July 27 – August 2, 2018 Vol. 20, No. 8


Summertime in the Belgrades

July 27 – August 2

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A Village Stroll in 1959, Part II

St. Helena’s Catholic Church, ca. 1920

by Rod Johnson

In Part One of "A Village Stroll," we left the home of Lydia and Albert Johnson (now Hello Good Pie and 39 Main Street) and shuffled our way northerly. Remember, this is 1959.

After going only 20 steps or so, we see the large brown Catholic Church. It has been a landmark since long before I was a wee kid running up and down these streets. History has it that the McCormack-Alter family from New York City purchased the land and arranged to have the church built in 1913. Prior to that many summer residents attended church services provided in the McCormack Camp and others, as well as in the Belgrade Hotel.

The church is very much of a seasonal building and is open during the warm months when many Catholic tourists are in residence at cottages. Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings, cars are lined up on both sides of the road. It appears very well kept, with stained glass windows and rustic open beams and boarding inside. We shuffle away from the big brown church, continue northerly and cross the end of school street. The Church operates today, still in a seasonal status.

Another twenty feet or so and we stop in front of a large looming building with an old glass bulbous sign hanging off a rusty bracket. The building sits very close to the road. The faded lettering on the round glass says "Legion Hall."

The building appears in major disrepair with scaly dull-white paint over its clapboard siding and is clearly "leaning towards Sawyers." Not much happens here anymore, though a dwindling American Legion group still has an occasional meeting here. The building gets used lightly by other groups such as the Ladies Aid, a group of card players, maybe a local primary school play as a small stage is present.

Since 1959 the building has gone through some major changes. We now know that this was the first school in Belgrade Lakes, circa 1887 to 1929. A new school building replaced this one just behind it on school street in 1929, when classes and the bell were moved the 100 yards to the East. The Legion bought the building from the Town at that time. Both WWI and WWII spawned many post war groups that bought or built their own buildings during that era.

In the 1980's, a young couple named Martin and Nancy Dionne bought the building from the Legion and did a major renovation. The building was given a complete foundation, all new mechanicals, insulation and trim. The Dionnes used the building for a home on the second floor and a dance studio on the first floor, where Nancy taught dance and yoga. After several years the building was sold to Marcell Schnee and the usage changed from home and dance studio to a physical therapy facility, apartment above and print shop in the newer basement. This arrangement continues today.

Let us march forth another 20 yards or so until we are directly opposite the flower garden at the intersection of West Road and route 27, still on the East side of the road.

A nearly new small home has recently been built. The owners are Charles and Shirley Blood. Shirley, daughter of Sadie Yeaton, waves a hello as she works in the small flower bed along the front of the house. Charlie is in the lumber and land business. The home was later sold to Bob and Bonnie Teague who brought up their two sons there. Several other owners have occupied the home since, but the appearance has changed little other than cosmetics.

As we continue northerly down the street, our next stop will be a large brown colored home with a hip roof and several shed dormers. It has long been the home of Chester Thwing, owner and builder of Woodland Camps. I personally know him as the old man who has a Stanley Steamer in the garage. Each summer he fires up the boiler and takes all us town kids for a joy ride. (For more on that see my story in The Luckiest Boy, Season II.)

Chester died soon thereafter, Clayton and Betty Grant became the next dwellers to occupy the house. As an aside, Clayton and Betty later bought Woodland Camps from Donald Mosher, Chester's son in law. Clayton died in 1983 and Woodland was sold in 1988/89.

Immediately, we realize that Chester's driveway is really what separates his property and that of the Union Church. The Church, like the Catholic Church, is a seasonal building, meaning there is no significant heating system other than a woodstove that is seldom used, and a minimal or nonexistent water system. My memories include: begrudgingly going to Sunday School there in the past summers, my grandfather's funeral in the early 1950's and probably a wedding or two. The church was later added onto and the adjoining property of Dawson Wyman on School Street was purchased for a parking lot. The Church seems well attended and supported today, and has been modernized to become a year-round Church.

Let's go at least one more home today. Just shuffle along everyone. Only 30 more feet and whoa. We have arrived at the home of Ken and Katherine Bartlett. For several decades they owned and operated the local general store downtown, but 3 years ago sold it to a New Sharon couple named James and Mae Day, along with their 2 sons, Gary and Darryl.

Ken has also acted as the local real estate agent and has been in a partnership with General Edmond Hill over the last decade or so, probably since the end of WWII. They seemed to have developed some land on Long Pond and sold some camp lots in several areas.

Years after we stop by, they sell the home to Darryl and Linda Day about 1970. The Days live in this house for perhaps a decade. The Bartletts have built a campground where the Community Center is now, and have run that for several summers. They build a retirement house on top of Smith Hill where they live the rest of their years. The Smith Hill house is now the club house for the Belgrade Golf Course.

We are out of space for today, so hold tight, come back a week from now and we will try to pick it up where we left off. What's Next? Hint: the old P.O.

Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.

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