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Priest Hill Road - the final installment
Vassalboro Historical Society Newsletter

Our Last Jaunt on Priest Hill Road

by Esther Bernhardt

This will be our last journey back in time on Priest Hill Road, Vassalboro.
The project started with an interest from Betty Taylor, whose ancestors built
homes, tilled the ground and raised families along this winding, hilly country
road. I was quite enthralled since Betty and I share a common ancestry.
Sadly, the first installment was not published until after Betty’s death. This
third part is dedicated to the memory of Ruth Priest; like the first part for
Betty, it is published after Ruth’s death.

Ruth Priest

Two weeks before Ruth died I went to visit with her wanting to glean some
tidbit as yet untold. I found Ruth sitting at the kitchen table attempting to
swallow myriad pills of various sizes and hues. It was an impossible task. She
was pleased to see me, as she always was. Ruth loved people and enjoyed
having them visit with her and her special friend John. Sue Grasse was there
helping her with chores for the day. Ruth’s body could no longer respond to
the ups and downs of daily living, but she dictated to Sue what lunch was to
be and where things were, right down to the last detail. Soon after this visit
she was to spend her time in a hospital bed in her home, as she requested, not
wishing to die in an unknown environment like a hospital or a nursing home.
I don’t think anyone ever argued with Ruth Priest. She had an exceptional
practicality, and her mind and voice remained strong.

She put the pills aside for a while and related to me stories about when she
was a child following after her Dad, George Priest. She so loved being with
him. I believe this feeling was mutual, and he did everything he could to
make these times a reality. He loved having a family, and we shall perhaps
understand what precipitated this in the main part of the story, "Back in

George was a farmer and peddled his milk in North Vassalboro for many
years. One day a long time ago, George needed some welding done that only a
blacksmith could do. Harold Taylor, Betty’s father, had set up shop on the old
home place, where George was born. Thus the trip began up Dearborn Hill,
around two big curves, and up to the top of Priest Hill to the blacksmith shop.

George Priest and his horse, Jerry, with the milk wagon. George delivered milk in
North Vassalboro for over 40 years.

Now George was a farmer, with horses and a cart (Ruth referred to it as
a cart). This buggy was used to haul everything a farmer needs to move,
including manure. So early in the day Ruth’s Dad started scrubbing down the
cart. When it was dry enough he hooked up the horses, put in the items he
needed welded, and then gently placed Ruth in a safe corner for the afternoon
journey. As Ruth said in her loud voice, “Such was transportation in those

I was interested in finding out her grandparents' names, to which she
responded, “I don’t know, but I have some material upstairs that might tell
us. Perhaps one day I can get up there and find them. I will give you a call."
Two weeks later Ruth left this life. She was 90 years old. A grand lady whose
wit and tenacity I so admired. What a thrill it was to find out we were closely
related. She and my father were second cousins. I have since uncovered her
ancestry, to be included in this article.

We will start at the Priest Hill school house, where we last visited, and drop
in on Daniel Priest at the top of the hill, where he lives with his wife Emeline
(Brown) and family. The Houbens own this place today, but it is for sale.
Orland E. Bean has researched and prepared a history of the owners from
1812 to 1998 and has graciously shared it for this article:

The sale date of 1812 by Thomas Winthrop indicates that back land,
some miles easterly of the river, did not develop as early as the
proprietors may have hoped. I believe that river-front lots were selling
in the 1760s. (OEB)

Probable Title Chain for 327 Priest Hill Road, Vassalboro, ME: Winthrop,
Thomas (possibly a Kennebec Proprietor) 1812 to Gould, Nehemiah.
1819 to Josiah Priest. (Gary Priest, The Ancestry and Descendants of
Jonas Priest)

There are some shadowy owners in the interim 1819 to 1840, at which time
the records show Josiah owning the property and selling it to his twin sons,
Daniel H. and William B. In 1848 Daniel H. is the sole owner. William went
to live in the house across from Denico at Denico’s corner (Stanley Hill Rd.).
Daniel’s place was left to his daughter, Effie Upham (there will be a little story
about the connection to Ann Cates Higgins’s mother later). Albert, Howard
("Percy") and Ann Crosby were the owners from 1946 to 1981. In 1998 the
Houbens purchased the property. They are the present owners. Howard and
Ann’s son Howard ("young Howard," as his mother called him) reserved a
piece of land across the road and has made a home there.

