Hannah Weston Chapter DAR. Burnham Tavern Open Every Saturday During Summer.

Machias Valley News Observer, Wednesday, June 3, 1936. The Burnham Tavern is a historic landmark of the Revolutionary War.

My maternal ancestor, Joseph Getchell Jr., fought the British in the rebellion for independence of the American colonies to prevent the British from taking their primary resources: timber for ships and their hard-earned money, taxation without representation. Once British demands were made, residents of Machias not only refused to comply by providing timber or paying their taxes, they erected a “liberty pole” in the town square. And then, they set out to seize British ships that entered their harbor.

A group of townsmen met to decide on their plan of action. Once agreed upon at the Rubicon, the brook they all jumped across to seal their pact, these men collectively captured the British ship “Margaretta” and hid her upriver. Joseph Getchell Jr. was among the first men who jumped on board the Margaretta in the assault. The captured British ship captain died. His blood remains in the Burnham Tavern where they took him after their assault. It was the first naval battle of the American Revolution.

The preservation of the Burnham Tavern is overseen by the Hannah Weston chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), as a reminder to future generations never to yield to tyranny.  The DAR chapter in Downeast Maine is named for Hannah Weston, a Revolutionary War heroine who carried ammunition through sixteen miles of wilderness for the men who were engaged in the first naval battle of the war which took place in Machias Bay. I am proud to be a member of the Hannah Weston chapter of the DAR, as was my mother, Louise Johnson Rier. It is the second largest DAR chapter in the state of Maine, second only to Portland.

My great grandmother, Nellie Getchell Means, was the great grandchild of Joseph Getchell Jr., Revolutionary War soldier at the age of 18. His father, Joseph Getchell Sr., was the first Getchell settler at Machias in 1769. My great grandmother’s father was Marshfield Getchell, son of John who was the son of on Joseph Jr. Thus, Joseph Getchell Jr. is my 4X great grandfather.

Reference: History of Machias, Maine by George W. Drisko. Press of the Republican. 1904.

The Burnham Tavern, beautifully preserved, as it is today.

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This summer, the Tavern will be open from 10:00 AM until 3:00 PM, Monday through Friday, beginning on Tuesday, July 5th and continuing through Friday, September 2nd.  In addition, it may be possible to arrange visits at other times if a docent is available.  Please call 207-733-4577 or e-mail <info@burnhamtavern.com> for further information.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Great Grandmother’s Eldest Sister

Thirza J Getchell. I have her book of music, her zither, and two of the hats she made. Thurza J Getchell is engraved on the cover of the music book. A misprint?  I believe it is since my grandmother Harriet called her Aunt Thirza in her 1908 letters. And, Drisko’s History of Machias (the bible for Machias history) documents her name as Thirza.

Thirza had a millinery store in downtown Machias and was a successful businesswoman. She married George W Flynn. They had one son, Ossie C. Flynn, who sadly died at the age of 10 months. Thereafter Thirza remained childless.

Thirza’s velvet and feather hats. Imagine these hats were made and sold in Machias!

Thirza’s zither.

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Thirza’s music book, the hats she made, and zither she played, were in the attic of my ancestors home at Broadway in Machias, Maine, the house where I grew up.

After her second husband’s death, Thirza lived with and cared for her mother, Martha Jane Getchell, in a downtown apartment in Machias, likely above Thirza’s store.

Thirza died March 4, 1913. Her mother, Martha Jane, died two days later. Thirza was 69 years of age, her mother was 88 years old.

This is a photo of my great grandparents William and Nellie Means at their home on Broadway. Her mother, Martha Getchell and sister Thirza sit on the porch.

The Means and Getchell Families

Circa 1910. On the porch of the William Means home at the corner of Broadway and Gardner Avenue, Machias, Maine.

