A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF BREWER HISTORY
You should be proud that you live in Brewer, Maine. It is the hometown of some very famous and important people. It is also the beginning of settler-life along the Penobscot River. From humble beginnings there arose an important and vibrant community that in the 1800’s was one of the most important areas in the Northeast United States. Today, the spirit of your forefathers lives on in a City that is successful and energetic.
Well over two hundred years ago a young man, named John Brewer, left his home in Massachusetts and took a small sailing vessel along the coast of Maine to the Penobscot river and the present site of Brewer. He built a dam and sawmill at the mouth of the Segeunkedunk stream and built a small cabin for himself and his family. Other settlers came with him to form the beginnings of a township that would eventually incorporate the area of Brewer, Orrington and Holden. There were a couple of other settlers that had come the year before, but it was Brewer who built the first major colony.
John Brewer and the settlers had just begun to make their town when the Revolutionary War began. The British occupied the area north of the Penobscot river and built a fort at Castine in which to secure this land from the revolutionary colonists. Of course this was very disturbing to the settlers. John Brewer had become a captain in the militia and was the spokesman for the settlers with the British. When the colonists, who were now Americans, sent a large number of ships to take the fort at Castine, it was John Brewer who was able to give the fleet commander information that would have been beneficial to the American cause. Unfortunately the fleet commander did not follow the information and a British fleet intercepted and destroyed the Americans. Some of the American ships that were destroyed are still in the waters off of Brewer and part of one has been recently uncovered.
With the defeat of the American fleet and the failure of them to take the fort, it was John Brewer who aided the wounded and saw to their safety. By then it was becoming increasingly dangerous for Brewer and he took has family back to Massachusetts for the duration of the war. Many other settlers did like-wise, but some stayed in their homes and the settlement was maintained.
After the Revolutionary war, John Brewer and many other settlers returned to their homes. A group of them petitioned to have the area incorporated and the area became known as Orrington. It wouldn’t be until 1812 that Brewer separated from Orrington and had their own government.
Business and Industry
During the 1800s Brewer began to grow as a town. The skills of the inhabitants and the natural resources of the area allowed for the development of many important businesses. That combination of individual ability and available resources continues to this day. Until modern times, the river was the major “road” and since the Penobscot River is one of the largest and most powerful rivers in New England, it allowed for many businesses. Originally the streams emptying into the river allowed for dams and dams power mills; sawmills for creating lumber and grist mills for grinding corn and grains. Later the river itself would have dams, which created power plants, paper mills, and textile mills. Originally, however it was the small streams that was the power source. Also the river paved the way for log drives started in the great north woods and the use of these logs for lumber, shipbuilding and shingle making.
One of the major industries of the Brewer area in the 1800s was shipbuilding. This was the days of the great wooden ships and Brewer was the center for building some of the great wooden sailing ships in America. Great rafts of logs were driven down the river to Brewer, sawed into lumber or made into masts and other spars , then used in building ships in the great boatyards of Brewer. Even when most wooden ships were replaced by steel, Brewer produced some wonderful wooden steamboats. It was the time of lumber barons, famous captains, and the wealth of the area.
Another major industry was ice-harvesting. Very large ice houses were built along the Brewer shore to house the tremendous amounts of ice that could be obtained. During the winter, the river froze over and large blocks of ice were sawed from the river to be moved to the ice houses by ramps. Each company had a section to harvest. In the ice-house the blocks of ice were stored in sawdust to prevent melting until the next spring,. Once the river was open, ships could load a cargo of ice blocks and transport them to large cities for ice-boxes. Penobscot river ice harvesting was a major source of refrigeration until the development of the electric refrigerator.
Brewer took advantage of it’s soil to develop a major industry. Much of the area is clay and clay makes bricks. There was a time when many brick companies produced a product that was shipped all over. It made a good ballast for the sailing ships, so that captains could derive an extra source of income from their voyages. Brewer brick making continued well into the twentieth century .
With the decline of the wooden ships and the development of modern refrigeration, the fortunes of the area began to decline. The area which once rivaled Boston was fading. There were still small businesses and industries, but the boom times were over. But Brewer always was able to maintain itself in the world. Eastern Mill produced paper from rags and later from wood pulp and that anchored the City for many years. Recently a new company, Cianbro, has taken over the area and produced metal modules for shipment anywhere in the world.
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is a true American hero. He was born in 1828 in a small house that still exists along North Main Street. He grew up in a strong family that had both military and religious foundation. During the battle of Gettysburg, Chamberlain’s bravery and daring secured the extreme flank of the union army and prevented the confederates from surrounding them. His action probably saved the battle and turned the tide of war. For his gallantry in many of the major battles of the war, he was brevetted to Major General and was chosen to receive the confederate surrender of arms at Appomattox. He was four times governor of the state of Maine and president of Bowdoin College. For years after his death he was all but forgotten. Then Michael Shaara wrote “the Killer Angels” which was the basis of the movie “Gettysburg” and Chamberlain was re-discovered. Today he is recognized as a man of extreme courage and morality. Brewer can be extremely proud of this hero.
Charles Eugene Tefft was born into a well recognized Brewer family. He was a teen living in the family house on Center street when he sculptured the bust of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. He then created a sculpture which came in second in national competition and he received a scholarship to an artisan school in New York. Tefft spent a career creating sculptures that are in major cities around the United States and was recognized as one of America’s finest sculptors