Now I would like to go back again in time and talk about Josiah, who is Daniel
H. Priest’s father. I love the stories one can find in the crevices of genealogies.
It makes the names, births and deaths, children and properties become
real people, families, homes. (I have gleaned much from The Ancestry and
Descendants of Jonas Priest, compiled by a descendant, Gary Priest, grandson
of Josephine Priest, who had previously done research on the children of Jonas
and Martha, the original settlers here. It took him 30 years. It is a marvelous
work, and the Vassalboro Historical Society is honored to have a copy, which
anyone can use for research.)

Josiah Priest was born in 1775/76 and died 1860. During the war of 1812 he
enlisted here in Vassalboro and was a sergeant in Wing’s company, attached
to Lt Col. Moore’s regiment. Josiah married Mary Baxter in 1800. I believe all
13 children listed in the genealogy were theirs together because it says Mary
died in 1844, and the last child, Susan J., was born in 1823. After Mary died
Josiah remarried, a widow from Winslow named Sally Keith.

It is Josiah’s will that touched my heart. (The will is dated January 1860;
Josiah’s death date is February, 1860.) He knew he was dying. He also knew
his family well, as indicated by the provisions set forth in his will that January.
He left to his “daughter Susan J. Priest, spinster of Vassalboro all personal
property and real estate all of my other children being well situated in life.”
Thomas Lang was appointed executor. An inventory shows real estate of $200
and personal property of $505.75. He could have made other dispositions
more in keeping with the times, but I like his choice.

Josiah’s son Daniel H., who raised his children in this house, left the home
place to his wife, and then daughter Effie became the owner. Effie married
Herbert (Bert) Upham. They had three children: Lena, Lyler, and Louise.

Lena Upham and her horse

Bert was a brother to Ann Cates Higgins's grandmother, who married an
Ingraham. The Ingrahams had a daughter named Annabel. After graduating
from Hebron Academy, Annabel came to this area to visit her cousins Lena,
Lyler and Louise. Here in Vassalboro she found a teaching position at the
Perley School, Cross Hill Road. (Later, her daughter Margaret taught at this
same school until it was closed.) This school building is still there but is now
the home on the corner of Cross Hill and the Green Valley Campground Road.

Add to this equation Mr. Benjamin Harold Cates, whom Annabel married in
1909, and voilà -- the Cates family of East Vassalboro. There were 12 children,
of whom Ann Higgins is the youngest. There are still several Cateses residing
and contributing good things to our community, not the least of which is their
gift of music and flowers (especially Paul and Elizabeth’s gladiolus business.
Many organizations and individuals have been the “glad” recipients of their
floral generosity).

We are now going to sit a spell at the home of Gustavus and Mary Taylor
Priest. The little cape no longer exists, just a grove of trees up on the knoll
north of the large house that is now owned by the Burnses. It is on the right-
hand side of the road. This is the marriage that united the Priests and the
Taylors. Mary was the daughter of Amos Taylor and Harriet Crossman Taylor.
They were my great-great grandparents.

Gustavus, born in 1834, was the son of Asahel (pronounced Asiel) Priest, son
of Jonas II. He was born in 1798 and died in 1870. He married Betsy Fairfield
in 1824. Asahel and Betsy had 5 children. They raised these children at #504
Priest Hill Road, where the Mitchells now reside. Down over the hill right next
door lived Amos Taylor, with a beautiful daughter named Mary. Gustavus
became quite smitten with her.

They were married 1869 and built their home up on that knoll -- a pleasant
place with a magnificent view -- and farmed the land. They had eight children.
They are Fred Douglas, Hattie May, Abbie Ella, Liza B., George Edward, Mary
Francis, Arthur R., and Charles Howard.

The last child was born Jan. 2, 1884. Mary died Jan. 23 of that same year.
Gustavus died the following year, leaving his mother Betsy in charge of
the children, the youngest being but a year old. Betsy was 79 years of age.
Obviously she found the task overwhelming. I certainly am not her judge. I do
not know if she was offered sufficient help from other family members. I do
not know what illness or financial difficulty the connected families faced. Was
Gustavus ill the previous summer so that provisions were scarce, not even
enough to feed these many mouths through the rest of the winter? I do know
that Mary’s mother, Harriet, died the year Mary and Gustavus were married,
and Mary’s father, Amos, had taken a new wife, which adds a dimension to
the picture. Betsy must have decided that these children would be better off
in other circumstances, and soon after her son’s death she took her own life.
Everard Priest, son of Allen Priest, son of Jonas II, was a cousin of Gustavus
and was appointed guardian of the children and their placement.