The family of my great-grand parents William and Nellie Means on the porch at 24 Broadway in Machias. L to R. Ethel Means (sitting, wife of their eldest son Otis) and children. Standing: William Means Sr. my great grandfather. Sitting: Nellie Means, my great-grandmother. Next to her, Nellie’s mother, Martha Jane Holmes Getchell (I have blankets, quilts and her embroidery in my home today), my great-great-grandmother. Far right, Nellie’s sisters Dora Getchell Dennison and Thirza Getchell Flynn. Thirza was a hat maker and owned a millinery shop in Machias. I do not know the identity of the woman in the front, it will take more research, but she sure looks like someone I would love to have known.

Nellie’s Sister Dora Pleads: Please Write to Your Daughter

In one letter [Harriet] said “getting only one letter from Mother has been more of a grief than all the hardships endured” – and added – “In case anything happens to me before I could see her I want you to know Aunt Dora how I feel. I can’t ever feel hard towards her or anyone of my relations and I can’t see how she can forget me entirely.”

Letter to Nellie from Dora, November 1908

••••••

Portland, Oregon

464 1/2 Union Ave. North

Sunday Eve Oct. 11, 1908

My dear Father,

Your letter was much appreciated and also the papers you have sent so regularly each week and I look forward to their coming now. I think the same amount of sickness has gone all over the country for when your letter came Zeke and I both had terrible colds and Mrs. May has been in bed with one also. Mine has hung on and I still have it but it is wholly in my head and nose so it is not dangerous. Last night it rained here for the first time for wks. and from now I think the weather will be more settled. Fri. night about 5 o’clock Zeke awoke with a terrible cramp which kept growing worse and nothing I could seem to give him helped him at all so I called in Dr. Marcellus. He happened to be home at supper so it did not take him long to get here. He found that Zeke’s cold had settled in his bowels and he advised him to stay in bed that night and dose up. I phoned to Mrs. May and she had Mr. May call up Mr. Merrimaw so they put a man in Zeke’s place that night. By taking medicine every half hour he was better yesterday so he slept all day, and last night he was determined to go to work again. The Railroad pays his Dr. bill, medicine furnished to a man so he was lucky that it was no loss that way. I think being careful he will be alright now but there is a lot of Dysentery here and I was afraid to run any risk. 

Machias has certainly lost many this fall and very sudden deaths too. I think it makes everyone feel blue to be where so many are sick and it causes one to think more seriously about it. I am glad you are all well at home and do hope this winter will be mild so you may all enjoy good health. Except for this cold I remain about the same and manage to keep busy at sewing or housework what time I am able. 

I finished one nice puff about a wk. ago and where I did it all alone I felt real proud of my job. Mrs. May comes down often and is as good as gold and she is so motherly as well as tho’tful she is a great help to me. I smiled when I read in your letter for me not to turn Democrat for I must have mixed up what I said so you tho’t Mrs. May was Democrat. They are strong Rep. but I had heard so much talk that I got mixed up. I do hope Taft will win and I feel sure he will. Bryan is certainly not fit for President.

It gets dark by 6 o’clock here now and if I didn’t go to bed early the eves would seem pretty long, as it is I get a little lonesome sometimes. Today has been dull, cloudy and I have imagined you at home with a fire in the library. I have seen very few fireplaces out here and I think it is because most everyone runs a coal fire in stoves as many people have no furnaces. We have nice little coal stove which will heat up our rooms finely. Several mornings since I have had a cold I have stayed in bed until Zeke has come home and he has started a good fire which takes the chill off. We buy coal by the sack at 60¢ and kindling – it is not expensive for there is a coal and wood yard just below here. 

Mr. Collings, Otto’s Father, called one A. M this wk. when he was over to visit Mrs. Grable. He tries so hard to be nice to Zeke, I think because we were used so by Otto and Mattie. Otto is in Seattle and they will move there soon he told us.

Tues. noon

I got so far with your letter Sun. night when Mrs. May and Doc came (that is her youngest boy Dewey) and when they went I was too tired to finish. If I don’t go up to see Mrs. May every day she thinks I may be sick so down she comes or sends someone. I shall miss her after next wk. for she is going to Nevada to stay until Thanksgiving with her oldest sister in Nevada. Her youngest sister has gone there to be confined next month from Oklahoma and Mrs. May is going to be with her. She will take Doc with her and go by the way of Salt Lake City coming back by way of San Francisco. It will be a nice trip for her and where she gets passes all the way it will not cost her anything. 

