Frye Mountain video to be released this summer

By Fran Gonzalez | Mar 10, 2018
Courtesy of: Rita Doughty The Twin Valley Cowgirls from Frye Mountain would sing and perform at the Montville and Freedom Grange, among other places, in the 1930s. From left are Margene, Virginia, Elsie and Evelyn Stewart. Three are sisters and Virginia is their cousin.

Montville — For the last nine years, local award-winning freelance editor and video producer Heidi Ann Perkins has been working on a historical narrative about Frye Mountain. Later this year, she will wrap up production and stage a local screening.

Perkins started shooting video of Frye Mountain back in 2009 while attending the annual wagon tour sponsored by Montville Historical Society. Society President Debi Stephens approached Perkins and asked her to collaborate on a project.

"We thought it would be a one-off; then we did it again, and again, every year there was more information," Stephens said.

"The wagon tour," Perkins said, "is a vehicle to tell the many stories of Frye Mountain."

Now a state game preserve, Frye Mountain was once home to a community of Montville, Morrill and Knox families. According to Perkins, most of the farms were purchased by the federal government in the late 1930s in a nationwide effort to aid poverty-stricken areas.

The Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act of the 1930s authorized the federal government "to acquire damaged lands to rehabilitate and use them for various purposes," according to published reports. "The act also authorized a modest credit program to assist tenant farmers to purchase land."

According to a May 1936 Republican Journal article, there were plans to have the land become a recreational area, including camping, swimming and picnic areas, as well as hiking trails. “The idea one gets is that it will be somewhat similar to the Belfast City Park,” the article said.

Plans included having the land become part of Lake St. George State Park, though it was never developed.

"Some farms were bought because all the minerals were depleted in the soil," Perkins said, adding, "the farms were not prospering" and there were many different reasons why people sold their houses.

"It was at the height of the Depression," Perkins said. "The act was designed to help in the South with sharecroppers. I'm not sure how it got up here." Who initiated this and why remains a mystery, she said.

Stephens said, “There were so many ideas — but ideas changed along the way. “Somewhere down the line they decided to declare houses derelict. That’s when they started taking down houses that weren’t repairable."

What happened next was not what the farmers expected, according to Perkins.

"They came in and burned down the houses," she said, even though the people thought they would be put to use somehow. All that remains now are cellar holes, cemeteries and rock walls.

Some families who sold their homes have remained in the area. The Republican Journal's Knox town columnist Rita Doughty’s mother was born on Frye Mountain, Perkins noted.

"Their family became worse off after selling their house," she said. "They did buy another farm but it was not in as good shape and their family became bitter."

Hartley Curtis, who appears in the film, was born in 1919 on Frye Mountain. Curtis' father was more than happy with the deal he received when selling the family farm, according to Perkins. He bought another farm on Goose Pecker Ridge in Freedom.

When Stephens asked Curtis how it felt to be turning 100 this year, he quipped, “The first hundred years was the hardest.”

He remembers when Frye Mountain was “all open fields — it was a place to live. Homemade biscuits and potatoes three times day.”

When asked about what Frye Mountain means to him, Curtis said, “It’s home to me. It’s home."

Perkins and Stephens acknowledged community members who donated their time and talents, as well as those who have died since being filmed, including Elmin Mitchell, Peggy McKenna and Earl Tibbetts.

"I'm glad we are able to leave a legacy about Frye Mountain," Stephens said.

The working title is "A Community Gone but Not Forgotten."  A mid-July release date is planned and it will be available on DVD. All proceeds will benefit Montville Historical Society.

Anyone who would like to contribute stories, pictures or historical information about Frye Mountain can contact Heidi Ann Perkins at 589-3215.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Rita Doughty | Mar 14, 2018 22:07

This means a lot to my Walker and Stewart Families..Nice to be able to contribute to this upcoming CD.Richard we would love to have a picture you may have of Gertrude, or any of Frye Mt..

Posted by: Fran Gonzalez | Mar 12, 2018 21:50

That is really interesting! Heidi Ann Perkins would be very interested in checking out your photographs and requested you contact her. Her # is 589-3215. Thanks!

Posted by: Richard Shibles | Mar 11, 2018 13:13

My mother, Gertrude (Lamson) Shibles taught school on Frye Mountain sometime around 1929-31.  She literally was fresh out of high school. She had attended one summer school session at Farmington State Normal School, as it then was known, obtained a teaching certificate and began teaching there. She lived with the "Pem" Carter family. They had 3 sons and  daughter who became like brothers and sister to her. I have pictures of mother and the older Carter son returning to Frye Mt. sometime in the 90s searching out the old foundations.

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