RICHMOND — As motor boats unloaded around them and headed out on the Kennebec River for the day, history buffs shared the stories of Richmond’s early citizens, many of whom made their fortunes either building ships there that sailed down the Kennebec to the sea, or harvesting the river’s ice, before the days of refrigeration, to sell throughout the world.

The event was billed as a kickoff to Richmond’s upcoming bicentennial, still some 18 months away in 2023, in recognition of Richmond being incorporated as a town Feb. 10, 1823, and separating from Bowdoinham.

Ann Page of Richmond, an organizer of the event, said most towns start preparing for their bicentennial years two years in advance. The event was not town-sponsored but Page said she hopes to meet with selectmen to discuss the town’s upcoming bicentennial and how Richmond’s history might be celebrated.

Thomas Jefferson Southard — known to his friends as T.J. Southard — walked into town, from his native Boothbay, at the age of 11, in 1819. As a boy, like many in coastal Maine, he yearned to go to sea, until he actually did go to sea, as a the cook and ship’s boy. He hated it, was sick most of the time, and he never returned to sea, according to Laurice Baddour, who lead a walking history tour Saturday featuring some of the town’s many old, elaborate sea captain’s homes, and the homes of T.J. Southard and his son, Charles Southard.

Instead, T.J. Southard became a blacksmith in Richmond, often taking ownership shares in ships, instead of money, for his work. Dennis Gears, an actor portraying T.J. Southard on Saturday, said it proved to be a wise choice.

“Instead of taking money I’d take shares in ships, that went a long way toward making me a wealthy man,” Gears, as Southard, told the roughly 25 people who gathered on the waterfront in Fort Richmond Park.


Southard later studied draftsmanship and ship construction and started his own shipyard, building his first ship, the Texas, in 1837. He went on to build numerous sea-going ships in Richmond. The Southards, over four decades, built 100 ships in Richmond, the last in 1890: the Edith Allen.

Jonathan Yellowbear talks about the history of Abenakis on Swan Island and also about the traditional regalia being worn Saturday during the bicentennial kickoff in Richmond. Although it has begun celebrating, the town won’t officially turn 200 until Feb. 10, 2023. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Gears said Southard used his wealth to help Richmond prosper, employing hundreds not just at the shipyard but also in a gristmill, furniture shop and other businesses.

Baddour said T.J. Southard’s ornately trimmed house on Pleasant Street is the most important remaining Italianate structure in Maine. He built it in 1855 and lived there until he died in 1896.

T.J. Southard purchased a home on the corner of Main Street and what is now Hathorn Street for his son, Charles, in 1888 as a wedding gift. Later, after his death, it was turned into a museum. The Southard Museum closed in 2006.

The home was built in 1870 in the empire style, which T.J. Southard found too plain, so he renovated the now-elaborately trimmed home into the Victoria style, adding a tower with a tank on top that served as the home’s running water supply. The home is currently for sale with a $1.1 million asking price.

Jay Robbins of Richmond, a local historian, said from 1835 to 1857 most of the village of Richmond was built by shipbuilders. By 1880, the ice industry was huge, with some 45 sets of buildings with up to nine rooms each in them as big as soccer fields, where ice harvested from the river was stored so it could be resold to keep food cold. Robbins said Kennebec River ice was sold as far away as India and New Zealand.


The walking tour included about a dozen homes, all of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jonathan Yellowbear of Litchfield, a member of the Abenaki Tribe wearing the clothing and face paint of a warrior, spoke briefly of times well before Richmond’s incorporation, in the 1700s, when Native Americans “had a big booming metropolis”on what is now known as Swan Island. The island is now a state game preserve and camping area, where he said Native Americans lived peaceably and harvested wild rice from the southern end of the island.

But he said the island has an ugly past for his people, claiming “our ancestors were slaughtered there,” by white people who took the island from them. He said there is said to be a deed documenting that Native Americans sold the island to white men, but he said he hasn’t seen the deed and has never heard or seen evidence the natives were actually paid for the land. He said the slaughter has not been acknowledged, publicly.

“I’m honored to be here, for the healing aspect of it, for you and us,” Yellowbear said of events which kicked off Saturday morning with a prayer offering at the town’s waterfront park, which sits across the Kennebec from Swan Island. “It was ugly. But it is history, there is nothing we can do to change it.”

Robbins said the deed is believed to be in New York. He said Native Americans had a fishing station in the area of Swan Island for some 5,000 years.

Painter Blaikie Hines discusses his work Saturday during the bicentennial kickoff celebration in Richmond. Although it has begun celebrating, the town won’t officially turn 200 until Feb. 10, 2023. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Blaikie Hines, a Civil War reenactor and artist, sitting in his camp wearing clothing meant to evoke the Civil War time period, showed passersby his collection of items, including a wooden case of medicines from the time, and canned goods. He painted a river scene as he talked with visitors, but not of the spot on the river he sat next to as he worked.

“I memorize it all, I have it all in my head,” he said of the scenic settings he paints. Hines often spends entire days sitting alongside public paths, such as in Rockland or Bar Harbor, completing one painting a day, which he sells for $150 apiece. The affable 72-year-old said he’s painted more than 4,000 paintings.

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