Early History of Gray

by Arnold M. Hall

Unknown to many in Maine, the small town of Gray, halfway between Lewiston and Portland, is one of the least appreciated centers of historical interest in the State.

The history of this town began with the granting of a township to Thomas Gray, and others, in 1735. The tract of land selected was called New Boston in 1756, which name it bore until 1778 when the town was incorporated with the new name of Gray, in honor of its earl land owner.

Settlement began in 1750. By 1754, the proprietors had built a meeting house, erected 36 dwelling houses, and cleared lands.

[paragraph redacted]

Houses Rebuilt

After peace was concluded, man of the inhabitants returned to make the second settlement. Among those houses first to be erected were a new meeting house and a blockhouse, 50 by 25 feet, around which was a garrison 100 feet long and 75 feet wide. This was supplied with military stores.

Thomas Twitchell came from Westboro, Mass., in 1762, and kept a camp for British Marines and workmen engaged in cutting masts and hauling them to the Falls below. This was known as the King’s Mast Yard, a was at the headwaters of Pleasant River.

Thomas Twitchell came from Westboro, Mass., in 1762, and kept a camp for British Marines and workmen engaged in cutting masts and hauling them to the Falls below. This was known as the King’s Mast Yard, and was at the headwaters of Pleasant River.

The first male child born in the town was David Cummings, in October, 1766, and his descendants still live in Gray.

June 19, 1778, New Boston was incorporated as the 39th town of Maine, and with its new name, Gray. The first election was held at the meeting house which is believed to have stood in the street near the present town house, July 13, 1778, under a warrant issued by Enoch Freeman, J. P., to Major Jabez Matthews, who was chosen the moderator of the meeting.

In the days of the incorporation, records reveal that sterling and pounds were used as well as the American dollars and cents. Representatives in General Court were seldom chosen, unless they would volunteer to pay their own expenses.

The present town house was erected by David Carey and used March 5, 1838. This building is practically the same now as as the time it was put up. As an interesting sidenote, just a century later, in March, 1938, the annual town meetings were changed from this building to the Newbegin Hall, where they have been held since.

The first commercial industry established in this town was that of cutting masts by the British marines. Soon several saw mills sprang up in various parts of the town.

First Woolen Mill

The greatest individual industry operated within the borders of the town of Gray was the Falmouth Woolen Mills, established about 1800 by Samuel Mayall, an Englishman. He came to this locality and settled on the river in North Gray, built a dam and the two brick woolen mills which are believed to have been the first woolen mills operated in the United States. At first he manufactured only in a small way. One of his methods was to buy wool from the farmers throughout the surrounding section, exchanging manufactured cloth. This method must have been appreciated by the busy housewives to whom fell the laborious task of spinning and weaving for a large family. After Mayall’s death, Wilson and Thomas carried on the business. Beatty and Alpine was the next firm to operate the plant, and later William Beatty carried on the business. Now both mills are in ruins and can be seen from the State Highway. Nearby is the Mayall tomb.

The first edged-tool maker here was Jonas Doughty. He and Theophilus and Woodbury Stimson, plow and axe makers, carried on this business many years.

For a while a tannery was operated, which is believed to have been established in 1800, by Stephen Furbish.

J. T. Merrill’s steam and grist mill was established in 1883 as a shingle and grist mill, operated in connection with his store.

Many of the houses were made from brick burned at the old yard on Dutton Hill, about two miles south of the village, but little information can be found about this yard, although ruins are still there.

There is but little left to mark the laoors of the first settlers. The main interest of their descendants centers in their last resting place. This ground was donated by Daniel Libby, and fenced by the town in 1782. It contains many black slabs of the early 19th century, mingled with the white marble of more recent years, and many fine monuments erected since 1885.

Hotels Operated

Many house in the town are surrounded with historic interest because of their connetion with early businesses. The old Doughty house at East Gray was said to have been the oldest house in town. Hotels were the Eagle Tavern, later Elm House, and the Cobb Tavern of South Gray.

Of the wooden structure, the old Webster house, built at North Gray in 1805 by Joseph Webster, is believed to be the oldest.

Samuel Mayall, son of the founder of the Falmouth Woolen Mills, was Gray’s only representative to Congress, serving in the 33rd District, in 1853, as a Democrat. Among the measures he introduced was one pro| viding for the purchase of the slaves.

The bill was killed as being “enormously expensive.”

Article published in the Portland Press Herald; date not established.