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Parsons Memorial Library Construction

by Bruce R. Tucker of the Alfred Historical Committee


[Taken from Bennett Quarry paper]


PARSONS LIBRARY


It was during Charles Bennett’s ownership that the quarry, with the assistance of his brothers Edwin and John, produced the granite for the Parson’s Memorial Library, in all likelihood their largest project. Originally, four materials were considered for the library- quarry stone, boulder stone, faced stone and hard burned brick. Owners of an unopened quarry offered stone very cheaply as a way to introduce their product to the marketplace but the Parson’s settled on locally quarried stone from the Bennett quarry. Ground was broken for the library on May 28, 1900 but quarrying likely began months before that. Payroll records for stone cutters and quarrymen were begun in June but did not include any Bennetts as they were working under contract and not as employees of the construction crews. The Bennet contract probably included delivering the stone to the work site in the village but his neighbor John Lewis received payments for the use of his oxen in hauling during construction. The Bennetts quarried almost $4000 worth of granite in 1900. Production dropped to $600 in 1901. Others in the village benefited from the library construction project; B.C. Jordan supplied $300 worth of lumber, beams, tarpaper and other construction items, George Phoenix provided water dippers, shovels, chalk lines and sundries worth $31.


1900 Alfred census- Bennett household

Charles Bennett (head house) age 60 farmer

Robert Bennett (father) age 80 (died 3-9-1904, age 84-4-26)

Edwin A. Bennett (brother) age 47 stonecutter; unemployed 2 mos. /year

Mary L. Bennett (sister) age 37

neighbor

John Bennett (head house) age 39 mar. 4 yrs. blacksmith

Susie J. Bennett (wife) age 36


The largest economic boost to the local economy was in the wages provided local workers. Since Oliver G. Nutter was the general contractor on the job, he hired many local folks, among whom family members were prominent- John, Fred, and Mark Nutter all had positions as masons and quarrymen on the construction crews. The payroll began in June 1900 and included- Fred Nutter, John Sayward, Will Temple, W. C. Goodrich, G. Putnam, G. Henderson, A. Frazier, A. Trafton, . All were on the crew that stayed throughout the year. Weekly payroll began at about $45/ week but when stone cutting was in full swing in July, payroll jumped to $183/week. Most averaged $2-$3 per day. The library cornerstone was laid Oct. 30, 1900 with much ceremony and work continued into the fall under sheds built by Herm Sayward (52 hours labor, .22 ½ per hour; $11.70).


In November 1900, Nutter was replaced as general contractor. There was no problem with the work but auditors found his book keeping to be sloppy- too much cash not deposited, funds co-mingled and payrolls not signed were noted as reasons for dismissal. Nutter’s final statement indicated that of the $10,000 given him, $9,098 had been dispersed in 1900- $2885 to masons and quarrymen and $4720 to stonecutters. Work ceased for the winter in Nov., the masons leaving the site Nov. 10. Fifteen stonecutters had their work sheds bolstered for the winter weather and worked for another two months. Nutter was replaced as general contractor by John W. Burrows of Portland and there after, records become far less detailed. Most of the records were likely kept at his Portland office. We do know that work continued into the winter seasons; the masons were being pushed to install drainage and a sewer on Dec, 5, 1901 in spite of a heavy snowfall and deep frost. In 1902, the stonecutters ceased exterior work on Feb. 18 and the interior carpentry was well underway. Arthur Farnum was kept busy carting bricks from the railroad station. Work continued thru 1903.


On Oct. 3, 1903, the Town of Alfred accepted the gift of the library from the Parsons and agreed to maintain it. Two days later the Alfred Reading Club donated 1700 volumes to fill the shelves and the library was formally dedicated Oct. 6, 1903. It’s doors, however, were not opened to patrons until the beginning of December. The library benefactor’s, the Parsons, questioned the town’s commitment to supporting and patronizing the project. They were particularly irked by those who pledged money but did not pay. They had concerns tax dollars would not be raised to fill it with books or maintain the building and rather than open the library and have it go to ruin, better not to open it at all. Their reservations proved ill founded, however, as within two weeks of opening ( December 17, 1903), Nellie Jordan could proudly inform the Parsons that the library was open two days a week and over 70 cards had been issued. Alfred had it’s library at last.


