The evolution of a Whitefield "Lot"

* The early years
* The late 1800's
* The Early 1900's
* The War Years
* The Post War Years
* The modern era

    In Whitefield's developing years during the late 18th and early 19th century, our first serious settlers purchased large lots of land along the river. Here they developed small water mills on the brooks feeding into the Sheepscot and cleared land to raise crops and livestock. In this post Revolutionary War era it took lots of land to support a growing family, and it was relatively inexpensive to purchase in large sections. Sylvester Gardiner and The Kennebec Proprietors were anxious to get this part of their Pilgrim Grant settled and producing income. The Turners, Choates, Peaslees, Prebles, Littles, Longfellows, Crowells, Carletons and Kings were all early owners of large productive parcels carved from these original Plymouth grants. 1779..... Thomas Turner lot size was over 1000 acres .

     Soon, the 3 main "privileges" (elevation drops in a river that can produce power from the fall) on the Sheepscot in our town were able to be dammed to produce the significant power to drive multiple mills.  The villages of Coopers Mills, Turner's Corner (North  Whitefield) and Whitefield (King's Mills) sprung up around these power producing sites. Here, especially in Coopers Mills, buildings were clustered to offer the convenience of services (smithing, merchants, the postal stage, storage,  and a hotel) to the community. This model had served well all over young America. This was the pre railroad era for Whitefield. Our  developing society began to thrive on the advantages of the village. Socializing and governing became important considerations for town development. The Grange (3), churches (4), fraternal organizations (2) and even a small library emerged to served the town.  

    Improved roads (with the 8 bridges) and a railroad (with 2 trestles) also began to spell change . Things were moving fast.  Farmers could take their products by wagon to a village and train station. The villages were inhabited by elders, students, service providers, merchants and craftsmen - all non-agrarian occupations. The institutions, save 12 of the 17 schools in town, were in the villages, but still the majority of people would live in the country side, but now with the advantage of "going to town". Those who needed many acres of land, had it and the others congregated for convenience and to conserve. 

     A new village and post office called Joice, our 4th, sprung up in the west side of town at "Trainor's Corner" intersection of Hunt's Meadow Road and the road to Gardiner. It was on the turnpike that went straight thru from the river city of Gardiner across the West Branch past the Townhouse and its intersection , across the Sheepscot at Prebels, past the Poor Farm  and the end of the "Kings Highway" straight into South Jefferson and on toward Damariscotta. Whitefield was on the map and the route.

     There was land aplenty for all the farmers, hunters, fishermen, trappers, loggers, berry harvesters, nature lovers and rusticators. Owning land was a concept reserved for those who "needed it". People who produced in cooperation with the land were those who "owned" land. The word "husband" had an important connotation to this relationship.  Land was not taxed in any significant way. Everyone understood the important role land ownership held for the entire community, producers and consumers.    1874.... Colby lot size 500+ acres .

    By 1900 Whitefield's demographics had evolved thru  3 phases  - from sparse homesteads  to convenient groupings to a three village society connected by road, river and rail all surrounded by a productive hinterland. 

    But, ever since the Civil War 35 years earlier,  the population had continued to plummet. Whitefield's Farms had began to fail almost immediately after the war for want of labor and interest due both to the industrial revolution and its call to the seductive urban theatre and the acknowledgement of a greater America - a country of gold fields and citrus groves, of  city life and its urban advantages. During This era Whitefield suffered and shrunk. One of Whitefield's first three selectman, Eliakim Scammon's third son Charles at 26 captained a shipload of gold seeking 49ers from Gardiner around the Cape and up to San Francisco where he remained, never to return to Whitefield 

    All through the epics of the Spanish American War, World War I, the depression and beyond to World War II - for nearly 80 years Whitefield languished in respect to the development of its potential as a  viable community in harmony with its natural attributes and resources. Her farms decayed, her fields grew to weevil topped pasture pine, her youth fled. Whitefield aged dramatically. But she was not alone - virtually every rural community in northern New England reflected this evolutionary trend.