The Gustavus Priest home in 1967, while it was still standing.

I grew up knowing the story of the children in this house, three houses from
my birthplace, but did not know my connection to them until many years later
when looking over deeds and wills of my ancestors. Great-great-grandfather
Amos Taylor left his daughter Mary’s children $1 each if…(illegible). I realized
who they were, then my father told me the rest of the story. This whole
situation has brought me great sadness, but doing research for this article
has lifted my burden. I do think that Everard Priest placed those children
well. They were not forgotten, and some records have been preserved
(Ancestors and Descendants of Jonas Priest, family Bibles, cemetery stones, and
newspaper obituaries). Records indicate they had good lives and were good
people, with children and grandchildren who rose to some prominence.

The Eight Children of Gustavus and Mary Priest

The oldest son, Fred Douglas, married Bert Upham’s sister Mary, another
Cates connection. Ann remembers Aunt Mary and Uncle Fred, who lived in
West Rockport, Maine. They had 3 children: Marietta, Franklin Gustavus and
Ruth. Fred and Mary are buried in West Rockport. Fred was 82.

The second child, Hattie May, married an interior decorator, Mosman, and
lived in Massachusetts. They had no children. They are both buried in
Wollaston Cemetery in Quincy, Mass.

The third child, Abbie Ella, married Dan Wiley. They lived in Ohio and are
buried in the Abbottsville cemetery in Arcanum, Ohio. They had two children,
George and Josephine.

The fourth child, Lizzie B., died at 15 and is buried in Getchell’s Cemetery in
Winslow, Maine.

The fifth child, George Edward Priest, remained here in Vassalboro. He was
reared by the Charles E. Collins family in East Vassalboro. Ruth told me her
father grew up in the large house on the north side of the village that is Larry
Bartlett's Main Street Motors today. According to Ruth, her dad, being a new
kid in the village, was often bullied by the other boys. One day Alton Hussey’s
dad and Warren Babb, Conrad’s grandfather, were sitting outside to enjoy
the warmth of summer, perhaps having a smoke, and they had a chat with
the ringleaders. Ruth did not know what was said but from that time on the
boys treated George Priest with respect and made him a part of their group.
They even gave him a post of looking out for authority figures while they
were "fetching" apples. Unbeknownst to them, George was on both sides. The
story brought a chuckle to Ruth, even at 90. George married twice; his first
wife, Mae E. Jepson, died after five years of marriage. They had no children.
In 1919 George remarried; his bride was Myrtle Smith of East Dixfield. Their
first child, Esther, died in early childhood. They had a second daughter and
named her Ruth. George was a farmer and “the village milkman,” a well-respected
resident of North Vassalboro. George, his wives and his daughters are buried in North
Vassalboro Village Cemetery. George was born 1876 and died in 1955. Myrtle
was born in 1888 and died in 1975. Ruth took wonderful care of her parents.
My favorite story, that Ruth told me some time ago, was about the ukulele.
As a girl whenever Ruth wanted something she would go to her mother.
One time she wanted a ukulele. All the girls were getting them. Her mother
always said, “I will have to discuss this with your father.” As she came home
from school one day she saw her ukulele hanging from the kitchen light.

The sixth Priest child, Mary Frances, was born in 1878 and was also raised by
the Collins family of East Vassalboro. She married Everett Coombs, the son of
Waldo and Nancy Coombs. He was born in 1878. They had three children:
Richard, Alfred, and Roger. Alfred was a veterinarian in Skowhegan. Roger
owned and operated a commercial laundry in Farmington. According to the
Coombs stone in East Vassalboro cemetery, where Mary Frances is buried
with her husband and sons Richard and Alfred, a daughter named Marie is
also buried there. Mary Frances was a member of the Vassalboro grange and
the W.S.C.S. (Women's Society of Christian Service) of the East Vassalboro
Methodist Church. She died in 1947.

There is also a connection to the Antworths, Howard and Simone, of East
Vassalboro and their three children, who still live in the area. Howard’s
grandmother, Nellie Earl, was Nellie M. Coombs, daughter of Archibald and
Elvira Coombs. Mary Priest’s husband, Everett Coombs, was a brother to
Nellie’s father, Archibald Coombs, but with nearly 20 years' difference in age.
Perhaps this made Everett more of a brother to Nellie than an uncle.
Simone remembers visiting Roger Coombs with the family at his laundry
in Skowhegan. My uncle Wendell, a Taylor descendant, married Edith,
one of Guy and Nellie Earl’s daughters. Wendell would often come to my
father’s farm here on Priest Hill to get fresh vegetables in season because the
Coombses were coming to visit. Obviously they held close relationships.

