Today’s column reawakens a very old tradition at The Notes. For many years, each edition of this paper featured “The Way We Were”--an old photograph from one of the towns covered in its circulation area. Like many local residents, I remember being fascinated by those images and slightly frustrated that their tiny captions didn’t reveal very much. Years later, when I was trying to locate vintage pictures for my photographic history of Yarmouth, I found that the first thing many old time residents would thrust into my hands was a thick folder of yellowed images torn from those old copies of The Notes.
My approach will be little different. Instead relying on a brief caption, I promise to breathe life into each old picture by providing odd bits of historical background and telling stories linked to that image. Eventually, some of my columns will leave you with an occasional “cliffhanger” to encourage you to visit the website of one of the local historical societies in order to find additional stories and photos about that topic.
|Source: Collection of Alan Hall|
I’ve chosen today’s photograph because it takes us right back to the origins of The Notes. Many of you will recognize this old brick store that still exists on Main Street in Yarmouth, near the Baptist Church. Although dozens of commercial ventures have occupied this location since it was built around 1830, it has a special place in the history of The Notes because it is where Ken Larrabee first edited and published this paper. Full of energy and opinions, Ken clearly savored his role as a community gadfly. He and his friends like Phil Shephard and Stan Milton could turn a breakfast at the Downeast restaurant into a full-blown debating society with topics ranging from controlling nuclear arms to controlling the “bloated” town budget.
But even in his most indignant editorials, Ken’s commentaries were meek compared to a 19th century newspaper publisher who occupied this building. In the 1830’s a fiery Universalist minister named Zenas Thompson became the scourge of the First Parish Church. Thompson’s newspaper, The Christian Pilot blasted the Congregationalists for their narrow-minded view of salvation and for their habit excommunicating people for things like setting up a dancing school in Yarmouth. Indeed, it was James C. Hill, the owner of the Brick Store at that time, who ignited the dancing school crisis when he rented a house to the Universalists for their dancing school. After Hill and his wife were excommunicated for promoting indecent behavior, he got even by purchasing a printing press and bringing Zenas Thompson to unleash his attacks on the First Parish.
Today’s photograph shows the building around 1880. William Marston’s clothing store on the left was carried on by his son until just about the time that The Notes was founded in 1952. The odd-looking pole on the left side of the photo was an advertisement for Isaac Johnson’s barber shop. He was an ex-slave who came to Yarmouth after the Civil War.
The Yarmouth Historical Society has an excellent collection of materials related to today’s story, including the First Parish Church records about the excommunications and a copy of Zenas Thompson’s Christian Pilot declaring the innocence of James Hill. To find out more about the activities of the Yarmouth Historical Society, visit their website at http://www.yarmouthmehistory.org/.