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Searsport's first town meeting more fun the second time

By Fran Gonzalez | Feb 14, 2020
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez With meeting moderator John Pendleton, played by Searsport Town Manager James Gillway, left, and, from left, Selectmen Doug Norman as Shepherd Blanchard, Linda Payson as Otis Black and Mark Bradstreet as Andrew Leach, Searsport's first town meeting is reenacted. The event is one of several events planned for the year to celebrate the town's 175th anniversary.

Searsport —

In 1845, the town that would be known as Searsport had its first town meeting.

A reenactment of the meeting 175 years later took place at the Searsport Methodist Church Thursday, Feb. 13, the date of the first town meeting, with the current Board of Selectmen and town officials. The play, written by Town Historian Charlene Knox Farris, was based on actual town records.

“The names, items of business and actions are accurate,” Farris noted, and said the church was where official town business was conducted at the time. Back then, she said, women could go to the meetings, but could not sit with their husbands or vote.

While researching the history of the town, Farris discovered there was no official historical book to reference. She said two different people had started to write histories of Searsport, but both died before completing their books.

“One was a man who was on his way to Augusta to meet with a publisher, had a heart attack and died,” she said. The other one was a woman who had a cottage in Searsport. “They found her in her cottage, with her notes, dead,” Farris said.

Farris said she gleaned much information from old town records stored in a safe at the Town Hall.

The Methodist Church vestry roared with laughter as Farris set the scene for the meeting that was about to take place. The room was filled to capacity with townspeople, who also took part in the production, asking historically relevant questions and expressing their views to selectmen.

The elected moderator, played by Searsport Town Manager James Gillway, asked selectmen for $850 to support the local school in the first article. Selectmen also discussed spending $2,000 on roads.

“This is a ridiculous amount,” one resident in the audience declared. “I’d like it lowered.”

Another article dealt with the naming of the town. Two names discussed were Maineport and Searsport. Selectman Shepherd Blanchard, played by Selectman Doug Norman, said, “Maineport has a fine ring to it.”

At the time, townspeople thought it would be to their advantage to call the town “Searsport” after wealthy Boston businessman David Sears, who owned a house on Sears Island. He had previously donated money to build the library and selectmen thought that by honoring him with the name, they would flatter him into further generosity.

“He’ll want to show his gratitude…,” one selectman said.

Halfway through the production, the meeting was suspended for lunch at Beal’s Tavern. The church vestry transformed into a tavern, with finger sandwiches, chowder and chili for everyone.

After the needed sustenance, one resident said, “After coming back from the tavern, I see things much more clearly.”

One resident asked, “Should we name the town with such a close-sounding name to Searsmont?”

Another asked, “Why should we name the town after someone from Boston?”

After much debate, moderator Gillway asked for a vote and then declared, “On this day of Feb. 13, 1845, the town will be known as Searsport.

Farris said afterward that David Sears was pleased to have the town named after him and sent a written note of congratulations along with $1,000 to build the first town hall. Selectmen were delighted with the gift, she said.

“Unfortunately, Sears took one look at the building,” she said, “and declared it looked like a powder magazine,” a nondescript brick building that houses explosives.

“He was not impressed and never gave another cent again,” Farris said.

After the production, Farris told The Journal she felt that with the snowy weather that day, the turnout was was better than she expected.

“We set up 30 chairs, expecting mostly retired people,” she said. “Never in our wildest dreams did we expect a storm, or to have this many people.”

She credited the enthusiasm of the town manager and selectmen for the project’s success. Later in the day, the Historic Preservation Committee gave a birthday party celebration and potluck dinner in Curtis Hall at the First Congregational Church, with Farris giving a slideshow presentation of Searsport through the years.

Several events are planned throughout the year to commemorate the town’s 175th birthday. Visit for more information.

The Searsport Methodist Church vestry is filled with performers and townspeople alike at the reenactment of the first town meeting Feb. 13. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The first town meeting breaks for lunch and Searsport Methodist Church transforms into "Beal's Tavern." (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
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Comments (1)
Posted by: Virgil Fowles Jr | Feb 17, 2020 06:49

OH Linda, I will never look at you again without a HOORAY.....'crossdresser"  lol

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