Corey Wheaton and Angus Smart tend to the fires in the bean holes the night before the 100th year of the Smith-Smart family reunion at Alan and Donna Smart’s home in Lincoln on July 14. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

LINCOLN — It may be impossible to separate the Smith-Smart family reunion from the bean-hole beans that have been the centerpiece of the celebration for 100 years.

“The beans are the star of the show,” said Thankful Butler as she milled around outside the kitchen door of her cousin’s home in the northern Maine town of Lincoln catching up with extended family and watching the beans’ meticulous preparation on a sticky, sweltering, buggy Friday evening in July.

According to family lore, the celebration was launched on the weekend of July 4, 1923, with the 35th wedding anniversary of Willa Smart and William Smith. Their splendiferous marriage certificate, replete with angels, wedding bells, birds and blossoms, was on display at this year’s milestone reunion. The couple would go on to have 10 children.

From the get-go, it was a double-barreled Smith-Smart bond, as Smart’s sister Estelle was married to William’s brother Horatio, and the two families were very close.

One hundred years later, roughly 100 family members gathered on a July Saturday to reminisce, reconnect – and eat beans.

” ‘This was such fun, let’s do it again next year. And next year,’ reunion president Sylvia Decker imagined the guests at that long-ago anniversary party saying to one another. “And here we are doing it again next year.”


She beamed at the long tables filled with Smith-Smarts squeezed into a tidy former horse barn to escape a downpour.

Over the course of a century, the location of the gathering has moved around, mostly within the Greenbush area – some 25 miles north of Bangor – where the Smith-Smart families can trace their ancestry to the 18th century. It has gone from Lincoln to Passadumkeag to Old Town to Howland to Olamon, from barn to hillside ridge to lakeside camp to tree farm – that last said to have supplied the trees along the interstate all the way up to Houlton.

For roughly the past decade, Alan Smart, a retired welder, and his wife, Donna, have hosted at their rambling property, with homes, barns, gardens and fields that extend to the Penobscot River. Alan, according to Butler, is “the bean-hole bean maker par excellence.”

Generations have come and gone. The reunion has expanded to around 150 and contracted to as few as six. “As the years go by, some people teeter in and some people teeter out,” said Angus Smart, Alan’s son.

Old photos of Smith-Smart family members were on display at the 100th Smith-Smart family reunion. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The Great Depression, World War II, Maine’s disastrous floods in 1936 and disastrous fires in 1947 – none of these disrupted the reunion. In 100 years, it has been canceled only once, as far as anyone can remember, and that was in 2020. Many of the guests are not young; gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic was just too big a risk, the family decided.

“But we decided to count that anyway,” said Butler, whose mother was a Smart. “Even though we didn’t actually meet, it was still an intention. It was on the calendar. It still counts. We would have been there. In our hearts and minds we were there.”



Historically, bean-hole beans originated with Native Americans. But Owen Madden credits his grandfather, James Smart, as the man who started the family’s bean-making tradition. Big Jim this was  6 feet, 6 inches and 300 pounds of muscle. If there’s anybody who can tell about the reunion’s early days, it’s Madden. At 94, spry, alert and welcoming, he is the oldest person attending this year. His nephew Dan Madden, whose grandmother was a Smart, has driven him from Keene, New Hampshire, where a branch of the family moved in 1941.

The youngest in attendance, with hair in sticky-uppy pigtails, is wide-eyed 19-month-old Harlow Knappe from Milford, sitting for lunch in her mother’s lap.

Scratch a Smart-Smith, and you will find a bean maker or memories of a bean maker, mostly (all?) men. Some variation of “my father/uncle/grandfather/brother used to make the beans” launches many a family tale.

Owen Madden, 94, stands up as his family members clap for him when he is recognized as the oldest family member at the 100th year of the Smith-Smart family reunion. His birthday was the preceding day. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“It was something they grew on the farm. We were all poor. It could feed a lot of people,” explained Anita Peavy Haskell, a former state legislator (the family has several), who is both a Smith and a Smart and one of several ardent family historians.

Alan Smart, working off what he says is the original family recipe, has firm opinions about the proper procedure. He learned how to make bean-hole beans as a boy at his dad’s side. When his father died, Alan made the beans served at the Masonic funeral. This evening, he sports camo shorts and a 72nd “reuion” T-shirt. Nobody noticed the misprint until it was too late.


He is making 40 pounds of beans, which will be cooked in potbellied cauldrons, some of which are thought to date back to the first gathering. Any leftovers will be packaged in repurposed whipped topping containers and sold to family members at the reunion’s end to defray its cost. One pot will be filled with Marfax beans (his favorite), a second with yellow-eye, and a third with pea beans. Butler has recently started a new family tradition, so a fourth pot, smaller than the others, will get vegetarian beans, which another family member jokingly refers to as “progressive beans.”

