Irish Town

Note: This piece was written by Harry Edgar “Ned” Lamb (b. October 10, 1874), founding member of the SCHS and noted local historian/journalist. It was published in The Calais Advertiser.

The first road in Calais from Mill­town was down what we call Union Street from the Mills in Milltown to the Mills at the Union. It is hard for us to visualize what the conditions were. Everything was lumber. The mills in Milltown were off by them­selves. The whole flat from the top of Apothecary Hill (Cassidy’s store) to the rocks at Methodist Hill was one big pond that extended up what is now Chase Street to the hill there. That road first was “swamped”; its trees and bushes were cut close to the ground. Low places were “cord­uroyed” with logs. Some bridges had to be built. At first that road was good only when covered with snow. Gradually it got “Improved.” The mills at the Union were built in 1826.

    There was a great immigration from Scotland and Ireland, and some from England. In Scotland a boy was told, “Ian, go to Amerikie and buy a piece of ground, even if it is only big enough to put your foot on.” The ordi­nary man could not get a bit of land of his own, and all improvements he made belonged to his landlord. So they grouped together, cooked up a big lot of food that could be cooked hard, put it in a big box, paid for their passage (but not for food), and made that awful voyage. As for Ireland, so many left there that the population decreased tremendously.

    The Scots were apt to follow that advice and secured wild land, went to cutting lumber, made a barn, planted potatoes and other things, and as the years went by they had farms. On the Canadian side they would go down to St. Andrews and buy a bag of meal and some pork, load it onto their backs, and tote it to their clearing. Of course most of the immigrants landed around Boston and New York, but some came to St. John and St. Andrews.

    Many of the Irish heard of the mills along the St. Croix that needed workers, and they were just the boys for the jobs. The Union Bridge was built in 1829 and gave easy passage to either side of the river. There was plenty of work along the river. There was the lumber of Milltown coming down the sluices to be scowed or rafted to the vessels or wharves. There were the sawmills on both sides. Then there were the wharves with vessels to be loaded and un­loaded. There were schooners to be built. There were crews to sail the schooners, so this region extended down Union Street and along the riv­er bank away down below the lower wharf. The Irish moved into this section, built houses and worked until they dominated the section—until Union Street became known as Irish Town, but it really went all the way along the river bank.

    The part of Main Street from Union to the Bridge began to be the trad­ing center of this region—and the loafing center also. A number of small stores were built along this line. Still there were others scatter­ed up Union Street to the Bridge. Do you remember the one who ran an “ad” in the Advertiser for quite a while?


I smoke My Own Ham and Shoulders”

    Pigs were kept everywhere, all over the town, but down on Union Street below Main there were boarding houses, an ideal chance to get feed for them, so that part of the Street got the name of “Hog Alley” though probably it was no worse than other sections. Pigs could be kept in small quarters while a cow had to have pasture and a lot of hay hauled in. You probably do not remember the old rime, but here it is:

            “The Boston ladies’ mouths are so very small

            You wouldn’t think they had any mouths at all.

            But inside they are so very big

            They’ll hold six families and each keep a pig.”

     Of course there were fights; gangs did gang fights under various names. But this was the spirit of the times almost everywhere. As Kipling wrote:

            “For where there are Irish there’s loving and fighting,

            And when we stop either, it’s Ire­land no more!”

     Bill Smith, Number 1, might be in­dustrious and bring up his family and give all the education they could get here, and live a quiet and respectful life, but no one made much of him. Bill Smith, Number 2, might get drunk, lick his wife, not do much for his family, get into a fight, get or give a good licking; but when he went “down street” men flocked around him like flies around the mo­lasses jug, and made so much of him that he would think that he was some punkins and he would get talked about and remembered. Oh, well, here a couple of stories, take them or leave them, you got them as cheap as I did.

    In the good old days they used to celebrate the Fourth of July by putting one of those old brass can­non on Union Street on the high bank over the river and pointed that way. Once, just before the match was applied, someone pushed a round rock into the cannon’s mouth. It hit one place that was hard to miss there—a rum shop. This is the only time we ever heard of New Brunswick getting bombarded from the U. S. Of course it was resented and the mob started to clean up Calais or at least a part of it. They were vic­torious at first, but the further they went the more reinforcements came to the “Yankees.” After a while the “enemy” was driven back and the Fourth of July was fittingly cele­brated.

    Here is the second one. It was a regular gang fight. What started it? It didn’t take anything in particular, just the opportunity. A Scotchman got an Irishman down and was choking him. But the Scotchman picked a very poor place—right in front of the Irishman’s home. Mrs. Irish came to the rescue with a woman’s weapon of the time, a flatiron—the kind that the iron and handle were all one. She hit the Scotchman on the head and came near killing her husband. No, she did not miss her aim. She knocked the Scot out but he had such a hold of the Irishman’s throat that it was hard work to get his fingers away before the Irishman was choked to death. “Them were the happy days.”

     About 1850 the Jesuits purchased the “Town House” on Union Street, and made it over into a church where services were held until the new church on Calais Avenue was dedicated September 30, 1894. The Immaculate Conception School was built in 1885.

     In 1868 William Poole built a meet­ing house on Union Street under the name of the Free Will Baptist denomination.       

