|Maine Farmhouse Journal |
Fall came late this year and we were prepared to be disappointed with the foliage colors that fall would bring. The summer had been very dry with little moisture to create the sugar that the leaves needed to make colors. It didn't seem likely that we were going to have any of the display of brilliant reds and oranges that makes autumn in Maine one of our glorious seasons. As fall began a few of the trees bordering our back field in Sebago turned to muted russets and browns, but there were no bright colors anywhere.
We have always enjoyed the fall foliage shows during our annual Crabtree family reunions. The Sixth Crabtree Family Reunion had been set for the Columbus Day weekend a year ago, but as the weekend got closer it looked like it would be without the familiar show of colors. Althought this year the leaf peeper "experts" were predicting a normal color-filled autumn, I figured that it was for the benefit of the tour companies selling leaf peeper tours. Based on the dull colors we were seeing in Sebago I was very skeptical. Happily, I was proven wrong and the relations gathered at our reunion had one of the finest foliage shows ever.
As October began the temperatures started to drop at night below freezing. Our days were bright and crisp. We had our first couple of fall frosts, and almost overnight the foliage started to turn colors. Shyly at first the golds and reds and yellows started appearing in our woods. The blueberry bushes in the field started to turn their brilliant scarlet. On Friday, as we drove the Maine Turnpike to Hancock and this year's reunion the colors were magnificent, and got better the further north we went.
At the Hancock Town Park we turned down Hancock Point Road off Maine Route 1. It was good to be back in Hancock on the ground where our ancestors had lived since before the Revolutionary War. As we drove by Lois Johnson's place and Maynard Foss' farm we passed through a long tunnel of red and gold leaves from the twin rows of rock maples that lined the road.
The foliage driving down Hancock Point was like a tourist calendar showing the best of Maine. All the old farmhouses were perfectly framed by the rich colors of the maples and oaks, with the contrasting dark green of spruces and pines. The weather was perfect - crisp and clear. Just right for the reunion!
Pulling into the familiar driveway of the Crocker House was like seeing an old friend again. Penny and I were staying at the Crocker House, as were cousins Helen and Robert from California, my half-brother Emery and his wife Roberta from Connecticut, cousin Lena Adrienne and her husband Fred from Saco, Maine, and cousin David and his wife Pam from Standish, Maine.
Between all of us the Crabtree clan pretty well filled up the rooms at the Crocker House, which offered us plenty of opportunities for fellowship. I had made arrangements for Crocker House owner and chef, Richard Malaby, to host the luncheon for our reunion get together on Saturday, so we only had to walk down from our rooms to the dining room for the reunion. On Friday night several of us gathered for dinner to go over plans for events on Saturday and Sunday. This year we had planned our gathering and luncheon on Saturday, followed by a walking tour of the old Crabtree homes on Hancock Point, a boat trip around Hancock Point and up the Skillings River, and a tramp in the bushes to locate Agreen's original grave.
This is the sixth year we have gathered in the Hancock area, following the first reunion arranged in 1997 by Howard and Marilyn Aldrich. For accounts of three previous reunions see Journal Entries for the reunions of 1999, 2000, and 2001.
This year 30 cousins and their spouses gathered from all over the country to swap yarns and tall stories, and fill in some of the gaps in the never-ending quest to know more about our ancestors, and ultimately ourselves. We had some folks who had not attended one of the reunions before, as well as a new relation we hadn't known about before. Cora came over from Bangor. She traces her lineage back to Jemima Crabtree, Agreen's sister. Jemima married a Tingley who is Cora's line. She had been visiting with Lois Johnson's daughter Liz and said that she had planned on doing some family research in Hancock. When Liz starting listing Crabtree family names Cora made the connection that she was related to the clan.
This was also the first year that my half-brother Emery attended a reunion. While I "play" at the family genealogy and writing these little essays, Emery is as serious a family historian as Lois Johnson, the Hancock historian. All I had to do was introduce the two of them to each other and step back. By the time the weekend was over Emery had digital pictures of every relation at the reunion, connected to cousins William and Robert Frank Crabtree's vast sources of family information, and tapped into Lois' records as well. Emery has been able to fill in a number of holes in his Crabtree family data base, and has started an invaluable exchange of information from several sources. Whenever I need to validate some date or detail, it is usually to Lois or Emery that I now turn for the final word.
