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Western Maine Foothills Region

Mexico

A Brief History of Mexico, Maine

Text by Lorraine Robichaud Legere
Images provided by Mexico Historical Society

The history of Mexico begins with the purchase of wilderness land by Jonathan Holman and a group of 26 men from Sutton, in Worcester County, Massachusetts. At the time of purchase the land was designated as Township #1, and after the purchase the name Holmantown was chosen. In 1803 a portion of Holmantown was set apart, became incorporated, and was named Dixfield.

The land remaining was called Holmantown for the next fifteen years. During this time a form of plantation organization existed in the small community later known as Mexico. Seven pioneer families, those of Thomas Eustis, Joseph Eustis, Samuel Knapp, Stephen Barnard, Isaac Gleasson, Benjamin Edwards, and Zebediah Mitchell were among those who had bought land along the Androscoggin River or upon the rocky hills. Their farms were widely separated, and they struggled for existence in the face of primitive hardships.

On February 13, 1818, this small village became incorporated with the act passed by the legislature of the State of Massachusetts. The name Mexico was chosen in admiration for the country of Mexico and its struggle to be free of Spanish domination. The boundaries were Webb River on the east, northerly by the line separating Mexico from Plantation No 7, now Roxbury, and continuing on the line between Mexico and Carthage to Webb River. Its Westerly line was that dividing Mexico from New Pennacook and the Androscoggin River.

A unanimous vote was taken on July 26, 1819, on the question of establishing a free and independent State. Walter P. Carpenter was the chosen delegate to represent the town at the Constitutional Convention held in Portland to form the Constitution for the new State of Maine. He was one of the best educated of the early settlers and lived on what is now Leavitt Street.

At the time of incorporation a cluster of mills had previously been established around the dams built on Webb River, the boundary line between Mexico and Dixfield. Peter Trask settled nearby on Trask Street, and Deacon Joseph Eustis had settled up above the farm of Benjamin Leavitt on Trask Street.

What was known as Trask Street at that time, now Leavitt Street, went all the way to Highland Terrace. Another road, that roughly paralleled Webb River and junctioned with the Backingdom Road went across the Thad White Bridge, past York Hill, and on to Poplar Hill.

There was a county road that went from Dixfield up to the north side of Carr Mountain and on to Rangeley. On the east side of Carr Mountain, near the home of Ben Royal, was a Way Station that had a tie up for horses and lodging for travelers.

In 1798 a road to the Swift River along the Androscoggin River was built and called Rumford Road, now River Road. A rambling vernacular Greek Revival farmstead was built on this road by Joel White. In the 1850s it was Morrill Farm. Later, General Charles Wilson, a Mexico native who became a successful lawyer in Rhode Island, purchased the property and added a carriage house, a hen house with cupola, and elaborate wooden fencing in an effort to create a picturesque retreat. In the 1930s this place became known as the Gregory Inn and was operated as a hotel by the Sweeney family. The buildings and land surrounding it remains much the same now as in early days and is still called The Gregory Inn.

Stephen Barnard was the first chosen selectman and settled one mile from Mexico Corner on Harlow Hill. Harlow Hill was named for Thomas Harlow, a farmer and the appointed keeper of the village pound for some time. Judge Charles W. Walton of the Supreme Court of the State of Maine opened a law office before 1905. Henry W. Park came to Mexico from Dixfield. He first moved to a farm on Mann Hill and the next year bought a store at Mexico Corner, becoming a prominent citizen. In 1864 he sold his store and went to Washington, D. C., where he served in Ordnance Department until the close of the war. Returning to Mexico in 1865, he bought back his old store at the Corner and revived his trade.

Over the years he served as Crier for the Courts, Selectman, Town Treasurer, and in 1875 was Representative to the State Legislature. Mr. Park was an active temperance worker and an able correspondent of the local papers. An excerpt from his diary reads:

I packed my goods, loaded them and started for Mann Hill about 10 o'clock A.M. Got Stowell with his oxen to help me over bare ground up to the Huntress Ferry. Hauled my load with hard pulling up to the top of the [?] way hill left it there and went up and got John Babcocks steers.

