Editor's note: Margaret Herrick Oakes (1896-1992) was the daughter of Judge Addison E. and Mary Chase Herrick and spent her childhood on Broad Street at Bethel Hill village during the first decades of the twentieth century. The following is an edited version of letters and taped comments by Mrs. Oakes. At the time this article was originally published in 1977, Mrs. Oakes was a retired state employee living in Augusta, Maine. She was the widow of Clyde Oakes (1898-1970).
It was the fashion to go to the White Mountains for summer vacation. Taking boarders was quite the accustomed thing for ladies in straitened circumstances of good family to do. They didn't lose and caste over it, and they were very good cooks and had lovely houses. Aunt Melissa and Uncle Gilbert Tuell took Dr. Gehring's patients as boarders. They had several distinguished people at one time or another, but of course distinguished people were a dime a dozen on Broad Street when I was little. These were mostly college professors and a scattering of millionaires. The professors were the first ones that came; they were the ones that started it all. Then as it got fashionable, the New York society people came. One winter I remember we moved out and went to the Inn and Ogden Mills (later Secretary of the Treasury in the Hoover Administration), who had married the stepdaughter of W. K. Vanderbilt, rented our house that winter. Miss Jane Addams of Hull House spent a summer at the Tuell's. She was not a patient, but her close friend Miss Mary Smith was. Miss Smith was very fond of Bethel and induced Miss Addams to come.
Mr. William Fuller lived at the Inn. He had a bedroom with a fireplace in it, I remember, and after that he bought the Wright Cottage. He married one of Dr. Gehring's patients. He was living at the Inn in 1917 and had his own valet. This valet was an Englishman, and he went off to war and was killed. The Fullers later left; they wanted something gayer and more fashionable, and then Mr. Bingham bought the Wright Cottage.
I knew Mr. Bingham well; I used to love to waltz with him. You see, until it appeared in the Boston papers that he was the richest man in Maine, he lived just like everyone else. Then when the big headline came out "Unknown Is Maine's Richest" with an extensive story about Mr. Bingham, everybody started deluging him with begging letters and he could no longer live his own life. He went into a shell. He was a wonderful man; he used to do the hesitation waltz, and I used to like to do it with him. He went to all the dances, and also played the violin beautifully. He was a delightful genuine aristocrat.
Miss Mary True was a very remarkable person, probably one of the most distinguished people ever to live in Bethel. She was a teacher of the deaf. She went to live with the Hubbard family and taught their daughter Mabel from the time she was a young girl. Mabel Hubbard later married Alexander Graham Bell. The Bell family remained close friends of Miss True until she died.
Miss True was amusing, funny, gay and sharp, and I remember one time she was walking along the street and I called over to a little girl, while Sylvia Swan (Conroy) and I were playing, "Come over and play with Sib and I." Overhearing me, Miss True said, "Margaret, would you say come over and play with I?" and I replied, "No." She then said, "Well, don't say come over and play with Sib and I." I've never forgotten that, and that's a mistake that is made constantly and it irritates me to this day.
Miss True was always a teacher. Her house, she told me, was named "Delinda" after the wife of the original owner, a Chapman. The place had great charm, like its owner. Miss True and her brother wanted to entertain some of the famous people who were guests of the Gehrings (Mrs. Gehring was their half-sister), and what did they do but Miss True cooked up a big pot of Irish stew and had a delicious old-fashioned meal. The guests all filed through the kitchen and got served, and sat around this delightful old house, eating--no servants, no pretense--and my mother said she never heard more brilliant conversation anywhere. Miss True's brother, "Major," was a "fun" person. Young people loved him and he was included in their parties even though he was quite old. He had been a private in the Civil War. I don't know why he was called "Major."
