating liquors, in the ell. After him, came Erastus Hilborn and kept the hotel and fitted up a store, the same one afterwards occupied by Calvin Crocker and others.4

It was in the cellar kitchen of the "Old Locke Stand" — called also in deeds the "Old Mill House" and the "Red House" — that the first school in the village was located.5 The dwelling, which stood near the original mills, was described years later as "a magnificent structure ... built by standing plank on end," and was "two stories in the rear."6 But just as Locke's house could not continue to serve as store, tavern and boarding house for the growing population, it could not serve long as school for the village's children. A proper schoolhouse was needed.

The School That Wasn't

A quitclaim deed dated October 21, 1846, includes what is probably the earliest reference to a school in Locke's Mills. The instrument conveyed several parcels in Greenwood owned by Charles R. Locke of Bethel to his brother Samuel, among them a parcel described as follows:

Also another lot lying on the northerly side of said road, and beginning at a stake and stones, thence northwesterly on said road eighty feet, to the school house lot, thence northeasterly eight rods, at a right angle with said road, thence at a right angle eighty feet, thence to the first named bound, together with the house on the same.7

The road in question was "the County road leading from Hamlin's Grant to Bethel," the westerly portion of which is now Main Street. What is striking about this description is that it does not refer to the school on Alder River, which would be located on the southerly side of the road. Later conveyances of the same parcel make clear its location, and thus that of the adjacent "school house lot."8 The land described was last occupied by Jason and Cora Bennett, and lies just across Main Street from the post office. The "school house lot" was adjacent to this, part of the property long occupied by Charles and Mildred Melville across from the town hall.

No schoolhouse was ever built on this lot. When Samuel B. Locke sold the land in 1850 to Moses Houghton, the deed made no mention of buildings standing on the property.9 When it was next sold in 1853, it was "with the buildings thereon," suggesting that they were built in the interim — a suggestion supported by the fact that Houghton was a joiner and carpenter.10 And when William B. Lapham (as we shall see below) offered anecdotes of the first schoolhouse and its early teachers, there is little doubt he was referring to the building recently torn down. The land at the westerly end of Main Street may have been intended for a school, but for some reason the schoolhouse was erected elsewhere. I would like to think that the villagers reconsidered locating a school at the busier end of the street, close to the mills and below the confluence of county roads from Norway and Woodstock, and chose instead a quieter spot upstream for their children's studies.

A School Is Built

The 1846 deed does, I believe, give us a terminus post quem — a date after which the school on Alder River must have been constructed. The new schoolhouse lot must have been chosen and the school built after October 21, 1846. On that same day, Erastus Hilborn of Portland bought a store lot in Locke's Mills.11 By July of 1847 he was living with Samuel B. Locke in the Red House.12 Hilborn brought with him four school-age children, and Locke had four of his own between the ages of five and fifteen. Trader Samuel H. Houghton, who had settled in the village in 1844, had five children old enough to attend; his brother Moses had one. Blacksmith Alvah Hobbs had two children in need of schooling, and Luther Briggs one or two. Even by this rough accounting it is apparent why the village chose this time to build a schoolhouse.13

Hilborn is credited with erecting the schoolhouse on Alder River — a structure measuring 28 feet by 26 feet. He was paid the sum of $125 for "finding all the material and finishing it ready for occupancy."14 The land on which the schoolhouse stood would be sold by Samuel B. Locke on April 2, 1853, to the "Inhabitants of School District No. ten" for twenty dollars. He stipulated that "the said Inhabitants ... build a good & sufficient fence on the easterly side of said lot & keep the said in good repair or deed shall be void."15

Teachers and Scholars

We do not know when the school first opened its door but, according to Dr. William B. Lapham, the first male teacher was Orin Haskell Lufkin of Rumford (1823-1862), whom he described as having "the rare faculty of being able to act the part of a boy when with the boys outside the school room, without losing his control during school hours."16 This made him a very popular teacher.

The writer has pleasant recollections of Orin H. Lufkin, whose school he attended at Locke's Mills in 1849, and acting upon his advice, commenced the study of English Grammar. Two years later, the pupil taught the same school. Mr. Lufkin was a patient and pains-taking teacher, and an excellent disciplinarian.17

The second male teacher was Lawson Mellen Coburn of Greenwood (1825-1858). Dr. Osgood N. Bradbury witnessed one of his declamations at an exhibition in North Norway, and remembered "Los" Coburn as "the most beautiful young man in form and feature, as the youthful Scribe thought, he had ever beheld." He was, Bradbury reported, "famous as a school teacher and public declaimer," and "one of the smartest young men in all that wild region at the north."18

