June 27, 1820: Maine’s first Legislature establishes the Medical School of Maine and puts it under the control of the trustees and overseers of Bowdoin College.

Legislators supply $1,500 for initial expenses and authorize a $1,000 annual payment after that, although that ceases in 1834. The school opens in 1821 in Bowdoin’s Massachusetts Hall, then moves in 1862 to Seth Adams Hall.

The school’s establishment is important in a heavily forested, thinly populated state that otherwise gives medical practitioners few chances to exchange ideas with their professional peers. It has the added utility of giving physicians a platform from which to influence the development of public policy concerning their field. It also serves to boost public confidence in the profession.

“A medical degree was becoming important in distinguishing the serious physician from others involved in the field – the practitioners trained in the apprenticeship method, the homeopaths, and the quacks and charlatans,” Dr. Thomas Keating, of Portland, writes in a 2016 article about the school.

The Medical School of Maine grows rapidly at first, from an enrollment of 21 in 1821 to more than 80 in 1834. It begins to suffer in the late 19th century, however, from its relative remoteness from medical facilities in Portland at a time when medical colleges depend more and more on close interaction with hospitals and related institutions. Although some schools of that era are far worse, Keating writes, the Maine school “was unable to keep pace with modern developments.”

Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie funds a movement in the early 1900s to improve medical education and shut down substandard schools. His investigators, through a report by Abraham Flexner, give Maine’s school a poor rating. After the faculty and the enrollment shrink during World War I, and with the school running a $7,000 annual deficit, the trustees vote to close the school, but the overseers refuse.

The Medical Council’s decision to reduce the school from a Class A ranking deals the final blow. The school graduates its final class in 1921, then goes out of existence.

June 27, 1863: Confederate Navy sailors under the command of Lt. Charles Read sneak into Portland Harbor aboard the fishing schooner Archer, which they captured three days earlier.

Read and his crew have spent the previous three weeks capturing or destroying a series of Northern vessels along the Atlantic coast. Their goal in Portland is to seize either the sidewheel steamer Chesapeake or the Caleb Cushing, a U.S. Revenue Service cutter. Evading detection by the Union soldiers on duty at the three forts, they enter the inner harbor late on the night of June 26.

Read’s engineer tells him he would need several hours to get the Chesapeake’s engine running, and the cover of darkness doesn’t last long in late June, so Read decides to seize the Caleb Cushing instead. Two boarding parties on small boats take the cutter’s crewmen by surprise, put them in irons and hold them prisoner below deck, promising to free them after the cutter clears the outer harbor.

Getting away presents many obstacles. First, the rebels are unable to discard the Caleb Cushing’s anchor chain, so they have to haul it aboard. Then they discover the cutter is aground, so they attach a line to another ship to pull the cutter to deeper water. Finally, the wind dies down, making the sails useless, so rebel crewmen use small rowboats to tow the cutter out of the inner harbor.

When the port’s customs collector learns about 8 a.m. that the cutter is missing, he charters four vessels and asks local Army units for help. The Chesapeake, with the 7th Maine Union Wharf soldiers aboard, and the paddle-wheel-driven steamer Forest City quickly leave to pursue the purloined cutter. They catch up with it near Green Island Reef, near the outer edge of the outer harbor.

Read and his rebel crew have guns and plenty of gunpowder, but they are unable to find a secret compartment where most of the Caleb Cushing’s shot and shells are stored. They begin firing scrap metal at the Forest City, which pulls back to avoid damage to its vulnerable paddle wheels. When the Chesapeake arrives, the firing stops. The Confederates have run out of ammunition.

The Chesapeake crew votes to ram the Caleb Cushing amidships, or, if that is unsuccessful, to board it. Read sees both steamers approaching, so he gives the order to burn the cutter. Then he, his crew and the prisoners flee separately in smaller boats.

Seeing the Caleb Cushing ablaze, the Chesapeake starts to turn away, knowing it is about to explode. However, some men from the Chesapeake take a small boat to fetch another boat tied to the side of the doomed cutter. They free the empty boat and are about halfway back to the Chesapeake when the fire reaches the Caleb Cushing’s powder magazine and blows the cutter to pieces, sending flaming shards of masts, spars and other objects hundreds of feet into the air. The cutter sinks almost immediately.

The Chesapeake picks up the Caleb Cushing’s crew members, still in irons. The Forest City takes Read and his men prisoner. It also finds the Archer and tows it back into the harbor.

It is the last time the Confederacy infiltrates Portland Harbor.

Read ends up in an island prison in Boston Harbor, from which he nearly escapes. Later he is exchanged in a prisoner swap and returns to the Confederacy.

Cumston Hall Image courtesy of Historic American Buildings Survey and the Library of Congress

June 27, 1900: Cumston Hall, a striking Romanesque revival and Queen Anne-style building on the east side of Main Street in the center of Monmouth, the gift of Dr. Charles Cumston, is dedicated.

The new building houses the town library, an auditorium and town offices. Later it becomes – and remains – well-known regionally as the longtime home of the Theater at Monmouth, a year-round repertory company of professionals performing Shakespearean plays and other stage productions.

The building is added to the National Register of Historic Place in 1973.

Presented by:

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

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