Dad’s Futuristic Car. 1935.

Lubec, Maine, the most easterly town in the US.

Dad liked to build (and fix) anything. When he was 20 years old, he and his best friend Bud McCaslin built a futuristic car in his father’s garage. Dad (R) and Bud (L) posed for a photo beside the car, the garage and Johnson Bay in the background.

How cool is that? Happy Father’s Day Dad!

 

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Mom Hanging Out with Friends — Voices of Ancestors

Machias and Roque Bluffs, Maine. 1936 to 1942. What did girls do? Well, pose on a cool car. Hang out around their homes. Swing. What else? Hang out at the Cemetery, of course. Does anyone know Mom’s friend, dubbed “Tombstone Annie”? No one grows up in Machias without spending summer days at Roque Bluffs. You […]

via Mom Hanging Out with Friends — Voices of Ancestors

This is the most popular post on this blog in the past six months. Originally posted February 6th, the day 665 hits came in! Thank you Mom!

My Great Grandfather’s Autograph Book. 1877 to 1891.

I hold the small book in my hand. I’ve sat down with it more than once, staring at the pages, reading the autographs accompanied by a few words, hoping the leather gold-embossed book will tell me its secrets.

The first page has a photo of a man that I do not recognize but must be a younger version of my great grandfather, William Means, age twenty two.

The first entry is a greeting from his father, Otis Means. The page is faded and hard to read. I take out a magnifying glass.

“May Heaven bless you is the wish of your Father.” ~ Otis W. Means. Machiasport, February 10, 1878. 

The next page, his mother Elsie writes: “There is a [no] friend that sticketh more than a mother.” Elsie F Means. Machiasport. February 9. The year is not noted.

I surmise the book was a gift from father to son. But, wait. Half way through the book, I find the earliest signature is that of William’s niece Grace, dated February 16, 1877.

“Grace A Means. South Boston. Celebrated Case,” she writes. Perhaps the book was her gift to her beloved uncle for she was raised as his little sister. Grace had a habit of giving gifts to document family history. And by now, I know she had a sense of humor.

A few blank pages before this entry, I find a mystery, a conundrum. It is the signature of Grace’s mother, Francis Adele Means. The Grace Means collection of ancestors’ photos and written documentation of family history clearly states that her mother Francis died in 1871 when Grace was small. Grace produced that collection and distributed it to family in 1924. She was likely in her 50s or 60s. Could Grace have made a mistake in her mother’s date of death? Anything is possible. It’s unlikely there is another Francis A. Means in the family at the time.

So it is possible that Francis Means lived at least seven years longer than I previously thought. I will need to do a search of death certificates.

Francis writes in her brother William’s autograph book:

“I’ve looked these pages through and through. To see what others have written to you. And now I write to thee. These simple words. Remember me.” Francis A. Means. February 28, 1878.

Her words sound prophetic to me, for I know Francis died young, leaving her daughter Grace to be raised by her parents, Otis and Elsie Means.

William’s eldest brother Andrew signed : “What’s in a name? Your Aff Bro.  AF Means. His sister Harriet Means Putnam wrote: “Honor Thy Father and Mother.” Your Aff Sister, HE Putnam. South Boston. February 24th, 1878.

By 1877, many of the entries in the book are to William and Nellie, my great grandparents who married on July 1st, 1880. Nellie’s brother Deola C Getchell writes:

“Nellie and Will. I hope the change that you are to make will be for the best.” Your brother, DC Getchell. Marshfield, 1887.

That entry sounds as though William and Nellie have announced plans to marry and her brother is not all that convinced about the impeding marriage. Or, I am unfamiliar with language from 130 years ago.

A few pages before these words, I find the writing of Nellie’s mother and father, my great great grandparents, Marshfield and Martha Getchell:

“In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Marshfield S Getchell. Marshfield, Maine. March 1887.

“When rocks and hills divide us. And you no more I see. Remember it is – Mother. Who wrote these lines for you.” Martha J Getchell. Marshfield, Maine. March 16, 1887. 

