In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Cumberland & North Yarmouth

A Neighboring History of Two Towns

Our Shared History

(Page 3 of 4) Print Version 

Separate yet Similar

Riverside Farm, North Yarmouth
Riverside Farm, North YarmouthItem Contributed by
North Yarmouth Historical Society

Agricultural Roots
By the midpoint in the 19th century, our two towns, though separate, were similar in many ways. Most importantly, we were both farming communities, from our earliest days, and remained so for most of our shared history. Our communities could only grow and prosper if supported by a good economy. Agriculture was the primary business of most residents of both towns during the 1800s and into the 1900s, and many factors affected farming such as climate, population, and advancing new methods in education.

Breaking Snow
Breaking SnowItem Contributed by
North Yarmouth Historical Society

Maine Weather: Don’t like it? Just wait a minute
Climate trends, including a “Little Ice Age,” a century-long period of volatile climate changes in the 1800s, had significant impact on agriculture in Maine. From 1765 through 1880 our climate was generally cool, interspersed with short periods of more moderate, as well as more severe, conditions. In 1816, Maine experienced the “Year Without a Summer,” a devastating year for agriculture in which snow fell in June! Throughout the 1820s the climate was mild, raising expectations among farmers and prompting the introduction of new cash crops, including such exotic ones as silkworms. Cooler temperatures returned in the early 1830s, however, along with an increase in precipitation that lasted for nearly fifty years.

The difficult climate was tough enough, but Maine farmers were also facing competition from the West, where crops were cheaper to grow and send east by railroad. The farmers who remained in Cumberland and North Yarmouth survived by diversifying crop and livestock production, developing sideline non-farming business, and manufacturing nontraditional products and crafts.

Lard Bucket
Lard Bucket

Farming Diversity
Unlike large single-crop farms of the west, our local farms produced a variety of products for both farm use and sale to markets beyond Cumberland and North Yarmouth. Many early farmers raised sheep for meat and wool; some wool was sold to the Shakers in New Gloucester or Mayall Mill in Gray. The landscape of our towns is very different today, wooded now where once sheep and cattle grazed the fields, keeping down growth and preserving wide vistas.

Merrill Bros label
Merrill Bros label

In the late 1800s production of potatoes and corn and other vegetables was sufficient enough to support at least two canneries, which handled vegetables, fruits and meat. Merrill Brothers at Cumberland Junction had a capacity for 3,000 cans a day and operated from 1881 to the early 1900s. In the late 1890s Charles E. Herrick and his son Horatio operated a corn canning factory that provided seasonal employment for many local young people.

Apples were, and continue to be, an important piece of the agricultural heritage of the towns, as exemplified by the Sweetser family. In the 1830s, Samuel and Amasa Sweetser were grafting trees and developing new strains of apples. Their son Frederick was an early member of the Maine Pomological Society, and his son, Herman, was a professor of horticulture at the University of Maine at Orono. Herman’s son Dick and his wife Connie operate the Apple Barrel store on Blanchard Road in Cumberland into the 21st century.

Arno S. Chase greenhouse interior, Cumberland, 1930
Arno S. Chase greenhouse interior, Cumberland, 1930Item Contributed by
Prince Memorial Library

In addition to growing food, area farmers were noted for their success with growing flowers. In the early 1890s Frank and Arno Chase had a greenhouse selling their product under the Chase Brothers name. By 1904, Cumberland had four large greenhouses boasting 28,000 feet of glass, producing flowers, primarily carnations, for the state’s wholesale trade. Howard C. Blanchard built two small greenhouses in 1914, and later constructed two larger houses with 30,000 square feet of glass. The F.D. Morrill Greenhouse on Walnut Hill Road in North Yarmouth produced carnations and snapdragons that were shipped by rail to markets in Boston and Bangor. The business ran from 1927-1959, operated successively by Fred Morrill and Arthur Dunn. The greenhouses were later sold and moved to Allen Farms in West Cumberland.

