The History of Milo, 1802-1948

Written by Sue Perrigo Jenkins (1948) | Scanned by Seth Barden

The quiet courage of a 14 year old stands out vividly among the beginnings of the history of Milo. Benjamin Sargent, with his son Theophilus, came in 1802 by schooner from Mathuen, Mass. to Bangor. Thence by boat up the Penobscot River, turning into the Piscataquis, and continuing up to what is now the farm of Clarence West, (Who, it is interesting to note, is a great-grandson of Joseph, Benjamin Sargent’s eldest son. )

Thus was the first permanent settlement begun, when Benjamin and his young son began felling trees to make a clearing large enough to plant corn and other crops. They erected a two room log cabin to be the home of Milo’s first family. These important beginnings accomplished, Mr. Sargent set out on the return trip to Mathuen to bring the rest of his family to their new home, with 14 year old Theophilus left, with his dog for company, to tend the crops, their first investment.

The family in Mass. were found to be ill with Typhus and Mr. Sargent could not rejoin his young son as soon as he had hoped, and Theophilus did not see his family again for many months

Calamity visited the boy during his lonely stay in the Maine wilderness when a bear found the cabin door ajar and helped himself to the molasses and flower. But the boy also met unexpected friendliness when a band of Indians, up the river in search of birch bark for canoes, seeing his plight not only shared their food with him but left the young son of their chief to stay with the white boy until his family joined him. So, with Ateon Oseon as a companion and helper, Theophilus’ condition was improved.

Killing frosts on the interval land sent the Sargents to the hilltop known today as Sargents Hill. The sons later settled the length of the road, which became the main route over which ore from the Katahdin Iron Works was hauled, a bridge having been constructed over the Sebec River at “Sargent’s Landing” and a ferry across the Piscataquis River, not for down river from their original landing.

Another townsman able to trace his descent from the aforementioned Joseph Sargent, is H. Allen Monroe. Both he and Clarence West are related through their mothers’ line, an uncle of Mr.Monroe’s, Edward Sargent, whose only son died as a young boy, was the last of the line to bear the name.

Harry Snow, another Townsman, is a lineal descendant (the last in Milo to bear the name, with his sister, Mrs. Annie Snow Young) of Moses Snow, who with his brother Stephen, secured a square mile of land along the Pleasant River. They had hunted in this area earlier and took up their lot in 1801. In 1802, the same year that the Sargents settled, they returned and erected their cabin on the east bank of the river to which they gave it’s present name near where the bridge was later built. The Snow brothers were single men, neither marring for several years. The first wheeled vehicle in town is credited to Stephen Snow, who sawed wheels from a pine tree, four feet in thickness, using hardwood for the boxes.

Trafton’s Falls, on the Sebec River, with a 9 foot head and a14 foot fall became the nucleus of the fast growing community. There are two legends extant, one of the misadventure, and the other of a feat performed by one Trafton, which caused his name to be connected with the falls.

Lumber was sawed and grist ground for the needs of the settlers, at mills in neighboring Sebec and Brownville for the first twenty years of the settlement. In 1823 a dam was built across the falls and the first saw mill built by Wilborn Swett, whose name was given to the hill on the road to Brownville.

The next mill to be built was a grist mill, with William Owen, from whom our Owens of today are descended, as a co_partner. This mill which was burned in 1900, is remembered by many .It was built on Davis Island, easterly side. Its capacity was greatly increased by Isaac Leonard in 1851. The present day Leonards ( Ed, his sister Jennie Lutterell, and his cousin Merle) are his descendants.

As the second and third decades were merging, Daniel Dennett arrived, buying in with Stephen Snow on the farm. These two were known as the richest men in town. They also bought Mr. Swett’s mill. Mr. Dennett moved into the village, built the house later remodeled into the Dillon House and became familiarly known as the “King of Milo”.

Milo housewives who may own “Grandmother’s wooden chopping bowl” may have one of the very bowls turned out by the father of Sir Hiram Maxim, who operated a small mill for their manufacture

The Spool Industry had a part in the early history of Milo, a mill being erected on the canal for splitting spool timber, using white birch, a forerunner of the extensive operation to come.

Villagers and farmers alike profited by the erection of woolen mills, fulling and carding mills, raw material from the latter, and labor and skill of the former, turning out the finished product, truly a “community project”. Too many of these early mills were razed by fire and not rebuilt.

It was after the burning of James Gifford’s mill (which stood near the present pumping station) that Milo’s first fire engine, the old hand-tub “Tiger” was bought. The old pumper, now housed in the Milo Fire Department is treated, not only with respect due its age, but with positive affection by the firemen.

