NEW GLOUCESTER — The owner of a New Gloucester farm stand who flies a Confederate flag in honor of family who live in the South says recent attention over it has been good for his bottom line.
Charlie Verrill owns Will-N-Laineys, a farm stand and greenhouse business started by his parents on Lewiston Road.
“I just put it there … it’s an attraction to try to get business,” he said, adding that following a recent story aired by WMTW News 8, he’s had people come to New Gloucester just to shake his hand.
“I think it’s helped business – free publicity,” he added.
Verrill, who flies several versions of the Confederate flag on a rotating schedule, said he first began flying them about three years ago.
“I have family down South – and they fly it,” he explained in an interview last week, adding that he told his southern family he’d fly it Maine for them.
He plans to get a new version of the flag with the words “heritage, not hate” printed on it.
Verrill was “born and brought up right here” in New Gloucester, but he has relatives in Virginia and has also spent time in South Carolina, he said.
He acknowledged that his flag, which he flies between a U.S. flag and a State of Maine flag, has generated discussion “all over Facebook,” and he encouraged his critics to “mind their own business.” He said no one has come to complain about the flag in person.
“Everybody thinks it’s all about slavery, but it’s not,” he said, wearing a hat adorned with the Confederate symbol. “They ought to read a history book – they ought to bring the history books back.”
Text resources used in Gray-New Gloucester’s 10th grade U.S. history class include background about the Confederate flag and several different perspectives on its display.
“Many people in the South see the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of Southern heritage and pride … as representative of the honor and integrity of the struggle for Southern independence,” reads a background essay on the topic from publisher ABC-CLIO.
“In stark contrast, many other people from the South (and other parts of the United States) understand the Confederate battle flag as a shameful reminder of slavery and the South’s military and political efforts to defend this institution,” the essay reads.
Asked about a successful 2015 push to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds, Verrill didn’t mince words.
“That’s a bunch of bull[expletive] … I’m hoping Trump will bring them back,” he responded.
Verrill said that the only time he agreed to take his flag down was to appease the Boy Scouts when a local troop wanted to have a Christmas tree sale at his business and the regional scouting organization had concerns about the flag being flown.
“I brought the flag down … I’ll bow to them,” he said.
Asked whether he could understand why the flag might make some uncomfortable, Verrill said that “anybody’s welcome here – anybody is welcome.”
“Like I said, I’m not prejudiced,” Verrill added.
He also said that “if they don’t like my flag, I don’t want their business.”
Steven Libby, vice chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said Verrill’s flag “doesn’t affect the town of New Gloucester at all … that’s free speech.”
Libby emphasized that Will-N-Laineys is a private business and noted that the flag had been up for some time.
“That’s his choice, and I support his right to free speech,” Libby said.
While highlighting the importance of history and discussing his reasons for flying the flag, Verrill said he recently discovered his great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, though he’s not sure for which side.
Even if it turns out his ancestor fought for the Union, Verrill says the Confederate flag isn’t going anywhere.
“That flag will still stay there,” he emphasized. “The flag is not coming down.”
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
A Confederate flag flies over Will-N-Laineys farm stand in New Gloucester. (Lakes Region Weekly photo)
Charlie Verrill, owner of Will-N-Laineys farm stand and greenhouse on Lewiston Road in New Gloucester, said he flies a Confederate flag over his business in honor of family members who live in the South. (Lakes Region Weekly photo)