Zeke is feeling better now and I think we will both be alright now. We have saved quite a little from our grocery bill this month by taking advantage of Sat. Special Sales and we will save from $5 to $8 by it. Hereafter, we will buy down town all we can now that we are getting a good start. Mr. Merrimaw told Mr. May a few days ago that Zeke was doing fine work and as long as he wanted to stay with the S.P. he could do so for they liked him. I was very glad when Mr. May told me for although times are better now it would not be very nice to be out of work. 

Aunt Dora wrote me a nice letter about 2 wks. ago and I was very much pleased to think she wrote. I am going to ans. soon but I am so slow about writing. She told me all about her visit down home and many little things interesting to me that I hadn’t heard before. Yesterday the Jan. sample copy of the Musician came and the Union came. Where I had not seen the Musician this yr. I enjoyed reading it also the home news. I was surprised at Eudora McCabe’s death also Mr. Pen Longfellow. It must have been very sudden. I have wondered what has been done with McCabe’s shoe store and who is running it now?

It was nice Mama could be with Mrs. Burnham at the cottage for a few days. It must be getting  dreary out there now and look fallish and cold. I have a souvenir card of the cottage which I enjoy looking at and showing to my friends here but I only wish I had some picture of home. I never had even a snapshot and I can only tell people about it and I try and tell Mrs. May how it looks. She does or has done such beautiful paintings and is a natural born artist. She says she is going to do a panel of Mt. Hood for me to send you and Mama sometime in the future.

Time flys so it doesn’t seem possible next June will end Wms. schooldays at Machias and it makes me feel sad to think about it. I do hope he will be ambitious to at least get a Business College Course. I think he will make such a practical business, a great deal like you if he only realizes his chance. Zeke mourns so much that his Father didn’t do for him as you have done by we children for he is so eager to make the most of his time. I encourage him and tell him it is not too late now and he has plenty of time. The West has certainly great opportunities if one can only stick long enough. 

I really don’t have any news to write you Papa but just that I appreciate all you do for me and your tho’tfullness and when I get to going about more I shall have more news to write about. I cut some colored paper dolls out of a magazine which I am going to send Elsie to take over to Doris Harmon sometime. She is just the age to enjoy them.

I will close now hoping to hear you are all well when this reaches you. It is cloudy and will rain here today. I hope Mama will write too. I miss her letters so much. Much love to all and best wishes.

Your aff. Daughter

Harriet

Remember me to Grace, Aunt Thirza, Aunt Nell, Carrie.

•••••••

The next month, Dora wrote to her sister Nellie. She had one objective. Please write to your daughter Harriet. It was all too common that the outcome of childbirth was not a healthy mother and child. If birthing didn’t kill the mother, childbed fever loomed. Harriet might not live. Nellie was a fine Christian woman, loving in her own way, a good wife to William and had raised their children with care. But Nellie had a hardness about her, a cold distance to separate herself from emotional pain that she used for discipline, her own and her family. Harriet had written to Dora that her mother’s one letter to her had broken her heart. She must be strong for childbirth. Didn’t Nellie know that? Withdrawing a mother’s love now might be the end for Dora’s beloved niece. At the risk of raising Nellie’s ire, she must attempt to intervene before it was too late.