     Those who did come, came for the "easy picking's". Forest Land was cheap to buy and to be abandoned for the taxes after the harvest . Farm land too, was often abandoned for taxes, buildings and all. In the first part of the 1900's, Whitefield's Tax Collector Warren Cunningham would buy these farms for their back taxes then go literally door to door trying to interest young men in paying him a small monthly payment to try farming. My father was one who took advantage of Mr. Cunningham's radical attempts at social engineering. Dad's parents, Harry and Emma Chase, had arrived on the narrow gauge with their 7 children in 1920 from Berwick with the promise of cheap wood lots on which to operate their portable steam mill in the production of box boards.  The Chases would stay, multiply, prosper and help see Whitefield to her next era.   

    During the depression pre-war years Whitefield "hunkered down". People made do. The advantages of living in a rural town was that you were use to a low level of what others referred to prosperity. It's true that the railroad also suffered. The service became more erratic making "Weak, Weary & Feeble" became a realistic interpretation of the WW&F. The mills too were just about done. The steam and combustion engines had pretty much replaced the troublesome waterwheel, as the trucks began to replace the railroad. Besides the need for the products of our mills was greatly diminished. But,Whitefield easily produced all of its own food. No one went without. Land was pretty much worthless.   1941.... N. S. Chase farm Lot Size was 125 acres. ( the land, barn and a furnished farmhouse cost them $1,500).

     The war years were better for Whitefield, with virtually everyone in the service to the country. Either in the armed forces, or manufacturing for the forces. From service to ships to shoes Whitefield's people turned out. There was hardly anyone "home". 

    After the war, things began to change in the land department. Returning service people wanted to start families, to work in town but live in Whitefield. This commuter mentality had begun during the war years with scores of people riding to work in Bath, Boothbay, Rockland, Gardiner and Augusta in the war effort. Now they could continue getting better paychecks with less risk than that of a farmer, woodcutter, sawyer. People brought no more land than they needed for a home. Sometimes it was an owner built home. Often it was a mobile home - a trailer or as Roy Potter said in one of his deed restriction " those despicable trailers ". Times were changing, housing was changing. Whitefield had begun yet another era. 1956... 1/2 acre trailer lots in Whitefield were common.

     Stick built homes became a popular industry in the 50's. Roving crews could construct a sturdy home on a concrete cellar foundation in reasonable time at an affordable rate. The manufactured home business responded with even less expensive creations with masonite interiors, plastic trim and aluminum skin made to stand on stacks of cement blocks, often with the wheels still attached. The race was on for inexpensive housing. The land market responded by making available virtually any size lot of land for that inexpensive trailer or ranch house. The rural countryside was fast becoming visually a different place. But, so was Western Avenue in Augusta and the awful mall in Portland that replaced the unused but grand train station. 1965 ... talk of trailer parks and housing sub-divisions was heard.

    By the 60's new people from "Away" began to take advantage of the remainder of Whitefield's charm and good land values. To these outsiders it was still a wonderful place - a place "worth saving", as they would say. Some came and enjoyed the housing experiment called the "commune". There were only 4 or 5 communes, but their style of living and dress and behavior seemed to impact all. They were called the "hippies". Virtually all of them were good people. Few stayed beyond the 2 or 3 year experiment. Those who did, contributed greatly to the character of our community. They introduced back to our town an older way of living off and in cooperation with the land. 19th century capes became popular, yet still inexpensive, housing for the young and the ambitious. Our eyes were reopened and we began to see Whitefield in a different way. Our river, our forests, our fields and farms regained value. Another change was in the works.

    The 1970's became the beachhead for land use reform in Whitefield. Several factors came together that created a climate and a method for change: 
* The realization that a commercial land fill designed to service the entire county was to be located on an aquifer in Whitefield .  
* The establishment of shoreland zoning by the legislature quickly involved the town in that arena. 
* Rumors were rampant of developers racing to our unprotected town with plans of their own . 
* The first signs of increases in land sales and valuation by realtors did not go unnoticed .
* A group of young, well educated and concerned citizens appeared willing to take on the task of developing a comprehensive plan and to serve on the planning board, shoreland review and appeals board. 

    The last 30 years have seen some local control in the area of land use. The minimum lot size ordinance from the 1970's remains in place, but its antiquity promises to bring problems in the future. And, things, as would be expected, are changing again. 
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Land values have skyrocketed.
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Taxes are rising fast.
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Re-evaluation is eminent.
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Land trusts are active along our river.
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Population increases appear to be accelerating. 
* Planning board and appeals board pressures are mounting.
* The State is pressuring towns to update their ordinances to conform with state regulations.

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