The seventh child, Arthur R., was born in 1880 and died in 1913 in Camden,
Me., of tuberculosis. He was four years old when his parents died and was
lovingly reared by his Aunt Eliza Brown of Jefferson. Eliza was Gustavus’s
sister. She was instrumental in having Everard place Gustavus and Mary’s
children. Arthur’s obituary says he was a man of excellent habits and
character. He resided in Camden, where he was a weaver. He married Lala
Bowman from the same community. She tenderly took care of him through
three years of illness from the terrible disease. They had no children.

The eighth and youngest child of Mary and Gustavus was Charles Howard
Priest Thurston. He was born in January of 1884. The Thurston family
brought him up as their son in Portland, Me. Although he was not legally
adopted, he took their name. Ruth told me her father and Charles were always
buddies and visited whenever they could. After the death in childbirth of his
first wife, Anna Belle Stinchfield, Charles moved to Foxboro, Mass. and became
a teamster at the Foxboro State Hospital. Later he accepted the position of
Farm Superintendent of the hospital, a position he held until his death in
1952. In 1909 he married Frances Bruce of Mansfield, Mass. They had five
children: Fred, Doris, Norman, William and Barbara Ruth.

Asahel, Betsy, Gustavus and Mary are all buried together in the Priest
Cemetery with the same headstone.

Ernest Priest and the Larkin Club, ca. 1920, at his Priest Hill farm.
Front row: Lila Coombs, Ernest Priest, Lena Page.
Middle row: ?, ?, ?.
Back row: Nellie Coombs Earle, Millie Webber, Annie Mae Cates, Josephine Priest.

I hope you've enjoyed visiting with Gustavus and Mary Priest and their
descendants as much as I have. It is a blessing to finally meet them and learn
of their lives and families.

On to the last house, Jonas's, the original Priest place. We shall end our
journey at the beginning.

The following material comes from Gary Priest’s The Ancestry and Descendants
of Jonas Priest. Further material comes from a book once owned by Norman
Fawcett, research done by Josephine Priest, and the Durant family.

Jonas was born in Massachusetts; one account says in 1746, another in
1744. He was baptized with his sister Anna in 1749 in Watertown, Mass. and
married Martha Durant from Billerica, Mass. in 1769. The couple moved to
Maine in 1775 with their first three children: Martha, b. 1769; Jonas, b. 1771;
and Rhoda, b. 1773. Six more children were born in Maine: Josiah, b. 1775;
Lois, b. 1777; Anna, b. 1779/1780, Abraham, b. 1781 (d. one month later);
Reuben, b. 1784; and Rebecca, b. 1786.

“Among the first settlers of Vassalboro, Me. is the name of Jonas Priest. He is
said to have carried the first plow that was in Vassalboro on his shoulders,
following a spotted line through the forest from the river (Kennebec) until
he came to his little clearing at the foot of the hill that bears his name, a
distance of about 4 miles. Others soon came to the hill where Mr. Priest had
located. Among them were Daniel Deckey, Nelson Gould and George Spratt.
To Jonas Priest belongs the praise of being the first white man to settle in
Vassalborough back from the Kennebec River, marking upon the trees as he
went that he might more easily find his way out. He was 33 years old. Soon
Colonel John Dearborn settled here between the village of North Vassalboro
and Priest Hill.“ (Mitchell and Davis, The Vassalboro Register, Kents Hill, Me.,
1904, p. 25)

Jonas and his children worked very hard. In the first census of Maine (1790)
he had one house, two barns, 20 acres of mowing, six acres of tillage, 18 of
pasture and 100 unimproved, four oxen, one horse over three years, 10 cows
and steers two years old, four yearlings and four swine. In 1793 he was
assessed 30 pounds.

I think Jonas and Martha would be pleased to see that Richard and Debbie
Lemieux and their three children reside there, still farming and improving this
property with an apple orchard, a variety of other produce, cattle and horses.
In the fall many school buses bring children for orchard tours, there are
hayrides into the Christmas holidays, and many nonprofit organizations have
been the recipients of the Lemieux generosity. What Jonas Priest established
as our country was gaining its independence has proved to be as worthy and
enduring as the new nation itself.

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