By Penny Hilton
A Several Part Series on the evolution of the New Gloucester Fire Department from the early 20th century to the present. Part One, 1899 – 1939, is history as interpreted through annual town reports of New Gloucester, Gray, and Auburn; New Gloucester Town Meeting Minutes; books on the history of these towns, plus Pownal; a number of articles and data from the State of Maine and other reputable on-line resources. Corrections and additions are welcomed. While not a source for the information below, Acadia Transformed: New Gloucester, Maine and the Rise of the City, 1740 to 1930 by Geoffrey Rosanno, was extremely helpful in confirming some of my conclusions, and a fascinating examination of New Gloucester.
The town of New Gloucester at the turn of the last century was a well-established rural community which had evolved from agrarian self-sufficiency to being part of the complex network of rural towns supplying the metropolitan centers of Portland and Lewiston Auburn with dairy and farm products, workers, and new customers. With many farms, more well-acred “homesteads”, some mills, a blacksmith, three churches and several one-room schoolhouses, New Gloucester spread over 47 square miles, with a sparse network of dirt roads connecting everyone. The town was governed by a board of three selectmen who were elected at the annual town meeting, when all the town’s most important decisions were made. As revealed in town reports down through the years, these voters were not a hasty bunch. They were inclined to put new ideas on hold at town meeting for several years before finally discarding an unpopular notion, or, in some cases, voting yes. One of the ideas that took years to become accepted as a routine town matter was municipal fire protection. Continue reading