A Little Local History

Amity History

In 1825, Jonathan Clifford cleared a farm, which he lived on for many years. A few families had settled in Number 11 (now Cary), the smoke from their cooking fires could be seen from the ridge he settled on. In the summer, there was no road to visit the neighbors, but seeing smoke of families from the ridge must have been of some comfort to the lonely pioneers.

In 1826, Edmund Cone began a farm on a lot near the Clifford's farm. He had come to Houlton in 1815 and worked as a teamster until he was able to buy the lot in Amity. Just before coming to Amity he married Barbara Shepard of Richmond, N.B. Together they faced the hardships of clearing a forest to fields and building a home. It is said,

"Mrs. Cone was a most excellent woman and was a courageous and efficient helpmate in these pioneer years." (History of Aroostook by Wiggin) Mr. Cone worked a large farm and was a prominent citizen in the town. He worked hard to have the town organized, was one of the first Officers for the Town, and was the first Superintendent of Schools

Also in 1826, Seth Farrar moved to Amity from Hodgdon and built a farm for his family. What a difference for the Clifford family to have two neighbors nearby. The men had help if they needed it and the wives had women to be midwives to help them through childbirth.

In 1827, Columbus Dunn built a farm on the four hundred acres his father, Jonah, bought. Deacon Dunn was also a prominent citizen and one of its most active religious workers. He held numerous town offices and was Postmaster for eighteen years. His wife, Rebecca, set up a school in her kitchen as soon as she arrived in Amity. Legend goes that she held a book in one hand and rocked a cradle with the other. Columbus' father, Jonah Dunn, built a good deal of the road to Calais to open up a trade route to Amity. Jonah was very instrumental in this area of Maine remaining as part of the United States during the boundary dispute.

By 1828, six more families braved the wilds and moved to Amity. Jonathan Greenleaf not only cleared a farm, but he also kept a hotel there. Now there were eleven farms and families. As the sons grew to manhood, they often had a portion of the family farm, on which they built a house and began raising their families.

In 1833, Canadians were cutting timber on the Maine side of the Monument Stream. They were surprised by a sheriff and a posse of about 19 men and were promptly arrested and taken to Houlton for trial. The border was a prickly issue for many years. It was not uncommon for young American men to be enticed across to Woodstock. Where, after liberally imbibing of the local spirits and accepting one of the King's shillings that was put into their hand, would wake up to find themselves in the King's Navy. The Americans resented the "impressing" of the local boys and often hid deserters and smuggled them to safety.

Amity Baptist ChurchAmity Baptist ChurchReverend Elisha Bedel was the first clergyman and began organizing a church. On February 25, 1835, seventeen people met at Columbus Dunn's house and the Amity Baptist Church incorporated as a congregation with Columbus as deacon. They began building a church in 1842 with Reverend Daniel Outhouse, Reverend Royal Spaulding, and Reverend Leonard Mayo serving during the years it took to finish the church. K. B. Harrington was the planner and woodworker. Mr. Hanning did the plastering, and the granite for the foundation was cut by Sandy Reed from his property in Cary.

During this time, Samuel Tracy was a deacon and choir leader for the church. He used a tuning fork to start the hymns. During a fundraising appeal to finish the church, Samuel pledged one hundred dollars and put a mortgage on his farm. Sadly, he died before he could repay the amount. His wife, Jane Reed Tracy, began a business of raising turkeys for sale and paid off the pledge. So good was her business; by 1890 she was able to build a house, have a well dug, and move the barn closer to her house. Such acts of sacrifice were a way of life to these pioneers.

