Maine and Virginia Pioneers 400 years ago

 

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Photo Credit; Wikimedia Creative Commons, Attribution Peter Isotalo

 

The Historical Diaries notes a 1622 letter from immigrant Sebastian Brandt from Jamestown Virginia. Almost in passing, he writes of his wife’s and brother’s earlier deaths. Illness kept him from “travel up and down the hills and dales for good mineralls of golde, silver, and copper. He seems to have died soon after sending his letter.

Maine, considered a part of Virginia at that time, was settled before Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 when Sir George Popham led a group of pioneer explorers to what is now midcoast Maine . But after just one winter spent on the gale buffeted ledges where the firs marched down the rocks to the  bitter Atlantic, the colonists decided this northernVirginia was too cold. They built a ship, called it “The Virginia,” and sailed back to England—thereby allowing the Jamestown colony to claim that they were the first permanent settlement on the East Coast.

Maine started a seafaring tradition on her coast that continues to this day. In the heyday of sail, the state boasted 250 shipbuilders. The wooden boats they build today still hold more cachet than their modern fiberglass replacements.

Libraries

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E.B. White in Maine with his dog, Minnie

 

I’m featuring E.B. White again this week. Known to 20th century readers of the New Yorker magazine, he is best known for his three beloved, classic children’s books: Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan. He also co-authored  a classic book for writers, The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White.

In case you need some peace and quiet in the midst of your summer, here is another of White’s quotes:

“A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company in sad times and happy times, for books are people —people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.”

Destructive Fires Burned Seattle, Chicago and Maine

 

• Seattle In 1889, fire swept through the city and destroyed most of the structures in the business district— 29 square city blocks of wooden and brick buildings. Once the inferno cooled, the city rebuilt from the ashes with amazing speed. New mandates required building construction of brick or steel. Regraded landscapes transformed Seattle as street levels were raised by 22 feet. My father, Hans Pederson, a builder in the right place at the right time, contributed to the rapid growth of Seattle in the first third of the 20th century.

Chicago It is difficult to imagine the scope of the great  fire of 1871 that destroyed 18,000 buildings and left 100,000 people dead. Yet from the ashes the World’s Columbian Exposition Company brought pride back to Seattle as it developed the 1893 World’s Fair.

 

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Ruins of the Great Fire at Portland, Maine 1866 courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

• Portland, Maine Five years  before the Great Chicago Fire, Portland’s fire was the largest yet seen in an American city. As a Yankee,  I am reminded every Fourth of July of  Portland Maine’s fire of 1866. Josephine Detmer describes the scene in the Greater Portland Landmarks book, Portland.

“On July 4, 1866, as the city was preparing to celebrate Independence Day and the end of the Civil War, disaster again struck and Portland suffered the greatest fire calamity the country had seen up to that time. Parades, fireworks, and a balloon ascension had been planned to enliven the festivities. Tragically, the holiday which had begun so happily, ended in a night of terror and destruction.

“A flicked cigar ash or perhaps a tossed firecracker started a small fire in a boat yard on Commercial Street. From the boat yard the blaze spread to a nearby lumber yard and then to Brown’s Sugarhouse on Maple Street (considered impregnable). It jumped the brick walls surrounding the building and melted the steel shutters on the windows and the roof of galvanized iron and tar. The building became a roaring inferno. A strong south wind whipped the flames to uncontrollable fury. Water was pumped from the city’s reservoirs, wells, and even the harbor. It was a useless effort. Firefighters were powerless in the face of the conflagration which raged all night, sweeping diagonally across the heart of the city from Commercial Street to Back Cove and to Munjoy Hill where it finally burned itself out.”

Fashionable Victorian buildings that replaced the original structures brought a modern face to Portland’s commercial district,  but the colonial homes that had brought history and dignity to the waterfront area were gone forever.

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