SKOWHEGAN — Imagine the stories.

If the walls could talk at the first tavern on the south side of Skowhegan where two major U.S. highways one day would converge from all four directions, the tales they would tell.

That was the theme this past week in a presentation on Locke Tavern given as part of Skowhegan’s River Fest by Melvin Burnham, outgoing director of Skowhegan History House, Museum and Research Center.

But the walls won’t talk.

Locke Tavern, built in 1811 and later converted into apartments, was destroyed by fire in February. An improperly placed electrical extension cord saw to that. What was left of the old place was demolished this summer, leaving a gap at the corner of West Front Street and Main Street, where U.S. Route 201 and U.S. Route 2 meet near the bridges.

“If the walls could talk, imagine the stories that we could share,” said Burnham. “Life in the early 1800s, travelers from afar — romances, tragedies, river drives, factory lore, everyday life on the Kennebec — and all the little nasty things that happen in a town.”

Gen. Joseph (Josiah) Locke built the tavern in what was then Bloomfield Village in 1811. It was the first public house where twice a day stagecoach driver David D. Blunt would stop on his route from Waterville. In 1887 the Maine Farmer’s Almanac listed five stagecoach routes in the state — two of them either stopping or originating there.

“The History House is a repository of items — artifacts, photographs, documents — but it is also a repository of stories,” Burnham said in a recent interview. “If those walls could have talked, there would be an amazing bunch of stories to listen to, because it housed or provided lodging, probably food as well, probably spirits as well, to travelers near and far.

“They would come by stage before the train came in 1856. I was very sad to see it go down, very sad.”

The area of Skowhegan Falls where Locke Tavern was built was the busy part of town — hence the name Main Street. Even Civil War-era Gov. Abner Coburn built his home there.

Now, Burnham said, he’s been told that 20,000 cars enter that intersection every day.

The Locke family operated the tavern with an inn and stables for about 60 years until around 1870. The estate was purchased and turned into a boarding house for millworkers in 1887 and later became a three-unit apartment building until the fire Feb. 14. The building also was known as South Side Boarding House and later The Linwood, according to Burnham.

A book published in 1902 by local author Harriett Nash, titled “Polly’s Secret,” uses Locke Tavern as the setting for her story of a little girl growing up in a tavern, with historically accurate depictions of the life and times on the Kennebec, Burnham said.

“Her story also gives the reader a good picture of the community and everyday life, including the children wandering the river between Bloomfield and Milburn, now Skowhegan,” he said.

The fire Feb. 14 displaced eight people from their homes and shut off power to more than 1,800 Central Maine Power Co. customers. It was accidental and started on the third floor of the apartment house, officials said.

Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard said a renter on the third floor substituted an extension cord for permanent electrical wiring, overheating the cord and igniting the fire.

“Extension cords are for temporary use,” Howard said at the time. “There was too much draw on that cord, and too much draw equals heat.”

The building was owned by Dale Kinney, who lives in Florida during the winter. Fire officials said the building is insured.

Contacted by phone in February in Florida, Kinney said he was saddened by the loss of the historic building but glad that everyone made it out safely. He said the building was equipped with smoke detectors.

“It was my favorite building because it has a lot of history to it, which is a damn shame,” Kinney said. “It was the first tavern in Skowhegan. At one time it was called the (Josiah) Locke Tavern.”

Howard said all of the residents made it out of the burning building without injuries, but most lost all of their belongings.

Skowhegan Road Commissioner Greg Dore said there has been some discussion with the Maine Department of Transportation about acquiring the land where Locke Tavern stood for possible expansion and widening of the busy intersection of U.S. Routes 2 and 201, but talks are in the early stages.

Kinney said Friday he has no plans for the empty lot and might be willing to sell it.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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