Durham Oral History Interviews
(Compiled by 1976 Youth Bicentennial Committee Interviewers)
…Schools back then were one or two room school houses with maybe 25 students in the school. The teacher had all eight grades with possibly only one in a grade. Many of the teachers split kindling and built their own fires before the children got there.
Most children walked to school and usually came regardless of the weather. There could be only five or six in the classroom but class would still be held. Many times the older boys built the fires and shoveled steps for the teachers in the winter months. Teachers of today have much better training than the teachers of the one-room schoolhouses.
…My family has lived in this town for many years and there has been many changes in the town.
The general stores were places where people could go and talk to their friends, find the latest news and pick up their groceries and mail.
I can remember the old mail wagon which stopped at George Warren’s Store.
Across the way the old Charles Ford Hotel stood. People use to come and stay for the week. the month or for the season. I understand there were lavish settings on the table, heavy crystal and fine silverware.
There was a Brass Band led by C. L. Sewall which was a fine band and people would come from miles around to hear them.
As Selectman, I had some trouble especially from people who couldn’t accept defeat. But I made it clear that I was working for the good of the town and didn’t expect to be stopped from doing that. Some of the men I worked with on the Board were good men, some were not so good. but we all tried to do what was best for the town.
One thing that stands out was the time at the Bend when Sam Libby’s place burned. I can remember getting up and seeing the flames from my window. We didn’t have modern equipment so there wasn’t much we could do. Some of the men thought it would help out if they could move the bandstand out of the way during the fire…it was out farther. Well, a group of men tried and they moved it about two feet. The bandstand was and still is heavy.
..I have lived in Durham for nearly 78 years. Durham is very different now than what it was back when I was young.
There were three post offices that I can remember. They were at West Durham, South Durham and at Shiloh. R.F.D. came about in the early 1900’s.
Horses were used for transportation. They were ridden either horseback or by wagon. In the winter they were hitched to sleighs. Sleds were also used. By 1907,there were a few automobiles in operation.
There used to be Plumbers Mill where the Mill Pond is. There was a grist mill and a saw mill where Runaround Pond is.
There was a fairgrounds in the vicinity of Morse’s and Spier’s houses. These fairs continued once a year for 20 years. The racetrack by Morse’s was for horse races. The last fair was held in 1901.
There use to be several different things at Southwest Bend. Where the Durham Dairy Bar is there used to be a two-story house, two-story store, barn and a long elf. Where the bandstand is there was a hotel while the bandstand used to be w here the little island of grass is with the signs.
Once Durham was mostly a farming town where for jobs people usually worked on their farms. . .
B. A. Hall
…The flood of ’36 was a pretty rough time. The bridge was washed out completely and in a few days Ernest Learnard put his salt water boat in above the dam and carried people back and forth. Somebody made a complaint that he was overloading the boat. So a state inspector came down from Augusta to look at it. He said, ”You couldn’t get enough people on it to overload it.” It was a 27 foot lobster boat and that would take a lot of people.
The people in town which I saw weren’t hurt that much by the Depression. They were disgusted a little but not really hurt. You see. everything you bought cost so little. I know I could go up to Lewiston and buy two pairs of bib-overalls for 89 cents.
We applied for a federal loan in 1936. The government was asking people to do that thinking it was a good idea. First, you would apply for a loan where they would lend you as much money as they could. Then your creditors would take as much as they could get from you, and you tried to live on the rest. It was a polite way of going through bankruptcy.
The fall of 1931 we had a husking from five acres of field corn. About 150 people showed up. The next year we had another husking and 300 people showed up, and we had to feed them this time. We never dared to have another one after that…
…One of the most memorable events of Durham was the 1936 flood. In the spring of ’36 warm weather and rain came together and melted some of the snow and ice. The river rose with all the added water and the ice came down the river in big floating cakes. The force of the ice against the pillars of the Durham-Lisbon Falls bridge was so great that the bridge collapsed and was swept into the river. Some people that worked in the mills had to go around through Brunswick or Auburn. As the waters subsided we began to use a boat to go back and forth. Later they built a temporary wooden bridge. Twice this bridge was washed out. Finally the present day bridge was built.
In those days there were very few houses and the roads were all gravel. In the winter, horses would go by with sleighs of lumber and kids would love to jump on the runners for a free ride…
Lyndon Sylvester Jr.
. .. Uncle Harold Sylvester was the owner of the original (dance) pavilion. It was a lightly constructed building as in a park. But this was before my time. Later Harold built a new hall-type building over the original one. I was ten years old when I went to the newly built building in the 1930’s. It later collapsed in the 1930’s by snow.
For a while, though, we had large turnouts to the hall with plenty of fine music and good clean fun for everyone…
Miss Maude Johnson
[93 years old when recorded]
I lived in Durham at Shiloh for 20 years. When the Bible School closed I stayed there and worked. I enjoyed it very much. I did a lot of housework, like watching children, cleaning and ironing.
In Durham then we had lots more snow than we have now. One day, I remember, I walked through snow up to my chin.
I don’t remember many automobiles. I do remember lots of stores in town that aren’t here now.
Years ago most everyone in Durham worked in the mills out of town but Durham did have small businesses of its own. We had three greenhouses, a brick yard, dairy farmers, a shoemaker, two blacksmith shops, and a grocery store.
When I was going to school there were 12 public schools and Shiloh had its own private school. There would be any where from eight to 18 pupils. There had to be at least eight pupils to keep a school open. The teachers in the Durham schools had wages of between $6.50 to $7.00 a week. At one time there was a high school in Durham. The principal of the school was T. D. Sales.
We had double desks in school and when we had our lessons we had to sit on special seats up front. We did a lot of our work on the blackboard and when we ran out of paper we had to use our slates.
In the fall of the year the boys were always trying to find a way to get out of school. One night they went to a farmer’s garden and stole cabbages. The next morning they would get to school early and stuff the cabbages down the chimney. The smoke from the fire would fill the room and we would get to go home early.
At Christmas time the older boys would spend most of the day hunting for what they thought would be the perfect tree. Then we girls would trim it. Usually one of the neighbors would come to play the organ and we’d sing songs or practice poems. We’d have a visit by old Santa Claus dressed up in an old fur coat and hat.
We always used to have a spring ” Mud’ vacation. The roads we walked to school on were gravel. When spring rains and snow melted, the roads were so bad and muddy you couldn’t get through . . .