On other pages, I see the signatures of Nellie’s sisters: Thirza Getchell Flynn, and Dora Getchell Flynn. Sisters married brothers, not uncommon. I know that Thirza had a millinery shop in downtown Machias and made women’s hats. By the early 1900s, Dora lived in Brewer. She was watching over my grandmother Harriet, just before Harriet eloped in 1908 without telling her family. Other members of the Flynn family and numerous friends also wrote greetings. They were from Machiasport, Cherryfield, Columbia Falls, and Pembroke, Maine, and as far away as Boston and Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts.

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A list of friends’ signatures from near and far:

“Ain’t she horrid.” Katie L Farrell. Columbia Falls, Maine

“Little Man.” Amy H Johnson. Machiasport, Maine. Feb 8,1878

“May you always be as happy as you are now is the wish of your true friend.” Fannie F. Crocker. Machias, Maine. Aug 22, 1881

Edward L. Lincoln. Jamaica Plains Mass [in] Machiasport. Sept. 22nd ’77

“Remember the clock winder.” Lizzie E. Tobey  1877-10-21

May there be just clouds enough in your life to make a golden sunset.” Your friend, Emma G. Nash. Cherryfield, Maine. February 24th 1880.

“Great thoughts, noble deeds, a life true and holy. Charity open-handed, constant and brave. Good to your fellows, kindness to the lowly. Is the mission of man this side of the grave.” Lydia Bradbury. Machias, Maine. December 22nd ’77

Your friend, Stella A Tarbell. Feb 6th ’91

“Remember me as your friend.” Mrs. OS Lowe. Machias 2-6-91

W. O. Merrick. Boston, Mass [in] Machiasport. Aug 3/79

Edward Merrick. Boston, Mass [in] Machiasport. August 3, ’79

W.E. Tarbell. Meddybemps, Maine.

Emma B. Stewart. Machiasport. Oct 27, 1877

Sarah E. Tobey. Machiasport. Sept 27th, 1877

Your cousin” Georgia J. Robinson. Machiasport, Maine. Feb 9 1878

“Sincerely your friend” Ida F. Warde. Machiasport, Maine Sept. 20, 1877

“That you many aspire to that which is pure and noble. Is the wish of your sincere friend.” Abbie A Grant. Machiasport, Maine. Sept. 17, 1877

Peanuts are nice.” Annie M. Thompson. Machiasport, Maine. Feb. 5, 1878

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beginning of A Business in Machias Maine. Rier Buick. 1949.

My Dad, James “Gene” Rier, left the US Army Corp in 1945 after serving at West Point as a pilot instructor. He and my mother, Louise, moved to Calais for a little over a year where Dad worked at the mill to save money to start a business. In the garage of their rented home, Dad cut the logs for a cabin. The next year, he built that cabin on Dublin Street in Machias where his family lived while he constructed the building for his business and a second floor apartment for their growing family.

By 1949, they had two sons: my brother “Jimmy” age four and David, born that year. Dad managed to secure the franchise to sell Buick automobiles, operate a dealership, repair shop and sell parts. Soon, he added Pontiac to his line of cars and the business became “Rier Buick Pontiac.” Later he added Chevrolet and GMC to his inventory at “Rier Motors,” located at the corner of Dublin Street and the Roque Bluffs road.

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My mother kept the photos of that time period in an album. She cut titles out of magazines to tell the story of their humble beginnings.

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My Mother Louise Adele Johnson

The Early Years: 1920 – 1942

Mom was born January 19, 1920 in Machias, Maine, the third child and only daughter of Ezekiel and Harriet Means Johnson. She had two elder brothers: Warren, born in 1908, and Robert, born in 1918.

