Category Archives: York, Maine

Ron Nowell at Bell Marsh Reservoir

Kingsbury Lane, Linscott Road and Old Bell Marsh Road

September 1, 2022

Weather wise, the first day of September could not have been more beautiful. I met Ron Nowell on Kingsbury Lane, off Route 91 in the Scotland area of York, Maine. We parked our vehicles in a designated parking space directly across from the Kingsbury House and adjacent to two concrete posts with very bold stop signs anchored atop.

Ron Nowell and myself on Kingsbury Lane across from Kingsbury House and gateway to the Kittery Water District.

It was Ron’s intention to guide us to School House Number 7 with many points of interest along the way. The signs said cars were not permitted beyond the stop signs so we began walking up the Lane. This is the tenth walk I have taken with Ron since this past spring. We began on Third Hill, then Second Hill, First Hill, Ramsdell Marsh, and off onto the Horse Hills. We have been looking for many things but often discovering more than we planned on and sometimes coming up empty with what we intended to see. It has all been a great experience for me. Ron is unusually knowledgeable about so many things including botany that I have considered these hikes a real privilege. Yesterday we hiked much further than we intended and because of the loops it was challenging to keep our direction certain.

8 mile hike from Kingsbury Lane to Bell Marsh Reservoir and back (delineated in blue).

I have found the history of this area of York intriguing and consuming. Early in York’s history the town decided the Northeast area of York would be suitable for expansion and offered the mostly vacant land to the earliest and newest arrivals with the idea of development. Those here first were eligible for 8 shares, newcomers were more likely to receive less. The names for these areas were the Outer and Inner Commons, Stated Commons and ”The Thousand Acres.” From the early 18th Century these parcels were divided and sold and used by their owners for a variety of things but mostly agriculture. The designated lots were actually picked from a hat in order to avoid the possibility of favoritism. Although today there is evidence of habitation left by graveyards and cellar holes one gets the feeling living here was more challenging than the more coastal area of town.

Ron and I proceeded down the ancient trails that are in some places rutted due to heavy traffic by four wheelers. We began searching for a Junkins Graveyard that we did not find but did find two cellar holes with very large stones. Both were from the Junkins family, the second built by Daniel Junkins. This cellar hole was the largest I have seen in this area and is visible and easily accessible from the trail. As we approached the cellar hole my eyes began to widen. Taking in the mammoth stones and where they were placed seemed impossible, especially as I reflected on the methods available to these early settlers of York.

Ron Nowell on foundation of Daniel Junkins home
Ron Nowell atop the chimney foundation at the Daniel Junkins cellar hole.
The red arrow indicates location of Daniel Junkins house, later occupied by J. Day (click on map to enlarge)

The Scottish families that came to this area from 1657 to 1671, included the Maxwells, MacIntires, Junkins and Grants among others (Banks, Volume 1, page 209). They had been captured by the English during Cromwell’s war with Scotland, taken prisoner, sent to the New World and sold as indentured servants. They eventually made their way to York where they raised large families and prospered. As evidenced by what these families left behind, they brought the craft of stone masonry from Scotland. They needed not bring stones for their craft, for there were plenty. The large stones were quarried very close to where they were placed and have rested steady for numerous generations. Some have drill marks indicating they were split with feathers and wedges, others may have been naturally squared. All were placed with great care ensuring longevity.

Daniel Junkins family graveyard

Moving on, Ron took us to a Junkins family graveyard a few hundred yards from the cellar hole. Daniel and his wife Hannah rest prominently with other family members nearby. This couple both lived to their mid seventies. Ron and I discussed how what would appear to be such a physically demanding life could lead to such a long life. We had no answer and moved onward.

At some point Kingsbury Lane turns into Linscott Road and after making a large loop we came out of the woods and walked along Linscott for about a half mile. We were looking for Old Bell Marsh Road and Ron thought we could access it by an old right of way that was created to give better access to the Stated Commons. Ron referred to this road as the back road to the Stated Commons. Although it varied in width, without measuring it was about fifty feet wide and had an ambitious stonewall on each side. In fact, on the Westerly side the wall exceed four feet in width. We walked directly up the middle to a point where Ron observed we had entered the Stated Commons.

As I said previously, our objective was to find Schoolhouse number 7 but we were far away. In fact, little did we know that we also had a water feature between us and the old schoolhouse. It is named the Bell Marsh Reservoir. As we came upon it the skies opened up and there was a terrific breeze blowing cool and steady in our faces from across the water on an ideal 80°F summer day. We began to walk along the Easterly side of the spongy shore line. The beauty of the view is much enhanced by the absence of homes or other man made features, except for a dam. As we walk along, both Ron and I are constantly scanning the woods for anything unnatural, we also look for orchids and plants that may or may not belong. Sadly, the Eastern hemlock trees that are prey to the parasitic woolly adelgid. Most of the hemlock groves feel sickly making a noticeable lack of canopy. Other places are lush and green. We pass over the changing landscape, pleased by the fresh breeze or smell of sweet fern as we approach a sunny opening. We exchange observations, take mental notes, feel the Earth on the soles of our shoes that become heavier with each step and yet we are inspired by curiosity and of what might be just ahead — determined not to miss it.

