Author Archives: kevinsfreeman

The Outer Commons and the Alexander Thompson Homestead

Kevin Freeman and Ronald Nowell

Mount Agamenticus in York, Maine, is rich in history. Not only does it serve as a landmark for mariners past and present but it was once inhabited by York’s early residents. The forefathers of the Town decided to sell parcels of this area to York residents who were over twenty one years of age and willing to pay the cost of administration. The dividing and selling was documented in a book titled the Book of Proprietors that is currently kept at the York Town Hall.

Today, it is difficult to imagine the attraction for early settlers in this area and yet, without a doubt, owning a piece of the Outer Commons elevated a persons social status, among other things. We assume that a lot of these shares were bought and sold for profit. But many of these lots were inhabited by families whose names are significant in York History. Among the families in this area listed on the highway tax maps for 1831 are Ramsdell, Welch, Fitzgerald, Lewis, Thompson, Dixon, Jellison and others. 

In the spring of 2022, with Ron serving as a guide, we began extensive hikes in the First (Mount Agamenticus), Second and Third Hill area. Ron’s knowledge of botany, landmarks, monuments and history around the mountain is exceptional. Ron noted numerous points of interest and we discovered some new ones. Eventually we both became guided by curiosity as one discovery led to another. From caves that we walked through, to spring holes, to old foundations, to a mammoth White Pine tree, to burial sites that could have easily been passed by – it all became a wonder and puzzle. 

Our curiosity took us to land surveys and old deeds in a mission to find out more about those who lived there and why. Ron pointed out some unusually substantial stonewalls on the Northwest side of Second Hill. We instinctively began to follow them down hill. Ron had a survey plan titled, Plan of Lands of Alex.Thompson’s Lying on the North West Side of the Middle Agamenticus Hill Including Abram Thompson place and other Lands, 1874, in original possession of Carroll Trafton. Initially, regardless of orientation the plan made little sense. One feature on the plan compelled us both to discover more—an unusual shaped stonewall near an “old barn yard.”

In contrast to rough terrain found elsewhere on the mountain, the land was much more flat with a gentle slope. It was uncharacteristic of a first or second growth forest, rather it was smooth, perhaps made so by plowing. There are numerous piles of stones, varying from ten to fifteen feet in diameter and several feet high serving as collection sites when the fields were picked clean of rocks. Some of these piles are very close to the stonewalls. One wonders how it was decided for some of the rocks to have been turned into stonewalls rather than piles. 

The area was too vast to be conclusive about how to find the exact location of the barn yard, though we tried during one afternoon of exhaustive hiking. A few days later Kevin hiked out to the area with a GPS trail mapping app on his phone and walked along the stonewalls creating a graphic route that was nearly identical to the stonewalls on the property plan. Ron was called and we met at the Cedar Trail head. After reaching our destination we also discovered a cellar hole for a home, At the deepest point the cellar hole was about 8 feet from top to bottom and made us more curious. Shortly thereafter, we pinpointed the location of a barn and an out building.

According to the survey plans we were at the Thompson homestead. Checking deeds at the York County Registry of Deeds further confirmed our assumption. Book 140, Page 221, dated September 21, 1831, describes brothers Abraham and Isaac Thompson dividing the property previously owned by their father, “Alexander Thompson late of York, deceased, the land lying a little bit to the North of Agamenticus.”

The deed describes marked trees, bearings and rods to secure boundaries. Most curiously the deed states, “said Abraham is to have the old barn and the south room in the house, or one half of the house and the said Isaac to have the new barn and the north part of the house as far as one room extends, and the said Abraham gives Isaac nine months from this date to occupy his part of the house, and take it off from his land; and both parties agree that there shall be a privilege for each party to pass and repass from their premises…”

We spent some time conversing about the significance of such an operation way out here in the woods. Though there were some neighbors on the mountain, unlike the community of York Village, the homes were spread far apart, evoking a feeling of isolation. The paths were steep and rough. Transportation would have been by foot or a springless horse or ox cart with steel rimmed wheels. Sheep farming became a craze with the introduction of Marino sheep in 1802 and at great cost to New England forests. The endless stonewalls that we see today were created to contain the lucrative commodity. We speculated that sheep farming would have provided enough income to support this homestead.

