July 11, 1929 letter:
Wednesday evening. Tina Dear – Well dear, the whole darn crew blew into town including Jordan … Maine man and also Hoffman, the crew’s boss. It seems like old times to be speaking to someone you know. After supper, the whole crowd decided to take a ride across the border. You know, the Canadien border is just three miles from this town, well we all packed into three cars and drove across the border in search of beer. Finally after awhile, we located a place and had a pint bottle a piece. It cost us twenty five cents per bottle and you know that I am fond of beer. I would not take more than one bottle for I do not want to make a habit of it while I am up this way. I drove over seventy-five miles to-day and did a days work beside. Well honey, here it is Wenesday and tomorrow I am going to work this town and Friday morning leave for Presque Isle where I will stay until Monday morning. The crew are leaving for Presque Isle tomorrow morning and tonight will be the last time that I will see them this month. The boys are all writing to their sweethearts so you see we all have a sweetheart. I have read that Gus Sonnenberg beat Lewis last night. I guess the old boy certainly is a champion in all respects. I will probably be in Presque Isle when this letter reaches you, and in your next letter address it to this: Presque Isle House, Presque Isle Me. If the letters do not reach me while I am on the go, I have left forwarding addresses right along, so sooner or later the letters will reach me. I have bought for you a little souvenir from Patten Maine today and you will have it when I reach Boston. The boys are all closing with their letters and I suppose that I will be the last one, but I do not care what they do, it is what I do that concerns me mostly, does it not? I believe that I ought to join the boys and have a chat with them before retiring. Please do not believe that I am in a hurry to close this missive, but I feel that I should go over and talk with them for they will be lead to believe that I am getting high hat. With the same amount of love, Joe
July 12, 1929 letter
7:15 standard time, Thursday evening
I have just completed my dinner and feel a great deal better for it. Well Tina dea, I have not received your mail to-day and I believe it will follow me to Presque Isle for I know myself that when I am on the move, that is beginning this week, it will be quite hard to catch me from now on but I will endeavor to give you any hotels before time. The Luxury crew have left this town this morning and I am here alone this evening, for I will leave this hotel Friday morning and work my way further north until I hit Presque Isle Friday night there. I will stay until Monday morning. Tina dear, do you realize that this is the second week and only two more weeks to go, say honey, I am getting impatient to see you. I have worked like a Trojan all day, took only fifteen minutes for lunch and went at it again. I put in six displays, now that’s two more than I ordinarily put in and the odd part of it is that four were large drug stores and the other two were tobacco jobs (?) with large windows, to top this off, the temperature was between 90º and 95º all afternoon. I would not mind the heat if it wasn’t that I had to wash the inside glass in every store that I put a display into. I believe you have received my address of the hotel at Presque Isle and if you write there I will receive it Monday morning. I will try to give you my exact stopping places next week. How are Paul and Frank these days, still bachelors? Keep them that way. Send my regards to all your folks and tell them please I was asking for them. I am going to write a letter home, make my reports and then retire. I have another seventy mile drive tomorrow. Lonely, Joe
When originally planning my County trip, I thought my first stop would be Houlton, since that would be the logical order and the first place I would hit after a long drive from home. I went onto Trip Advisor and there were a few choices of places to stay. However, my plans shifted when I found out the Northeastland in Presque Isle was on the same site of the Presque Isle House, I decided to head to Presque Isle and use that hotel as home base for two nights and hit Houlton on my journey southward. When I entered Houlton after a long and desolate ride on Sunday, I saw the little square, but quickly got onto Route One, knowing I had about another 50 minutes of my ride. Route 95 also passes through Houlton on the way to New Brunswick and I saw the hotel I was originally planning on staying at, right at the intersection of these two thoroughfares. Looking at the hotel, I was glad I hadn’t ended up staying there, so I quickly drove past on my way to Presque Isle and planned on returning on my trip southward on Tuesday.
I had already made up my mind to take Route 95 back south for a part of the way on Tuesday. My initial plans were to get up, have breakfast and get moving southward down Route One to Houlton, spend no more than 30 minutes and get on the road by 9:00 a.m.. However, those plans went quickly astray when breakfast took much longer than anticipated. Then, a slew of road work on Route One put me further behind, and I also decided to stop and get gas (and a Dunky Ice Tea). So, it was 9:00 a.m. when I turned into Market Square in Houlton. And when I pulled into the diagonal parking in the square, I knew this wasn’t going to be a quick “get out of the car, place the picture, read the letter, and get back into the car” type of stop.
When reading the American Guide Series, “Maine A Guide Down East” written by the Workers of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Maine months before this trip, I was surprised to find that Houlton was featured in a segment titled “Seaports and River Towns”. There were just seven of these listed, and since I had never heard of Houlton prior to this project, I was curious how it “made the cut” into this book. In the section about Houlton, Houlton is described as “Attractive and tree-shaded, Houlton combines the qualities of an old-fashioned country town with those of a modern city. The seat of Aroostook County, one of the richest potato-raising regions in the United States, and focal point of the northernmost part of Maine that is actively developing its assets as a recreation area, Houlton has become a large commercial center. Yet, in spite of the heavy traffic of motor trucks and automobiles over its smooth pavement, Market Square, the spacious heart of the town’s business district, retains an atmosphere reminiscent of creaking wagon wheels and patient horses tethered to sidewalk hitching posts.” (p.150)
And as I stepped out of Sage, that was exactly the picture I had in my mind. Market Square was the home of many shops and businesses. Along with banks, there was a movie theater (The Temple), numerous antique shops, a candy shop, an old fashioned arcade, a Salvation Army store, cafes, and a Farm Store Co-op. People were out and about on this nice summer day. You could picture in your mind a scene of people, horses and shops. I was enthralled very quickly and it only got better.
