The Coast Patrol, 1917-1918
By Barbara Rumsey
During World War I a unit of the naval Coast Patrol was stationed here to patrol this section of the coast in civilian “drafted” boats. The barracks for the 100 men of the 4th District Section Base in the 1st Naval District were the upper floors of the Lewis Block, the lower floor of which was occupied by local businesses, including Carbone’s store for many decades.
No doubt there were countless local memories of the men stationed here but, as far as I know, they have disappeared with the loss of the generation that then lived in town and witnessed 1917 and 1918 events. However, one gift of memories was sent to the local paper.
Lucille Machon’s brother, Morrill Colby, gave his childhood recollections of the Coast Patrol to the Register about 30 years ago. “In 1918, after I had passed my fifth birthday and I could go to the store by myself, I would get up early to walk down to the corner of McKown and Commercial streets. I would wait on the curb of Commercial until the flagman and the bugler came to the flat on the roof of the barracks, which was enclosed with a fence and included a flagpole. The flagman raised the flag to the top of the flagpole, while the bugler played the bugle call for raising the colors.
“I would return home then and have breakfast and wait at home until it was time for the sailors to start drilling and marching. I would return to Commercial Street and sit on the stairs of Marr’s clothing store [Janson’s] at the top of the hill leading down to the Eastern Steamship wharf, where the sailors were doing their drilling. Sometimes I would come back at sundown when the flagman and the bugler lowered the flag.”
The accompanying photo is one of the few east-looking close-ups that shows most of the top of the Lewis Block with its flat section where the flag was raised and lowered. I imagine any number of children, like Morrill, were delighted with the young servicemen in town.
The back of the postcard accompanying this article is dated June 8, 1918 and was sent to Mrs. Rose Kneeland of Topsfield, Mass. from C. H. K. He wrote, “This is where I am living. I am well located. Your letter & pkg came tonight. Surprised my card went so quickly. Am wearing the chain & like it first rate. Has rained all day but has cleared off. I may go to work in the office as they need more help. The X is where I am quartered for the present.”
In my years in local history, I’ve met many men who returned for a visit after wartime service brought them here. Many were members of pick-up crews for locally-built minesweepers and coastal transports in World War II or the Korean “police action.” Some servicemen came back to stay decades ago. Lucy Marlowe’s husband Fred, from Lowell, Massachusetts, met Lucy at Ocean Point during World War II while patrolling the coast in a jeep from the Damariscotta army headquarters of the land-based shore patrol. He came back after the war to marry Lucy and lived here until he died.
Many of the 12 or so coast patrol snapshots had last names written on them. From those fragments, Earl Leavitt, adept at navigating military matters, was able to determine that at least six of the men were Maine natives. Those included the local commander, Arthur Stetson, who was a Bath native.
Bess Reed, one of the ladies who made the men welcome in the recreational center created for them, had a postcard of Arthur Stetson standing outside the barracks. She wrote on the back that he was later a judge in California, so surely they stayed in touch. That makes me wonder if the men who were stationed here in 1917-1918, such as Stetson or Kneeland, came back for visits. Perhaps current summer families are descended from a man who “summered” here 100 years ago in the Coast Patrol.
Peace was declared November 11, 1918 and the servicemen slowly trickled away.