In many families the given names of members are repeated for many generations, Alexander Thompson is no exception. William Thompson was living in Kittery when he died at 43 years of age in 1676. George Ernst wrote that William’s younger children, one being Alexander (1671-1720), were left to the Selectmen of Kittery to provide for. Ernst speculates the children went to various families and their names may have became that of their foster parents, confusing a clear genealogy. None-the-less, we see that the above Alexander had two sons, referred to in the above noted deed as Isaac and Abraham.

We are unclear as to the progression of who owned exactly what but have begun to unravel a web of information that inspires us to look farther. Ron is quite sure there were Abrams as well as Abrahams in this area though a survey report done for Land For Maine’s Future by Titcomb Associates refers to Abraham as “aka Abram.”

We have found at least three recorded tracts of land owned by Thomson family members on the North side of Mount Agamenticus. 

  1. York County Registry of Deeds, Book 43, Page 182, February 28, 1775

Joseph Linscot to Joseph and Curtis Thompson for about 55 acres, 13 acres and one

third of an acre.

2. York County Registry of Deeds, Book 42, Page 110, August 1, 1772

James Junkins to Alexander Thompson containing eight shares of lot one in the fourth

range.

3. York County Registry of Deeds, Book 58, Page 30A, November 29, 1781

James Junkins sells remaining shares of lot one in the fourth range to Alexander Thompson.

The plan of the Outer Commons copied by Angevine Gowen from Daniel Sewall, W. Junkins Survey Map of 1874 and a York Town Map are included as attachments to this document.

It may be of interest for the reader to notice the contrast of the rectilinear format of the division of the Outer Commons versus the wandering boundaries in the Junkins Survey.  

Trail to Thompson property from Mountain Road

 

W. Junkins survey map of Alexander Thompson property
Outer Commons, York, Maine
Town of York, Maine, map

First Winter Snow Storm

Over the past several years the weather has been noticeably warm for winter, here in Maine. I cannot discount the idea that we are moving to a point of no return. With wild weather fluctuations and unprecedented natural disasters it would be impossible not to conclude that we will face a reckoning in the near future. Global warming is all around us and yet we are indignant to change our way of life, even if it could save humanity. It is as if we have no incentive to stop plundering the Earth’s resources and evidently we are more determined than ever to carry on as usual.

Today, I took my camera along for my morning walk. My routine has been to walk two to three miles on flat ground with occasional exceptions. The exceptions are walking through the woods, aimlessly. By aimless I mean just walking where my whim takes me, with the idea of arriving home at some point. When I woke this morning and looked out the window, my compulsion was to get outside where the fresh five inches of snow had rendered everything bright, brilliant and beautiful. It was about 10°F which creates an extra crisp light.

What I enjoy most about walking through the woods with my camera is the freedom of choices, movement, composition, to click the shutter or not to click. Foremost, I am witness to the incredible display nature is offering. It is mine and it is the most magical exhibit I have ever known. I need only to open my mind and let my eyes lead the way. I don’t know how to express this wonder but make humble attempts, realizing the very act is a compromise. My favorite places to walk are the woods with views of trees, the ground and the sky. I love to turn around and look behind where often the best magic takes place. But as soon as I reach for my camera something else happens. My mind transforms to conventions, to composition and framing the image. This process is a departure from pure observation. I don’t mind this process as it is an attempt to respond to a call to action. I feel a necessity to capture a facsimile of what I am experiencing and bear witness to the inspiration I perceive. Immediately after the shutter clicks I know I have failed at an attempt to capture the exhilaration I feel from my communion with nature. But a photograph conveys something quite different and at best offers the viewer a shared moment, an offering of consideration and perhaps evoking the viewer’s imagination to participate in a semblance that initially inspired the shutter to click.

Walking in the Morning

Witch Hazel and Winterberries

Most mornings I have been walking two or more miles. I like walking the same route and reenforcing the places of most interest and always looking between to see what I am missing. December is making way for January, yet we have had no cold weather, at least not what I would expect when I cut the season’s firewood. I bring along my Nikon some days and have been pushing the limits of my iPhone 13 pro max. The iPhone is unquestionably amazing but goes after contrast to sharpen the image, dark grays, specifically and more than I like.