••••••

Brewer Nov 27th 1908

My dear Nellie: –

I have wanted to write to you for weeks but there is so much to take the time every day and evenings so that I do not stop long enough. I heard Will when he came in last night and spoke to him so he would know I was awake – told him I had the alarm clock set and should be up at half past five and have some breakfast for him so I called him at quarter of six. I hated to for he was sleeping soundly. There was not much time to talk – he said he could have got something over at the station just as well and not have me get up so early. And I said, “Why Will, don’t you suppose I would want to do that much for you? I always get Mr. Benner’s breakfasts.” And he replied, “Well I don’t know perhaps you would have to bother more for him than for me.” No matter what time anyone leaves this house if it is to take a three o’clock train in the morning I am always up. The trains all leave so early from Bangor mornings it is hard for these traveling men. I am going around “Robinsons barn” as usual. Of course I asked him about how you all spent the day yesterday – how Mother seemed and you and Thirza. Then I asked when he had heard from Hattie last – and he told me and I said I had a letter and he said yes Nellie said you did and Thirza had one – then I said, “Will, has Nellie written to Hattie yet?” He said I don’t think so. I next asked is Nellie put out with me for writing to Hattie? He said I don’t know that she is. That was all there was time to say and he was gone. I feel now as I did the day Hattie left – that she did a great wrong to you all – but – for all that she is your child and my niece – no matter how much she made us all suffer. In one letter she said “getting only one letter from her Mother has been more of a grief to her than all the hardships she had endured” – and added – “In case anything happens to me before I could see her I want you to know Aunt Dora how I feel. I can’t ever feel hard towards her or anyone of my relations and I can’t see how she can forget me entirely.” I had already written that in a reply letter to her. That – I missed her so every day – and that – I loved her. I always did and always should. It never did anyone any harm to tell them you love them. It is understood in one’s own family that we love each other without saying so I know but – in this case I wanted her to know that – I still love her. It would do no good to her for to me to repeat what I wrote her at the time. She went away – she knows all that – but I long for that child and I always shall. I can’t help feeling that way. She is ours just the same. If she should not live, I shall feel better to know from her that she had received my kind letter and I had had her reply. And if she comes out all right – as I hope she will — she will not be harmed by the kindness I have shown her, after all she made me suffer with you and us all. We are not the only ones who have had to suffer by the willfulness others. The best way it seems to me is to make the best of whatever comes. I do try, always have. 

It is getting late nearly 7 o’clock and I want to go out to mail this so I must close. Jim went to Aroostock County last Mon. P.M. and will be home on the late train tomorrow night from Eastport. Katherine and I took dinner with Mrs. McFarland yesterday. We were invited down to Allies and to Mrs. Halls too. I shall be glad to see you when you can come up or to hear from you. 

Love to you all, 

Dora

 

Harriet

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Harriet Putnam Means. Graduation from Bangor Piano School 1905.

 

 

 

Harriet sat before the piano with a straight back, her dark brown curly hair gathered in a tidy bun. Her hands glided across the piano keys as her body leaned in and out of the music. Dressed in a soft grey dress with a ruffled high collar and sleeves, she began the evening with Mozart, Adagio and Allegretto in C major: the soft sounds of Piano Sonata No. 2; a playful rendition of No. 10. She moved effortlessly into Beethoven’s romantic Moonlight Sonata.

Music filled the three-story clapboard house on Fourth Street in Bangor, notes lilted in the corners of the dormered rooms under the mansard roof. A fire crackled in the fireplace of the parlor, a pine garland covered the burnished mantle. In the corner between the windows, a spruce tree stood tall and lush decorated with ornaments in a multitude of bright colors, shapes, and sizes, among strings of beaded cranberry. The heady smell of balsam mixed with pipe tobacco filled the air. Mrs. Johnson sat on the Victorian sofa wearing a red dress, hands in her lap, skirts primly tucked in around the edges. Her husband, perched beside her, barely filled his dark blue suit. Their faces held a look of deep contentment. Despite their childless home, their lives were full. On the opposite end, Sophie was a bit tousled as she always was, brown hair hastily tucked in a bun with fringes escaping around the edges. Tonight she was dressed for a special occasion in deep brown that accentuated her green eyes. Curtis and Zeke sat in high-back armchairs, both men dressed in their Sunday best but exact opposites in appearance. Zeke was of medium build and height, had neat blond hair, piercing blue eyes and the sculpted face of a Scandinavian. He was Mr. Johnson’s nephew. Curtis was tall and broad-chested, black hair parted in the middle and slicked down. He was not handsome. His eyes roved the room until settling upon Christy who sat demurely beside the piano. Her blond hair was coifed in a stylish upsweep with curls that encircled her face and blue eyes; she wore a deep green dress that fit like a glove but exuded an air of sophistication. Her full lips smiled as she intently watched her best friend at the piano.

