Salt 'n Spar

Long ago when Rosalie reported Edgecomb’s news

Tue, 05/25/2021 - 7:45am

Her name was Rosalie. Sorry, I don’t have a last name for her and can’t positively say that Rosalie was her real name. It’s possible she was using a pen name, a common practice when she was the newspaper columnist for the town of Edgecomb in the 1880s. Her news reports appeared in The Lincoln County News, a different newspaper from the one that bears the same name today. This newspaper, a weekly, was published in Waldoboro on the corner of Main and Water streets and appeared on Thursday morning, although later it came out on Friday. Single copies sold for 4 cents. Rosalie wrote her column and mailed it to the newspaper’s editor Samuel L. Miller.

I thought I’d share some of what I think are some of her more interesting dispatches. They appeared pretty regularly on page two or three along with news from the towns of Wiscasset, Damariscotta, Sheepscot, Boothbay and Newcastle. My collection of Lincoln County News newspapers is from January 1880 to the spring of 1881.

Let’s begin with the issue of Jan. 22, 1880. “We are just now having a grand good sleighing; never saw better, and all who are trying to improve the time, for it won’t last much longer…,” writes Rosalie. She’s talking about traveling by horse and sleigh. Unlike modern times, people in the middle part of the 19th century wanted snow-covered roads which made winter traveling easier and faster, too. Snow was rolled then, to pack it down for better traveling, and crews were sent out to patch up areas where the snow had melted or had been worn away by travelers.

The following week Rosalie reports, “Willis, son Silas Oliver of this place is home at the family farm from Boston with a broken collar bone. He was helping load a car, when the train started, nearly crushing him between the car and the side of a building.” Trains, passenger and freight, pulled by steam engines were still fairly new in 1880. Accidents were all too common.

In her Feb. 26 column, Rosalie reports the passing of Miss Julia N. Dodge, daughter of Thomas and Emily Dodge. Miss Dodge had actually died several weeks before on Feb. 8, “aged about 22 years.” There were, of course, no telephones. People got most of their news word of mouth or from the newspapers. According to the 1880 Census, Thomas Dodge was 58 years old, and he was a farmer. His wife Emily was 49 and their surviving son, Thomas, 24, gave his occupation as teacher. Edgecomb then had four or five district schools.

Continuing into March, Rosalie writes: “Edwin Harrington has dug and sold one hundred bushels of clams this past winter. Who has done better?” she asks. From the Census, we see Mr. Harrington, 39, was also a farmer and had four sons, the youngest age 2, the oldest 13. In that same dispatch Rosilie reports the workmen at Fosters and Dodge ice works in East Edgecomb were still cutting ice. Block ice was of course used to keep food from spoiling before the days of refrigeration. Another ice works was located off Shore Road; its pond can still be seen today.

A few weeks later on March 26, Rosalie offers her readers a bit of commentary. “We have been asked the question many times what has become of the East Edgecomb Temperance Reform Club? We don’t know what has become of it, but we do know that there is a visible change in the place. In place of select reading, singing and praying, is card playing, dancing and drinking – what we shall call, ‘Cherry Bitters.’ Let it be what it will, it is proving a curse to some. We are sorry to have to say this but it’s time we all got our eyes opened. The time has come that every man, woman and child that has one spark of humanity left, should wake up and see if they can’t do something to help remove this curse from town.” That’s some pretty strong stuff coming from a local columnist.

In a June column she tells us, farmers have finally finished the spring’s sowing and planting. “The potato bugs have come in all their glory and war has begun.” Continuing on she writes, “Charles E. Webster, of this place, is quartermaster of the mail ship, Eastern Texas, which runs from New York and the West Indies. He is a good navigator, and the day will come when he will be known as one of our first-class ship Masters. Good learning and ambition makes the man.”

Let’s move on to July. Rosalie writes, “A very severe hail storm passed over this place the afternoon of the 21st (of June),” doing considerable damage to field crops, stripping leaves from trees, cutting apples and small fruit badly, but little glass in this vicinity broken, as there was but very little wind at the time. We could have taken up bushels of hailstones as large as acorns after the storm was over. The potato bug crop not injured at all – just as lively as ever!”