The Bennetts, no doubt, took as much civic pride as anyone in such a renown local project, more so because they had supplied the sturdy granite that impressed all with it’s ageless permanence and classic beauty. What they thought of the books inside or learning or all the other things the library represented, we do not know. One thing we do know, however, is that John Bennett was not entirely happy all with the proceedings, particularly his payment for the granite he provided. The problem began early in construction when Oliver Nutter’s plan to construct a foundation on split boulders failed. Consequently, the Bennetts were approached to supply 10 large slabs of granite suitable for the foundation, an item beyond the terms of their original contract. The Bennetts were paid $3968 for granite in 1900 but felt they were due another $250 for the additional foundation stone (177 feet of granite at $2/ft.). The Parsons, however, while they felt the price of the original contract was fair, felt they were getting gouged on the foundation stone by a factor of twice. After all, they reasoned, Bennett was already quarrying and the special order was quarried with the rest, incurring no additional expenses. Bennett maintained he had wasted much granite in quarrying the special order. The Parsons engaged an expert named Ward who claimed that because the foundation stones were larger, they were worth less per cubic foot; the Bennetts, of course, maintained that because the stones were larger they were worth more per cubic foot.


The Bennetts had delivered additional granite in 1901, for which the Parsons remitted a check for $500 and suggested 3rd party arbitration (probably Ward) to settle their differences. There the matter rested until the library had been opened about a month when John Bennett retained John B. Donavan as his attorney to settle his debt. Bennett stated he was due $46.82 for granite delivered in 1900, $55 for granite delivered in 1901 and $250 for the foundation stones- a total of about $351. Bennett claims he had broached the issue with John Parsons but both letters had gone unanswered. Parsons restated his position, offered $290 to settle and again suggested third party arbitration. (letter dated 2-1-1904). Bennett declined the settlement and the matter of arbitration particularly rankled him. Through lawyer Donovan, Bennett responded, “they further (the Bennetts) do not like for an outsider like the person referred to by your Uncle John to fix their price. It is no use to discuss the proposition any longer or further with them. You will have to pay or let them sue.” Three days later, Donovan received a check for $352 in the mails and considered the matter closed. There the matter rested for over a year (3-3-1905) when John Bennett stormed into the office of Samuel Came, demanding the interest due on the $359 for the 2-3 years he had to wait. Came, ever the diplomat, penned a letter to Parsons, “ Mr. Bennett is honest but not an expert in doing business.”. An exasperated Parsons replied, “I am willing to reopen the matter in spite of the fact that I think the Bennett Brothers acted very badly concerning some of the stone they furnished. (3-25-05) He recounted the overcharge for the foundation stone and the Bennett unwillingness to go to arbitration. He also was willing to pay the interest if they could put the matter to bed once and for all. He noted that any further correspondence be sent to his winter home in Sheffield, Alabama. He was headed south.


Before Parsons could hustle off to parts unknown, Came replied (3-28-05) “We regard Mr. John Bennett- who is doing this business- as honest and reliable but not much of a book keeper. He gave me amounts from memory and thinks Donovan settled to his injury.” Bennett, however, agreed to forgo the interest and the matter was finally put to rest. Apparently the offer to pay the interest was enough for Bennett. As important as getting his money, Bennett probably wanted his townsmen to know he was not intimidated or cowed in business dealings with the wealthy library benefactors. He was caught up in a shift of commercial methods where business was not conducted face to face and between neighbors. Hammering out the value of an item or service was carried out long distance, through the mails or through third parties who had some limited authority to speak on behalf of the end recipient. Gone were the timeless extended web of trade and mutual obligation that bound neighborhoods and towns. It was commerce reduced to dollars that flowed to a bottom line and to Bennett it seemed faceless, soulless and far less satisfying. Once entered into the world of commerce at a distance, the only redress was the legal system, the evil twin to commerce, and likely as dissatisfying to Bennett as the commerce was.


In a statewide status report on Maine quarries made in 1905, the Bennett Brothers were no longer cutting granite in their quarry. The estimated size of the quarry was given as 60 feet wide by 150 feet long by up to 30 feet in depth. Granite from the quarry was described as “ a slightly greenish dark-gray color with a conspicuous black mica and a medium texture.” It’s location was given as “1 mile southwest of Alfred village, south of the Portland and Rochester Railroad, at the north foot of a 480 foot hill. Transport of the granite was by cart one mile to the Alfred railroad station.”


