This is the story of John Reilly, Bristol’s last World War II veteran. Howard Cushing, who is still alive, was drafted, but according to his grandson, Mike, did not make it through basic training.
John died at the age of 96 on March 8 of this year at Pen Bay Medical Center’s hospice center. I have put this story together by talking to John; his daughter, Jean Reilly McGinn; and Wayne Reilly. I also got information from two town reports and four Bristol High School yearbooks.
Wayne Reilly has researched his family’s roots in Ireland and North America and he wrote a paper that is in the Bristol Area Library. The many New Harbor Reillys, today and in the past, trace their roots back to Denis and Mary Reilly, who emigrated from County Cork, Ireland to Halifax, Nova Scotia sometime before 1848, when the potato famine was ravaging Ireland.
Denis and Mary Reilly’s son, Maurice (1854-1933), worked as a machinist and became a sealer of cans. He moved to Fryeburg and then Lovell, Maine to work in the Baxter Canning Co. In the 1880s, Maurice moved to New Harbor to manage a cannery. He got married in 1889 to Angie Churchill, of Bristol. Around 1900, he partnered with New Harbor wheeler-dealer Charles Meserve to form the New Harbor Fish Preserving Co. It was located on the north side of the harbor, near its head. Maurice’s son, Paul, later bought and sold fish there. The factory employed around 50 workers, and canned lobster, clams, clam chowder, and mackerel until it closed in 1910.
The Reillys had 10 children: William, Maud, Paul, Lewis (he had a career in the U.S. Coast Guard and transported troops to Normandy in 1944), Iva, Rupert, Carl (he started C.E. Reilly and Son; the son and present owner is Reggie), Frank “Bones” (he was a World War II veteran in the Coast Guard and Wayne’s father), Carroll “Ducky,” and Phillip.
William was John’s father and John told me that he was born in an apartment in the Old Fort House. As an adult, William moved out of state for work. He met Margaret Sweeney, from Brooklyn, and they got married and moved to New Harbor. This must have been a total culture shock for Margaret! Jean said that her father often said, “What must my mother have thought coming to the wilderness of New Harbor?”
They bought a house near “the hill” on what today is Snowball Hill Road (the first house on the left).
William and Margaret Reilly’s children were: Margaret, William “Widdie,” Paul “Dutch,” Robert “Zeke,” and John. John’s brothers were all veterans and, as John said, “We all came home.”
John was born in 1922 and started first grade at the Mavooshan School in New Harbor in 1927. The primary grades, one through five, were taught downstairs by Iona Brackett. A town report in 1923 reveals that in 1923, Iona Brackett had 31 pupils and was paid $15 a week. The teachers in town at that time were almost entirely local women. William Brown, the grammar school teacher on the second floor, was the exception.
In 1998 Leonard Osier wrote an article for the local newspaper about how he remembered New Harbor in 1930. This was the worst year of the Great Depression. Almost everyone was poor, but they hadn’t been very prosperous in the best of times; townspeople didn’t go hungry, though. In the summer, there were gardens and plenty of fish to eat, and salt for the winter. A lot of people in the village kept hens and raised a pig.
William Reilly, like most men in the village, was a fisherman, and they all hoped to make enough money to stock up on sugar, flour, and other staples in the fall.
Amazingly, the village supported four grocery or general stores. Reilly’s and Penniman’s were on “the hill”; Matt Burnside had a store down from “the hill” on South Side Road. Maynard and Tess McFarland had a small store over by Gosnold Arms and the Gaffneys had a summer store on the steamboat wharf. By then, the steamboat had stopped running, and freight and passengers were brought by train to Newcastle.
There were several other business establishments in the village. Burt Blaisdell had an insurance and real estate business in his house across from the school. One could buy a Boston Post there for two cents. Cliff Hanna had just opened a garage and hardware store on top of the hill, now Fairwind Marine. Delmar and Edith Little sold dry goods at a little store by their house on Route 32.