She was a towheaded toddler who explored the outdoors in a sweater and boots. The back of the photo reads:

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Mom loved to play in her grandparent’s barn at the house at 24 Broadway. One day, she romped with her brother Bob and cousin Charlie on the upper floor where the hay was stored. While big brother Warren stacked hay, Mom got carried away, forgot about the hole to throw hay down to the horses, and fell through to the lower barn. When she told the story to me over 30 years later, she vividly recalled her surprise descent but didn’t get hurt. There was soft hay below to catch her. She remembered that Grandmother Nellie was not pleased.

Mom entered first grade at age four. I asked her why she started school so young. She told me that her brother Bob was entering school that year and her mother thought it best to send them together.

This photo of the first grade class at Hemingway School is kindly provided by Irene Vose Robinson. Mom is in the back row, 5th from the left, the little girl with the hat. She is beside Irene (on her left). Mom’s brother Bob is in the front row, 3d from the right.

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10327198_649622821753733_998484054_nMom and Bob graduated from Machias High School together in 1936. Mom had an Italian boyfriend, Giouvanucci. Her mother did not like him much but didn’t interfere.

“He had the most gorgeous Chrysler car. We used to ride all over the place,” Mom said. From her grin, I knew the guy was as gorgeous as his car. Mom had an Italian boyfriend? In Machias? Now that was news. More investigation of old photo albums revealed that this intriguing boyfriend was the brother of Mom’s close friend Sue.

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After graduation from High School, Mom got a job at the Washington County Court House in the Registry of Deeds office and lived with her mother who taught piano lessons. Soon, Mom met my father, James Eugene Rier, one day in downtown Machias. Dad said he knew she would be his wife the first time he saw her. I asked him how he knew he had found his true love.

“When I first laid eyes on her that day, I tingled. All over. All the way to my toes,” he replied with a twinkle in his eye. Dad always had that Lubec sense of humor.

In 1937, Harriet inherited the house at 24 Broadway after her mother, Nellie, died in 1935.  She and my mother could not afford to heat the house, in spite of their combined incomes. They moved to Portland that year and rented rooms at the boarding house of a friend at 15 Bolton Street. Mom snagged employment as a administrative assistant for a prominent lawyer, Albert Knudsen. She loved the work. As Mom turned the pages of the old album and showed me the news articles on Knudsen, she said fondly, “He was so intelligent. A good man. I learned so much from him.”

 

Harriet and friends 1939. Her family, my father and his sister gathered there too.

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L to R. Standing. Evelyn Rier (Dad’s sister), Lillian Johnson (wife of Warren), Dad, Harriet, Bob. Kneeling. Warren Johnson (Mom’s eldest brother) and son Billy.

For Mom, there was time for horseback riding. She became an enthusiast, joined a club in Portland, and made many friends there.

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In 1939, Mom and her mother traveled to the World’s Fair in NYC. Dad was their escort. Or perhaps Harriet was Mom and Dad’s escort? Most of one family scrapbook is dedicated to the sights they saw and the memories they made there.

Dad took a photo of the two of them in front of a warped mirror…

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One of the highlights was the precision formation flying exhibitions. Dad was entranced. Then and there he decided to become a pilot. That dream would be fulfilled. In 1942, he joined the US Army Air Corp, went to boot camp in Texas, was assigned to Stewart Field in Newburgh, NY, and trained as a flight instructor. Mom was still living and working in Portland. They decided to marry.

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Harriet’s Recommendation Letter. 1905

BANGOR PIANO SCHOOL
A SCHOOL OF PUBLIC PERFORMANCE
FREDERICK MARINER, Director
Morse-Oliver Building

Bangor, Maine Mch. 13, 1905

Miss Harriet P. Means
Machias, ME

My dear Miss Means,

It may be a help to you in your teaching work if I write you these few lines, in a way an unsolicited testimonial to your advancement under my instruction during the past few months.

I found you ever a most painstaking and careful student and your progress was marked, and very pleasing to me, you instructor.

I am sure that in the work you have gone over with me and in its application to pupils you are most competent to instruct others and after sufficient experience in this particular time of your musical development will not only be pleased with your own work but will find your class of pupils and their parents must [be] appreciative of your efforts and the good results obtained from your systematic instruction.

