Friday, March 6, 2020

Saint Joseph’s Professor Unearths College Campus’s Role in Maine’s Statehood

Dr. Steven Bridge
By Lorraine Glowczak

What began as a simple question by the former Farm Manager at Saint Joseph’s College six years ago, led Theology Professor Steven Bridge down a rabbit hole of discovery, inspiring his new book, “Unearthed”.

As the State of Maine officially celebrates its Bicentennial this year, Dr. Bridge will share what he learned about those who owned the campus’s properties in the mid-1700s to early 1800s and how they played crucial roles in Maine’s journey to Statehood.

All are welcome to this free presentation on Monday, March 16 at 3:30 p.m. in the Alfond Hall Auditorium. “Some rare, period artifacts unearthed from campus sites will also be on display and will be included as part of the presentation,” noted Dr. Bridge.

Although a Theology Professor by profession, Bridge enjoys learning about the past. So, when the former Farm Manager asked him about the campus’s predecessors, Bridge didn’t hesitate to dig deeper and look beyond recent history.

“When he [Myke] asked me about the history of those who once lived on the present day campus, I began to give him the standard answer that is introduced to those who work for the college or attend classes on campus,” Bridge said, the customary historical explanation about the campus’ past goes something like this:
In the early 1900s, much of the campus’ nearly 500-acres was owned by the Verrill Family of Portland. The present Xavier Hall was their summer home and their property included a nine-hole golf course, a boat house, a gentlemen’s farm (farming for pleasure rather than profit or subsistence), an ice skating pond and warming shack, a stone chapel for Mr. Verrill’s wife (which still exists) and the Stone Barn (which also still remains). Saint George Hall, which serves as the Admissions building today, was a part of the Verrill family property as well.

Mr. Verrill, a well-known attorney in Portland, owned the land until the Sisters of Mercy approached him about purchasing it to relocate their Portland-based College. Mr. Verrill agreed to sell it to the Sisters in 1955.

Usually, this story ends with, “and the rest is history.” But as Bridge discovered, it was actually the beginning of the campus’s fascinating past.

Having given this standard answer, Bridge was pressed by the Farm Manager further.  I know about that portion of history. What I want to know is who are the people who lived on this land long ago - even before the Verrill Family?”

Bridge had never heard or even considered that question before. The Manager’s inquiry got the best of him, and it was then that his digging--both figurative and literal--began.  Basically, two questions drove his research: Who was here on campus before us and what, if anything, did they leave behind?
“Soon after that conversation,” explained Bridge, “I undertook both documentary and field research to see what I might discover. And here’s one of the very first artifacts that I found……” Bridge said to me while he opened his book to the thirteenth chapter.

The inaugural button made in 1789 found on campus
On the top of the page is a photograph of what appeared to me to be a large coin. The words written around its circumference state, “Long Live The President” with a cursive GW in the center. Although I guessed correctly it had something to do with George Washington, I was baffled as to what the “coin” represented.

“It is an inaugural button made in 1789 indicating support for the new President,” explained Bridge. “According to some scholars, it was only given to those who served directly under George Washington or were somehow closely associated with him.”

The button, it seems, belonged to an individual who was connected to some of the most powerful figures in early American history. But who?

That question led Bridge to the Cumberland County Register of Deeds, where he was able to trace the College’s property records all the way back to 1773. “There have been around 130 previous property owners of the Saint Joseph’s College campus prior to the Verrill Family,” said Bridge. “And at least three of those owners had some sort of association with George Washington.”

Was it the Foot Soldier who endured the brutal winter at Valley Forge?  Was it the lawyer who eventually became a Massachusetts State Senator and Supreme Court Justice?  Or was it the Portland Minister who wrote this country’s best-selling work on New England Agriculture?

Be sure to attend this free presentation to learn more about these remarkable predecessors and the significant roles that they played in Maine’s Journey to Statehood. Copies of Bridge’s book, “Unearthed”, will be available at the event for purchase ($30 each).  (They can also be ordered on Amazon.)

The presentation is sponsored by the Cultural Affairs Committee and will be followed by a regularly priced dinner ($14 for the public) at 5 p.m. at Pearson’s Café. The menu will feature locally sourced food items, including some dishes made from 1820s-era recipes. To top it all off, the College’s chefs are designing and baking a special State of Maine Bicentennial birthday cake.
For more information, contact Dr. Bridge by email at

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