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Farmington: Franklin County's Shiretown

Meeting House Park

By Jane E. Woodman—a program presented to the Farmington Historical Society, July 27, 2020

In 1802 Mr. John Church deeded two and a half acres of land to the citizens of Farmington, to create a Village Center. The early settlers wanted a Village Center and Mr. Church made that happen. His wish was to have a burial ground, a meeting house, and a green space across from the meeting house. This green space became known as Meeting House Park. (And now you know that Church Street is named for John Church and not the North Church at the east end of the street.)

The Meeting House became a religious center, a government center, and a building for events such as the Franklin County Agriculture Society. When the farmers drove their wagons to Society meetings, they brought their prize horse, cow, sheep and perhaps a pig to show off to the other farmers. The green space was a pasture without a fence.

In 1871, the town fathers agreed to spend no more than $15.00 to build a fence around the park so the farmers could contain their livestock during the exhibition. To the best of my knowledge, that black rod iron fence on the Main Street side of the park is part of the original. I would say they got their money’s worth for that fence.

The early band stand was built in 1874 by a fine carpenter, Henry Sprague, to be used by local musicians, such as Charles Wheeler’s earlier band. Early Farmington had a very active musical community.

In 1886, crisis struck the Village of Farmington. It was believed that a spark from the railroad engine alighted in a shed on the Pleasant Street side of Meeting House Park. The flames were caught by the north winds and spread the length of Main Street to the top of Abbott Hill. The flames took the buildings on lower Broadway then headed south on the west side on Main Street. All the buildings burned on the west side except the Free Will Baptist Church. That small brick structure set back away from the road. The flames however crossed Main Street and took the Baptist Church, stayed on the west side and took the Congregational Church, and again jumped the street and took the Methodist Church. All the homes on the west side were destroyed.

The Bonney Aqueduct Company was established to provide water to the Village for fire protection. In 1894, a Watering Trough, casted in Concord, New Hampshire was put into service in front of the Court House. The trough cost the town fathers ~ $125. The water provided by the Bonney Aqueduct Company was proclaimed to be for both Man and Beast. The Minister of the North Church was preaching one Sunday when he honored Mr. Daniel Bonney for providing a a tin cup on a chain for men to get a drink of water from the trough. The church sermon that day was about alcohol and its evils. Someone from the congregation was not pleased about the available water and asked that the cup be removed. This person was saying “In these times of improper use, that the Young Folk were using the cup to add water to their drink. The Minister declared “The cup would stay”, “Well at least they were drinking pure water with their whiskey.”

Later when the Main Street was widened, and the Bonney Aqueduct Company was no more. The trough was placed in the park and is used as a planter located on the northeast corner of the park.

Ten years after the fire, an article in the Franklin Chronicle stated, “The beautiful common in our village –that should be the pride of ALL our Citizens – has been given up, we regret to say, to general neglect—an eyesore upon the Village …”

In 1897, Mr. George Ranger, a merchant from Fairbanks, moved to the center of the village. Mr. Ranger’s view from his home was upon the neglected Meeting House Park. He was not pleased. He approached the town fathers with an offer. He would donate a Civil War Monument to the park if it was cleaned up and the bandstand was removed. The cleanup began. The bandstand was sold to the Franklin County Agricultural Society for their new fairgrounds. The grounds were spruced up with concrete walks, granite steps and iron seats. On July 17, 1904, the Hallowell Granite Company installed the Replica of the Gettysburg’s 16th Maine Infantry Monument.

Engravings on the monuments four sides read:

“TO THE BRAVE MEN OF FARMINGTON, who on land and sea freely offered their lives in defense of the union that they might transmit to posterity the priceless inheritance received from their fathers. This monument is dedicated in grateful recognition of their heroic sacrifice”

A single phrase “In Memoriam”

Third side: “Number of men furnished by the Town of Farmington: 305 Casualties – killed and died of wounds 13 – died of disease 35 – missing 25”

“This monument is erected and presented to the TOWN OF FARMINGTON BY GEORGE W. RANGER who served as a private soldier in the Civil War in the fifty-third Mass. Infantry and the sixth Maine Battery light artillery. To perpetuate the memory of his comrades.”

The request for a gazebo was taken to the town fathers by the village residents in 1926. They provided donation of money and in-kind work up to $500 as long as it was big enough to provide space for the growing Charles Wheeler band. By Aug 3rd, Mr. O. P. Steward’s crew had begun building the bandstand that would become an ornament to the Common and be large enough to provide room for 50 musicians. One fine evening during a concert, a group of “Young Americans”, who seem to think the occasion to “run riot over the Common, yelling lustily”. “This must not occur again”. The residents could not hear the fine band. “So boys, hold in while the band is in action and then let your lungs proclaim how much you have enjoyed the selection” Franklin Journal August 15, 1926

In the years to come, other monuments were added to the Meeting House Park: facing Main Street, the World War II Honor Roll lists the men from Farmington who served. In the southwest corner is the Monument to all Wars: Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon/Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm and Afghanistan. Just to the north of Meeting House Park is the town's World War I Memorial Arch.

References

  • The "Abstract", a local compilation of highlights from newspaper articles related to Farmington, ME 1831 to 1909
  • National Register of Historic Places record of Farmington's Historic District, October 1993
  • History of Farmington, Maine by Thomas Parker, 1846
  • A History of Farmington, Maine by Francis Gould Butler, 1885
  • Natalie and Ben Butler’s research collection
  • Nancy Porter