John Alden followed his father’s footsteps as a woodworker, and is well known for his Windsor chairs. Robert Lowell / American Journal

John Alden has moved only once in his 100 years. He built his own house next door to the one where he was born, on land that has been in his family since 1775.

“I’ve been very proud of living in Gorham all my life,” Alden said.

Alden’s history is woven into the town’s history. His forebear Austin Alden was an original grantee of land in Gorham in the 1730s. His great-grandfather harvested ice on a pond he created and that pond, Alden’s Pond, has been popular with generations of village youth for ice-skating, swimming and fishing. His grandfather moved the Baxter Museum to its current site beside the library.

Alden, a widower who will be 101 on Sept. 19, recently talked with the American Journal about the past century in Gorham.

Gorham has grown from a largely agricultural town with a population of 3,035 in 1930 to a bedroom community of 18,336 people, according to the most recent census, a 504% increase.

“You knew everyone in town,” he said of the old days. Now, when he goes to the grocery store he doesn’t recognize anyone.


John Alden is pictured with his granddaughter, Sarah Flanders, at Memorial Day exercises in Gorham. Flanders served five years in the Navy. Alden is a Navy World War II veteran. Robert Lowell / American Journal

He remembers riding the electric trolley from Gorham to Portland with his mother. He learned to drive with a 1929 Model A Roadster.

He was schoolmates with Bernard Rines, namesake of the traffic bypass, and Rodney Quinn, who became a secretary of state. They attended grammar and junior high school in a School Street building that has since been razed to make way for senior housing.

In those days, students were seated in classrooms according to their academic standing. They had a dumb row, Alden said, chuckling.

He easily recalls the names of his teachers, such as Harriet Trask, who was “very strict,” he said. George Mitsmenn lived next door to the school and was its custodian.

Alden grew up during the Depression years, as a kid had limited spending money. The farms in town provided summer work and he earned 2 cents a box picking strawberries. He walked to the annual Gorham Agricultural Fair on Narragansett Street where he and his friends could buy admission tickets with what little money they had.

He and his father, Austin Alden, a Westbrook High School industrial arts teacher, woodworker and longtime Gorham select board member, built a ski tow on their land. They charged 25 cents for a full day of skiing.


Alden’s class started high school in a building at the corner of Preble and South streets, now a park. They finished at the then-new high school that now houses the municipal center.

He continued his education at Gorham Normal School, forerunner of the University of Southern Maine, and then went on to the Maine Maritime Academy, where he earned a commission as a Navy ensign.

He was assigned to a “Navy Oiler,” the USS Sapelo AO-11, a fleet replenishment ship in World War II. They refueled Navy destroyers at sea. He recalled one hazardous mission when the ship carried aviation gasoline through the enemy submarine-infested North Atlantic.

The ship chugged along, zig-zagging all the way to Europe without lights. “I’ll admit I was uneasy,” he said.

He was at sea during the Normandy invasion.

He married Shirley Berry, a classmate, and they had four children, nine grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. As newlyweds, they lived in an apartment in the Sampson House on South Street. She was a home economics teacher in Gorham and the apartment came with the job.

Alden’s full time job after the war as a shop teacher in a converted one-room school in Windham paid $3,000 a year, and he found it hard to stretch the salary enough to support his family. He joined his father in woodworking, and they were well known for the Windsor chairs they turned out. Alden built most of the furniture in his family’s home, where, now a widower, he lives with daughter, Heather Alden.

He credits his wife for his longevity because she knew nutrition and the value of balanced meals, he said.

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