Alan Smart pours the molasses and spice mixture into the bean pot. The big, restaurant-size pot at the left was used to parboil the beans in the kitchen on vintage stoves. Asked why he hosts the reunion, Alan joked (but maybe not entirely), “Because I still can. I’m still upright.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The preparation stretches out over a long summer Friday afternoon and evening. Inside Alan and Donna Smart’s country kitchen, the beans are parboiled and the sweetener (molasses) and spices (dry mustard, ginger, pepper) pre-measured and mixed. “The idea is to get the flavor from the beans, not the sugar,” Angus Smart said, cautioning against over-sweetening. Bowls are filled, brimful, with fatback and salt pork, the amounts and shapes of the cuts dictated by Alan Smart. There is not a clear surface in the steamy, bean-scented kitchen, where Donna Smart is also fixing dinner for folks who arrived before the reunion’s official start – the bean crew.

Outside, there is nothing slapdash about how the ingredients are assembled in the pots: the fats methodically layered to prevent burning, the beans delicately transferred so as not to mush them, the water depth checked with a knuckle test, the pot lids sealed with an emphatic smack.

“Once these beans go in the ground, there is no second chance,” Alan Smart said. “It’s a gamble.”

In 2019, Lynn Foley (whose grandmother is a Smart) “harassed” him – her word – into letting her record the process, which she then typed up in PowerPoint “in case Alan gets hit by lightning.” The instructions are concise and explicit, as here on the parboil: “Once the beans are at temperature – 160 to 180 – do not boil do not stir. We do not want the bean skins to come off.”

It takes two men to carry each filled pot to the fire. Four holes have been dug in the dirt toward the back of the yard under scaffolding that supports an aluminum roof, and fires have been lit in each. It may not fit a romantic notion of old-timey Maine traditions, but it gets the job done. A few years ago, Alan Smart built the structure after a torrential downpour interfered with the bean-making.


In the pouring rain Saturday morning, David Marshall, left, and Alan Smart, center, hand off a pot of beans to Corey Wheaton to be brought down to the barn across the street, where the Smith-Smart family reunion was held. Family member Lynn Foley pointed up to the sky, where thunder was rumbling and lightening flashing, and said, “”Don’t you love it? The elders have been talking to us.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“You try to build a fire in the pouring rain,” he said.

This Friday evening, the sky is blessedly clear, and the last pot of beans goes into the ground at 9:36 p.m. The beans will cook all night in the dying embers, the pots encircled by glowing, red-hot logging boom chains, which Alan Smart prefers to the traditional rocks.

Most of the early-comers are gone, driven away by mosquitoes as big as bumblebees, though Alan Smart’s 4-year-old grandson, William (future bean-hole bean master?), is watching the action from his big sister’s lap. The few remaining men grab shovels and vigorously pile dirt onto the pots. Stomp, stomp, stomp, they trample the piles – an exercise Madden calls, with perfect aptness, the bean-hole dance.

A few family members sit around the bean holes watching Corey Wheaton and the crew ready the fires for the beans the night before the 100th year of the Smith-Smart family reunion. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


The beans are the centerpiece of the potluck feast on Saturday, but there is plenty else to eat. Plates are heaped high with macaroni salads, coleslaw, ham, home-canned relish, brown bread, Donna Smart’s famous deviled eggs and much more. “The deviled eggs, you really have to grab them as soon as you see them,” Butler advised.

Other dishes, too, are the stuff of family lore: a mother’s oatmeal cake, an uncle’s “wonderful” yeast rolls, “so, so good” dill pickles, a luscious chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting. Some of these appear. Some have been lost to time.


The latter is the case with Angie’s Funeral Cake.

“Angie always made this coconut cake, and she always brought it to funerals,” said Tracy Allen, granddaughter of a Smart, who grew up in Milford but now lives in Florida. “And Leon (Haskell) said, ‘I want my cake now. I don’t want to wait for my funeral.’ So she always brought it to the reunion.”

“Not one of us got the recipe for it!” said Anita Peavy Haskell, regretfully. Angie is gone. Also, Leon, Anita’s husband, who died just this past winter. The Haskells famously hosted the reunion at their farm for about a decade.

Thankful Butler chats with her partner, Frederick Lancaster, while making vegetarian beans the night before the 100th Smith-Smart family reunion. Frederick was an only child so the Smith-Smart family looks especially big to him. “I was lovingly encouraged to be here,” he said good-naturedly. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

As the reunion gets underway, cousins mingle and trade stories about long-ago celebrations. Nola Hill, who may have traveled the farthest to attend this year, from Hemphill, Texas, remembered her brother wrestling with his cousin in a poison ivy patch. “It’s awesome to be here for the 100th,” she said. “My dad always told me he was 2 for the first one.” Peavy Haskell remembered tossing a ball with a slew of cousins. “You were catching the ball except occasionally someone threw a horse turd,” she said.

Amaryl Smart Willette recalled the pleasure of a new reunion-day outfit, sewn by her mother out of chicken feed sacks because buying expensive store-bought clothes was out of the question. “That was an exciting day because you dressed up,” she said.

The men oversaw the bean preparation, but the women had plenty to do. “I remember Aunt Stell standing out in the yard and there were no paper plates and there was a big washtub, and she washed dishes all day long, poor lady,” Peavy Haskell said. “Nobody offered to help her. That was probably 1940. Everybody was just standing around wanting clean plates.”