Much of the social life of the street revolved around the patients of Dr. Gehring, and the rest of us were in it or about our business. Mr. William J. Upson had his barn converted into a beautiful music room and theater for amateur theatricals and shows. He had one of the first of the really fine automatic pianos. Before that, as long ago as I can remember, Al Rowe came to that house summers with his family. He lived in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and had made a lot of money selling liquor, perfectly legitimately. He and his wife were very nice people. Mr. Rowe had a big lovely driving horse, and a surrey plus a black coachman. Then one year the coachman got drunk and they fired him, and that was a character gone out of Broad Street. He'd been coming for years.
The library building was where Judge Enoch Foster had his law office, before he went to Portland. Foster lived next door in what was later known as the Straw house. In later years, after moving to Portland, he was a very dramatic character. He wore a cape and was very stern and tall and handsome. he had a little Pomeranian dog that he carried everywhere with him. I recall my father saying that Judge Foster was going to Europe, and he had some new luggage, and my father went there and the judge was kicking his new luggage down the stairs. My father asked, "What are you doing that for?" and Mr. Foster replied, "I don't want to look as if I'd never travelled before."
There was a pie closet in Judge Foster's house down in the cellar. Mrs. Foster used to make a quantity of pies in the fall and put them down there, and I suppose they must have frozen and they'd have pies all winter. An early deep freeze!
When the Dan Hastings family and William and Agnes Straw returned to Bethel from Montana, they brought their horses and sheep dogs with them. I was often in and out of their houses. Mr. Straw was very fond of me and I of him. Once I told him what I thought of Democrats. I was down in his cellar sucking sweet cider out of a bung hole in a barrel with a straw, and something came up about the September election and I hauled off and let him have it with what my father had said about Democrats. Mr. Straw was about rolling in the aisles, and I couldn't understand it. When I came home and said, "Papa, I told Mr. Straw what you said about Democrats," my father collapsed and laughed until he cried. When I asked him what was the matter, he said, " Straw's one of the strongest Democrats in Bethel!"
The Tuells all were wonderful people, with beautiful eyes. I was especially fond of Aunt Melissa and Uncle Gilbert Tuell. Dr. Tuell, Auntie Merrill told me, was a gay young blade, so to speak, before he married, and that at one time he had a dance at the old hotel, and he said that there would be a light supper. So everybody got to dance and then they got hungry and went into the dining room to supper, and there were a lot of lamps on the table and that was the "light" supper.
My mother wasn't very well when I was a child, and this is perhaps why I roamed around and everybody had a hand in raising me, especially Aunt Melissa Tuell and Fred's mother, Auntie Merrill. She was a "scream"--a delightful soul. One time, Fred put a number of things out on the line to air, and he included his best fall overcoat. One of the town characters came by and asked Auntie Merrill for any clothes she wanted to get rid of. She told him there were some old things out on the line that Fred had put out. So he walked off with Fred's new overcoat and Fred had to go after it. Auntie Merrill thought it was terribly funny.
Another family that lived on Broad Street was the Louis Mercier family; his wife was a Twitchell. Mr. Mercier was a section hand on the railroad and their house stood next to the Prospect Hotel. It was not well kept up as Mrs. Mercier was not well, and after her sudden death (she died of a heart attack after being frightened by an elephant during a thunderstorm at the circus) the family scattered and the house was eventually torn down. Charles Tuell and I smashed many of the windows with snowballs when it was empty.
Tris Durell was a most interesting man who could do anything with his hands. He would help us out by doing all kinds of work. Once, we had out whole lower half of the house re-papered and he, my sister, and I took off the old paper. Mr. Durell kept us laughing for days and interested, too, in books about art he brought up and reminiscences of his life before he came to Bethel. He had a little shop called the "Poly Shop" where he fixed bicycles and everything else. He was a dear man. Nowadays he would have a craft shop and be right in current style.
I spent time all over Broad Street. When I was quite young my mother said, "You must not go to the neighbors' houses and beg for cookies." However, my mother always confided in me. She must have sensed that I had a great interest in people. The whole thing as I look back is like looking back under glass. It's something that I reflect upon and think just couldn't be.