Drove them back put them on and hauled my load up to the hill beyond Babcocks barn when his steers swung and broke my sled tongue. Babcock let me have his sled and helped me reload and haul my load up the Mason Wilson Hill with my own oxen. I then hauled my load up to the road that leads to Sewall Ayers. There I was met by Ayers with 2 yoke of steers and by Whitman with 2 yoke more, they having been sent to my aid by Nelson Rose who had gone ahead with my wife up as far as Ayers. By dint of hard labor and peeseverance we after much trouble arrived at Mann Hill house. Ayers stopped and helped me unload. Set up stove etc. I built a fire and then with Ayers went down to his house where with my wife and child and I took supper After supper I took the boy in my arms and started for the pinnacle.

Metalluk, son of a great chief and the last of the Cooask-aukes (dwellers-of-the-pines) and respected friend of the early settlers, showed them where river fording was feasible and where it wasn't. He also urged them to settle high on the hills, knowing that the Androscoggin and Swift Rivers often flooded in early spring.

According to the writing of Anna Virgin Farrington, Indians from the Pennacook tribe had a camp on the mountain in back of what is known as the Ira Wing farm. They made baskets and other useful items to trade for food and other necessary items. Many Indian tribes in Maine were nomadic, traveling to the coast in the summer for fishing, stopping to plant crops in fertile lands along the way. In the fall they would go north, stopping to harvest crops, then going on to the woodlands for hunting and trapping. The old Indian trail extending up along the Androscoggin River through Dixfield, Mexico, and Rumford, and then on up into the lakes is worthy of mention. Many a pioneer used the Indian route to travel from the coast, moving inland, seeking refuge from the British.

Early ferries were conveyances that were mainly boards and ropes fashioned to make a raft, or they could be boats, large or small, which could carry men and provisions from one shore to the other. When Mexico celebrated its 150th birthday, E. G. Kimball wrote The History of Mexico in which he mentions a ferry that was located on the Swift River in 1858. Before that time crossings were made by fording. The first bridge to cross the Swift River was in the Hale section of town. This bridge was swept away during the freshet of 1869. In a place considered a more accessible location a covered bridge was built and named Porter Bridge.

Elizabeth Abbott recalls that in earlier years a ferry made regular crossings within sight of her home, near where the Congregationalist Church is now. About 1887 a ferry was in operation across the Androscoggin River between Mexico and Peru. An unusual feature of this ferry was that it only went half way to an island. Passengers then would ford the river to Peru. When the river was low, foot passengers could walk across from the island to Peru on a natural causeway. When the river was high and swift, they would be rowed across by boat.

In 1894, George W. Ridlon arrived in Mexico. He was well aware of the growth taking place in the area. Across the river were the Rumford Falls Paper Company, Rumford Falls Power Company, and the Rumford Falls and Rangeley Lakes Railroad. With the construction of the Oxford Paper Company in the planning stages, he could see that there would be a shortage of housing.

Education was key in this new settlement. Instructions were given in private homes by citizens and parents with slightly more education than the average person. The early teachers were unpaid and attendance was irregular, with school terms from six to 12 weeks at the start. Schools built at that time were usually one room, painted red, and stood at the top of a hill.

One of the earliest schools in Mexico would have been built near the Dixfield town line, in the area known previously as Holmantown. The school was a mile from Dixfield Village on the Trask Road, now known as Leavitt Street. A school building was erected on Roxbury Road and one near Highland Terrace before 1850. The next to come was the Walton School, then the Kingdom School located in Backingdom. In 1894, both the Kimball School and the six room Central School were built. The Central School burned December 24, 1906, and in 1907 a new school was built and named Abbott School for Elizabeth Abbott who had originally donated the land.