Wishing you all success. I am ever
Yours very truly

Frederick Mariner

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Mariner included a newspaper article with his unsolicited reference letter, as my grandmother Harriet formally begins her career as a pianist. It is rather tattered now, 106 years later.  She graduated from Bangor Piano School in 1905 and became an instructor under the renowned Frederick Mariner who had a summer home on the Penobscot River. Mariner’s studio was in NYC but he accepted gifted students at the Bangor Piano School.

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The Bangor Piano School was located in The Morse Oliver building at the corner of Exchange and State Streets. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1911.

“Unquestionably the worst disaster to strike the Queen City, the Great Fire of 1911 reshaped the city’s landscape, burning 55 acres, destroying 267 buildings, damaging 100 more and causing $3,188,081.90 in losses and damage. The conflagration left 75 families homeless, most of whom had lived from Harlow Street to Center Street to lower French Street. It destroyed more than 100 businesses during a nine-hour span.”

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The Music Scene in Bangor, Maine 1907. Published in The Musical Courier, Volume 54, Column two.

Music in Maine

January 21, 1917

“Bangor Music teachers resumed teaching January 7, the date of the reopening of public schools. Mrs. ET Wasgatt who might be styled the dean of vocal instructors in the city, spent several weeks in Boston, enjoying rest and inspiration thereby.

Harriet Means, instructor at the Mariner Studios, spent her vacation at her home in Machias.

The regular Thursday recitals were resumed at the Bangor Piano School January 10, with a program of nine numbers, three of which were vocal the entire class singing, with different pupils accompanying at the piano. This feature has been lately introduced to promote broader musical culture to fit pupils for playing accompaniments when called upon by Mrs. Tilton in the public schools. Graded material is used, so that pupils of all ages can have this training. After this part of the program was completed the director presented in condensed form the story of the leading events of the early life of Beethoven….”

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Original Letter from Frederick Mariner to Harriet Means

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Beautiful Historic Machias

The W B Holway storefront in the village of Machias, Maine. Circa late 1800s, early 1900s. In the 1881 Atlas of Washington Co by George N Colby and Co., the Holway and Sullivan business was located on the river side of Main Street three buildings up (toward the horse trough) from the GW Longfellow business. If it is the same business as in the photo, it was not far from the Machias Hardware store that exists today.

In the Machias Register, State Yearbook and Legislative Manual (1913), W B Holway was listed under Lumbermen of Machias. The Holway Sullivan Co Steam and Saw Mills were just up Main street close to the Machias bridge. The ES Means store was across the street during the same time period, owned by Eliphalet Means, my great grandfather’s elder brother. He sold a wide variety of local products including eggs, cranberries, meats (partridge, smoked beef), as well as merchandise and tropical fruits ordered from Boston. Sample pages from his cash book document the sales of the ES Means store in 1875.

In the later years of the 1800s and early 20th century, Machias was a booming village. Lumber and shipping commerce was at its height, oranges and exotic goods could be bought at the East India Tea Company. Shipbuilding was prominent in the village economy and the surrounding seaside towns.

As the years went by, the new century was not kind. The ports of Machias and near-by Bangor gave way those in the south that did not freeze in winter, Portland and Boston, or Saint John, Canada. Timber harvested, milled and sold to the shipbuilding industry faded as steam powered ships replaced the great ships and schooners built in downeast Maine. In the late 1920s and 1930s, the economic downturn that ravaged the entire country forced coastal Maine villages to reinvent their livelihoods. Yet residents of downeast Maine, including my ancestors, survived. They had descended from sturdy, determined immigrants and possessed the skills to be resilient, hardy, frugal, and endure hard work to provide for themselves together as a community.

This mind set exists today, handed down from generation to generation. We are joined by like-minded people who settle here from all over the country, to live a life tied to the land, our families and our neighbors. We live in a time when those skills will serve us well.