Folks brought their scrap books and photo albums and we spread out in the Crocker House sun porch to meet and greet each other. Lois Johnson, Hancock historian, told us about the monograph on Agreen Crabtree and his lineage that she had written for the "1790 Head of Household" project. Hugh and Ruth Sutherland prepared the name tags and Barbara Simpson coordinated the door prizes for the reunion attendees. Richard Malaby and his staff put on a wonderful luncheon that everyone raved about. I want to thank all those that worked to make this year's reunion a fun time. Every year we learn a little bit more about our common past.
Early in the history of Hancock Point Agreen Crabtree and his family settled most of the lower neck of land. The Crocker House is located on land that used to belong to Agreen, and the Crabtree family homes line the road up Hancock Point. After our luncheon Lois led a walking tour of 11 homes that were and/or are owned by Crabtree family relations.
Earlier this year Lois wrote a chapter for the new Hancock history on the Crabtree Houses of Hancock Point. She distributed copies of the chapter to the group on the walking tour, and gave us a short history of the Crabtree clan's early settlement of the Point.
We started our tour at the George Crabtree house, son of Captain Agreen. It is located across the road from the Crocker House. George married Rebecca Hopkins of Mount Desert and lived his entire life on his land at the Point. One of their sons, Ephraim, was deeded the property in the 1850s in return for life support and care for his parents George and Rebecca.
Walking up the Hancock Point Road we saw houses built by various sons of Captain Agreen, including the magnificent Lemuel Weeks Crabtree home now owned by his great-great-grandson Steve Crabtree. Agreen's oldest son William had two 100-acre lots. The one in Hancock came to him in 1804 as a settler, and William turned it over to his son Lemuel Weeks Crabtree sometime before 1810.
William's son Agreen II bought the house and property in 1845 from his siblings. Agreen II bequeathed it to his son William Agreen Crabtree. William sold the place to Ethel and Helen Gormley and Sarah E. Gustam, who had it for a number of years before selling it to Steve and Marsha Crabtree. Steve and Marsha plan on retiring to this wonderful old house when they return to Hancock Point from their home in London, UK next year.
We stopped in front of a small red cape just up the road from Crocker House. This is the Reuben Crabtree house. From her search of census records and deed transfers Lois believes that Captain Agreen probably lived on the property where Reuben Crabtree's house is now located. Agreen's widow Mary (Dyer) was living on the property in 1810 and their younger son Reuben was living with her. In 1820 Reuben was head of household on the property and Mary (78 years) was living with him. Reuben married Hulda Stratton in 1816, and Lois believes that the existing Reuben Crabtree house was built about then. It could be older. It certainly is one of the oldest houses in Hancock.
Someone suggested that we take in a bean supper at the Hancock Congregational Church Saturday night. Bean suppers are a New England mainstay (see Baked Bean Suppers), and I was surprised to learn that several of our group had never been to one before. I could understand this of the cousins from the west coast, but not my cousin Allen (Snooky) from Massachusetts or my cousin Adrienne from Maine.
Their reaction was typical of many who are strangers to bean suppers, like some house guests that we had from Utah a couple of years ago:
Before we all descended on the unsuspecting church, I gave Snooky and Adrienne a quick orientation on bean supper etiquette. "We all sit down and are fed family style. They will be feeding us a couple of kinds of baked beans, cole slaw, brown bread and rolls, relish, and probably a couple kinds of hot dogs. If we're lucky there will be mashed potatoes or American chop suey as well. Everything will be served in big bowls and platters, so take what you want and pass the dishes along to the rest of the table. If a dish is empty, let one of the servers know and it will be refilled." I said.
"Don't be surprised by the hot dogs. A favorite Maine treat is the "red dog", a hot dog in a natural casing that is colored a bright red. They are my favorite - try one!" I suggested.
The church basement was packed, and we had to wait a bit before some of the first sitting finished eating and seats were available. On the way in I met Vera Foss, a Hancock native who lives on Hancock Point Road and who was the secretary of the Riverside Cemetary Association when Penny and I bought our cemetery plot there back in 1986 (see A Day in the Cemetary at last year's reunion journal). We usually drop in to say hello to Vera on our fall trips to Hancock, but hadn't found her at home this time. It was a delight to see her again.
