Friday, December 7, 2012

Readfield History Walk # 5 ~ Readfield Corner before and after the fires of 1921 and 1934

Readfield History Walkers enjoyed a slide show of historic pictures, set to Ernest “Tink” Rolfe’s oral history. Rolfe’s oral history was recorded on audio tape in 1987 by Dale Potter Clark. He lived in Readfield from 1921 until his death in 1997 and was Readfield’s fire chief for 34years. He was also the sawyer at Mace’s Sawmill for 28years and plowed town roads for 18years. In the oral history Rolfe reminisced about the Readfield Fire Department and many businesses and people he knew over the years.  He also shared at length about the big fires of 1921 and 1934 that essentially destroyed Readfield Corner. Rolfe and his wife Iva were among those burned out in 1934. After the slide show History Walkers journeyed up Readfield’s new sidewalk to and around Readfield Corner, and back through the Union Meeting House trail. History Walkers shared many of their own memories in the process making for a very enjoyable and enlightening day!

Above: These buildings are the only ones that escaped destruction during the big fires of 1921 and 1934. The most historic building that survived the fire is the Dr. Samuel Currier house (now the Community Library). This beautiful old home is pictured in the middle above. To the left of that is (what remains of) the Elmwood Hotel. Rolfe talked about both of those buildings in his oral history.

Below: This location has held many mercantiles over the centuries as well as
the old Readfield Post Office (prior 1965). Some older residents still refer to this as "the Brisbin Block". Brisbin ran a store in here in the 1940s and 50's. Before that storekeepers on this site included D. D. Merriman who dealt in dry & fancy goods, underwear and general merchandise. Very early on, in Colonial times, Capt. John Smith (son of Matthias Sr.) ran his store here. Old accounts tell us of men who gathered at the store, before their military musters, to drink cider and be merry. At times they got rowdy enough to cause townspeople concern. Today this is the Readfield Pub and Emporium.
Above: Readfield Union Meeting House sits on Meetinghouse Green, the site of the (first) old Muster Grounds (mentioned above). Milt Wright is on the Board of Directors of Readfield Union Meeting House and shared about the ongoing efforts to restore the beautiful stained and stenciled windows and the bell tower (see behind him on the ground). This building is on the National Register of Historic Places. The UMH web site tells us more: It was built in 1827 for use by all denominations. In 1868 there were improvements made but since then there have not been changes. Even the old hymnals rest in the pew racks. A visitor truly gets the feeling that he or she is stepping back into the nineteenth century. Charles J. Schumacher's trompe l'oeil murals give the appearance of columns, arches, and wall plaques while in reality the effect is achieved totally with paint on the flat plaster walls. It is a masterful optical illusion. The black walnut and butternut pews, stained glass windows, kerosene chandelier, the wall sconces, painted ceiling, and the lectern are all original. The original Bible also survives.
History Walkers requested a future tour of the Union Meeting House which Milt and Dale (who serves on the UMH advisory board) assured them would happen!
The old vestry of the Union Meeting House. This building was once part of the mansion house of Capt. John Smith (storekeeper mentioned above). His daughter, Ursula Smith Gile, donated the building to UMH in the 1860's, for use as a vestry, and it was moved from her and husband Asa's home to this location. Asa and Ursula (Smith) Gile lived in what we all know as "the house with the iron fence" on Main Street.

Readfield Community Library and home of Dr. Samuel Currier,
Readfield's first physician. This building was donated to Readfield by Currier's g-granddaughter Alice Currier Eaton in the 1940's and maintained by Readfield Little Town Club for many years as Readfield Community House. The building is one of the few Readfield historic homes to survive in its original state.
There is a proposal before the Readfield Select Board to tear this building down and replace it with a modern building. The Select Board has asked for "community support and input for the planning of a new community center."
They are encouraging all to get involved and to provide input. FMI see the May 2013 town newsletter, Readfield Messenger.
The Asa and Ursula (Smith) Gile house as it appeared in 1892. Ursula Gile donated part of her father's (Capt. John Smith) mansion to Union Meeting House for use as a vestry in the 1860's. It now sits adjacent to Readfield Union Meeting House (see above).