Richard and Beverly Atkinson at their Tory Hill home in Buxton. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Buxton marks its 250th year July 14, and Richard “Sandy” Atkinson has been in town for 85 of them.

Atkinson has lived his whole life within a mile from where was born, the old Buxton-Hollis Community Hospital. He recently sat down with the American Journal to reminisce about the changes and events he has witnessed from the Great Depression to now.

His father worked at Rogers Fibre Company, which made fiberboard. The operation shut down in the late 1970s.

“The mill was the hub of Bar Mills,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson has seen the disappearance of log drives on the Saco River to a sawmill downstream and the closure in 1961 of the rail line connecting Westbrook and Rochester, New Hampshire, with a stop in Buxton.

In 1938, his family moved to Towle Street after residing in Bar Mills Village, a bustling community with shops. His grandfather owned Atkinson’s Store there but his uncle ran it. “Crabbiest guy in town,” he said.


He recalled crank telephones and said the second floor over the store housed the telephone company owned by Sam Shepard.

Everybody had a garden and worked. He mowed lawns with his grandfather’s power mower, Buxton’s first. He filled sandbags during a flood.

His first adult job paid $1.05 an hour. He bought a 1939 Ford for $100 in 1954 that didn’t have shocks, he said, and the lights would blink out.

Growing up, some Buxton farmers, like Ray Dunnell, still worked with horses and one neighbor used oxen.

Comics were called “funny books” that kids swapped. They listened to radio shows like the scary “Inner Sanctum.”

“I had five friends; we were always together,” Atkinson said.


They ice skated, built bonfires, fished, canoed and played baseball in a hayfield. They had one ball wrapped with tape and their bat was a wooden handle from a log rolling tool.

“Everything was our playground,” he said.

His wife, Beverly, likened the friends’ antics to those of “Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.”

One night in 1947 he climbed a water tower in Bar Mills to see a distant forest fire, one of the hundreds ravaging the state at the time. “You could smell the smoke,” he said.

At a swimming hole near a local island, Beverly said, he saved a drowning girl in the early 1950s and received gubernatorial recognition.

One day in 1953, he was at the fire barn when news came of a body in the river at Salmon Falls.  He arrived at the scene to learn it was his best friend, Buddy Roberts. “Saddest part of my life,” he said.


Atkinson’s education began at Bar Mills Grammar School, which now houses the Buxton-Hollis Historical Society. He and his pals cooked up a plan to play hooky. The school notified the sheriff, who found their hideout and loaded them into a police car, threatening to book them at jail.

Atkinson recalled one boy blurted, “Stop this car!”

“He pulled out a cap pistol and fired a shot,” he said.

He walked to grammar school, but students boarded a bus at Atkinson’s Store for a ride to high school.  He and 12 classmates graduated in 1953.

A garage that built hotrods fascinated Atkinson and Buxton’s Phil Libby, top driver at Beech Ridge in Scarborough, was his hero.

Atkinson acquired a racecar and took a young Beverly on a date to the track to watch him perform. He rolled the car over and was hospitalized with gasoline in his eyes. He didn’t get her home to Gorham until 2 a.m., he recalled, and her father was upset.


“I was 15, his only daughter,” she said.

Atkinson knew he was in trouble.

Movies were “big” and the Atkinsons met at Gorham Playhouse and married two years later in 1955. She said the population of Buxton was then 1,800.

“When I came to Buxton, I thought I had died and went to heaven,” she said.

Today, the Atkinsons’ barn at Tory Hill houses artifacts, including the Rogers Fibre Company whistle, time clock and vintage photos of Buxton and can be seen Aug. 6 during the town’s 250th birthday celebration.

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