Our Own Heritage Trail
On October 1 of 2007, Helene and Lee Rossi, Cheryl Williams, and Dan and Judy Madden arrived at the Portland Airport. We had all decided to follow the Vernice Smith Heritage Trail and to share our experiences with other family members. We all wanted to learn a bit more about the path Vernice’s ancestors followed before they arrived in the North Shore of Massachusetts in the 1890s. We also wanted to see what this part of Maine was like.
It took less than an hour from the Portland Airport to arrive at our hotel, the Super 8 in Brunswick, Maine. This turned out to be inexpensive, clean, and well-located as a central point for our various day trips. In Bath, there is Holiday Inn with another good central location.
Day One: The Savages:
Vernice’s mother was Elizabeth Savage. She descended from an old family from Woolwich, Maine, that dated back to the 1730s. This first ancestor, James Savage Sr. (1690-1745), owned 300 acres and operated a saw mill there until about 1745 when he was killed, while farming, in a surprise attack by Indians.
So, we began our trip by driving the 10-15 minutes along US Route 1 from Brunswick to Woolwich. We turned right at Nequasset Road where the town hall, town museum, and an old meetinghouse were clustered. Just a minute further down that road, on the left, is a pond and a dam. You can reach the dam by walking a short distance down a dirt road. This is the site of the saw mill that James operated; the land on the right, adjacent to the mill house, was part of his 300 acres.
With help from the Woolwich Historic Society, we got permission to walk the grounds and take some pictures of James’s nearby home site, now privately owned. I’ve included a few here:
Before his death, James fathered three sons. One was our ancestor, James Jr. (1709-1805), who also lived his entire life in Woolwich. James Jr. lived to be 95 years old, and his wife, Mary Hilton, to 102. He also moved his homestead inland to the site where the Historical Museum now rests. He and Mary had 17 children and the house, for many years, was known as the “House of the Seventeen Savages”.
This home, built in the early 1800s, is fascinating and open for tour by appointment. It opens a window to the way our direct ancestors lived. Also, an ancient map of Woolwich, hanging on the wall, shows the location of James Sr.’s 300 acres.
Across the street from the Museum is an old Meetinghouse. Beginning in 1757, it served as both Congregational church and town hall for Woolwich. James had to pay taxes to support its minister even though he was a Baptist. He was a leader of the movement to exempt Baptists and other non-Congregationalists from supporting Congregational ministers. This movement succeeded in 1768. America’s gradual shift toward religious freedom came from small steps like this!
Now, we wanted to see the Baptist Church that so motivated James and where at least four generations of our Savage lineage worshipped! So we five all hopped in our car and drove north on Nequasset Road and took a right onto the Middle Road (hwy 127). In about 20 minutes we were there. Here’s the picture we took:
Just a few hundred feet further up the road (north) is the Maple Grove Cemetery. We looked there for a tombstone for Abraham Savage (1761-1837), the son of James Jr. who was our ancestor. No luck! But we did find one for Abraham’s son, Thomas (1807-1882):
Lastly, we drove another twenty minutes further north up the Middle Road to the junction with Indian Road. There, in Dresden (just north of Woolwich), Maine, we found Maple Grove Cemetery where rests Silas Savage and several of his children.
One daughter not buried there was Elizabeth, wife of William Smith and mother of Vernice. She and her husband are buried in the Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Day Two: Other Things to See and Do:
Genealogy is hard work! To help you relax, here are some restaurants and attractions that we recommend while you are in the area:
Sea Basket on US 1 (on the way to Wiscasset) was our top recommendation for clams, scallops, and shrimp.
Taste of Maine in Woolwich on Route 1 had great lobster rolls and a wonderful vista. They also have a televised osprey nest.
Red’s Eats near the bridge in Wiscasset is justly famous and picturesque. We also liked the indoor restaurant across the highway.
Bourbon Street Station in Bath, Maine, features New Orleans style food in a pleasant setting. The restaurant is located in the area of Bath where our Smith ancestor, Edward H., once lived.
Wiscasset: This quaint little town claims to be the “prettiest town in Maine”. No argument here! Lots of antiques, art galleries, restaurants. Very pleasant.
Bailey’s Island, just 15 miles south of our motel in Brunswick. The drive there is scenic and gorgeous and ends at a picturesque spot known as “Lands End” where we found reasonable prices for fun tourist-type items and a great view.
Maritime Museum. This museum, about three miles south of Bath, is rated one of the top attractions in Maine by AAA.
Popham Beach State Park, about 30 minutes south of Bath, offers a beautiful setting and a pleasant drive through a rocky countryside.
This part of Maine is both delicious and delightful. There’s lots to do even if you have no dead relatives there!
Day 3: The Smiths; Richmond and Dresden:
We began our adventure along the Smith Ancestry Trail in Bath, about 5 minutes northeast from the Super 8 in Brunswick. The Sagadahoc County Courthouse is just off Route 1. We took the first exit after seeing the Holiday Inn on the right, turned left over the bridge and two blocks later saw the Courthouse.
The Probate Office is on the third floor. We took the back elevator and asked for the will of Edward H. Smith (grandfather of Vernice). We opened the file and found documentary proof that that Edward was father of William J. Smith of Lynn, MA (Vernice’s Dad) and was from nearby Richmond, Maine.