September’s columns include: “H.A. Williams met with a severe accident by falling from the scaffold of his barn, breaking three of his ribs. He will be confined to the house three or four weeks;” followed by “Most of the farmers are getting a good crop of potatoes after all the cry about beetles, but in a few places are rotting badly. Apples are very plenty, but we see marks on them of the heavy hail storm we had the first of the season. Pears are a failure, but grapes are looking well, cranberries plenty and cheap, and finally we all have a great deal to be thankful for.”

In the Sept. 23 issue Rosalie informs her readers the “Election over and nobody killed here, although some did stay until dark. What a terrible time,” she writes referring to America’s Presidential election of 1880 when Republican James Garfield from Ohio defeated Democrat General Winfield Hancock. Garfield our 20th president won the country’s popular vote by the slimmest of margins.

From the Sept. 30 edition of the Lincoln County News comes this. “We learn that quite a big crowd met at Oak Hall last Friday evening to see Big Thunder an Indian chief and his wife.” It was over a month before Rosalie clues us in on Chief Thunder’s appearance which apparently caused quite a ruckus. “Big Thunder, the Indian Chief, gave an entertainment in this place, September 24, to a small company who collected to see him go through with a sham Indian fight. All went well until the performance ended. Then a drunken row began which ended in a fight. How long will rum be suffered to be sold in this place? It is dealing ruin and death to our youth. Fathers and mothers, will you rise up and put this cursed stuff from the place?”

Christmas eve 1880 included a celebration at Oak Hall that included a lighted Yule tree, caroling and exchanging of gifts, writes Rosalie. I don’t know where “Oak Hall” was located and nobody else seems to know either. There were four other early halls around the same time. One was Wilson’s Hall over a store on the Boothbay road (Route 27) that for a time served as a post office. Both the store and post office were operated by Samuel Wilson and appear on an 1857 map of the town.

In the early part of the new year, 1881, Rosalie filed news of an accident. “Walter Williams of South Edgecomb was badly hurt at Boyd’s ice works by an ice pick striking him just below one knee, making a deep wound, which has caused him a great deal of suffering. We hope it will not leave him lame.” In her March dispatch she reports, Mr. Williams was “getting along nicely and able to be outdoors some.”

In April she gave readers this interesting news: “It seems mining fever has struck Lincoln County at last. We have plenty of rocks and ledges in Edgecomb. I wish somebody who understands the business would come along and scratch around a little. Perhaps old Edgecomb may amount to something, some day or other, after all is said and done.” A few weeks later Rosalie writes of some “exploratory diggings taking place within Edgecomb’s borders.” She reports the most promising area for minerals of value was a rocky knoll east of Mount Hunger. In still another edition: “Have you heard the news? A vein of isinglass (mica) about a half mile in length has been discovered on the farm of Willard Haggett of this town, and five acres of land are bounded to interested parties.”

As you might expect not everyone was happy with Rosalie’s reporting; a letter to the editor complained: “She doesn’t get a chance to hear much of what is happening in town, as she stays pretty steadily in her quiet little home, and lives far from the post office.” Well, at least she didn’t have to contend with Facebook.

Before closing, I wanted to return to that 1880 Census. Among the occupations listed for Edgecomb’s citizens were: fisherman, sailor, shoemaker, farmer, brickmaker, teacher, miner, telegraph operator, house carpenter, blacksmith, barber, laborer, jeweler, cloak maker, clergyman, tin smith, stone mason, dress maker, cooper, marble worker, grocer, homemaker and piano tuner. By the way, the Census lists a Rosa, Rosilla, Rosanna, Roselinda, Rosabel and Rosie but no Rosalie living in Edgecomb.

I don’t know when Rosalie began writing her column, or how long she kept at it. Maybe all she received for doing this was a complimentary copy of the newspaper and occasionally money for postage. I like to think it was a labor of love for her. Rosalie, whoever she was, proved to be a pretty good Edgecomb correspondent. Maybe you agree?

Phil Di Vece earned a B.A. in journalism studies from Colorado State University and an M.A. in journalism at the University of South Florida. He is the author of three Wiscasset books and is a frequent news contributor to Wiscasset Newspaper and Boothbay Register. He resides in Wiscasset. Contact him at pdivece@roadrunner.com