*       *      *

     In 1839 the railroad began to run through the Union. This, of course, was “The One Horse Road.” Lum­ber was hauled from Milltown down to the wharves. It was a true “railway” with sleepers and rails. The engine was a horse. There was no tunnel under the street but the road came down about where the Border Station is, crossed the road and run along the other side and then down to the wharves. The steam road ran this way for a while. Then a big ditch was dug with pick and shovel, rails laid on the bottom, the sides stoned up, and the trains have been going through the tunnel ever since. When the Washington County took ever the road the tunnel was not high enough for those engines. So they had to put a higher top on the tunnel and raised the road and build­ings. Some of the foundations un­der some of the buildings along the street were not good for the buildings. Now the top of the tunnel is up again but it is steel and cement.

     In the early 1860s they hauled a lot of lumber, timbers and boards up River Street and built the big tank of the gas company. The top would rise higher and higher when they filled the retort with soft coal and the gas went into the tank, and the weight furnished the pressure to drive the gas through the pipes. The coal tar was thought to be waste and was run into the river. As the rude boys in Milltown used to holler at one another, “Robert Kadunk Killed a skunk, Oh my gracious how it stunk.” But this had nothing on the odoriferous compound made up of the coal tar and the rotting sawdust on a hot summer night when the tide was out. Now the gas company is going.

     Then there was more lumber and more hammering up River Street in the early nineties when they built, the street car barn and power house, and there was plenty of noise in the morning and at night Eleven o’­clock when the cars left and return­ed, especially the squawk when they made the turn up the street. Now they are gone. Once, one of the cars just as it crossed the tunnel, broke down the timbers.      

The motorman felt the car going, turned on the juice and pulled out O. K. The R.R. train had just passed under to the station so they were not delayed.

     Then the street cars went.

     The patron saint of this section was, of course, Wallace Brown. From his store, two stores made into one at the corner of Union Street, he al­ways had something to offer the public. Prize dolls at Christmas, the first showing of a potato bug (Colorado Beetle) in a bottle, and a big “synthetic bug” in the Fourth of July parade. But Mr. Brown’s knowl­edge of the Indians around here was great; and Mrs. Brown’s knowledge of Indians in the Southwest was wonderful.

     But this region was always a place of change. Up Union Street, the second and third generation began to move to other parts of the city and to other places. As the mills got through it began to lose the strictly Irish distinction and became just an­other part of the city. Many other families moved in.

*       *       *

      Main Street was always in a state of flux. The buildings across from Brown’s Bargain Store seem to have been a grocery most of the time. There was “Cam” Whitlock and Jus­tin Gove and you will recall others. The street could not have been as bad as some wanted to paint it, for right in the middle was a woman’s milli­nery store. Down where the Border Station is, there was a big brick building with several stores. Guess they thought they could catch the “over the river” trade, but that could not be. The Andrews Hotel dom­inated the lower end. First it was, Israel Andrews, now it is “Tommy.” Then there was a little white house where a man by the name of Smith lived. Afterwards some men lifted it up in the air and put a store in for a ground floor. This was the Cus­tom House some of the time, then a barber shop.

     Then there was a tin-type place (Do you remember the Ping-pongs?), then a grocery store. Now there is a fine residence. Some will remember McGregor’s store for a number of years.

     Through the kindness of Mrs. Alex­ander we are able to add to the list of names. Near the bridge was Charles Coleman’s restaurant; Gould* cigar factory. It may be news that cigars were made in Calais but in Milltown, Dinsmore made cigars and he and Mrs. Dinsmore made music. Steve Chambers, restaurant; George Coffram, barber shop; Joe Manship†, barber shop; the Valley Spa store; there was a doctor’s office there but he moved to Milltown to the Boundary House; Greenlaw, fruit store; Max Matz, clothing; Fred Spinney; Herbert MacGregor, Asa Sullivan, Harry Gay, Joe Miller and Mike Mc­Dermott; Alexander’s candy store; Alexander’s second-hand store; Todd, V & G Cleaners; Mr. Black’s fish shop. Olsson bought it, and Philip Gordon had a shoe store.

     Now you can make your own list and if you care to send them in, all right. There are two places that must be left out. We get our light and some of our heat from that power house on River Street.

     Then there is the Stone House up on Union Street, one of the two stone houses in the City. The other is the Livingstone building down river near the shore.

     There is one building that must not be left out: that is the local jail, or, as it was better known, the lock­up, opposite the old railway station. Here they took Collins who tried to rob the Calais Bank in Civil War days; here they marched the Fenian who shot several holes in the roof of the old covered bridge, then the next morning fined him $5.00 for carrying concealed weapons; here they kept Calvin P. Graves, the last man to he tried under the hanging law in the State of Maine, until they took him to Thomaston for life im­prisonment; and here many others were incarcerated for short times through the years; and here It is recorded that the City Council met at least once at the time of the Big Fire.

     Now many of these buildings along Main Street are gone. Some moved; many were torn down. New buildings will take their places and new sounds will replace the older ones.

     “Turn, turn, my wheel!

     All things must change.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Kéramos

* Edward Franklin Gould, b. April 1872, d. 28 June 1943

† Joseph Clinton Manship, b. 22 August 1891, d. 8 December 1957

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