Snooky soon discovered red dogs, and gamely tried them while his wife Donna and cousin David look on, bemused. We were sitting at a long table next to the kitchen, so getting dishes refilled was not a problem.
"Don't forget about dessert" I suggested to Adrienne. "The dessert table is over by the door, and it is perfectly proper to get your pie early, while all the preferred flavors are still available."
I got this picture of her caught in the act of trying to decide which kind of pie to take. In the end, she took two kinds, muttering a lame excuse that one of them was going to be for Fred and only one for her. I just nodded my head, completely believing everything she said. She is my cousin, after all!
After filling ourselves at the supper, a number of us went back to the Crocker House for brandy and conversation. On the way, Emery and Roberta wanted to stop by the cottage at the end of Hancock Point that they had rented several years before. We were rewarded by a wonderful sunset over Frenchman Bay and the islands of the bay from the shoreline.
Robin Kingsbury was back at the piano in the parlor entertaining guests, as usual. Robin has been a delightful fixture at the Crocker House for several years that I know of, and makes for a wonderful close to the evening. We discovered that she used to play piano and sing at the Rustic Barrel, a Sebago restaurant.
This was a perfect end to a perfect day. In the unhurried atmosphere at the Crocker House we had a chance to socialize and learn a little more about each other and our respective family histories.
At the reunion in 2001 there was interest in taking a boat trip in Frenchman's Bay. I contacted Captain Winston Shaw of the Sea Venture Custom Boat Tours in Bar Harbor during the summer. He came well recommended for his seamanship and his knowledge of local history. Scott is an experienced naturalist active with the Coastal Maine Bald Eagle Project and knows the waters of Frenchman Bay and its rivers and islands like the back of his hand.
"Can you take some Crabtree relations on the Sea Venture this fall?" I asked. "We're having our reunion over Columbus Day weekend and some of us would like to see Hancock Point from the Bay. We also like to go up the Skillings River to Hills Island where Agreen used to have his sawmill and trading post. Will you still be operating into the fall? Can you take care of us?"
Captain Scott sent me back an e-mail "When I saw your name on the e-mail in my Inbox I immediately thought of Crabtree Ledge Lighthouse off Hancock Point. Imagine my surprise when I opened your message and discovered that you were a member of the actual Crabtree family after whom the light was named!" He continued "As someone with a long-time interest in the history of Frenchman Bay I would certainly look forward to providing your group with the tours outlined in your e-mail. It's not often that I get to have folks aboard who have an active intrest in area history and it would be a real treat for me."
He and I made arrangements for the Sea Venture to pick us up at the Hancock Point pier on Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. The day dawned grey with a hint of rain. I called Captain Scott to check on the weather and the seas, but he felt that things would be OK, and said to meet him as planned. Five of us (Liz and Bill, Howard and Barbara, and I) gathered at the pier and watched his boat approach from Bar Harbor.
The seas were calm and the day delightful as we motored around the Point. Captain Scott pointed out various homes and cottages along the way, and Liz added anecdotes of her own from her childhood when she played at the shore and stayed in some of the cottages.
Along the way Captain Scott pointed out some lobster pounds where lobsters are stored after capture, awaiting shipment to market. I'd seen lobster "cars" in harbors before. These are big floating cages that the lobstermen dump their catch into. But I'd never seen the much larger lobster pounds like these on the Skillings River. These impoundments were created by building a dam across a small embayment to create a pond. It would be interesting to see one of these operations up close.
We saw a harbor seal bobbing its head near the boat in the river as we passed it. As we approached the head of navigation during low tide of the Skillings River we saw a bald eagle sitting on the top of a large white pine. Because of the mud bars we were not able to get up to the site where Agreen had built his trading post/fort, nor to Hills Island where he had his saw mill (see Searching for Agreen's Fort II in the 2002 reunion journal). We were able to get close enough to see these well enough to get a good view, however. I can see why Agreen chose to locate his lumber and trading business here - good deep water at high tide and a large difference in water levels between high and low tide to power a tidal-powered saw mill.
Our journey back down the river was decorated with vivid fall colors on each bank. Rounding the Point the boat was exposed to the open waters of Frenchman Bay and we picked up a little spray. We were able to arrive safely back at the Hancock Point pier before the seas got any rougher, or we got really wet, however. The trip was fun, and Captain Scott said that he would be happy to offer the same excursion if folks wanted to schedule it for next year.
