NORWAY – No one seems to know exactly how the Weary Club got its name, but members do know the founders liked to whittle in the little white house on Main Street that officially became their own Wednesday.

Officers of the club, the only known such social club in the country, were given the deed to the property by Key Bank – 80 years after the club was organized in 1926.

“It was the neighborly thing to do,” said Terry Twitchell of KeyBank, who handed over the document to Vice President Neal Dow in a ceremony on the front porch.

Moments later dozens of members poured through the door for the club’s annual meeting.

The gesture ensures the club, which has been written about over the years by publications including Life Magazine and Readers Digest, has a home for generations to come.

It was a moment relished by its members.

“This is the most members I’ve seen at an annual meeting in decades,” said President Bob Sallies as he told the good news to the overflow crowd, some of whom sat on cane rocking chairs that were used by the club founders.

“They’re still knocking to come in the door,” he said.

Just who the weary ones are is an interesting question. In a slogan he composed about the club, the late Fred W. Sanborn, publisher of the Advertiser-Democrat and an original member of the Weary Club, defined them as the “makers and dealers in cedar shavings, social gossip, political wisdom and Yankee philosophy.”

Today new members need not know how to whittle.

For $25, a new member will be handed a key to the building and one share in the club. No one is sure how much that share is worth, and it doesn’t seem to much matter to them. What matters, say members, is the tradition and history and good fellowship between the approximately 175 members who come from as far away as California, Canada and Florida.

The membership application asks people why they want to be a member in the club, what their hobbies are, what memberships they hold in other clubs and have they ever been convicted of a felony. Just a yes or no is required. No explanation needed.

“Never had one who said yes yet,” Neal Dow said. “I don’t know what we would do if we got one.”

So just what does the Weary Club do? If you ask the women they will tell you the club was languishing in meaning until they stepped in.

“We’re the ones who got it going again. We created the enthusiasm,” said Helen Heath, who was unanimously elected the club’s first woman director Wednesday.

Heath will help oversee Saturday’s coffee hour from 8 to 9:30 a.m. at 385 Main St. where anyone is welcomed if they “have always been curious about the Weary Club, possess political wisdom and a Yankee philosophy.” It is one of the events established by the women that all agree has helped draw in new members this year.

A picture of Heath’s late husband and third-generation club member, Clayton “Tim” Heath Jr., hangs prominently on the club walls along with pictures of club founder Fred Sanborn and a red spotted trout that was stuffed by the legendary turn-of-the-century Maine taxidermist J. Waldo Nash.

Women were never banned from the club, Sallies said. In fact, U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine visited the club headquarters and was made an honorary member in the mid 20th century.

The first woman to actually join the club was Sallies’ daughter in 1992, and while the men joked that the club was established to get some space from women, today they wholeheartedly support and acknowledge the new direction the women have bought to the club.

“We were kind of struggling for survival. We had no real purpose. One time we questioned whether we should disband,” Dow said.

Now the women say they have helped to take the club in new social directions, as was apparent Wednesday when members enthusiastically endorsed supporting a triathlon that may come to town.

It’s said that the club was formed in 1926 by a few businessmen who would gather around a pot belly stove in a vacant store with their cedar for whittling and spittoons for spitting. Writers of the club history said it was a habit grown out of many long winter nights around an open fire in Beals Tavern office where men played cribbage, smoked, did some whittling and told some big fish tales about the one that got away. When the proprietor closed the inn for the winter, Sanborn, who was also fond of the nightly gatherings, found another site in a vacant store in the old Robert Noyes block.

According to the club’s history, when that building was sold to a local bank, Sanborn acquired a portion of the land and built the little Greek-Revival style building that became known as the Weary Club. Officers were elected and bylaws adopted, including some that restricted gambling, drinking and telephones. Conversations had to be restricted to fishing, hunting and a few other topics, including limited village gossip.

When Sanborn died in 1938 he left the club $20,000 to be invested by a local bank with the stipulation that the club give $40 to local children at Christmas who were under the age of 10.

That amount has now been raised to $100 each year, and the club gives the town an unspecified amount of money in lieu of taxes that they are not liable for as a nonprofit organization.

The building was turned over to the the club on a 99-year-lease. Although it was moved in the 1970s to its present location on Main Street when the bank wanted to expand its building, it was not known until recently that the club did not actually hold the deed to the place.

“We were trespassing and at best we were tenants at will,” Dow said of the situation this week.

That’s when Dow began researching the property and with the help of Terry Twitchell, vice president of the Key Bank in Norway, put together the necessary legal work to provide the deed.

“It would have cost us five figures at any law firm,” said John Dineen, a lawyer from Nahant, Mass., who summers in Norway.

Dow’s picture has been placed on the wall with the inscription: “A friend to all.”

In the cellar of the club there still lies a stack of cedar whittling sticks that are banded together with an attached note that says the sticks were left in memory of Bob McCready, and there are a few century-old cedar fence rails that are stored just in case anyone feels like whittling.


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