PELEG THOMAS FARM PRESERVE - NORTH HAVEN, MAINE
Looking southwest, date unknown, Southern Harbor seen on both sides of this panorama
In March of 2014 North Haven Conservation Partners learned that Mary White was generously considering donating her property on Southern Harbor for the purpose of permanent conservation and the development of an elder care residence. Nine months later in January 2015, Mary’s visionary reuse of this iconic farm and Victorian, yellow farmhouse, visible from both Pulpit Harbor Road and the South Shore Road, became a reality when NHCP and North Haven Sustainable Housing (NHSH) gratefully took title to 5.5 acres and 3 acres, respectively. NHSH and Southern Harbor Elder Services (SHES), the eventual owner/operator of the new elder care residence, are actively raising capital to build a new structure and launch the program to house and help care for six North Haven residents.
NHCP will be working with SHES to integrate its adjoining 5.5 acre parcel of open fields and Southern Harbor shoreline into the fabric of the new residence. Part of the vision includes making the land accessible and inviting for use by residents, their families and members of the community during any time of year. Among the ideas for future uses are vegetable and flower gardens, picnic areas by the shore, fruit tree orchard, limited farm animal grazing, family reunions and weddings, outdoor classroom for students, or just a place for parents to exhaust their kids by romping through the fields.
To date, NHCP has made the Peleg Thomas Farm Preserve open to the community, quietly (and for now, with limited access improvements), in deference to the farmhouse tenants and the NHSH capital campaign, now in full swing. So begins the next chapter of this special North Haven property. Before we get ahead of ourselves, please read on to learn of the history of the property and some interesting information about the former owners and their families.
WHO WAS PELEG THOMAS?
Born on April 24, 1789, Peleg Thomas was the fifth of Joshua and Mary Burgess Thomas’ six sons. At the time of Peleg’s birth, the family lived in the Camden, Maine area but they later moved to North Haven island and settled at Bartlett’s Harbor. The date of the Thomas family’s arrival on the island is uncertain but family records place it after 1794 and before 1818.
Shipbuilding and seafaring trades ran strong throughout the Thomas family. Records show Peleg was involved in building two boats on North Haven. In 1815, he and his brother William built a 43-foot schooner, Andrew Jackson. In 1818, Peleg, William, and another brother, George built a schooner and named it Thomas. On September 15, 1819, tragedy occurred when the Thomas caught fire while carrying a shipment of lime. Peleg’s father, Joshua and eldest brother, Benjamin were aboard the ship and died in the fire. Peleg’s brother George eventually moved from North Haven to Rockland and gained fame as the builder of the clipper ship Red Jacket, which set the record for crossing the Atlantic in 1854 in 13 days.
On October 7, 1833 Peleg Thomas married Hannah Kilton of Jonesboro, Maine. The couple settled on a point of land at North Haven’s Southern Harbor and raised six children, Frances, Wellington, Franklin, Adella, Jerome, and Elda. This area of land became known as the Peleg Thomas farm, as did nearby landmarks like Peleg’s Brook and Peleg’s Turn.
The agricultural censuses of 1850 and 1860 reported the Thomas family farm with a variety of livestock and yields of potatoes, barley, wool, butter, and hay. Besides farming, Peleg and his family continued to be involved with maritime affairs and the 1856 Maine Register identified Peleg as “Inspector of Fish.” Census records identified two of his sons, Wellington and Jerome as fishermen.
In addition, Peleg was remembered by some as a sportsman. An interview with Ida Wooster Dyer, who married Peleg’s grandson Chester Dyer, recalled a story about Peleg: “He used to have horses and I think he used to race them; but of course there were gates here and there, because many of the farmers fenced their pastures, and you had to open gates to go along the road…But Grandfather Peleg liked his sporting horses, and he didn’t like to have to stop at every gate…When Town Meeting came Peleg would try and get things in the Town Report so that the gates would have to be left open at least part of the time – and the farmers would always beat him down, because there were more farmers than there were sportsmen. “
In 1867, Peleg died at age 78. His widow Hannah, son Jerome, and daughter Elda continued to live at the farm. Based on population census data, Hannah lived at the farm until the late 1800s and then moved to a house in town.
OTHER RESIDENTS ON THE PROPERTY
Lewis Foss and his wife Clara Eva Turner moved to the property in the early 1900s. Lewis came to the island from Albion, Maine and worked as schoolteacher. In 1887, he married Clara, the daughter of Jewett and Clara Thomas Turner. They had one son, George “Ted” Foss, born in 1900.
Around WWI Lewis moved the Peleg Thomas farmhouse several hundred feet west and built a new house on the original foundation. His wife Clara died in 1919 and Lewis remarried Annie Payne. While living on the property, Lewis managed a poultry farm and shipped eggs to Massachusetts. A 1909 letter from Heinlein & Arnold “Dealers in All Kinds of Live and Processed Poultry” of Watertown, Massachusetts inquired, “About how many eggs do you think you can let us have the week before Easter?” and included a check for 252 dozen eggs at 21 cents per dozen. A North Haven News article by Irven Stone described North Haven farms in the early 1900s and noted “Lewis Foss had one cow and a horse but he had plenty of hens, squabs, strawberries, and raspberries which he delivered at least three times a week during the summer.”
After Lew Foss died in 1947, his bachelor son Ted continued to live at the farm. When Ted died in 1976, he left it to his cousin, William Rice. William and his wife Elsie moved there in May 1978 and spent their retired life on North Haven. During the 2004 Summer, the Rices sold the property to summer residents Mary White and Chris Flowers.
At one time, the Historical Society discussed attempting to place the original Peleg and Hannah Thomas farmhouse on the National Register of Historic Places. Beyond repair, the new owners offered the contents of the house to the Historical Society and the structure to the Fire Department. Ultimately, Michael Brown knocked down the house and burned the refuse on site in 2005. Today, lilac trees provide evidence of the location of this former homestead.
Members of the North Haven Community can look forward to increased activity at the Peleg Thomas Preserve in 2016 – a special event, clearing out deadfall, perhaps a picnic bench or two. As the capital campaign for the elder care residence draws to a successful conclusion, we may host a joint celebration and eagerly await the ground breaking for the new facility. In the meantime, please free to explore NHCP’s property while respecting the privacy of the tenants in the yellow farmhouse.
Agricultural Census data of 1850 and 1860, courtesy of the North Haven Historical Society
Foss, Kilton, Rice, and Thomas family files at the North Haven Historical Society
Interview with Ida Wooster Dyer by Eliot Beveridge, courtesy of the North Haven Historical SocietyVital Records of North Haven, Maine, courtesy of the North Haven Historical Society
Photos courtesy of the North Haven Historical Society