Next, we drove the twenty miles from Bath to Richmond. We took the scenic route: back to Route 1, over the Kennebec, and then north along State Hwy 128 to Highway 197 (Patterson Road) where we go east (left) back over the Kennebec to Richmond. There, we visited city hall and found the record of Edward’s marriage in 1865 to Sarah Green. We looked in the wrong cemetery for his grave; saw the corner market where he sold fish; viewed the old shoe factory (along the river) where he worked; and drove along Ferry Street where he lived.
But Edward, himself, was born in Dresden about 15 minutes east of Richmond. So, we drove back on Hwy 197 to Hwy 127 where we went north to the Dresden Town Hall. We asked to see their Vital Records. There we found a cornucopia! We found records for Edward; for his father, William H.; for his grandfather, Asa jr.; and for the death in 1823 of his great-grandfather, Asa Smith, Sr.
We also found marriage records for Thomas Savage, birth records for his family, plus a map in 1859 showing where on the south edge of Dresden, near Woolwich, Thomas, our ancestor, lived.
After all that, we decided that genealogy was very hard work and we needed a break! So we drove southeast down Route 27 to Wiscasset, walked around the town, visited galleries, and then drove south along Route #1 to the Sea Basket where we had some of the best sea food of our lives.
Day 4: Asa Smith, Sr., Alna:
We devoted our fourth day to Asa Smith Sr. (1740-1823) and the tiny town of Alna, Maine (population, 600). As Alna resident Les Fossel remarked: “Asa Smith was an important man in these parts”. He was an alderman, a spokesperson for local patriots, operator of a sawmill, and the builder of local homes, churches and bridges.
We started our day by meeting Les at the Alna General Store. We took Route 1 to Wiscasset and then headed north on Hwy 218 to Dock Street. You can’t miss it! There is a sign out side the Alna General Store that maps out all the key sights in Alna. Several involved Asa.
Les had a few hours available to show us around. We began with the bridge on Dock Street where Asa’s “Puddledock” bridge had stood from 1798 to 1936. There is a picture of this older bridge in the nearby church at High Tide.
Les also showed us the site of the home of Asa Smith, just a few miles south of the General Store right on Hwy 218 . The building itself was gone, having burned down in 2000. Les had lived there for many years. It had been famous throughout Maine and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The highlight of the visit to Alna, though, is the Alna Town Meetinghouse just a short distance along Highway 218 from the site of Asa’s homestead. This too is on the National Register. Officially, the builder of the Meetinghouse is unknown, but Les is an authority on 18th century architecture. Based on his knowledge of Asa’s building techniques, Les is sure that this great meetinghouse “has Asa’s fingerprints all over it”. It’s a beautiful building and you can get keys to the inside from either Les or the clerk at the Alna Town Hall.
On our way back from Alna, we stopped off at the famous Federal Street Cemetery in Wiscasset right on Hwy 218. On a knoll there is the “Smith burial plot”. Asa may be buried there. Inscriptions are pretty illegible. His brother, Mannaseh, a lawyer and graduate of Harvard, is buried there. One of Manasseh’s sons, Samuel, became governor of Maine!
Day 5: Robert, Ephraim, and Vernice Smith; Topsfield, Boxford and Swampscott
While Asa Smith lived most of his life in Alna, Maine, we now know that he was born in Leominster, Massachusetts, and that his parents and other ancestors were from Boxford, Massachusetts.
His, and our, oldest American ancestor, Robert Smith (1626-1694), arrived in Ipswich in 1638 as an indentured servant and by 1658 acquired over 200 acres in a part of what was once Rowley that is now near the current boundary between Topsfield and Boxford. Because our Robert Smith was also the forefather of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, others have written about him, and there are some monuments to him in that area. First, on the Topsfield Green you can find a monument, near the renovated Congregational Church, that mentions Robert Smith.
Second, along Topsfield Road, just after the boundary marker indicating entrance into Boxford, there is a stake marking the property once owned by Robert. Part of it was passed on to his son, Ephraim, also Vernice’s ancestor.
Third, the home of Parson Caper, just off Topsfield Green, is open to the public and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is of special interest because Parson Caper was a pastor for both Robert and Ephraim and his home gives a wonderful sense of how everyday people lived in this area in late seventeenth century Massachusetts.
Finally, it is only fitting that the last stop on the Vernice Smith Heritage Trail be Swampscott. There, at 351 Essex Street, you can find the home he and Helena owned when his grandchildren visited them.
Also, just down the same street is the Swampscott Cemetery where he and she are buried:
Some Final Thoughts:
We five pilgrims all enjoyed our enriching tour of the Vernice Smith Heritage Trail. We hope all our readers are now determined to soon follow us. The story of our ancestors is a very American story. None of them were born with a silver spoon, but you can be proud of their achievements: the hard striving for landownership by Robert Smith, the building skills of Asa Smith, the military service of Edward H Smith, and Vernice’s own struggle from poverty to homeownership.
We came to realize our ancestors moved to mid-Maine because it was a land of beauty and opportunity. Be sure to have fun, to explore, and to enjoy the beauty of the area.
Keep also in mind that our forefathers took many risks and made sacrifices hoping to provide a better life for their descendants. Perhaps, we owe them a few days trying to learn who they were.
Grandson of Vernice and Helena