Library factoids


Our library is a copy of the library in Sturbridge Mass to which the Parsons referenced their plan.


The library was originally to be sited between the church and the corner with Rt. 202. The architect Mr. Bowditch suggested dividing the lot in front of the chapel and constructing the front of the library even with the front of the church. The owner of the old Griffin Hotel site offered to donate the corner if $10,000 dollars was raised by the town. Eventually, Rev. Parsons purchased the Griffin lot and exchanged it for the site of the old Webber Tavern, moved the tavern to it’s present site on Rt. 202 [Elsie Davis old house] and built the library where it stands today.


Sept. 1898- Fund raising for the library came in the form of pledges. One pledge sheet was originated by Nellie Jordan who pledged $2000, was then circulated the sheet among the Conant and Hall families in Wakefield Mass. who pledged an additional $3000 with the “tacit understanding” the library be called the Conant Memorial Library. This pledge sheet was returned to Alfred and held by lawyer Sam Came- related to the Conants. Another pledge sheet was circulated among the Parsons family, also in Wakefield, who sent John Parsons to Alfred in Nov. 1898 to publicly pledge construction of the library. After the Parsons pledge, Came was instructed not to say anything about the Conant naming plans and let Parsons take the lead. Of course, when time came for the money to be remitted for construction, the Conants were reluctant to contribute to a project they could not name after themselves. ..and reneged on the pledge, saying the money was pledged under false pretenses. They wished their pledge be contributed to the Conant Chapel instead. The Parsons had committed to the library based on the Conant paper contribution, not knowing the moneys source. They had also counted on the money and when it had not been paid by April 1903, the Parsons hounded Came to name those who had pledged but he would not do so. Now it was the Parsons turn to feel aggrieved. This is likely the real reason for the delay in opening the library after construction was complete.


And now you know the rest of the story.


Parsons Library Dedication and excercises with early history https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924029531377&view=1up&seq=15

Bennett Family matters

1910 census

Charles Bennett age 70 farmer; head house, lived on Sanford Rd.

Mary L. Bennett age 47 sister (died 3-17-1911)

Edwin A. Bennett age 59 farmer

also

John Bennett age 49 stonecutter, quarry, head house, lived on Sanford Rd.

Susan Bennett age 45


Charles Bennett, owner of the quarry, was, like his uncle Theodore, a lifelong bachelor. Upon his death 4-27- 1914 (YP56179), there was no mention of quarry rights when he conveyed the homestead to his brother Edwin, another life long bachelor. Edwin, with no heirs, conveyed his homestead to Lester Ridley in 1917 (650/337), but retained the right to remain in the house and that must Ridley provide food and medicine until his death, which occurred in 1929. In 1933, the house became the childhood home of Stan Littlefield and is currently owned by the Pierce family.


Springvale Advocate, published in Springvale, Maine on Friday, July 31st, 1914- John Pollock- a Bennett neighbor- on the coroners jury to view body of Charles Bennett- Civil War Vet, farmer, familiar site in Sanf/Alf- struck by freight #301 bound for Portland @7:55 Wed morning near crossing east of Alfred Village. Had pension and was near completely deaf. For 3 years every Wed. delivery wagon from Ideal Market in Sanford would stop and Bennett make purchases. He was on railroad tracks walking to meet wagon when struck and thrown down banking 15 feet. Those who appeared at witnesses before the coroner and the jury were Charles Vallely of Sanford [driver of delivery wagon] Arthur Breary and Dr S B Marshall of Alfred, the conductor, engineer and brakeman in charge or the train. Bennett age 74, never married and lived w/ brothers Edward and John Bennett, leaves sister Mrs Sanborn of Hollis.


1920 census

John H. Bennett age 54 head house; laborer; unemployed

Susan J. Bennett age 55 wife

Lillian W. Bennett age 6 daughter

Charles C. Trafton age 62 brother in law


Next door to:


Edward Bennett age 69; boarder in household of Lester C. Ridley age 44

also

Arthur Green age 69 servant

Mrs. Edith J. Green servant


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