History of Norridgewock, Maine
From
A Gazetteer of the
State of Maine
By Geo. J. Varney
Published by B. B. Russell, 57 Cornhill,
Boston 1886
Transcribed by Betsey S. Webber



Norridgewock lies on the Kennebec River in the south-
ern part of Somerset County. It is bounded on the North by Madison,
east by Skowhegan, south by Fairfield and Smithfield and west by
Mercer and Starks. The township is somewhat larger than the stand-
are size, having an area of about 16,000 acres. The form is nearly
square. The Kennebec River runs through the town from the north-
west angle to the center, thence by a right-angled bend north-easterly
to Skowhegan. There is a village on each bank of the river at this
bend, connected by a good covered wooden bridge, 500 feet in length.
The town is quite hilly, but with fine intervals, the uplands also being
fertile. The soil on the river is a light sandy loam, and back from it
a rocky loam. The flora is unusually interesting. The forests are in
due proportion to the territory, and contains the trees common in the
region, with a predominance of hard-wood. Limestone is found in
abundance but mixed with slate. There is also a fine quality of granite
formed near the southern line of the town. The water-powers are at
Bombazee Rips, on the Kennebec 3 miles above Norridgewock Bridge,
with a natural fall of 8 feet, and on Sawtelle's Mill Stream, at South
Norridgewock, with a fall of 10 feet in 20 rods. There are in this
village a saw and a grist-mill, a carriage and a furniture factory,
granite works, etc. Norridgewock Village is 5 miles south-west of
Skowhegan. It is on the line of the Somerset Railroad, which has a
station at South Norridgewock. The two villages are separated only
by the river.

Norridgewock was formerly the seat of a powerful tribe of Indians,
and the name of the town is a corruption of the name of their village.
It is said to have been the name of an early chief, and to signify
“smooth water.” The French had a Roman Catholic missionary here
as early as 1610. Sebastian Rasle, a Jesuit missionary, became resident
at the place in 1687, laboring faithfully for the Indians in the manner
of his convictions until his death in 1724. He had here a dwelling
and a neat chapel; and his influence over the Indians was strong and
beneficent. They became earnest worshippers in the little chapel, and
their relations among themselves greatly improved, while their babar-
ities in war were lessened. The French, wishing to secure the Indians
as their allies, did all they could to strengthen them as a force to be
wielded against the English whenever the interests of France de-
manded. After the first Indian war, all the forays of this tribe upon
their settlements were attributed by the English to the influence of
Rasle. He was the counselor of the tribe in their conferences with the
English, and the latter sometimes found themselves outwitted in their
treaties. They made repeated attempts against Norridgewock and
to capture the priest, but without success; and in 1723 a strong box
belonging to Rasle, and containing his dictionary of the Indian language
and other papers were brought away. The dictionary and documents
are now preserved in Harvard College library. The papers taken dis-
closed some of the plans of the French government, and were useful
in the conduct of the war. A chapel of fir-wood had been erected at
Norridgewock as early as 1646, being the first church ever erected on
the Kennebec River. It was burned in 1674 by a party of English
hunters, but in 1687 was rebuilt by English workmen sent by the
Massachusetts government from Boston for this purpose, according to
treaty stipulations.

The village stood about 3 miles above Norridgewock bridge, on what
is now called “Old Point,” situated near the confluence of Sandy River,
with the Kennebec. The locality is beautiful. The rude huts include-
ing that of Father Rasle were set in two parallel rows, running north
and south, a road skirting the bank of the river, while between the
rows of cabins was a street 200 feet in width. At the northern ex-
tremity stood the church, while at the lower end was a chapel dedi-
cated to the Virgin Mary, for use on secular days. Whittier in his
poem of “Mogg Megone,” graphically describes this village and the
worship of the dusky inhabitants.

A more effective force than had yet been sent left Fort Richmond
(in what is now the town of Richmond) on the Kennebec, on the 19th
of August, 1724. It consisted of 208 men embarked in seventeen whale
boats. Near the mouth of the Sebasticook River, opposite what is now
the village of Waterville, they landed, leaving the boats under a guard
of 40 men. They marched up the eastern bank of the river to Skow-
hegan, where Captain Harman crossed at the Great Eddy with 60 men,
and followed up the river on that side for the purpose of cutting off
the retreat of those who might be at work in the corn fields on the
Sandy River; while Captain Mouton, leaving 10 men with the lug-
gage, marched with the remaining 98 men, for the doomed village,
reaching it on the 24th. Such of the Indians as were at home were
engaged in their cabins; but as the English entered one end of the
street an old Indian discovered them, and gave the war-whoop, which
brought out the warriors to the number of about 60. The conflict was
sharp, short and decisive. Thirty warriors were slain and fourteen
wounded, the remainder escaping across the river and in other direc-
tions with the squaws and children. The church was pillaged, and one
of the three Mohawks who were with the expedition, enraged by the
fall of his brother during the fight, turned back and set the chapel and
village on fire. Rasle engaged in the defence, firing from his cabin
upon the assailants, and himself fell in the fight. Roman Catholic
authorities have charged that the body of their missionary was shot
through and through, and was scalped and otherwise mutilated. The
church bell was recovered by the Indians from the ruins and buried in
the woods. It was subsequently found by an English party, and has
since been preserved in the collections of Bowdoin College. It weighed
64 pounds. From this time Norridgewock was forsaken by the tribe,
who removed to Canada.

Though the superiority of this region was known, it was still too
far from other settlements; and no persistent attempts were made to
occupy it until after the Revolution, though some visited the place in
1772. Benedict Arnold, in October 1775, passed over this ground
with his army on the way to Quebec. No sooner was the war at an
end, than the settlers began to come in; and in June, 1788, there were
a sufficient number of inhabitants to obtain incorporation as a town.
The town has always been thrifty, though many suffered much loss in
1837, by land and timber speculations. On the creation of Somerset
County in 1809, Norridgewock was made the shire town, continuing
to be such until 1871, when the county seat was changed to Skowhegan.
The first meeting-house was erected in 1794, at the public expense. The
court-house was built in 1820, and in 1847 remodeled at a cost of $7,000.
The present bridge across the river at this point was built in 1849, at a
cost of $11,000.

John S. Tenney and John Ware were esteemed citizens of Nor-
ridgewock. It was, also, long the home of Hon. John S. Abbot, a suc-
cessful lawyer of the Suffolk bar, very much esteemed by his brethren,
and recently deceased; William Allen, Esq., long and favorably
know in the middle and northern parts of the State, resided here
most of his life; and it is now the residence of Sophie May, the popu-
lar authoress of many valuable books for girls; and of Hon. Stephen
D. Lindsey, member of Congress for the third district. Norridgewock
sent 132 men into the army of the Union during the war of the rebel-
lion, of whom twenty-five were lost.

There is here the excellent school of H.F. Eaton (Eaton Family
School), with a high, grammar and primary schools in the village. The
number of public schoolhouses in the town is sixteen, valued at $4,000.
The churches are the Congregationalist, Methodists, Advent and Bap-
tist. The population in 1870 was 1,756. In 1880 it was 1,491. The rate of
taxation in the latter year, .029 on a dollar.

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