In the material that I sent out to the Crabtree Clan announcing the reunion I suggested that we might look for the site of Agreen's original cemetery. Agreen and his family were buried in a family cemetery on their Hancock Point farm. The family land was subsequently sold for development of other houses and the original cemetery site is now located right next to the Crocker House.
Agreen died in 1808 at the age of 64 years. His second wife Mary died in 1829 at the age of 87 years. Several other family members were buried with Agreen and his wife at this little family plot.
In 1885 the Riverside Cemetery was established, and most of the graves in private plots were relocated to the new cemetery. Monuments and stones were erected identifying where each person was buried. Folk lore has it, however, that in many cases the actual bodies were not reinterred. Only the stone and a shovel of earth from the grave were moved. The original remains were left to moulder where they were, but with no markers or headstones.
I had suggested to the group that some who were up to braving the puckerbrush and mosquitoes might see if we could locate Agreen's original graveyard. When I mentioned this to Lois, she quite properly made this observation:
Lois had pointed out the general area for the graveyard while we were on the walking tour on Saturday afternoon. She also had advised us that the graveyard did not have any stone walls or fenced boundaries to distinguish it. The only thing that we might see would be shallow depressions from where the wooden caskets had settled at each grave site.
As it turned out, our schedule was so full of activities that we just ran out of time. Also, I had been unable to borrow a metal detector for the expedition, and I had left my shovels and pickaxes at home.
So, poorly equipped but curious of heart, I was able to interest my brother Emery in a short sojourn into the brush on Sunday afternoon. We plunged into the thick alders and spruces that grow like a jungle up to the Crocker House south boundary and started looking for any depressions in the ground that might suggest old graves. The ground was criss-crossed with large spruce tree roots, fallen trees, and thick brush. Over the years this back section of house lot had accumulated an interesting assortment of old bottles, cans, and trash. It was like walking through a 19th century midden looking for a needle!
Finally, I stumbled across a valuable find! Postive proof that we were in the right area for Agreen's graveyard. Half buried under leaf litter was a rusty, bent license plate. From the date on it, it is probably one that Agreen used on his automobile when he was working his farm here in the 16th century. You can just barely make out the date in the lower right corner of the plate - I think it says 1795 or something like that. I am hopeful that the Hancock Historical Society will recognize this as the priceless piece of Hancock Point history that it is and properly display it at the museum!
Well, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration. But Agreen's graveyard could still be out there somewhere, awaiting one of his descendents to locate it and give it the recognition that it deserves. Perhaps in a future year we will mount a proper expedition.
I asked everyone at the luncheon on Saturday if they wanted to get together next fall for another reunion. I offered the option of skipping a year if people wanted to do so. There was overwhelming interest in having a reunion next year, at about the same time. The Columbus Day weekend worked well for people, and gave them an extra day to travel. They were also very pleased with the quality of the food from the Crocker House, and wouldn't mind sampling Rich's cooking again.
Over the course of the weekend I had heard suggestions about activities that the group might be interested in doing, and locations for the reunion luncheon. So this is what I'll see if I can arrange.
Let us plan on having our luncheon on Saturday, October 11, 2003, Columbus Day weekend. For a little variety, how about if this year we do it as a catered picnic lunch? I talked with Rich from the Crocker House and he said that he could prepare a gourmet picnic for about the same price as our luncheon this year.
If I can make reservations, I am proposing that we picnic at the Frenchman Bay Conservancy picnic area at the Sullivan-Hancock Tidal Falls on the Taunton River. If the weather is warm and sunny, there are picnic tables on the grass overlooking the river. If the weather is a bit cold and wet, the Conservancy has a glassed-in picnic building that is big enough for the group to take refuge in. Just behind the picnic area is a small lobster pound that operates in season.
As part of our reunion activities, I will also try and arrange a visit to a working lobster pound in the area. If they will agree to stay open into Octover, we may also be able to include a visit to the Deer Island granite museum that highlights the history of the stone quarries and granite works that used to be abundant in this area.
So, keep in touch. Whatever we end up doing at next year's reunion of the Crabtree Clan will add to a further appreciation of our ancestors. We are, to one degree or another, a reflection of all our family ancestors who have gone before. The more we learn of them, the more we learn of ourselves.
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Last updated December 1, 2002
Copyright © 2002, Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2002, Allen Crabtree