What would become the Town of Norway came into being as five main areas of settlement which grew and merged into one. The areas were: the Village area on the stream at the foot of the lake, the Steep Falls area, Pikes Hill neighborhood, Norway Center (North Norway), and Norway Lake Village.

The outlet stream was a natural for early development and the establishment of a grist mill and sawmill. Somewhat up the lake and inland from what became the greater Norway Lake Village area was the site of the very first homestead in the town: the Joseph Stevens home built in 1785/86. The area at the southern end of the lake was known originally as the Corner since three roads met there; later it became Ford’s Corner, Frost’s Corner, etc. depending on who owned the store.

Until a road along the lake was established, the best way from Norway Village to Norway Lake Village was over Pikes Hill to the Stage Road (now Old Stage Road) and then to the Corner via what is now Rt. 117.

The first teacher in the Lake Village was Mrs. Peter Everett who taught the class in her home. In 1794 a schoolhouse was built; it is believed that the original building burned and the school was rebuilt on the same site as shown on the 1858 map.

In 1823 Job E. Stevens erected the first building at the Corner, a residence and small store. Home sites were being established and the demand for merchandise was increasing. By 1829 William Foster had built a blacksmith shop. John Ford purchased the store and expanded the business by constructing a new store across the street, described in Bradbury’s Norway in the Forties as, “a one-story building…which was known for a century as ‘the red store’.” It appears that there were also rooms to rent to travelers. The store was sold several times with each owner expanding what was offered.

A second story was added to the store and we can assume that more rooms were available for those passing through. Around 1833, a bar became part of the expansion with rum and other liquors being dispensed, according to Bradbury. Circa 1840, the owner was William Haze who hung the sign declaring it a tavern. From the Bradbury compilation, it would appear that the tavern saw its share of celebrations, “where fun and sport, the quaint jest and boisterous song went gaily round and the old rafters rang…”

The 1828/29 Day Book of John B. Ford, a recent acquisition of the museum’s, indicates that distilled libations were available at that time. The book records the merchandise sold on account and indicates that the charge for a gill (1⁄4 pint of rum) was six cents. An axe handle sold for ten cents, a pound of sugar was fourteen cents, a quart of American brandy was seventeen cents, seven yards of shirting cost ninety-one cents, two quarts of molasses was twenty-five cents, a one-half quire of paper (12 sheets) twelve cents, one pair of shoes was $1.13, two skeins of thread were four cents, and a half-pound of tobacco was thirteen cents. Basic spices were available as well as dried beans by the bushel, gloves, saltpeter, butter, squares of glass, gun powder, sulphur, shingles, clapboards, and saleratus (sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda – good for cooking and indigestion).

The customer list was lengthy and included Joseph, Jonas and Nathaniel Stevens, Nathan Noble, Dudley Pike, Lemuel Shedd, Jonathan Cummings, Amos Upton, Charles Gammon, and many others. Accounts are listed under men’s names with the exception of Widow Hobbs, Widow Perry, and Mrs. Peter Everett.

The handwriting quality varied depending on the individual holding the pen. Likewise, the spelling of names and items purchased could vary. Many of the listings were for two or three items; however, other accounts would include a number of related goods; i.e. shirting, calico, thread, silk, buttons, etc. Often, a glass of rum, brandy, or gin would be added to enhance the spirit and make the trek home a bit more pleasant.

The Noyes History of Norway, reports that in the fall of 1823, “a very mortal sickness prevailed in the northwest part of town”. The sickness, of unknown origin, involved dysentery and fever causing the deaths of thirteen individuals of various ages in a three-week period.

As near as can be determined, around 1848 the area had grown to the point that it had its own post office
and the location name was declared Norway Lake.

Substantial growth occurred in the 1860s and ’70s. Patronage of the store improved and the line of merchandise expanded. Another blacksmith shop was built and a stable was added to the tavern. In 1875 a cheese factory was added to the growing community along with a cooper shop (barrel making). The store and tavern continued to change hands frequently but remained the hub of the Norway Lake settlement.

As time went on and the hamlet grew, the Mother’s Club Hall was built and later served as the meeting place of the Frederick Robey Grange. C. A. Stephens’ rambling residence, known as the “laboratory”, graced the landscape. Roads between the areas of settlement improved, bringing all the separate Norways into one.

Dr. Bradbury, the author of Norway in the Forties, sometimes wandered into areas of political philosophy and religion. One such example is found in his piece on the Norway Lake area. He referred to the pendulum of public thought swinging between a conservative approach and what he considered radicalism. “While radicalism may work good in one direction, it may work evil in many others. These great forces of society should not be driven to extremes in any direction, but held in even balance with due regard to the rights of all.”

Correction to the Norway Diner article: the diner was sold to be moved to Brunswick in 1948, not 1940 as the typo indicated.

The Norway Museum and Historical Society is open from 9-noon on Saturday. Come view our exhibits and use the resources to research family and local history.

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