Of course we cannot possibly know everything, we cannot cover all of this land, at least not today. Who knows what is hidden beyond the trails but often that is the best place to look. It is perhaps where we will find the illusive small whorled pogonia. The little orchid is an Indian cucumber root look alike in many ways. We have seen plenty of those. It feels like a miracle to be amongst so much nature in a place that people once tried to develop. Their failure has provided great benefit to future generations. Much of this land is preserved by organizations that work to keep the land natural and undeveloped. As we walk, I have never been more grateful to be the beneficiary of public access, it is invaluable.

Aided with two old maps and a cell phone I often check the phone using a gps app called Gaia. I have been recording our walk and our route shows up crystal clear on the screen of the phone. I can see we are still well over a mile from Schoolhouse Number 7. I suggest to Ron that we cut away from the shoreline and begin bush whacking. I see a shard of blue plastic on the edge of the shore in the tree line and walk toward it not knowing what to expect. As I get closer it looks like a broken piece of a plastic drum. I pick it up and put it in my pack and as I do I see a trail in the woods and instinctively move toward it exclaiming the discovery to Ron. We break through the underbrush and onto the trail. As we look to our left we see the road leads right into the reservoir in the same way a boat ramp would. We realize this was the road that we have been looking for and when they flooded the reservoir they submerged this portion of the road. There are two family cemeteries that may have been submerged during the flooding of the reservoir, the Shaw family and the Nowell family. They were in the vicinity of the school house and we are hopeful they still exist above water. We can look across the water to the opposite shore and see where the old road may rise up from the depths. I look back at my phone and realize there is a large unseen bay that we would need to skirt around to get over to the point of a reemerging road.

Old Bell Marsh Road leading to Schoolhouse number 7

As we walked, Ron told me that George Chapman, Jr., who passed away at 97 years in March 2022, had attended Schoolhouse Number 7. He grew up on Linscott Road and most likely walked along Old Bell Marsh Road as a means to receive his education. This really helped me to put things in perspective. This area is currently void of inhabitants but previously supported a school, tiny no doubt but in my imagination I can’t help seeing children on the trail going to and from the school. Like the small whorled pogonia, for now Schoolhouse Number 7 remains a mystery to me. Ron and I decide not to keep going forward as it nears four o’clock p.m. and we have a long hike out of the woods. My lower legs and feet feel the weight of the day. Hiking on trails, through the pathless woods and along the rocky edges of Bell Marsh Reservoir have tired me out. Ron says he can’t wait to get back to his truck, sit, read his paper and drink some coffee. We turn around leaving the schoolhouse for another day. We attempt to return the same way we came but it proves illogical.

As we are hoping to come out of the woods on Linscott Road, I am reminded of a photo that was taken of me standing at the Garey Dam. I believe Rick Foster took the photo when we were working on a stone foundation and fireplace for a new home on Geary Lane off Bell Marsh Road.

Author standing in front of Garey Mill around 1982

Today, these mill stones are mostly gone. And when one looks down beyond the mill the vista opens up into a dramatic view of Bell Marsh Reservoir. Ron told me that the original mill was built by the Nowell family and the Garey family later purchased it.

We finally arrive on Linscott Road and Ron points out a Junkins graveyard. Beyond that are two large cellar holes on the Westerly side of the road. They are made with large cut stones though time has rearranged them into a lazy composition of disrepair. The road has many new homes, attractive to the modern eye and well cared for. The contrast between the old cellar holes and new homes is somewhat irreconcilable. We continue walking through this old town lane lined on both sides by still sturdy stone walls. We notice some plants in the ditches and take a moment to identify them. I pick up a few recently fallen hickory nuts and Ron recalls his grandmother preparing them as a topping for oatmeal. He cuts one open. The shell seems impossible but eventually he cuts his way to the meat. He tells me his grandmother cured them by putting them on newspapers on the attic floor and suggests I do the same. Once they dry the shells will fall away, he says. I put some in my pocket for later.

Junkins graveyard on Linscott Road

We make it back to the parking lot on Kingsbury Lane. Though draining it has been a beautiful day for a walk in the woods, my favorite thing to do. After each walk with Ron, I return home with a completely new perspective on the Mount Agamenticus area. Always inspired to find out more, I extend the trips by combing through the old maps and plans for the Outer and Stated Commons, seeing who lived where we had travelled, looking for more hints to interpret the past.

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