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History

The following synopsis was prepared by Mr. James Skoglund.

Mr. Skoglund is actively involved in the St. George Historical Society and encourages individuals to attend its meetings. The Historical Society meets on the last Thursday of each month, from April through November, at the St. George Grange Hall on Wiley’s Corner Road. Specific times are advertised.

The Origin of the Name
Late in the spring of 1605, the English explorer George Waymouth moored the Archangel near the mouth of the St. George River. His mission was to assess the natural resources of this region and to determine whether or not the land was suitable for English settlement. An experimental garden was planted on Allen's Island - the first known attempt at agriculture by English people in North America.

Waymouth named what is now called Monhegan, "St. Georges Island". The name St. Georges or St. George later became attached to both the river and the town when it separated from Cushing in 1803.


Historical Photos

To view the slide show, double click on the photo.

Clark Island Ship Photo

 

Early History
The territory between Muscongus and the Penobscot was granted to Thomas Leverett and John Beauchamp in 1629. However, there was no known attempt at settlement and only two or three individuals or families are known to have lived on the river in the 1600's.

In 1736 Samuel Waldo of Boston, who had gained a controlling interest in the patent of 1629, brought Scotch-Irish families to the St. George River. For many years their log homes and small clearings marked the easternmost frontier of British settlement in what is now the United States. Waldo had agreed with the Indians that settlers were not to live on the east side of the river below the Creek in Thomaston. Therefore, St. George remained unsettled until after the French and Indian War in 1763.

Children and grandchildren of the Scotch-Irish in Cushing and Warren began settling in St. George in the 1760s and 1770s. At the same time, settlers from older English settlements to the westward were building homes on the ocean side of the peninsula. A map made in 1776 shows 19 dwellings in what is now St. George.

Settlement seems to have stalled during the Revolution. Three settlers had their land confiscated because of their Loyalist sentiments and departed. The home of Samuel Watts at Wallston was raided by the British and Watts was held prisoner for some time at Castine. The local Committee of Safety stationed a guard at Tenants Harbor at one point during the war.


After the Revolution a virtual land rush occurred. Because they were Loyalists, the Waldos' property had been confiscated. It seems to have been assumed that properties not occupied before the Revolution were up for grabs. Dozens of men, many of them veterans, brought their families here in the 1780s. Those settlers were later obliged to buy their land from Lucy Knox, the only Waldo heir who had sided with the Patriots.

There are precious few structures remaining in St. George that predate 1800 because, even at that date, most homes were built of logs. The oldest building in town is that of Captain Samuel Watts; now occupied by the Francavilla family. This house dates from the early 1770's.

During the War of 1812 there were two noted engagements with the British. British raiders rowed up the river in dense fog in June 1814 and captured the fort which had been erected by the U.S. government in 1809 to protect the growing commerce at Warren and Thomaston. The raiders then retreated down the river. In August of 1813 the local militia turned out and repelled raiders from the ship Bream (or Brim). Two vessels belonging to Hart and Watts were destroyed or taken.

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Population and its Ties to Industry
In 1789 St. George and Cushing were incorporated as the Town of Cushing. Even at that time, St. George's population exceeded that of Cushing. In 1790, St. George's population was 578. In 1800 it was 886; in 1810, 1127, in 1820, 1325; and then it generally increased until the 1880s.

Fluctuations in population reflect the economic activities in the various decades. The earliest settlers derived most of their cash income from cutting cordwood and shipping it to Boston, where there was a constant demand for firewood. At least four tidal mills were operating around 1800 for sawing lumber and grinding grain. From the beginning many men were engaged as sailors and captains. It appears that almost every family was engaged in some small-scale farming.

Granite quarrying began in the 1830s and soon several large operations in Town provided employment for hundreds of men. Over sixty vessels were built in Town during the 1800's, and when both quarries and shipyards were operating, population peaked at near 3,000 in 1880.

The granite industry brought in immigrants who have given St. George a population mix quite different from that of neighboring towns. By the time of the Civil War, there were numerous Irish workers in the quarries. In the 1870's, skilled stonecutters and paving cutters came from Great Britain; the English settling mainly at Long Cove and the Scots at Clark's Island. Finnish quarry workers began arriving in the 1890's. They seem to have replaced the Irish, who, with few exceptions, moved elsewhere, probably during the labor troubles of the early 1890's. Large numbers of young Swedish paving cutters arrived between 1910 and 1930. Most of the Swedes moved away as the granite industry declined in the 1930's and 1940's. The last quarry to operate in town, Hocking Granite, at Clark's Island, ceased operations in the early 1960's.


The fishing industry predates the settlement of the town. Probably some of the first settlers from the westward had been here earlier to catch and dry fish. Fish were a staple in the local diet, and fish were exported along with cordwood. According to the late Albert Smalley, a cannery was operating as early as 1859 at Port Clyde. Lobsters were canned, giving impetus to the lobstering industry which still survives. Clams were canned well into this century, and a sardine factory operated until it burned September 24, 1970. A facility for cleaning, grading and shipping mussels opened at Long Cove in 1982 and employed 70 people until going out of business in 2008.

As early as the 1880's, summer visitors, or "Rusticators" were coming to avoid the city heat, and their grand summer "cottages" began sprouting on some of the choice shorefront by 1900. Until about the 1960's there were but few people "from away" who lived in town year round. Since then, prosperity throughout the nation has enabled retirees to move here to enjoy the relative tranquility the town affords. Newly arrived younger people with families, often professionals or skilled workers, reside in St. George and find employment in Rockland. This influx of well educated, politically active and (compared with older residents) more economically aggressive individuals, has brought marked change to the town.

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Religion and Schools
The First Baptist Church was gathered in 1784 and organized in 1789, making it the oldest surviving religious group in the county. From it sprang the Ridge Church (1817), the Tenants Harbor Church (1842) and a Baptist Church at Clark's Island, now extinct. The Port Clyde Baptist Church separated officially from the Ridge Church in the 1940's, although the church building dates from 1897. The Port Clyde Advent Church was gathered prior to 1900 and organized early in that century. The Community Church at Spruce Head dates from the last decades of the 1800's, and St. George's Episcopal Chapel, built in 1901 at Long Cove, is a reminder of the English granite workers who lived at "Englishtown," as that locality was called. It is now only open in summer.

According to tradition related by the late Roy Meservey, the first school in town was kept for the children of Samuel Watts. That must have been in the 1780's. In 1792, four school districts were laid out. The number of districts increased as the town's population grew, so that by the late 1800's, there were eighteen or twenty schools in town. Gradually, the districts were consolidated, and in 1957, albeit with much opposition, the remaining district schools at St. George, Clark's Island, and Port Clyde were closed. Since then, all elementary students have attended school at Tenants Harbor.

A high school was begun in 1894 in the sail loft over Long's store. The High School building was erected in 1900. The first class graduated in 1901, the last in 1962. In 1963, high school students began attending Georges Valley High School in Thomaston, and St. George grammar school students replaced them in the old high school building. A few years later the building was torn down and replaced by the current town office and fire station.

For more information on town history, see Albert Smalley's entertaining book "St George, Maine"; a copy of which is in the Jackson Memorial Library.

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