Impromptu gatherings around the piano happened often. This was an unusual boarding house for Harriet resided in it. After an hour, sweat beaded on her brow as she played Liszt’s passionate La Campanella, her hands rapidly moved up and down the length of the keyboard,  at times passing over each other, as her long fingers struck notes with exacting precision in a crescendo, her body now at one with the piano. Applause resounded in response to her finale: The Nutcracker, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Harriet rose from the stool, turned and bowed with an air of formality, standing with hands out from her sides, palms forward, in the pose of an actress accepting praise for an outstanding performance. Her face held a soft smile as her hazel eyes scanned the room from face to face, rested briefly on Zeke, then she took a seat beside Christy. Mrs. Johnson went to fetch hot cocoa and sugar cookies. It was Christmas Eve 1907.

Harriet did not possess the classic beauty of Christy but she was striking. She had strong facial curves, a small perfectly aligned nose, a deep dimple in her right cheek, and lips that pouted regally. Her cheeks were flushed, one might think from her energetic performance, but tonight this was not the reason. Zeke had proposed today. She was sure she would burst from happiness but only Christy knew the secret.

At every opportunity, Harriet and Zeke plotted and planned their future. Harriet knew she must defy her parents. She was in love. Given time, they would forgive her. It wasn’t possible to be away from Zeke, no matter what they thought. She had introduced the idea to them during the summer, tried to hint about her feelings, but her pleas met deaf ears. Her father, William, had heard that Zeke moved into his uncle’s boarding house where Harriet lived. He did not approve. Yes, the girls’ rooms were close to the Johnson’s, on a different floor than the men. But the whole arrangement was not proper. There was trouble ahead. She was forbidden to have any relationship with Zeke Johnson. He was from Kennebec, the wrong side of the river. He recently acquired work as a clerk in the Bangor railroad office but had a checkered employment history. That summer, William made his impetuous eldest daughter promise to abide by his wishes. It was their “agreement.” She had established her own studio and must attract more children eager to learn piano as her students. She was 23 years old and held a degree in music and Fine Arts.

William and Nellie Means had arranged for Harriet’s training as a pianist four years earlier. They sent their daughter to Bangor to study 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. Harriet was recommended by her elder cousin Grace who lived in NYC and had established a promising career at a well-known publishing house. Grace rubbed shoulders with high society and had more connections than one could count. It was a golden opportunity, her father pointed out, and Grace was single and not the least bit interested in marriage. Aunt Thirza had married well, was a hat maker, and owned a popular millinery in Machias. Harriet could marry one day, once she established her own career, a man of a social class that ensured financial security. In this family, women were expected to be educated and independent. She had completed her training in music with awards in excellence, then held the prestigious position of instructor at the Mariner Studio. The year before she had returned to Machias and established a Studio but soon prevailed on her father that she could better further her ambitions and career in Bangor. Her Studio would gain more recognition there. Besides, she needed more skills in business and wanted to complete night classes in typing and shorthand.

One hundred miles from Bangor in the shire town of Machias, the Means family lived in in a large, stately home on the corner of 24 Broadway and Gardner Avenue with a two-story attached barn for horses and hay; a series of stout buildings for the carriage and lorries lined the drive. As a baby, Harriet wore white gloves when she was pushed about by a Nanny in her pram. William was a successful businessman of note who bought and sold real estate, he and his father were Republican legislators. Nellie was a teacher before marriage and their four children were born. Her father was Marshfield Getchell, whose family gained prominence in grain trade and built the Grist Mill on the Machias River, the largest in the county.  Her family traced their heritage back to the “original 10” settlers of Machias and the first white child born there. The Means and Getchell families were staunch protestants and Republicans with a proud history to uphold.

A month had passed since Christmas. Her father had visited on his last trip to Bangor conducting business. Harriet wasn’t sure what rumors he might have heard but he asked a lot of questions about Zeke. Once again, William made her promise to honor their agreement. If she would not return to Machias, he suggested that she go into business with Christy and find a place for the two of them to live. Christy had a solid head on her shoulders and a degree from Iowa State College in music. Harriet had sorted through all the options and knew that her plans with Zeke must remain secret until there was no opportunity for family intervention. She typed a letter to her father.