Peavy Haskell is the expert on the family’s deepest, darkest secret. Actually, it’s not such a secret. But it is a bit of a surprise. It turns out the family name isn’t Smith at all. It’s de Chaisson. It happened like this: Will Smith’s father, a blacksmith, came to Old Town from Canada to work in a sawmill, “strictly a horse and buggy operation,” Peavy Haskell said. His employer couldn’t spell the French name (nor can Peavy Haskell, who takes a guess), so he simply wrote out paychecks to “Smith,” as in blacksmith. As long as he got paid, de Chaisson didn’t mind what name he went by, so the story goes. “And that’s how (we) became Smith,” she said.

Brown bread is set on the table at the 100th Smith-Smart family reunion. Baker Carol Eastman got the recipe from her mother-in-law “years ago.” Eastman still bakes it (she doesn’t steam it, as many recipes call for) in a “nice, tall can” that once held infant formula for her baby daughter. Her daughter is now 50 years old, so, Eastman said with a laugh, she has been baking the bread for many years! Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The formal reunion program this year includes a reading of family history and an old family poem; a concert of her own songs from Cindy Duchin, whose grandmother was a Smart; and a “Scotch” auction, a relatively new addition to the day’s activities, in which Smith-Smarts sell items – serious (a bottle of local wine) and silly (a 2-foot tall statue of a moose in red plaid overalls) – to the highest bidder. The catch is, all the items have been prettily wrapped so no one knows what they are bidding on. The money raised goes toward the cost of the reunion.

For this 100th year, Rose Boynton, granddaughter of a Smart, has made two gnomes to be auctioned off – these aren’t wrapped – one resembling Peavy Haskell, the other Alan Smart – in camo hat, with a hunting rifle and a bean pot. In a playful bidding war, the Alan gnome fetched $90.


But money can’t solve the central Smith-Smart worriment. How much longer will the reunion endure?

The bean recipe hasn’t changed in a century, but so much else has. Many of the older cousins grew up living near one another in huge families of small means. There was no money for new shoes, new clothes, new technology like televisions, much less vacations.


“We never missed a reunion,” Madden said. “We never went anywhere except when there was a reunion.”

Cindy Duchin puts her arm around her relative Owen Madden as she wishes him a happy 94th birthday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“In those days, you didn’t have fun day after day after day,” said Decker, the president, whose beloved grandmother, Ava, was a Smart. “The big thing was the Smith-Smart reunion. Everybody went. Nobody would miss it. You’d have to be dead to miss the Smith-Smart reunion.”

To be quite frank, death’s an issue. This spring alone, four family members died. “We are an aging family if these people don’t smarten up and start coming,” Peavy Haskell said.

Older family members like Jacob Smart, who is 81 and lives in Greenbush, reliably show up. It’s their heritage, they say. He has been coming to the reunion “since I was in diapers.”

“People are not as close-knit now,” Amaryl Smart Willette said. “It used to be people were really knit because that’s all there was.”

Corey Wheaton puts his arm around his stepfather, Alan Smart, as they walk toward the house while preparing the beans for the bean hole. Over the years, Wheaton has taken on the role of second-in-command helping Smart with the bean-hole beans. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

At some point – memories are fuzzy as to exactly when – the gathering shifted from July 4 to the weekend after, because as time went on, people had their own plans for the holiday weekend.


Decker has three daughters, and she fretted before the 100th that only one, Susan, planned to show up. When she tried to persuade the other two, one told her, “I don’t know who those people are, Mom.” Decker retorted, “Well, you won’t if you never come and talk to them.”

Such things do not, incidentally, deter Lynn Foley’s new husband, Glen Davis, who is attending his third reunion. “I tried to memorize people and what their relationships are ahead of time,” he said, “but I’m just hopeless at that. So I tried my best – there are a few people I knew. But I came here, and these guys couldn’t even figure out how they are related to each other!”

In the end, two of Decker’s daughters come, Susan and Sara, and they bring their teenage and adult children. Sara’s son, Brad Burchill, 23, said he is here because he likes “reconnecting, rekindling with the family.” He paused a moment and laughed at himself. “I never thought I’d say that!”

Reunion-goers line up for side dishes before the main course, the bean hole beans, at the Smith-Smart family reunion. The organizing committee hoped to attract 100 people for the 100th reunion, but no one remembered to count. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Alan Smart, for one, isn’t worried about recent attendance, or at least he puts on a good show. “This is all stuff that goes up and down,” he said. “Right now, things are in a slump. But if you go back in history, they have these slumps.”

He compared the Smith-Smarts to a clan, and said clans need strong leaders (or possibly bean makers) to survive, his role for now. Has he got a successor in mind? “They’ll figure it out,” he said.

“Someone is going to want to make beans. Someone is going to want to eat beans.”

Meanwhile, another family celebration is fast approaching – an annual clam bake on Labor Day weekend. That upstart get-together, Owen said, is only in its 73rd year.

Alan Smart holds a plate of his bean-hole beans at the 100th year of the Smith-Smart family reunion. The T-shirt, which pictures The Simpsons on the back, was given to him during the reunion program. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.