The township, organized as a plantation in 1820, was incorporated in 1823 with 54 resident taxpayers. After some discussion as to whom the new town should be named for, it was accorded the honor of selection a name to Benjamin Sargent. He, having read of the powers of the famed Grecian athlete, Milo, of Crotona, gave his name to the town in honor of the strength and courage of his young son Theophilus. In this story too, the men’s club discovers the origin of its name.

In a town having three beautiful rivers, bridges became an early necessity. When these structures were made of wood, entailing almost constant repair, it was said by many a groaning taxpayer that the town was “bridge poor”. First came open bridges connecting Davis Island, in the Sebec, the site of most of the mills, with the mainland. Somewhere around 1848 a covered bridge was built over the Pleasant. The next, also covered, spanned the westerly channel of the Sebec. Old inhabitants tell that prior to the building of the dam, the easterly channel was the main river.

The bridge over the Piscataquis which terminated the Sargent hill road was washed away. Traffic to the south was then set across the river by a ferry about a mile down stream. This ferry passed into disuse only a few years ago. Wishing a more direct route southward, the third covered bridge was built, still another mile down stream and was operated as a toll bridge until about 1870 when it was made free. These relics of a more leisurely mode of travel have been replaced by structures more in keeping with the march of progress.

We have seen the coming of farmers, mechanics, and tradespeople to this flourishing new town, which early in its fourth decade had more stores than any other settlement in the county except the twin towns of Foxcroft and Dover. Allen Monroe (Munroe), great grandfather of H.Allen Monroe, opened the third store in town.

After the mechanics and tradespeople had laid the foundation for future growth and prosperity the professions followed, doctors, lawyers, teachers, clergymen. The pioneers of Methodism penetrated these settlements early, establishing circuits. Milo was doubtless served by the one from Dover to Howland. In 1836 a circuit rider, Elder Richards, moved to Milo and remained until his death. After the B.& A. Shops came to Derby, the Methodists built a chapel on Daggett Street which did not prove to be a permanent success. The beautiful Methodist Church on Park Street was erected in 1912.

In 1827 a FreeWill Baptist Church was organized. The Baptists, holding slightly differing tenents, organized in 1840 with a membership of 12. In 1853 these churches together perfected the edifice, today the home of the Christian Science Church. Prominent in this new venture were William Owen who signed noted for its financing and Stephen Snow deeding the land for the church and the schoolhouse adjoining, a part of the original square mile of land taken up by the Snow brothers. Services were alternated weekly between the two societies untill the erection of a church of their own by the Baptists, dedicated in 1886. In 1913 the movement to unite was voted in Milo and the denomination as we know it today was consumated.

The coming of the B.& A. Shops brought St. Paul’s Catholic and St. Joseph’s Episcopal churches to Derby. These are missions of the churches at Brownville Junction.

In 1907 the Christian Science Society gathered at the home of Paul P. Peaked on Crescent Street. Outgrowing the private house services were next held in the old Masonic Hall until the purchase in 1914 of their present quarters.

The oldest school house still standing is, with some alterations and the addition of a wing, the building next to the Science Church. Milo’s native octogenarians received their High School instruction in one of its two rooms. The first school fund was raised by the sale of land which had been reserved for public purposes, realizing the sum of $ 1300.00 . Later $100.00 was raised by the town. A High School was maintained whenever possible, the first free high school being opened in 1872. 1893 saw a splendid expansion in the schools, when the present grammar school building was built to house the “Intermediate” and “Grammar” schools on the ground floor, each in one room, and the High School upstairs, under George Gould as Principal and one assistant. In 1895 the first formal graduation exercises were held, Carroll Ramasdell, who was a selectman for many years, was a member of this class. Six graduated in 1895, in 1948 there were 52!

One bit of land “reserved for public purposes” which was not turned into cash, was a plot of land just next to the drugstore, where the World War II Honor Roll is standing. This was reserved, never to be sold for building purposes, for a “hitching place” and within recent memory, still bore the iron rings to which the horses were tied.

Dirigo Lodge of Odd Fellows, the first of the Order in the county was organized in 1869. On High Street, beside the residence of E. C. Hobbs, the Lodge erected a building at the cost of $1400.00. The upper story contained the Lodge Rooms, the ground floor was an Armory. Burt L. Gould was initiated into the Order in that hall, 70 odd years ago. The onetime Armory was used as a school room for more than a score of years. When the Odd Fellows acquired the Main Street lot upon which their block stands today, the old home of James Gifford (aforementioned mill owner) was moved up onto Park Street, the main part to become eventually the present home of Omar Hamlin, the ell, the present home of Walter Bodge. The lodge home in the new block was dedicated in 1891.

The local Grange was organized in 1875, the hall they now occupy was built in 1907.