Bangor Maine, January 31, 1908

My dear Father,

I received your letter this noon when I went to dinner and was glad to hear again. It is strange that you should think that Christy and I could join work for I was going to write and tell you that we are intending to do that way. She and her sister played at my recital yesterday, and they did finely and where she has no children to have any of her own it will be pleasant for her to hear mine. I don’t know how soon she will do this but no doubt before long. 

I am going to send Murray Bridgham an acct. of the recital, and you will see it in the news. I don’t know as I can get her to room with me but perhaps so. She is going to Houlton to give a recital next week. One of the boys that graduated from the University where she did is Secretary of the Y.M.C.A. up there has gotten it up for her then when she comes back we will arrange about her coming here.

Yes, I have kept my agreement with you that I made while you were here and have been so busy all the time I have not thought of it much. I do not find it hard at all. I do not have to have any company home from night school and I do not have anyone. He doesn’t go to night school and I do not meet him on the street very often. I did not say anything in my last letter about it because I was in a rush when I wrote.

Christy has just come in and will have to stop now. It has been very cold here for a few days and this morning it was 10 below zero. I have been making up lessons all this week and I am tired of it but Sunday comes before long. I will write more next time. I am feeling all right now and am glad to hear that you are also.

Much love to all.

Your aff. daughter,

Harriet

P. S. I like typewriting very much and my shorthand is doing well. 

This Old House: Secrets in the Attic

The Means home. 1896. L to R. William Jr., Elsie, Otis, William and Nellie, Harriet. Descendants of William and Nellie Means lived in this home for 120 years.

I grew up in the house on the corner of Broadway and Gardner Avenue, built by Nathan and Ruth Gardner in 1869. My great-grandmother Nellie Getchell Means bought the house in 1887, not long after her marriage to William Means. The home was inherited by my maternal grandmother, Harriet Means Johnson in 1937. My mother and father bought it from Harriet’s estate in 1948 and moved in just before I was born in September of 1952.

This visit to my childhood home, I was cleaning and organizing the sprawling home and barn, filled with 90% junk, 10% priceless family heirlooms, my history. Dad was gone, a stroke victim. Mom could no longer come upstairs, her mobility limited by osteoarthritis. It was my task now, or all would be lost.

The attic was stuffed with cartons and boxes amid glorious, old wide boards and beams, another universe. The outgrown clothes of all my five children rested in a corner under the eves waiting for my grandchildren. Beside the old wooden stairs, I found the petticoats I dearly loved as a five-year old, the insulated skipants and jacket I last wore in the 60s, my mother’s square dancing outfits. How will I ever sort this stuff? I kept the baby clothes and blankets for little ones and my skipants, then packed the rest to donate to a non-profit. By one of the chimneys, I opened one of the old shipping chests of my great-grandparents and gazed at their wedding clothes, well preserved. I moved to another chest, dug deep under school work by me and my two brothers, and found a trove of old letters dated 1908. I carried them downstairs to my bedroom, lined them up according to their date. Each night, I read the letters written by my grandmother Harriet who died before I was born. For as long I could remember, I longed to talk to her, imagined she had written something that told me what she thought about, her struggles, hopes and dreams. It was as though I knew the letters were there, waiting to be found. Through her words, I got to know Harriet and realized that she was a lot like a younger version of me. She fell in love, took risks, defied her parents. Born into a prestigious family, she eloped in 1908 with Ezekiel Johnson from Kennebec, the wrong side of the river, and traveled to Oregon by train without telling her parents.

In 2015, I transcribed Harriet’s letters to share with my family. And, I began to write about the grandmother I never knew, weaving my mother’s stories with the letters written in 1908. To read these eight posts in sequence, begin with “Harriet” and end with “Home at Last.”

Harriet

The Train Can Take Us Anywhere

Papa’s Letter

Papa To The Rescue

Sightseeing and Homesick

Nellie’s Sister Dora Pleads: Please Write To Your Daughter

Christmas Eve 1908

Home at Last: Tough Times Ahead