So far, the Twin Cities have been spared any serious winter storms. It’s turning colder, though, and any true Mainer knows it is way too early to start prognosticating a mild or a wild winter.

Our old family diaries provide me with a rich resource of daily observation from the late 1800s. My great-grandparents viewed the weather of their day from a different perspective. A frozen river was necessary to assure a good ice harvest. It also meant that quite a few miles could be saved when the family hitched the horse to the sleigh for a trip to visit relatives in Greene. Our farm is on the Auburn side of the river across from the present Marden’s store location, so the ability to go upstream and cross the frozen river was much better than traveling downstream to cross the bridge at Court Street.

In the days before Gulf Island Dam was constructed and put into service in the 1920s, the Androscoggin River had a more consistent flow. Ice formed early in the winter and it easily reached thicknesses of 16 to 20 inches. That’s what was needed for cutting and storing blocks in the farm’s ice house for use through the coming summer.

My great-grandmother’s diary of 1896 had several references to the river ice. On Jan. 5 she wrote, “Pleasant but very cold. No snow yet. River frozen over, very rough, all anchor ice.”

Five days later she said, “Charlie Waterman came over to break a road (across the riverside fields) to haul wood across the river.”

On Jan. 15 she was telling about the men of the family helping a neighbor with the first ice cutting of the season.

“They finished filling the ice house,” was her diary entry on Feb. 20. Then she wrote about the men helping neighbors with their ice harvests. The tasks of cutting ice and “working up” firewood filled just about every winter day, but she also wrote often about visits to friends and relatives, trips to town for photograph sessions, drama club meetings and shows. Grange meetings were another part of the farm family’s life.

The old newspapers I read from the Auburn Public Library’s microfilm files also yield fascinating glimpses of life in the Twin Cities of many years ago.

An issue of the Lewiston Evening Journal from January 1895, a year before those diary observations of my great-grandmother, carried a report of a snowstorm. It was a foot of snow with blustery winds, but the interesting difference was the kind of illustration they published.

In those days before photographic reproduction in newspapers, an artist was sent out to capture the scenes of Lewiston residents braving the elements.

Shown in the center of the drawings of slipping and sliding pedestrians was a lovely young lady in a long skirt bundled up against the blowing snow.

“I like a storm,” the caption said, and the accompanying story reported that she was “a Lewiston belle who takes the storm and who, after dancing until midnight, came out for a bracer to bring color to her cheeks.”

The artist also sketched a messenger boy and quoted him as saying, “Ye better do me good, me huckleberry do-do, or I’ll do yez, see?”

Skipping ahead in the newspapers to January of 1926, I learned that some world-class dog sled races were being held at the famous Poland Spring House.

The accounts told of newsreel crews from Pathe News and Fox Films covering the event for national and international screenings. Their focus was on Clara Enebuske of Cambridge, Mass., whose dog team was favored to win.

“The motion picture cameras whirred and the graflexes and graphics of the still camera men clicked” as the newsmen posed Miss Enebuske and her lead dog, Scamp.

Miss Enebuske, Scamp, and the other five dogs of the team didn’t get to pose as winners. She took a wrong turn somewhere on the trail and got lost.

A record time of four hours and 15 minutes for the two-day test on a 40-mile trail was set by New Hampshire resident Arthur Walden and his dog team led by a 10-year-old husky named Chinook.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.