Book Reviews

These reviews were in the Bowdoinham Advertiser. We're not sure that you can find these books any longer, but we included the reviews anyway. Dr. Cummins' book is an interesting book story.

A Review: Bowdoinham Was My Hometown

John Wallace Ames wrote BOWDOINHAM WAS MY HOME TOWN as a labor of love. It is a warm, friendly work about common people, about Bowdoinham people. It's about folks that seldom make headlines, and will never be rich or famous. They're simple people that together make our town a hometown.

Near the front of this book, Ames says he is not an historian and that his book is not a formal history. The book is chiefly, "my personal recollections and impressions," he says. "If I can provide you with information (about Bowdoinham), be it new to you or perhaps only forgotten...I will have been repaid for my efforts."

That the book was not written as a history may work in Ames' favor, and certainly in the favor of his readers. Ames did not feel compelled to record the dates and grand deeds that are told and retold in other, more formal histories. Instead, Ames has recorded brief moments from his life and from the lives of others he touched while growing up in Bowdoinham in the early 1900s. The result is a sort of social history, a refreshing and unique perspective on lives like we will probably never see again, not even in Bowdoinham.

Ames opens his book with the early days of his boy hood, recalling life in the big pink house on Main Street as one of eight children. He talks about the day to day chores, the practical jokes, the good times, and the bad times.

He speaks well of his father, a Bowdoinham entrepreneur who twice sought election as governor of Maine; and just as well of his mother, brothers and sisters: Guy, Carroll, Bessie, Jessie, Harvey, Pearle, and Celia Belle. He recalls Bowdoinham's lamplighter, blue-clay Johnny, Tim Millay, and more.

He remembers when more than a dozen trains a day stopped at the depot and how he used to make a game of memorizing timetables.

He and a host of other boys used to gather bones around town he says, and then sell the bones to the Kendalls for use in their fertilizer mills. Ames recalls the Kendalls with respect, writing about their business operations from a solid first-hand viewpoint.

Most of the information in BOWDOINHAM WAS has been gathered by Ames from his own, obviously remarkable memory, or from notes and discussions with other members of his immediate family. But Ames worked with more than two-dozen other Bowdoinham folks when preparing his work for press. They were classmates of his, or acquaintances; people that grew up here and learned to love a Bowdoinham that most of us will never know.

Traveling through his pages, the reader visits some of Bowdoinham's district schools, plus churches, stores and shops. The visits may be brief, but they are made memorable, and enjoyable, by Ames' wise use of first hand experience.

BOWDOINHAM WAS MY HOME TOWN, Ames says, was written to give the reader three things: entertainment, information, and inspiration. We suggest that Ames gives these three qualities to his readers with his work, and say that every Bowdoinhamer should read the book at least once, it's enjoyable, it's fun, and most of all, it's Bowdoinham.

BOWDOINHAM WAS MY HOME TOWN, by John Wallace Ames; 167 pages, illustrated, was published by the Kennebunk Star Press. It is offered for sale by the author: John Wallace Ames, Post Office Box 2, West Kennebunk, Maine 04094.

Bowdoinham Advertiser February 1976

Dr. Cummins' Book

THE SOCIETY is surprised and pleased to receive from Dr. John Cummins, ministerial son of Dr. and Mrs. Robert Cummins, a most rare find. From their home in Minneapolis, they send a book printed in 1722, and rebound in London, in 1782.

While the book itself deals with a rather uninteresting religious test, it is the character of the book's binding that is of primary interest to our society. The inside of the front and back covers, made part of the book during the rebinding process, are clippings from a very early Advertiser, date 1782. This was a custom followed by book binders back in those days. Paper was very precious.

The message is a public notice demanding payment of delinquent taxes. It contains the names of David Jeffers, Esq.; Dr. Jonathan Davis and the heirs of Benjamin Hollowell. All three names playing very prominent parts in the earliest settling of our town. It is a source of amazement that the book, titled History of the Jews and Neighboring Nations connected to the Old and New Testaments, has endured these 260 years, and even more incredible that the binder should pick that particular page to use in his binding, and that it would finally wind its way back to Bowdoinham, via Minneapolis.

John does not know how the book came into his possession, but his sharp eyes and interest in Bowdoinham immediately appreciated its significance.

We are indeed grateful that he has presented this book to the Bowdoinham Historical Society. Following is the text of the notice, as it was originally published in 1782:

NOTICE is HEREBY GIVEN, to the non resident proprietors owning lands in the town of Bowdoinham, in the county of Lincoln, that they are taxed as follows, viz.

David Jeffers, Esq. for 1600 acres of land, State tax, 55 l. 14 s.

Town tax 81 l., 18 s. 3 d., County tax, 17 1. 13 s. 4 d. hard money money 1 1. 15 s.

Dr. Jonathan Davis, for 1600 acres of land, state tax, 55 1. 8 s.,

county tax, 17 1., 13 s., 4 d., town tax, 8 1., 8 s., 2 d.,

hard money, 1 1., 15 s., 4 d.

Benjamin Hollowell heirs, for 2260 acres of land, state tax, 40 1.

county tax 23 1., 18 s., 4 d. town tax, 5 1., 4 d., hard money 2 1., 7 s., 1 d.