A beautiful white edifice housed a well-proportioned interior, which held the pews, a pulpit; a carpet covered the floor, an organ, the oil lamp chandeliers, and stained glass windows. All created the atmosphere of worship for the parishioners. Behind the Church was a horse shed to protect the horses from the weather as they waited while their owners practiced their faith. On the south side of the lot, there was a long picnic table for those who wanted to have a lunch before returning home after services and as a gathering place for those waiting for the second service to start. It was a custom for the families living near the church to invite the families that lived farther away to have Sunday dinner with them. The young people of Amity attended many revivals and programs as well as Sunday school, regular service, midweek prayer meeting, the Covenant meeting the first Saturday afternoon of the month, and Christian Endeavor meetings. The church filled both the spiritual and social needs of the residents.

On March 18, 1836, the Act of Incorporation passed and Governor Robert P. Dunlap gave his approval the following day. Hiram Esty, Esq., and Justice of the Peace issued to Edmund Cone the warrant for the first Town Meeting on April 11, 1836. They held the meeting on April 21, 1836. They chose Columbus Dunn as Moderator, Edmund Cone as the Town Clerk, Elisha Bedel, Edmund Cone, and Samuel Newman formed the first board of Selectmen. James Curtis was the first Treasurer and Asa Tracy became the Collector and Constable. In the first State election after incorporation, the Town of Amity cast fifteen votes.

1837 was a year of severe hardship for the townsfolk and bread was scarce. Two men from Calais owed the Town money for stumpage on the school lots. At a special Town Meeting, held on June 5, 1837, the citizens voted to divide the amount evenly amongst them for survival. Later they spent the entire amount on corn and divided that evenly among the inhabitants. Although the money was supposed to go to support the schools, the folks felt if they starved to death or had to leave the area there would be no need for schools.

One good thing that did happen in 1837 was the arrival of Daniel Harmon came to teach in the school, which was located on the north corner of the Calais and Mill roads. Local lore has it that they used nineteen teams of horses and oxen hooked together to tow the school to its present sight. (The Reed School as it became know is the only one left of the five schools that once dotted Amity and is included on the National Register of Historic Places.) Educating their children was very important to the settlers. The school was kept open as long as the Town could afford and the teachers boarded around with the families of the students. The school and the Church were the social and cultural centers of the Town. The school had a lyceum where debating teams competed and short plays were enacted, spelling bees, and a school paper called The Amity Times. They had an evening writing school taught by Milo Cone and Orrin Pullen. One semester they had an evening singing class taught by Mr. Fox and his sisters, Annie and Lucy who came over from Canada. Several students went all the way to Houlton to learn to play the new organs that had been recently acquired. They also had a Farmer's Club that was the forerunner of today's Grange.

During the Temperance Movement Amity boasted of two organizations the Women's' Christian Temperance Union and the Loyal Temperance Union. On a lot provided by the Dunn's, they built a hall for their meetings. The one little restriction on the gift of the land was there should be no dancing held in it. Between numerous Ice Cream Socials, subscriptions, donated labor and materials they raised enough money to build a large hall that could accommodate all the needs of the Town.

The Amity Grange held its meetings in the hall until they decided to build a hall more suited for their needs. The original Grange Hall still stands just north of the Church and school on Route 1.

In 1880, the population numbered four hundred and thirty two souls.

In 1887, tragedy struck the town in the form of Diphtheria. Nearly all the children came down with it and even entire families died from it. The survivors hastily buried their dead with out funerals in an attempt to keep others from exposure to the dreaded disease. The entire Spurr family succumbed to the epidemic. Their little family cemetery lies just off the Estabrook Road.

In 1899, the first automobile ever to make a trip through Amity came up from Danforth and the owner stayed at the Tracy's Hotel overnight. The entire town came to see it the next day. Lucinda Reed was a high-spirited girl and proved her daring by sitting in the machine and having her picture taken. As the auto moved towards Houlton, teachers let the schools out so the children could line up on the edge of the road and watch the monstrous machine chug past.

More will be added to the history articles as they are researched. For more on the early days of Amity, look in Houlton at the Cary Library's historical section. Of special note are "Issac Simpson's World" by Geraldine Tidd Scott, "The Amity Strip" by Mae Whittier Holden, and "History of Aroostook" by Wiggin. All are enjoyable reading.

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