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History of Dexter was origionally written by Honorable Stanley Plummer

Did you ever wonder what Dexter looked like way, way back even before the Indians or the wild animals got there?

Well, it says in Plummer's History of Dexter that it was 'a trackless forest'!!! How could that be? His meaning, no doubt, was that there were no human beings yet. I'm sure that there were plenty of animals and other habitants of the wilds.

Mr. Plummer's comments about the first humans: "Indians built their wigwams and planted their corn on the shores of Lake Wassookeag." In the early days, this magnificent body of water was called 'Silver Lake'. Then it was given the Indian name, 'Wassookeag', which means, silver lake. (This information comes from my good friend, Isabel Ansell Jacobs.) Plummer's History has this to say about the lake: "Among its western hills lies a deepwater lake four hundred and twenty feet above sea level, with a shore line irregular and picturesque, and two square miles of surface, which shines in the calm sunlight like burnished silver."

Lake Wassookeag is spring fed and a number of small brooks, namely, Eaton, Sucker, Strout and Frye's have an abundant supply of brook trout. These brooks also are spring fed and provide another source of water to our beautiful lake.

When did the first white man come to this place called 'Dexter'? Mr. Plummer wrote, "While this charming tract of land had doubtless for centuries been a favorite hunting-ground of the red men of the forest, it had never been looked upon by he eyes of a white man until 1792, when Ephraim Ballard and Samuel Western of Hallowell were employed to survey a section of the lands belonging to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the Province of Maine, and establish township lines for the same." ( This same Samuel Western also did some surveying for early Dover in 1791.)

There were a number of land grants made to certain individuals but nothing seemed to work out to sell the tract of land called, "No. 4 range 5",( what is now the Town of Dexter, ) so that Massachusetts could make a profit, or at least break even on this venture. Finally these townships (21, including Dexter) were put into the hands of the committee for the sale of Eastern lands, for the purpose of selling them and increasing their population. The contract was purchased in March 1794 by James Bridge of Augusta, Me. from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the township of Dexter (No. 4 Range 5). After passing through several hands, Andrew Cragie of Cambridge, Massachusetts got control of the township of Dexter and the settlement began to increase.

During the year 1800, Andrew Cragie sent Sam Elkins, from Cornville to locate a suitable piece of land for a mill site. Elkins chose the outlet of Lake Wassookeag and went right to work putting up the mill.

Ebenezer Small and John Tucker were drawn to this same area. Small secured a site down a short distance from the mill and built the first log cabin and raised a crop of corn. (This spot is now marked with a bronze plaque.) Mr. Small returned to New Hampshire to get his family.

Plummer's History has this to say: " In the spring of 1801 Ebenezer Small returned to the township on the crust of the snow, hauling Mrs. Small and a few necessary effects on a hand sled, and occupied the cabin prepared the year before. This was the first family to establish its home in the township, and marks the beginning of the permanent settlement of the town."

Dexter's first child. Mr. Plummer wrote, "In this cabin, on Feb. 4, 1802, a daughter was born to Mr. and Mrs. Small "the first white child born in the township. She was named Joannah, grew to young womanhood in the home of her parents, married a man by the name of Blanchard, removed with him to Springfield Maine where they were among the early settlers, and there they lived to a good old age."

Mr. Small didn't stay in his little log cabin very long, as Mr. Plummer stated: "In the fall of 1802 Mr. Small built a comfortable house farther up on Zion's Hill, just west of the present residence of Mrs. Ellen Derry, and removed his family from the original cabin into it. Soon afterward he planted an orchard around the house the remains of which could until recently be seen, which was undoubtedly the first orchard in this town now for many years noted for its fine apple orchards."

There was a span of 18 years before Ebenezer Small would make another move and that was to build a dam and sawmill. One of the original proprietors, Nathaniel Bemis, deeded to Ebenezer Small, Sr. and Ebenezer Small, Jr., Lot No. 6, Range 4 on Dec. 9, 1819 and Lot 7, Range 3 on Feb. 2, 1830. Note from Plummer: "Those two lots carried a large quantity of timber, and afforded a good millsite, upon which in 1831 the Messers. Small, father and son, built a dam and sawmill near the present site of the factory of the Wassookeag Woolen Company, built by Foss & Conant in 1847-8 and known as , 'the brick mill'." The Brick Mill still stands on this same site, only now it is known as Dexter Shoe. The dam has been removed and the little pond is gone. A parking lot now has taken it's place. All of the houses on that side of the street are gone. There were two houses and the one on the corner opposite the 'Gables' was purchased by Bob Atwater in the 1960's. He cut the top part off of it and moved it to the former site of the 'Checkerboard Feed Store'. He renovated it and he and his family moved into it. Later on he moved the bottom part up to the next lot and sold it to the Church family. The other house on Water Street next to Dexter Shoe belonging to the Boupre family was purchased by the shoe shop and demolished.

In 1835, Dexter's first pioneer, Ebenezer Small, Sr. and his family moved to Springfield to live out their days. Before leaving their pioneer days in Dexter, Mr. Plummer's History had this to say about the Small family: "It was in the early days of their residence in the house on Zion's Hill that Mrs. Small one day when her husband was away from home working for a neighbor, visited his bear trap, near the south shore of the lake, and finding a bear therein, killed it with an axe, dragged the carcass home, dressed it, and cooked some of the tenderest portions for Mr. Small's supper on his return from his work. Such a woman was well fitted, even in middle life, to begin anew with her husband the experiences of pioneer life in the wilderness of Springfield. Our worthy and respected citizens, William H. and Amos P. Abbott, are grandsons of Mr. and Mrs. Small, and their well known love of hunting, fishing, and life in the woods affords a fine illustration of the operation of the laws of heredity."

Contact Jim Wintle by email or call 207-924-7598.

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