The photo above was taken with my Nikon D800. The full size images look amazing on the computer screen. I make small adjustments in light room to try to bring back the same feel as when I click the shutter.

First Snow

Here in Southern Maine we have received our first significant snowstorm. We have about ten inches of snow, currently. A very light and fluffy whiteness that permeates the landscape.

shiitake mushroom
Shiitake mushroom in snow.

I have left this mushroom to mature and follow its natural life cycle, rather than interrupt the natural process, for the other natural process of consumption.

We are moving closer to Christmas and all that it implies. With COVID19 this year we don’t expect company for Christmas. Our three kids are grown and live in Boston, near LA and one literally rambles all over the country in a semi truck. We do not see them much when there is no pandemic and seeing them now is down to zero.

I have 3 piles of logs on which I grown shiitake mushrooms. This past summer there was one massive bloom and a second one, later in the fall, after immense rain. I don’t try to control the fruiting but let it occur naturally. Each year I cut about 20 four foot long logs, about 6-9 inches in diameter and inoculate the logs by drilling 5/16 holes and tapping plugs that have been inoculated, into the holes at about 6 inches apart in all directions.

I purchase the plugs at Northspore, a Maine company in Westbook. Each pile has slightly different shiitakes. Some are more favorable that others. The process works well. I typically wait to just before the sap flows to cut the logs. I have used beech, red oak and silver maple (swamp maple). They all seem to work well, though the red oak is the most dense and I suspect would have the larger yield.

Mouse Attack

I currently have the benefit of having lived 60 years. I also have accumulation of stuff, as witness and compounded during this lifetime. Yikes, a lot of stuff. The possessions I question most are the tangible testimony of my attempts at making art. I view it as a problem mostly. The process of creating is where it all happens, and then we have this stuff left over.

I have never approached art as a commercial venture. Rather a process of self discovery and the process works in parallel with my spiritual journey. Both expanding and contracting according to the laws of the universe.

My painting studio is very small. It is a stand alone building, created in the 1980’s. I built it and still need to put a board, shingle or something here and there to call it complete, but that is another story. A few days ago I had a compulsion to open a plastic bin which contained drawings from a particularly productive period in regards to drawing. Once the top was lifted, a mouse looked up at me with big black eyes. She didn’t have enough spring to jump out, so I assisted her with a stick. As she kept leaping upward, I caught her with a stick an propelled her out, onto the floor and into hiding.

Collage created in 1985 by Kevin Freeman
Collage 1985

After examining the content it was clear she has built a nest in the box of drawings. At first I was very disappointed to see so much shredded content. I put some gloves on and began removing the nest, comprised of canvas and paper, the work I had imagined was safe. Quickly, I uncovered two infant mice, hairless with rapid heartbeats. They were too small to move, helpless. Two thoughts entered my mind at once. Watching my friend Brad Webber killing mice in his his garden with a spade shovel and how carefully the Dali Lama described excavating ground for a monastery. The monks refused to step on an insect.

I needed a break, so decided to go into the house and make some tea. I conferred with my wife Sandra. Either of us are fans of mice. But I couldn’t go kill them, somehow. So I went back into the studio and made a makeshift nest for them from the materials I removed from the box of drawings. I also set a mouse trap under the wood stove which was the most difficult thing to come to terms with.

Feeling good and bad, I proceeded with my intention of rediscovering the box of drawings. There was much shredded material which included the edges of many drawings. The drawings were laid one upon another and at first the damage seemed significant. I pulled them all out and onto the floor. I cleaned out the plastic tub and began putting them back, one drawing at a time. The drawings that were dated were either 1984 or 1985. Many were not dated or signed. The ones I thought were worthy I scribbled my initials on the backs of.

Self Portrait, collage, 1885

The damage to the contents of the plastic bin wasn’t as severe as it originally appeared. The mouse had collected much material from other places and it looked like, brought them into the bin. As I looked at each drawing, some were very familiar and some I did not recognize. These drawing were the result of a process that had occurred about 35 years ago. They weren’t so much different from the results of my process today. In fact, some of the drawings that were damaged by the mice, I put in a pile and look forward to reworking them into collages, maybe like the ones seen here.

collage 1985, Kevin Freeman
Collage 1985

This discovery of the mice and the vulnerability of my drawings has caused me to wonder about further detachment from objects. After all, what benefit do these things provide hidden away in boxes? Yes, they provide the opportunity for mice and I do admit, I derived satisfaction from revisiting this time in my life. One or two years out of art school, living isolated in the woods, Sandra and I having no idea what today would look like back then.