Despite the Depression, New Harbor supported three summer boarding houses. On Back Cove, Lyman and Carrie McFarland operated Hill Rest Farm. Down South Side Road, Halley and Jessie Thompson ran the Thompson House. The Gosnold Arms had just opened on the north side. The Munsey House had burned down in 1928, which John remembered. It had been rebuilt and was open year-round.
For entertainment in 1930, people of all ages went to the Surf Casino, owned and operated by Russ and Marion Brackett. It was located on “the hill,” where the bank is now. On Saturday nights, movies were played on the second floor. Downstairs, there was a pool hall, a bowling alley, and a soda fountain. Dances, high school plays, and graduations were held there.
In the dark ages before TV, radio provided a lot of entertainment for young people and adults alike.
Popular programs then were “Amos and Andy,” “Mert and Marge,” and “Lux Radio Theater.” People depended on the radio for their news and later for FDR’s “fireside chats.”
In an age far removed from today’s helicopter parents, kids had a lot of freedom and played outside year-round. In the summer, kids swam, rowed, and played around the harbor. In the winter, they skated, played hockey, and had bonfires at Cliff Hanna’s ice pond. There were few, if any, cars on the road, and sledding down South Side Road to the Thompson House was wicked fun. The Reilly brothers had a fancy double-runner sled that would take all four of them for a speedy and thrilling ride.
John started high school in 1935 in Pemaquid Falls. It was located where the Bristol Consolidated School is now. The principal, William Kempton, taught science and math. Fred Bryant, from Round Pond, taught English and taught French and Latin for the college course. Fred Lawler, from Bristol, taught history and civics. Shirley Etheridge, from Round Pond, taught commercial subjects and geography. John was in the general course and Jean says he was a good student. In The Bristolite, John was described as the best athlete, the best eater, and graceful.
Phil Crocker remembered that for several years Bristol had a hockey team, but the only other sport was baseball. John was the catcher for four years and the captain of the team his senior year. His brother, Zeke, was the pitcher. Other teammates were John’s cousin, Dick Reilly; Howard and Norman Elliot; Ducky Kempton; Cheever Prentice; Manley Lane; and Ken Carter. William Kempton was the coach. The teams in their league were Bridge Academy in Dresden, Litchfield Academy, Richmond, and Wiscasset. On May 12, 1938, Bristol beat Litchfield 12-9. Zeke pitched a one-hitter, struck out 22, but walked 18. What a strikeout-to-walk ratio!
John’s senior yearbook listed his class members. They were: Audrey “Audy” Woodward, Phoebe “Pheeb” Blaisdell, Damaris “Demmy” Tarr, Louise Lane, Shirley Kempton, George “Porgy” Martin, Dorothy “Dot” Olson, Virgil “Begin” Richardson, Charlena “Charny” Blaisdell, Robert “Zeke” Reilly, Eliaphet “Lifey” Coombs, Ronald “Hatey” Yates, and William Carter.
The senior class trip was to New York to see the World’s Fair. This must have amazed John and his classmates. Probably none of them had ever been out of state before.
John’s senior horoscope said that he was noted for being witty and his favorite pastime was Marilyn Chadwick. His secret ambition was to “marry the girl of his dreams.”
The class graduated on June 8, 1939 at the New Harbor Methodist Church. Superintendent Blynne Allen handed out the diplomas. The graduation ball was held at the Lewis Pavilion in Pemaquid Beach.
By this time, there were several other businesses in New Harbor. Keith Munsey, electrical contractor; J.E.Tibbetts, plumber and plumbing supplies; and Echo Farm, milk, cream, and trucking – all advertised in the 1939 Bristolite.
After graduation, John moved down to Woolwich to live with his sister, Margaret, and her husband, Anthony Dodge. For a time, John managed a service station that was just before the bridge. Anthony was a supervisor at Bath Iron Works and got John a job there.
(To be continued next week.)