Barn raisings were the first social events, consisting of fiddle playing, dancing, and plenty of good food. The years progressed, and, as the population grew, other forms of recreation were found: dance halls, pool rooms, boxing matches, horse racing, a movie theater. In 1924 the Oakdale Country Club Golf Course was built and is still challenging and successful today. The absence of a lake shore or a pond for summer recreation was in part replaced by shallow pools on the Swift River, known as ABC, and covered for swimming. Fishing could be found at Half Moon Pond, on local brooks and streams, and in special spots on the Swift River.

Social organization began with the Patrons of Husbandry, a group interested in the improvement of farming. It was later renamed the Swift River Grange and located on Roxbury Road; it is now the Free Store. Mothercraft and Junior Mothercraft were organizations of women gathering together at each other's homes, sharing life experiences, exchanging recipes, discussing current events, contributing to the community, and enjoying the company of their peers.

In the early 1920s Ridlonville played host to a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan; it is believed they built the Goodwill Hall. Within a couple of years the Klan moved out and the Goodwill Hall became a facility for sports and other social events. In 1926 The Strathglass Fife Band of Mexico and Rumford was formed. First practices were held in the Rumford Band Room on Canal Street but later moved to the Howard Hall building in Mexico to practice marching.

Before any churches came to exist, several religious denominations held services in a hall located on Roxbury Road. During the mid 1800s, there was a devout following of Seven Day Adventist and a number of Christian Scientists. Around 1900 summer church services were held in an outdoor grove on the corner of Roxbury Road and Poplar Hill, near the Walton School. It was called the Union Grove Association.

The First Baptist Church was first known as the Chapel Association, organized in 1888. It became an incorporated church society that pledged to use money raised to build a chapel. In 1904, the cornerstone for the Mexico Congregationalist Church was laid by Charles Thompson, the oldest man in town. St. Theresa's Catholic Church was founded in 1926 on Brown Street.

In 1920 a four-horse coach delivered the mail down river from Rumford, through Mexico, on to Dixfield and Peru. Post offices were established at Mexico Corner, Hale, and Ridlonville.

Mexico currently has a town manager form of government with five selectmen, town clerk, treasurer, tax collector, budget committee, a police force, fire department, highway department, water district, sewer district, highway department, and librarian.

Over the years, the face of Mexico has undergone many changes. A branch of the University of Maine Systems is now located where the St. Theresa School once was. Region 9, School of Applied Technology, and an Adult Education Learning Center can be found on River Road. Convenience stores and mini-malls are sprouting up along Route 2, welcoming the tourists that travel through to the ponds, lakes, golf courses, and ski areas, to enjoy the four seasons of activities for people of all ages.

Sources

The Early History of Dixfield Maine, including the section of Mexico near Webb's River, published for the Dixfield Bicentennial celebration 1976.

History of the Town of Mexico, E. G. Kimball

A Story of the Town of Mexico 1818-1968: One Hundred Fiftieth Birthday Celebration and what has gone before, edited and compiled by Ruby Bragdon and Theresa Thomas

"Mexico Resident Pictures Town As It Was in Year 1870," by L.H. Harlow, Rumford Falls Times, February 15, 1940.

"Mayor Park of Mexico Corner, Etched by a Globe Man," Boston Daily Globe, Sunday, July 20, 1890, copied and typed by Richard J. Muzzrole, from microfilm in the Boston Public Library. Copied from the internet, January 20, 2013, by Lorraine Robichaud Legere.

Henry W. Park Diary, December 1, 1858 to April 6, 1859.

Once Upon A Farm, Volume II, written by Lloyd Crossland, Burton Crossland, Joyce Morgan, Fern Stearns, Gail Parent.

History of the Town of Peru Maine, Mary Searles Vaughn

Remembering Ridlonville, Beverly Melanson

Metallak, Arthur Woodrow

2011 Mexico Town Report