FARMINGTON — Two months after the Confederate Army fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor, launching the Civil War on April 12, 1861, the residents of little Farmington Falls were embarking on their own contribution to the war effort.
One hundred and fifty years later, they are getting the recognition they deserve.
On June 17, 1861, 75 men from this small village between Farmington and New Sharon got together and signed a petition pledging money or labor to erect the largest flag they could find in time for that year’s Independence Day celebration.
According to a letter now in the possession of the Farmington Historical Society, the town had asked a Mr. Hamlin in Portland to help locate wool bunting material or a finished flag.
In his June 19, 1861, reply, Hamlin reported he found the material for 40 cents a yard from a textile business and also a ready-made flag for $73.
The townspeople opted to make their own. For the next two weeks, the community was abuzz as the women sewed and the men prepared the pole and the site.
On July 4, 1861, the 22- by 34-foot hand-sewn, two-sided flag with 15 stripes, 34 cotton stars in a circular pattern and one large one in the center, was unfurled at a community celebration on land now along U.S. Route 2.
The flag, which remains in fairly good condition, is the centerpiece of the Farmington Historical Society’s Civil War exhibit on display every Saturday through the summer at the Titcomb House museum at 118 Academy St. For information, call 778-2835 or contact curator Nancy Porter by email, [email protected]
The historical society’s well-maintained collection has been donated over the years by local families. Porter said the exhibit’s aim is to focus on the contribution local people made to the war.
Many of the items have never been displayed, and the organization has not held a comprehensive Civil War exhibit before, she said.
“There was so much being written at the time about the war, but little about what was going on locally. I wanted to bring the war home to Farmington,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much we had until I started digging.”
The flag is the largest that conservation technician Marion Scharoun of Farmington has worked with. She offered to help and was there when Porter and historical society president Taffy Davis spread it out on the Farmington Community Center floor a few weeks ago to inspect it.
“Being hand sewn and made of wool bunting — a fairly common, sturdy material back then — probably helped preserve it. It is in really good condition,” said Scharoun, who has worked on preserving and documenting the Maine State Museum’s flag collection.
“There are some tears, and you can see where someone tried to weave in repairs, but that is about all,” she said.
To put the flag’s size in perspective, the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the National Anthem in 1814, is 30 by 42 feet. Garrison flags used today by the U.S. Army have a standard size of 20 by 38 feet, according to the Smithsonian Museum’s website.
One of the most time-consuming projects of the historical society’s exhibit has been preserving the paper documents, war posters, letters and military certificates.
Porter said many of the documents have been folded, taped or damaged by moisture over the years. One restoration technique used in conservation work is the water bath.
The document is placed between sheets of acid-free tissue on a screen over a tub of water and the whole thing is sealed in a large plastic bag. Eventually, the moisture seeps into the paper, and when pressed between acid-free tissue and glass, creases and wrinkles can be smoothed out and tape or glue gently pulled off.
When the document is dry, it is sealed between sheets of conservation-quality polyester film.
Many artifacts in the display were donated by area residents and the descendants of soldiers from the Farmington area who served in Company B of the 28th Infantry. War memorabilia includes a small metal case soldiers used to carry their belongings, a canteen, a gunpowder container and gun, a scabbard and sheath, daggers, cartridge boxes, a small leather poke bag, a Civil War belt buckle, a compass and a personal hygiene kit that probably contained a hairbrush, soap and razor, Porter said.
One of the largest collections of artifacts and archival documents came from the family of George Stinchfield of Farmington Falls, who served in the 28th Maine Infantry. On display are his backpack, Union Army dress cap called a kepi with its oilskin cover, Calvary hat, and a bummer’s cap with its trademark high crown and tall body designed to fall forward and used to display ribbons and military pins.
“You don’t usually find a kepi with its oilskin cover still intact because the fabric is so fragile,” Porter said.
There is also a framed certificate honoring Stinchfield’s service and presented to him on July 4, 1868, signed by Gov. Joshua Chamberlain.
During the war, men who signed up to fight had to be financially backed by their community, Porter said. In Maine, the price was $300 a head, and her research into town records shows Farmington borrowed money from individuals, banks and raised it at town meetings to meet the obligation.
“In the four years of the war, Farmington borrowed $56,000. According to economist Roy Van Til of Vienna, that would be $1.5 million in today’s dollars,” she said.
“In the old town reports, it shows the debt was slowly paid off. And in addition, the towns supported the families of the men who were serving,” Porter said.
On display is a transcription of town records found in the vault in the Farmington Community Center, compiled by volunteer Nancy Bryant as part of the vital records project in 1992. The entries show the date and name of the families and how much money they received. Amounts ranged from $5 to $10.
One large war poster on display advertises, in eye-catching large letters, reads: “Attention! Young men wanted to fill companies! Pay $13 to $20 per month and $100 bounty when muster.”
“Woodmen!” it reads. “Our country calls! Shall we obey?”
Porter has also been assembling a timeline of the war’s local impact by finding ads and articles printed in the old Franklin Patriot newspaper that has been preserved and bound in oversized books.
“I was looking for anything that related to Farmington. There was so much written about the war and the skirmishes but not much about what was going on locally,” Porter said.
One tidbit on the timeline is an ad that appeared on July 12, 1861, seeking horses needed for the war.
“Not less than 4 or more than 12 yrs., that are old, sound and kind, weighing about 1,000 pounds and well-shod.”