Blue Hill History
The French and Indian War was coming to a close. The burgeoning population growth in southern New England spurred eastward and westward migration. A rash of forest fires in lower New Hampshire stimulated eastward exploration for timber, despite frontier dangers of a harsh winter climate and wild animals.
In 1762, Blue Hill’s two founders, John Roundy and Joseph Wood, sailed up Penobscot Bay and disembarked on Mill Island, next to Blue Hill’s now-famous Reversing Falls. After building log cabins, Roundy and Wood returned to their homes in Massachusetts to spend the first winter, but returned with their families the following year and settled permanently in Blue Hill.
Soon other families came, and the conditions of the six-mile-square land grant for a township were met: sixty homes exceeding minimum size, each with five acres of cleared land, a Protestant church and minister, land for a local school, and another share of land for the use of Harvard College, which had already been founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Names of early settlers included Darling, Parker, Osgood, Peters, Holt, Candage, Day, Hinckley, Horton, Carleton, Friend, Dodge, and Clough.
The original name of the area was Plantation No. 5, but by 1778, the township became Bluehill, later spelled Blue Hill. While the original settlement was at Blue Hill Falls, the center of the village eventually formed at the head of the inner harbor, its present location.
The First Congregational Church was formed in 1772. It was the first to be organized east of Penobscot Bay. The new meeting house was situated on the north side of Main Street at the top of Tenney Hill. John Peters presented a Paul Revere bell, and Reuben Dodge provided the wherewithal to build a tower to accommodate it. Unfortunately, the entire structure burned to the ground in 1842. The present Congregational Church, half way down the hill on the south side of Main Street, was built by Thomas Lord in 1843.
In 1805, Reverend Daniel Merrill organized the Baptist Church. Its building, begun in 1817 and remodeled in 1856 by Thomas Lord, still stands on Pleasant Street.
In 1794, Reverend Jonathan Fisher, a graduate of Harvard College and the town’s first settled minister, began his forty-three year pastorate at the First Congregational Church. Both Lord and Fisher are now regarded as local figures of wider historical significance. Thomas Lord designed and built a number churches and houses in the area whose building styles typified the American architecture of that era and many still line the streets of the town. Reverend Fisher, whose primary duty was as a country parson, was also an artist, scientist, mathematician, surveyor, and writer of prose and poetry. He bound his own books, designed and built furniture, built his own home and raised a large family. The Johnathan Fisher House still stands, and is a Historic House Museum.
A village of elm tree-shaded streets and Federal style clapboard houses grew up around the two churches. Lumber mills at multiple sites on the shore milled timber from neighboring hills. Immediately adjacent to nearly every sawmill, a boatyard appeared. During the first half of the nineteenth century more than 130 ocean-going sailing vessels were built in Blue Hill, Blue Hill Falls and East Blue Hill. Most were schooners and brigs for the coastal trade, but some were full-rigged ships and barks that ventured farther on the world’s oceans.
In this era, the town’s economy was supported by shipowners, shipbuilders and peripheral occupations such as fishing, farming, merchant businesses, millers, craftsmen, and blacksmiths. Laws of cabotage supported coastal trade, but the Civil War closed the market for ships, and Confederate raiders were apt to seize and burn Northern wooden merchant vessels. Technology was also advancing. Steam-powered vessels with steel hulls were being built. Thus the wooden shipbuilding boom in Blue Hill had virtually ended by 1865. A local author, Mary Ellen Chase, described the post-Civil War economic slide of coastal towns like Blue Hill in her novels “Mary Peters” and “Silas Crockett.”
A vein of granite, coursing along the northern shore of Blue Hill Harbor and extending out of Wood Point and down the length of Long Island, had been yielding premium building material for some time. A new industry emerged. Wharves were built to ship out huge granite blocks, columns, and paving bricks to cities along the Eastern Seaboard and beyond. Blue Hill granite, quarried by Darlings, Hinckleys, Chases, Slavens and Collinses, was used to build churches and bridges in New York, public buildings in Washington and Pittsburgh, and streets in New Orleans.
In 1876, copper mines began to open along the shore, and westward along the present Mines Road. “Blue Hill Copper” and “The Douglass” were among the earliest and largest mines. Western engineers and workers flooded into Blue Hill. Speculation went wild. A central boarding house was enlarged, and it was named the “Copper and Gold Exchange.” But the mining boom subsided almost as quickly as it started. By 1881, only six of thirty-nine companies continued to operate.
As the nineteenth century closed, steamships were no longer carrying out copper. Instead, they were bringing in “rusticators” – or summer vacationers. For those that could afford it, families fled from the anticipated epidemics of tuberculosis and poliomyelitis in hot cities to the cool breezes of coastal Maine.
In 1881, Captain Oscar Crockett opened a steamboat service from the railhead at Rockland to Blue Hill. A summer colony formed on Parker Point. The Blue Hill Inn flourished at the top of Tenney Hill. The season was enlivened by gala events, music recitals and sailing excursions. Summer happenings continue to this day at Kneisel Hall and Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club.
During the twentieth century, railroad connections, and then the automobile, made Blue Hill more accessible. The summer stream of visitors continued unabated. A growing segment of people from away became year-round residents as they retired or fled the strain of high energy careers in congested cities. The descendants of shipbuilders were building imposing homes and servicing large yachts. Today, both natives and newcomers continue to contribute to the town’s historic library, its hospital, its cultural institutions, its schools and parks.
R.G.F. Candage, a Blue Hill-bred nineteenth century clipper ship captain, described the attractiveness of his town, with “the charm of its situation, its sparkling bay, its inlets, its shores, its landscapes of hill and dale and plain….” The challenge for the Blue Hill community is to maintain the historic beauty and character of the town in the face of an increasing population.
For additional information on Blue Hill’s history, visit the Blue Hill Historical Society’s Holt House historic house museum, and view a digitial archive of over 225 images of early Blue Hill photographs and artifacts at The Maine Historical Society’s Maine Memory Network at mainememory.net.
Much of the text was sourced from Clough, A: “Head of the Bay”, available for purchase from the Blue Hill Historical Society.
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