My Grandfather had stayed at the Snell House, and true to what I had been finding with the other hotels, it no longer existed. From research on the Maine Memory Network, a photo of the hotel taken in 1900, proclaimed it to be the best hotel in Houlton at that time. The interesting thing is that the picture was taken from across the street at White’s shop and the photo is credited to E.B. White. Initially, I thought this might be the same E.B. White of Charlotte’s Web fame, but in fact, there was another E.B. White who had a shop, diagonally across from the Snell House, and who was also an amateur photographer (https://houltonmuseum.wixsite.com/acham/edward-b-white-collection). In a 1920s postcard from the same source, the hotel also features stables for guests to park their horses.
I reached out to the Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum to learn more about the Snell House and spoke with Sandy, whose husband is the president of the organization. She kindly sent me an email with an advertisement from the Snell House (https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/4f308d_11d8aadaea794c4f9f38379971f2e4be.pdf). In this advertisement, it said that the hotel had 100 rooms, and none of the rooms had a bad view “Every room opens to the sunlight”, which was unusual for the timeframe. It was still unclear to me about what happened to the hotel. I reached out to Leigh, and he wrote back to me that the “Snell House fell out of favor after the opening of a more ‘modern’ hotel (Northland) in 1930. By 1940, the site was a movie theater (Houlton Theater). The Snell House was torn down prior to 1940 and the Houlton Theater in the early ‘60s.” From the Maine Memory Network, I did find a picture of the Northland Hotel and it certainly did look more modern than the Snell House did (https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/22609) . I also found information on the Houlton Theater and found out that it opened in 1941, had seats for 862 people and was torn down in the late 1950s. (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/50070) And then, to answer my question about what is currently there now, it is just a parking lot. It is interesting that the Temple Theater, which opened in 1919, is only a few buildings down from this site, and it is still in operation.(Yay for independent movie theaters!)
When I googled the Snell Hotel, I did find a story in “The County” newspaper about a tour of Houlton’s historical artifacts (https://thecounty.me/2017/08/17/news/business-news/rotarians-take-a-walk-through-history/) . This included information about the Ensign Animal Fountain, which was originally located in front of the Snell House on Market Square. However, this statue, composed of granite from Vinalhaven, is no longer operational and no longer sits in the same location, as it has been moved to the intersection of Water and Court Street.. But is was there when my Grandfather visited Houlton, so I wanted to try and find this as well when I visited Houlton.
Since I knew the site of the Snell House was now a parking space, it was quite easy to identify where it was since it was the only empty spot in the square. I walked over to the unremarkable location and looked around. There, something to the left of the parking lot caught my eye. Along a winding path, there was a beautiful bridge that stretched over a river. Excitedly, I made my way down towards the path. And on the right, was a storyboard sign that told the story about how Market Square has been formed and re-formed by fires. And on this storyboard, was also information about the Snell House. I kept walking and reading the storyboard signs about different historical aspects of Houlton – its early history, the industrial history, and its educational history. On the Gateway Crossing Bridge, the Meduxnekeag River flowed gently underneath.
On the other side of the bridge, I spotted a picnic area and restrooms. I learned that this Riverfront Park had been completed in three phases, (https://thecounty.me/2019/07/23/living/arts/new-wilderness-trail-highlights-riverfront-park-phase-iii/) and it was recently just completed. On the other side, there is a 3-mile trail that parallels the river. Along the path, there are also storyboards, telling more about the ecological history of the river. This was not the first footbridge over the Meduxnekeag River; on Maine Memory Network, I also found a photo of one that existed as early as 1890 (https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/13353).
I went back to the side closer to where the Snell House was located and sat on one of the many benches to do my picture taking and video of what my Grandfather said in his letter. It was a beautiful blue sky and many others walked down the path and over the bridge. It was peaceful as I tried to imagine my Grandfather in this spot. Now, he got to share the view with both me and my Grandmother.
After leaving the Riverfront Park area, I walked back up to Market Square to see if I could find the moved fountain. And a quick block up, there it was. It certainly was not as elaborate as it probably once was, and it was no longer functional as a fountain, but, it was surrounded by beautiful flowers and still looked rather majestic on its new corner.
I was rather conflicted about knowing I had 300 miles to travel that day, but also wanting to soak in a little more of Houlton. So, I walked around Market Square and down the Main Street. There was an interesting candy shoppe, just opening for the day; what was advertised as a unique arcade, and then an interesting building, called the Vault, which appeared to be an old bank and the building was now for sale. There were several cafes, which I wish I had time to try out while I was there. I then came upon the The Country Co-Op and Farm Store Cafe, which I knew I just needed to check out. Along with a lot of Maine produced, organic food products, there was the ability to order breakfast and lunch, the ability to sit at a table and work on a lap-top, and the ability to look at local artisans’ goods. As I went upstairs, there was a beautiful small sunflower rug that caught my eye. And to the right of those rugs, were vintage pictures of Houlton. And to the right of that display, sat a picture of the Snell House, with a large parade passing by it. I knew that it needed to come home with me, as a souvenir of my visit to this wonderfully vibrant town. But, I couldn’t get myself to get into Sage just yet, so I went to a few of the antique stores to check out if they had anything about the Snell House. In both of these locations, Houlton residents sat talking to one another. Nothing from the Snell House, but lots of interesting artifacts and people. Finally, much later than expected, I made my way back over to Sage and started her up. I was wondering if Houlton was this vibrant when my Grandfather visited. I knew he wasn’t able to get a beer there, due to Prohibition, but if the town looked like it did in 2019, I think there would be a lot to do and see. I am glad that I ended my County Tour here in Houlton. The history, the attention to appreciating the natural resources and the people, were all top notch. It was a wonderful ending to this recreated road trip.