Drawing in the woods

Sketch on location, September 25, 2020

I received four drawing pads yesterday. I ordered them online. It took longer than expected for them to arrive and two of six didn’t arrive. I am happy as I have nearly exhausted my paper supply. I also ordered and received a quart of Higgins waterproof ink. The pads that I received from Dick Blick are 12″ x 18″ and 14″ x 17″.

The above drawing is the first page of a twenty four page pad. The most difficult decision was picking a spot to draw. There are so many, where I live. I just walk out the door and in all directions are my favorite places to draw. Today, I let my intuition guide me until I have walked far enough. I set up with my make shift camera tripod, portable drawing table.

Being in the woods during an extraordinary fall day is special in itself. When I take a drawing pad with me, I find instant fulfillment. Feeling blessed to be experiencing the remarkable bounty of nature, inspiration is abundant. So, how does one come to terms with drawing in the complex woods?

I kept reminding myself that I cannot be too serious. I must follow my instincts while contemplating all the choices before me. What value, what brush, what to look at, what is calling my attention and what am I missing. With all these questions running though my head, I eventually settle down and slowly forget there are any questions and begin responding to the scene in front of me. As I move through time, I relax and try to make the sketch pad and the scene it represents related in some aspects.

Making the drawing look like the scene is just too big of a task. It is the beauty that I am responding to and bearing witness is my intent. I do this with black ink and white paper, a little water and some old brushes that could use replacing. This is all OK with me. Each brushstroke brings a different type of emotion. I often feel that I have wrecked the whole thing and suddenly it comes back and so it goes to a point where one just decides enough is enough.

I really enjoy making these woods drawings. Today, I took short breaks and wandered around a bit as the ink dried. I saw so many other places where I could set up, that were so inspiring. In my mind I played out how I would begin, what are the big shapes, how to organize the composition. But most of all, just looking, slowing down enough to be receptive to what is before me and being grateful for the opportunity to be in my favorite place, the woods, is always the most wonderful part.

Process

Painting is a process. I wonder if anything can be considered finished. Each time I go into the studio, something is left behind. Something for me to contemplate the next time I go in. I love this process. I have the privilege to never be concerned with finishing anything.

This painting will be seen on this website in various states. This is the most current state. It is currently titled, Upon Arrival. It is oil on canvas, currently un-stretched, 32″ x 26″.

Upon Arrival, oil on canvas, 32″x26″

September Bliss

The air is sublime. 70ºF. Southern Maine coastal area. Blue sky. Post summer day.

I have been working occasionally in my studio. The paintings in progress are without a frame. I have not stretched them but have unrolled canvas, gessoed the surface with three coats and begun painting.

The painting below encourages me to consider the title, “no place special.” It is 32″x 26″. However, I think, for now, it will be titled, “Upon Arrival.”

Upon Arrival, oil painting on canvas
“Upon Arrival,” oil on canvas, 32″ x 26″

Quick Comes Night

I have worked on this painting for many months. I think it is now teetering on being finished. Time will tell, but here it is.

oil painting, yellow, green, gray and cool tones
Quickly Comes Night 28″ x 22″ oil on canvas

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I stumbled upon this video of David Shrigley on YouTube. I liked it and am sharing.

Hot Summer or Story of a King

I don’t usually title paintings. But this just came to me as I was working on it. Maybe it isn’t even finished. It is difficult to know. I just arrived here on a perfect summer day. Unexpectedly.

Oil Paintings
“On a Hot Summer day, or the Story of a King,” 32″ x 28″ oil on canvas

I currently have several greenish paintings in progress. This one sort of stood up and said, “hey, you! over here, I need some work.” So, I relented. I thought of my many fine friends while trying to clear my thoughts as I worked. At the same time welcoming everything. Working opposites and conceding to order. Painting is a process of liberation at its best, for me.