Addison E. Verrill held Coburn — who also taught seven winters in Greenwood City — in lower regard:

Rawson [sic] Coburn was the teacher who had an unwarranted row with one of his larger pupils, Augustus Cole, son of Calvin, whom he struck over the arms and head with a large stick of wood, as I have been told by an eye witness, still living. It led to a successful suit for damages, and Mr. Coburn taught there no more. I remember him as very excitable in school at times, and it was thought to be due, partly at least, to the use of liquor, an idea strengthened by his later history. Many of the boys got whippings at his hands, on such occasions, for trifling faults, as I have seen myself.19

William Berry Lapham (1828-1894) was, by his own account, the third teacher of winter term at the new Locke's Mills school.20 A native of Greenwood, he "fitted for college" at Gould Academy and entered Waterville College (later Colby) in 1851. He became a physician and wrote histories of several local towns, though not of his hometown.

At a reunion of Woodstock school teachers and students held in Bryant Pond in 1890, Lapham spoke of a teacher whose style he could not have hoped to emulate: Mr. Thomas R. Carman (1793-1862).

I attended a term of Mr. Carman's school at Locke's Mills, late in the forties, when he was getting old, and this may have been his last term of school. I can see him still as he walked the floor in front of the school and up and down the aisles, with a sapling, at least four feet long, in his left hand, and when not in use lying across his left shoulder. The sight of such a formidable rod should have been sufficient to have kept the school in subjection, but it was by no means a stranger to the shoulders and backs of the idle and evil-disposed boys, of whom that school had more than its usual quota. Mr. Carman was below the average in size, and at this time his figure was a little stooping. He had a remarkable cranial development, while the lower part of his face was uncommonly thin. From some accident, he lost an eye, but his remaining eye was sufficient for all the purposes of the school room. When in an amiable mood, his voice was as soft as a woman's, and would rise and fall in gentle cadences as he discoursed learnedly upon the obscure passage in Paradise Lost and the Essay on Man, but when he was angry, he had a voice like a tempest and his single eye would seem to emit flashes of fire. Mr. Carman was beyond all doubt, the best specimen of the old fashioned pedagogue that ever lived in Woodstock, or taught here.21

As Lapham seems to have retained memories only of his male teachers, we must consult a more enlightened soul to hear praise of one of the village's many capable female educators. Lemuel Dunham visited the Locke's Mills school in January 1884, and observed there one of Greenwood's most respected teachers, Mrs. Ellen Packard Kimball (1844-1921), at work.

Mrs. Kimball is too well known as a teacher to need any commendation at my hands. Suffice it to say that this is her fortieth school, and that school teaching is the element to which she takes, as the duck takes to the water. She has a set of mottoes hung up in the school room, whose influence can hardly fail to produce good impressions on the minds of the scholars. I saw two little boys put the United States puzzle together in about five minutes, although the teacher told me they had never seen anything of the kind until the day before; it took our best statesmen and generals about as many years to put it together after the attempted knocking to pieces by Jeff. Davis and Co.22

We can give no better praise to the Alder River teachers than to recognize the accomplishments of their students. Consider just a few of the school-age children living in the village at the time of the 1850 census: Edwin Ruthven Briggs, son of hotelkeeper Luther, would spend his schoolboy days in Locke's Mills, his adulthood in Mason and West Bethel. Though ostensibly a farmer, his second profession was "puzzle maker." Often using his middle name as a pseudonym, he was puzzle editor for seven magazines and newspapers, including the Portland Transcript for twenty-one years.23 Young Moses Henry Houghton would become a Universalist preacher and spiritualist, and was an 1873 graduate of Harvard Divinity School. George W. and Lucy Verrill were living here in 1850, and four of their children must have attended the village school. Addison later studied at Harvard, and was for more than forty years a professor of zoology at Yale University. His brothers Byron and George became attorneys. (Verrill Dana LLP in Portland still bears the family name.) Little sister Nellie became publisher of the Carson City Morning Appeal upon her first husband's death, and later fought for the rights of women and the welfare of children in Nevada.24

These students moved on, but many of their classmates found no reason to stray. More than a few Locke's Mills residents began their public lives behind a school desk on the bank of Alder River, spent their adult years working, shopping and dancing at the mills and establishments along Main Street, salved their souls at the village church, and were laid to rest in the village cemetery. A whole life could be lived within half a mile.

From a Schoolhouse to a Home

After four decades of service, the school was closed. The town built a new schoolhouse in the summer and fall of 1889 on the new road to Bird Hill, and "the lot used by said District for school purposes for many years until recently, together with the buildings thereon," was sold March 21, 1890, to mill owner John G. Tebbets.25 The old schoolhouse was converted to a residence, and was rented out to mill workers until George and Mable Tirrell bought this and adjacent land in 1915.26

With the creation of New England Interstate Route 26 (later State Route 26) in 1922, the country road in front of the Tirrells' home became officially a highway. George commenced a service station and Mable a tea room next door to their home to serve both the village and passing motorists.