The business of the town was greatly benefitted by the building of the Bangor and Piscataquis Railroad from Oldtown to Greenville, in 1868_9. This town added substantial encouragement to the amount of $6,000.00, a policy which they have continued to maintain, exempting from taxation for 10 years any industry which settled here. The station building was located on the Ferry Road, the old depot now being used as a dwelling. Today this road is “The Greenville Branch”.

In 1880 a line was built to Katahdin Iron Works, connecting with the Bangor and Piscataquis. The existing station then became known as Milo Junction, and a little box of a building was put up for the station at the village.

In 1891 the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad was incorporated, buying up with the B.& P. and the K.I.W. , and began the construction of the new road to Caribou, connecting with the K. I. at Brownville. It is probable that the erection of the station later known as Derby, came about at that time, the street leading to it starting from the Ferry Road, parallel to the tracks.

The very level land along the Piscataquis was an ideal location for the car repair shops which the B.& A. removed from Oldtown in 1905 to that spot. Operations began the following year and Milo had made another stride in importance.

The Island has been the site of many small mills, as well as important ones, which turned out a variety of products, from earliest days up to the acquisition by the Boston Excelsior Co. of nearly all of the rights of the earlier mill owners. Their first mill was erected on the west bank of the Sebec, in 1879. This industry flourished, three more mills being erected as time went on, until the principal building was sold to the Milo Textile Company in 1922, whose span of life was not very long.

When it became necessary for the American Thread Company to move from Willimantic, F. W.. Hamlin who was at the time Superintendent of the C. & T. Mills at Lake View saw an opportunity for his home town. Accordingly, a town meeting was called to determine whether Mr. Hamlin should go to the Company with the offer of tax exemption as an inducement. Mr. Hamlin was carried from that meeting on the shoulders of his fellow citizens.

Moving the mill brought many fine families to town, who were soon absorbed into the social life. Since there had never been many vacant houses in Milo, new streets were opened up, many fine homes were built and every phase of life felt the impetus of the “transfusion”.

In 1902 Harry W. Hamlin gave the town it’s telephone system, himself installing the switchboard, the cable, the individual phones, acting as lineman, night operator, part time day operator and bookkeeper, with the official title of general manager and treasurer. Three or four private lines were already in existence ( the two doctors to the drug store, the Lake View Mill to F. W. Hamlin’s residence, the Hotel to the station, ect.) but following the setup of a Central Office, twenty five phones were installed the first week. By 1905 continuous service was completed.

In 1902 Mrs. Mary Hobbs opened her home to distribute books from the State’s Traveling Libraries, continuing for 7 years. At that time the W.C.T.U. wishing to open a reading room for the public, secured two rooms in the I.O.O.F. building , and a sizable collection of books. Mrs.Elsie Sherburne was the first librarian, outgrowing those quarters, and being burned out from another place, they occupied the upstairs hall of the Perrigo building where they amassed 500 volumes by January 1911. In May 1922 ground was broken for the Carnegie building now in use. When the new library was completed, the W.C.T.U. Library Association dissolved, turning over to the Milo Free Public Library all books, furnishings and $1279.26. Mrs. Floence Cotter was librarian when the new Library opened.

Milo has always maintained a steady growth even without a large payroll. Fertile farmland in the outlying districts, extensive lumbering operations, with all kinds of building material in wood, manufactured and unmanufactured, before the advent of the auto, excellent train service between here and Bangor; stores which efficiently served their patronage; able physicians and legal light, all mane Milo a Mecca for the smaller surrounding towns which were tributary to business here, and still are.

Community music has always been a part of the life of Milo. Singing schools gave fine training and made for excellent church choirs. Drum corps furnished stirring military music for the musters of the Grand Army of the Republic, following the war between the states, as long as strength remained to the aging veterans, bands have always been competently directed, several having been organized.

The military of Milo should have an exclusive history. It is a proud record from first to last.

Great strides forward were taken with the establishment of the Milo Electric Light and Power Company in 1904 and the Milo Water Company in 1909. The latter made hydrant installation possible, and a new automatic fire alarm system added greatly to the efficiency of the Fire Department.

The public health is ably served by very efficient physicians and nurses, who find time in their busy careers to check carefully the welfare of the children in the schools. The well equipped local hospital is always a very busy place.

Milo High School, with a faculty of 10, has among it’s alumni some really distinguished men, both in business and the professions.

The stores are up to date and well stocked, in a wide variety.

The Churches, with their affiliated activities, have a broad program for the youth of the town.

Red Cross swimming instruction and supervision are financed by popular subscription.

Four federated Women’s Clubs, a Music Club, and a Garden Club add much to the pleasantness of Milo as a town in which to take up residence, The Milo Lion’s Club has a fine record of benevolence and civic spirit. The Milo Board of Trade means business and intends to keep the town progressive and alert in all departments.

In addition to its community assets, its attractive homes along its tree lined streets, Milo is a neighborly town in which to have a home.