“RUINOUS, MIRY, BROKEN AND IN GREAT DECAY”
STATE OF MAINE.
State of Maine by indictment vs. the Inhabitants of the Town of Alexander:
The jurors for the State aforesaid upon their
oaths present that there is and for a long time to wit for the space
of twenty years last past has been a public highway situated lying
and being in the Town of Alexander in the County aforesaid. It leads
from the Eastern line of Crawford through said Town of Alexander it
intersects the County road leading from the Town of Calais to the
town of Machias at Lanes Brook so called passing by the houses of
widow Scribner Ananiah Bohanon, and Benjamin Strout. It is of great
length to wit of the length of four miles and of great breadth to wit
of the breadth of four rods over and upon which the Citizens of the
State aforesaid have been accustomed to pass and repass freely and at
their pleasure with their horses teams carts and carriages. The
Inhabitants of said Town of Alexander in their corporate capacity are
and for the space of time aforesaid have been bound and obliged by
law to have and keep the same highway in good and sufficient repair
for the Citizens aforesaid to pass and repass as aforesaid with
safety and convenience. The Inhabitants of aforesaid the same highway
so situated and being in said Town of Alexander on the tenth day of
June in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and forty and
continually afterwards till the day of finding the bill of said
Alexander suffered to be and remaining ruinous miry broken and in
great decay for want of due reparation and amendment of the same so
that the Citizens of the State aforesaid over and upon the same
highway with their horses teams carts and carriages at and during the
time last aforesaid could nor yet can pass and repass without great
danger of their lives and loss of their goods to the great damage and
common nuisance of all the Citizens of the State over and upon the
same highway, passing and repassing as aforesaid and against the
peace and dignity of said State and contrary to the form of the
Statue in such case made and provided.
This indictment was found and entered at September term last AD 1840, and hence continued to this term and now it appears to the court that said Inhabitants have been duly summoned to appear and answer to said indictment. The said Inhabitants are thereupon three times called to come into court and do not appear but make default. And now the Attorney for the Government in this County moves the court to award sentence against the said Inhabitants. And the Court in consideration of the premises do award and order that the said Inhabitants of the Town of Alexander pay a fine of one thousand Dollars to be appropriated in making and repairing the highway aforesaid so neglected and deficient in said Town of Alexander and the cost of prosecution taxed at nine Dollars and seventy-seven cents.
And the Court does appoint Nathaniel
Sawyer of Cooper in this behalf to superintend the collection and
expenditure of said fine in manner and form and for the purposes
Some punctuation was added to the above to help with reading. The document is presented to give readers more sense of life in 1840. The same wording was used in similar indictments. Alexander was not the only town that got the attention of the state for failing to maintain roads. Our neighbors were also indited and fined as noted in the following summaries.
CRAWFORD: The road had been ‘ruinous miry broken and in great decay’ for just seven years. It started at the Alexander Town line, (near Lynn and Marjorie Wallace’s house and) went westerly by the houses of Isaiah Foster, Stephen Hanscom, Stephen Hanson and Susan Hanscom. The road was four miles long and four rods wide. The westerly end of this miry road would be at or near the Love Lake Road intersection. Crawford was fined $2000 plus the costs of $9.02. Stephen Hanscom was appointed to superintend the collection and expenditure of said fine.
COOPER: Cooper was fined just $100 plus a cost of $9.77 for 1½ miles of neglected and deficient road. This road ran from Grange Hall Corner to the Township Nineteen town line, i. e. the road toward Crawford. William Cooper was appointed to collect and use the money to repair the road.
Nathaniel Sawyer, Stephen Hanscom and William Cooper were given particularly difficult jobs. The townsmen had for several years neglected these stretches of road. The townsmen, by their lack of action, had said these roads are not important. And from their point of view, they likely were right. However, from a broader point of view, considering travel among the various towns in the area, these roads were important. Therefore the state convinced a judge that the roads had to be repaired.
So our three local appointees had to go to the townsmen, collect the money and repair the roads. Actually, much, if not all, roadwork in those days was done by local labor (man and beast) instead of money. Were the appointees successful in carrying out the court orders? Which of those three roads today is still ‘ruinous miry broken and in great decay?’