The businesses were carried on by their son Lewis and his wife Norma, who sold the property to Thomas Arthur and Louise K. Jordan in 1952.27 Under Louise's direction and care, Jordan's Restaurant would be a Locke’s Mills institution for more than a quarter-century.

With the demolition of both the Alder River schoolhouse and the former Jordan's Restaurant, our village has lost landmarks from two very different eras in Greenwood's history. As with previous losses, Locke's Mills survives, though increasingly only in memory and photographs.


1The Lewiston Evening Journal reported on Aug. 24, 1893, that "The post-office at Locke's Mills, Oxford county, has been changed to Locke Mills" — no doubt a casualty of the campaign against apostrophes and possessives mounted by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names upon its inception in 1890.

2Both lots were sold in 1835: to Isaac Whittemore of Rumford what would become the hotel lot, across from what is now The Local Hub; and to Joseph Stevens, trader, the adjacent lot across from the town common. See Oxford County, Maine (Eastern District) Deeds, book 60, page 182; book 45, page 289; and book 67, page 305.

3Ibid., book 70, page 172.

4"Locke's Mills, No. 2," Oxford County Advertiser, Aug. 5, 1887. Dunn came to town probably in late 1840. Locke lived across the street for a time (probably during Dunn's tenure), but moved back into the old house in 1847, around the time of Hilborn's arrival. Hilborn's store was located where the Bird Hill Road now intersects Main Street.

5William B. Lapham, writing pseudonymously in the Oxford County Advertiser of Aug. 5, 1887, remembered two of the earliest winter teachers in Locke's kitchen as Nelson Russell of Greenwood and Casper L. Russell of Bethel. Men were more often employed as teachers in winter, when older, rambunctious boys were more likely to be in attendance.

6Harry Edward Mitchell and B. V. Davis, compilers, 1906 Town Register: Greenwood, Albany, Waterford, and East Stoneham (1906), p. 56.

7Oxford County, Maine (Eastern District) Deeds, book 76, page 495 (emphasis mine).

8See the quitclaim deed dated just a few weeks later (ibid., book 76, page 194), wherein Locke conveys the property to Deborah Edwards. The metes of the parcel are the same, except it is now located on the north side of "the road leading from Norway to Bethel." This places it between the Alder River bridge over which "the road leading from Norway to Bethel" passed and Bethel town line.

9Ibid., book 90, page 485.

10Ibid., book 96, page 535. Houghton was busy in 1852 building the Universalist Church in Bryant Pond, ownership of which was last summer transferred to the Woodstock Historical Society.

11Ibid., book 74, page 523.

12Ibid., book 77, page 329. Locke had been living across the street, but in February of 1847 he sold that house to the village's new physician, Dr. David W. Davis, and returned to the "Old Locke Stand" (ibid., book 77, page 34).

13The state required that public schooling be offered to children from ages four to twenty-one, but I have used more conservative estimates. The 1850 federal census helpfully notes which residents had "Attended school within the year," and puts the number of recently schooled children living in the district at forty-five, though not all would have attended every term in Locke's Mills.

14"Locke's Mills, No. 2," Oxford County Advertiser, Aug. 5, 1887.

15Oxford County, Maine (Eastern District) Deeds, book 110, page 234.

16"Locke's Mills, No. 2," Oxford County Advertiser, Aug. 5, 1887; A. M. Chase, Reunion of the Teachers and Scholars of Woodstock (1891), p. 52.

17William B. Lapham, History of Rumford, Oxford County, Maine (1890), p. 186.

18Osgood N. Bradbury, Norway in the Forties (1986), p. 356.

19Addison E. Verrill, "Recollections of Early Settlers of Greenwood," Oxford County Advertiser, Jan. 22, 1915.

20Lapham states that he "taught three winter schools and four private terms in spring and fall," but it is unclear whether all these terms were taught in Locke's Mills ("Locke's Mills, No. 2," Oxford County Advertiser, Aug. 5, 1887).

21A. M. Chase, Reunion of the Teachers and Scholars of Woodstock (1891), p. 39.

22Oxford Democrat, Jan. 29, 1884.

23View an example of his work here.

24A biographical sketch of Nellie (Verrill) Mighels Davis may be read here.

25Oxford County, Maine (Eastern District) Deeds, book 216, page 306.

26Ibid., book 330, page 229.

27Ibid., book 522, page 143.

 Published March 11, 2016