Local historians often have a fascinating story to tell, and Merton Henry and Joyce Bibber, the featured speakers at the April and May meetings of the Scarborough Historical Society, are no exception. Henry regaled us with tales of William King – the subject of his honor’s paper while a senior at Bowdoin College – and perhaps Scarborough’s most illustrious citizen.

William King became the first governor of Maine, elected to office in 1820 when Maine separated from Massachusetts. Born in Scarborough in 1768, he was home schooled in his early years, and worked on the family. He soon made up for his lack of formal education by his enterprising skills and aptitude for politics. He moved to Topsham as a young man and then on to Bath, where he became a major shipbuilder and owner, trading principally in ice and cotton (he was primary owner of Maine’s first cotton mill in Brunswick).

The Embargo Act of 1807 hit him hard, and he became well known for his valiant efforts to protect Maine’s coastal and marine trade. He represented Bath in the General Court in Boston, was elected to the Massachusetts Senate in 1807, was a leader of the Democratic/Republican Party and served as a major general in the militia during the War of 1812. His marble statue, the work of the famous sculptor Franklin Simmons, is in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

If you would like to see some of Franklin Simmons’ work, go into the city of Portland for a look at the seated bronze of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Longfellow Square, then walk down Congress Street to Monument Square for a view of the heroic “Our Lady of Victories” surrounded by bronze Civil War soldiers and sailors.

Joyce Bibber entertained us with the history of what is now the University of Southern Maine at Gorham, from its early years as Gorham Normal School, through its years as Gorham State Teachers College. Most interesting were her slides of some of the handsomest buildings on campus.

The oldest building on campus was built in 1773, and is probably the oldest brick house in all of Cumberland County. Acquired by the University in the 1950’s, it is noted for its hand-made bricks and the use of Flemish Bond for the front wall. Another beautiful old building on campus, built in 1806, originally served as the town Academy. A two-story federal style with classical Greek pediment, it has four windows on each side, four columns on the porch and a graceful cupola and tall steeple. A Civil War monument also stands on campus – 500 men from Gorham went off to fight, 57 of them were killed in the war or died later from their wounds. Finally, in the late 1800s, the Legislature decided that the state needed a third normal school (two were already located in Farmington and Castine) and Gorham Normal School was established because of its location on the railroad and the number of prospective students in the area.

Casey McKeoun, outgoing president, presided over the May annual meeting of the Friends of Scarborough Public Library at a lovely luncheon at Joseph’s By the Sea in Old Orchard Beach. After a short business meeting, she introduced June Gillis as “Friend of the Year,” commending her long years of service and especially her successful production of the “One Book, One Community” program. Members of the board were then presented, including the incoming president, Anne Janak.

Nancy Crowell, director of the library, spoke of the renovations and repairs that will be undertaken at the library over the next months, particularly a new roof, lighting and carpeting, as well as a new heating and air conditioning system. She also described a new library Web site that would allow patrons to sign up for e-mail notification of recent book purchases and upcoming programs.

Guest speaker of the day was John Hodgkins, author of “A Soldier’s Son: An American Boyhood During World War II”. My husband and I were lucky enough to sit next to John and his wife, Beth, and they were certainly two of the most charming people we have ever met. We haven’t read the book yet, but we are eager to do so – the cover is enough to entice anyone to pick it up, showing a young man, leaning on a snow shovel, a little boy dressed in an old-fashioned snowsuit, standing side by side in front of a house with snow piled high in every direction.

Hodgkins told his audience how his father had been drafted into the Army in 1943 and went off to Europe to fight the war. John was only 8 years old at the time, but remembers clearly how much he missed his dad and how hard it was on his mom left to cope with her three little children in the tiny town of Temple, 5 miles west of Farmington and literally at the end of the paved road. Just before his father died, he gave his son some boxes, saying, “These are yours.” It was many years before John opened the boxes and found letters, diaries, newspaper clippings, and photos, but when he did, he knew he would have to tell the story of his father, and of his own childhood in Temple, Maine.

Every spring the Portland Marine Society hosts a dinner to which spouses are invited (the monthly meetings are for mariners only and boast homemade fish chowder, sea biscuits and pickles). After a delicious buffet of roast chicken, lobster stuffed sole and roast prime rib of beef, president Bill Gatchell introduced this year’s honored member, Bill Leavitt, who joined the society 55 years ago and who served many terms as treasurer of the organization. He then introduced the speaker of the evening, Leigh Ingalls Saufley, chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, who just happens to be the daughter of member Dick Ingalls and his wife, Janet.

A 1980 graduate of the University of Maine School of Law, she was appointed first female chief justice by Gov. Angus King in 2001. Saufley warned her audience that although the state has 42 courthouses, there is no facilities manager – and that although $48 million is collected in fines and fees every year and the annual budget is $54 million, there is no fiscal manager. She also explained that 2.3 million people are in jail in the U.S., that 40 percent of them committed a crime while under the influence of alcohol and about 25 percent are mentally ill.

In order to reduce these alarming statistics, she suggested that non-violent crimes be punished by serious public service programs instead of jail time, and that many more resources should be aimed at supporting young families, ensuring high rates of literacy and providing early childhood intervention programs.


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