Milk truck
Milk truckItem Contributed by
North Yarmouth Historical Society
Cumberland Junction Cattle Auction
Cumberland Junction Cattle AuctionItem Contributed by
Cumberland Historical Society

Dairy and beef cattle were also mainstays of the area’s farms. Spring Brook Farm on Greely Road, started in the early 1800s by Beza Blanchard, began commercial operations under Frank Blanchard after his service in the Civil War, and still sells milk and other dairy products. Walnut Hill Creamery, a cooperative venture founded in 1892, took advantage of the availability of local milk for butter making. Frank Hilton and later his son Kent Sr. operated Elm Farms Dairy on Ledge Road; The O' Donnell family ran North Yarmouth Dairy in the 1930s and 1940s, and the Weston and Sherman Grover families had a large dairy on Sligo Road into the 1960s. North Yarmouth’s last dairy operation, Norman and Marion Reed's Cedar Spring Farm, closed in 1977.

The agricultural heritage is still evident in area farms. Sunrise Acres Farm, begun in Cumberland in 1948, was one of the earliest farms to become certified organic, and an early pioneer of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). In 2009, Deri Farm began a CSA at Skyline Farm, sharing its harvest of locally grown produce to participating families who live in the Greater Portland area.

Wescustogo Grange Hall Plate
Wescustogo Grange Hall PlateItem Contributed by
North Yarmouth Historical Society

Agricultural Societies
Farming families benefitted from the establishment of the Maine State Board of Agriculture in 1856 and the University of Maine in 1865. In 1867, the Patrons of Husbandry, a farmers’ organization, was founded in Washington, D.C. and through it, Grange chapters sprang up throughout the country. In North Yarmouth, Wescustogo Grange No. 27 was formed in 1874. The Grange was the place where farmers and their family members could hear about new methods of agriculture and home management. It was also an important social organization, sponsoring community events and celebrations, supporting members’ participation in local and national competitions, and advocating for excellence in farming practices. Wescustogo Grange Hall, dedicated in 1959, was built through volunteer labor and financed with bean suppers and other fundraisers. The hall was donated to North Yarmouth in 1996.

James Lawrence, ca. 1861
James Lawrence, ca. 1861Item Contributed by
North Yarmouth Historical Society

Shared History: The Civil War in North Yarmouth and Cumberland
Like so many small towns throughout the United States, Cumberland and North Yarmouth made a substantial contribution to the Union effort, and suffered significant losses that were felt for years to come. We are lucky to have the first hand accounts of what this sacrifice meant for one of the area’s prominent families, the Lawrence brothers.

The Lane, North Yarmouth
The Lane, North YarmouthItem Contributed by
North Yarmouth Historical Society

Linking the Towns: Transportation and Roads
One of the most important ways our communities were connected was through our roads. Traveling was still very rough in our region throughout the 19th century. The creation and condition of our roads and their constant maintenance was worrisome for town residents and officials, since impassable inland routes kept our communities isolated especially during the winter months. Horse-drawn carriages and wagons were fundamental to our farms; they were an essential mode of transportation and would remain so into the early 1900s, until the mass production of automobiles slowly replaced them.

Building the tracks
Building the tracksItem Contributed by
North Yarmouth Historical Society

Steam Rail
Present day Route 9 was an important artery that joined Cumberland and North Yarmouth. Eventually, roads connected residents to the railroads, which came into the area in 1848. The rails connected both towns to markets in Portland and beyond, and made it possible for residents to sell the many goods produced on the family farm and manufactured locally. In 1900, Cumberland Junction was the center of economic activity within the town. Many trains stopped there each day to pick up local products, or to deliver dry goods, furniture and other items to local residents. The towns had two lines running through them. The earliest, the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad, had opened in 1848 and later became the Grand Trunk Railway. The second rail line was merged with the Maine Central Railroad system in 1871.

Electric Rail
Electric RailItem Contributed by
Seashore Trolley Museum

Electric Rail
In 1894 the Portland and Yarmouth Electric Railway, along what is currently Route 88 in Cumberland Foreside, was chartered. The line began operating in August 1898, and soon had service every half hour from 6 am until nearly midnight. The Portland-Lewiston Interurban Railroad, chartered in 1907, began service through West Cumberland in 1914. In addition to passenger service, including monthly commuter ticket-holders, the line allowed West Cumberland’s farmers to ship their milk and farm produce daily to Portland and the Lewiston-Auburn area. Both rail lines allowed area residents to commute to the cities for work and errands, and remained in service until June 28, 1933.