The above lands being valued at 8 s. per acres estate, taxed as above, and delivered to me to collect in the year 1780. Unless said taxes are paid to me on or before Wednesday, the 29th day of May next, so much of said land will be sold at the dwelling house of Abraham Preble, Esq., In Bowdoinham, at 10 o'clock, A.M. and from time to time by adjournment until a sufficiency is sold to pay the above taxes, and intervening charged, by me,

Constable and collector
April 8, 1782

The "New" History is Here


The second printing of Silas Adams' The History of the Town of Bowdoinham has been the most expensive, most historically significant, and most important project ever undertaken by the Bowdoinham Historical Society.

Now, it is also possible to say the reprinting has become one of the Society's most successful efforts. Bradford Blake started talking about the project just a year ago. In June of 1984, he had seen other reprints by other towns, and started to ask, "Why not?" in Bowdoinham. It was his idea to reprint the history, and his contacts in the publishing trade that made the inquiries and the negotiations happen.

By August of 1984, after considerable bantering and discussions (not of the whys but of the hows) members of the Society met at the Clay Hill meeting house and formally voted to sign a collaboration agreement with the New England History Press, of Somersworth, New Hampshire.

John Ballentine, publisher, was immediately encouraging. He called the Adams history a "good and solid...local history...loaded with local facts and information."

Ballentine and his press are specialists in local histories. More than a decade ago, they reprinted Wheeler's History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell. More recently, they have republished histories for Boothbay, Yarmouth, and Morrill.

From the start, money was a primary concern of the society. To contract for the reprinting of 500 copies of the history, we had to guarantee the publisher the sale of nearly half-225 books-or pay a printing bill of just over $6,000!

Since the Society formed in 1970, most of our projects have cost $70-$100; or, at times, $500-$600. We simply had nothing in our organizational experience to prepare us for what could become a $6,000 printer's bill. Many were apprehensive. Most were nervous. We talked about the need for loans, and worried about draining the Society's treasury.

But we did sign the collaboration agreement.

Most members of the Society saw the reprinting as a central, basic function of our group. No one really doubted that the project could be self-supporting, eventually. But many were concerned that it could take years to sell that many (200) books, and were worried about funding the project for an extended period.

But we all knew that original, 1912 editions of the Adams history are scarce and very expensive to obtain. (The last two sold at local auctions sold for more than $100.) We were advised that a new entry- a copy- introduced on the market would do nothing to hurt the value of the originals, and would go a long way toward providing books at more reasonable prices for people who wanted them.

We were accepting the challenge.

Bradford Blake and A. Reed Walker were named co chairmen of the reprinting effort. Society trustee Maxwell Ward, Treasurer Betsy Steen, and President Frank Connors were named committee members.

The new, cloth-bound edition would exactly reproduce the 1912 volume of 300 pages. We decided to include 12 new pages with 21 old Bowdoinham photographs; a new fold-in map of Bowdoinham in 1858; a new foreword; and a two-color dust jacket that featured an 1880 panorama of our town.

It was late October when Jim Talbot came along and wrote the first check for the first reprint order. Reed Walker proposed a plan that would pre-sell the books and place the person's name in the new volume as a sponsor. He knew of a historical society in Massachusetts that had made that plan work, and we thought we could, too.

We circulated flyers through October and November, driving around town in the evening, stuffing them in mailboxes and doorways. Miles and Abbie Connors did most of that, getting pretty efficient at hanging out open car windows, soothing the dogs that came out to greet us.

Finally the boys at the Post Office told us we'd have to stop using the mailboxes, but we'd already canvassed most of the town, so the drive brought the sponsorships in.

The first deadline was December 1. By that date, nearly 80 people had responded. We extended the deadline to December 19, and nearly doubled the list of prepaid sponsors.

What a Christmas present for Bowdoinham! 112 people right here in Bowdoinham signed up. People from 18 other Maine towns, and from 12 other states answered the appeal.

Then a real long shot pays off. Working closely with State Representative Lorraine Chonko, we negotiated a buy with the Maine State Library for 25 of the histories.

The drive is in the black! When once we feared stripping our treasury to support the printing project, by the first days of January, 1985, presales alone would meet our financial commitment to the publisher.

Ballentine and publisher's assistant Maeve Cullinane make several trips to town, and just after Christmas, we hand-deliver all the photos and copy to New Hampshire.

Then the long wait begins. Everyone wants to see the new book.

There are a few printing delays. Our "blue" proofs get sent to a society in New Jersey, by accident! After an early Sunday morning trip to New Hampshire, a last minute photo substitution is made to replace a poor quality page negative.

The delivery date moves from January to March, then to April.

Finally, April 24, 1985, Brad Blake picks up 252 reprinted histories for distribution.210 are to fill prepublication orders, one is for the WCBB Auction, donated by the publisher; one is to cover "customer complaints," again donated by the publisher. Forty go to the Historical Society, and are available for sale to the general public.

The publisher advises us that 588 volumes were printed in the limited edition, and no more will be available. He puts the book on sale through his outlets, after we finish our pre-order deliveries.

As in every volunteer effort, however, mistakes were made. We have to own up to misspelling John and Lenora Dickinson's name in the sponsor list; and, because of pressing deadlines to the last minute, to leaving Lee and Frances Benner off the list.