Sanford Childhood

1908, School Street, Sanford

William Elroy Davis, Chief Engineer, Goodall Mills

In 1898 William was hired to be the Chief Electrical Engineer of Goodall Mills in Sanford, Maine. They made carriage robes and blankets and, as horses became less common, they made upholstering for railroad and automobile seats, carpets, draperies, military uniform fabric and Palm Beach fabric for summer suits. The mill’s success tripled the population of Sanford and the Goodall family helped build a park, a stadium, a library, hospital, and airport.

Springvale Mill

William was also the engineer for the Springvale Mill and the Old Falls Mill. He managed the Atlantic Shore Line Railway and was president of the Sanford First Baptist Church. At the same time he served on the School Board and the Library Board. As Frances recalled, “How he managed all that is a mystery, but he did, and also had time for us.” While their oldest child Rena lived with her grandparents in Auburn, Minnie raised Hollon, Fran, and Ruth, who was born in 1908, and helped organize church and town events.

William built a new home at 10 Maple Street in Sanford, “wiring every nook and cranny,” each closet, and even the backyard so the kids could play in the dark. He had an early phone by his bed for emergency calls from the mill.

At home they were a tight-knit family and each child “had his or her chores to do to keep the family going,” Frances recalled. They always ate breakfast, dinner, and supper in the dining room. “The table was always spread with a nice, white tablecloth and white napkins, and we each had our napkin ring. No business at mealtimes. Each one took time telling of their daily adventures. It was a time to get acquainted with one another. Mother prepared the meals but we children would clean up, using the dumbwaiter their father had designed for convenience. Sunday night was special; we could fix for ourselves whatever we wanted. The only stipulation – clean up afterwards.”

They all attended Sanford’s First Baptist Church. For her Sunday best, Frances would wear black lace stockings with patent leather slippers with one strap across the instep.  The family of 5 (or 6 when the eldest Rena joined them) would file in each Sunday to Pew 14 and fill the pew. When it was time for a new organ, William supervised the electrical part of the installation.

Tower, Mill, Skating Pond

William’s office was in a tall tower of the mill, looking over “#1 Pond,” so the kids would go skating in the winter and he could look down at them as he worked. With her brother Hollon, Frances loved to skate, and she often taught friends on the Mousam River pond down the hill from their house at 10 Maple Street in Sanford. She and Hollon never went on the pond until her father tested it. But once it was declared safe, they spent all their spare time skating. She practiced and practiced until she could write her name and do Figure 8s on the ice. When it snowed they headed for Mt. Hope and flew down the hill on Hollon’s “double runner.” Or they took his toboggan down a man-made hill nearby and slid half way across Mousam River Pond. Sometimes Frances would pile on with her friends, Helen Partridge, Lena Prescott, and Helen Russell.

As they got a bit older, Frances and her brother Hollon would ride their bicycles a couple miles on the unpaved roads to the village of Springvale, enjoying the exercise and their freedom to roam. Fran remembered that when they first moved to Sanford, her Somerville friends had said, “Why go to Maine? Aren’t you afraid of bears in the streets?” But what she actually found in the streets at times were cows. “Once I was out riding my two-wheel bicycle near the park — which people used as a pasture, and a herd of cows started coming down the road toward me. Boy, was I scared. I dropped my bicycle and ran home. Wouldn’t you know — those cows walked on both sides of the bicycle! Didn’t hurt it!”

Often on their bicycle trips, Hollon and Fran stopped to climb birch trees. As Frances recalled, “Robert Frost tells it just right in his poem ‘The Birches.’”

“When I see birches bend to left and right / Across the lines of straighter darker trees, / I like to think some boy’s been swinging them….

He learned all there was / To learn about not launching out too soon/ And so not carrying the tree away/ Clear to the ground./ He always kept his poise/ To the top branches, climbing carefully …./ Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,/ Kicking his way down through the air to the ground./ So was I once myself a swinger of birches.”

Hollon and Frances were the middle children and they were “good friends as well as brother and sister.” They did everything together – skating, sliding, tobogganing, walking, and bicycling. She remembered, “His favorite expression for me was ‘no-mean-bone Frances.’ He said ‘she hasn’t a mean bone in her body.’”

Winter or summer Hollon and Frances joined other kids to play – sledding, skating, or, in the summer, rowing their small, flat bottomed row boat that they kept at their wharf on the river near 10 Maple Street. “We kept our oars and oar locks in our garage. I loved to row. I even went on the river when there were white caps on the water. We used to row up the pond after pond lilies – so, so fragrant.”

In the summer the family would ride down to the beach for a picnic and a swim. Often they rented a cottage near the water – at Camp Ellis near Old Orchard Beach, or further north at a Grand Army of the Republic Camp on Long Pond.

Old Orchard Beach Horse Carts


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