By J.W. Oliver
Emma Scott (left) and Nuala Glendinning lead a lobster through the South Bristol centennial parade. (J.W. Oliver photo)
The town of South Bristol celebrated its 100th birthday with a fair, fireworks, and a parade, as well as ceremonies and exhibits, Friday through Sunday, July 17 to 19.
Hundreds of people – a sizable percentage of the town’s 892 residents – turned out for the festivities, with an especially large crowd at South Bristol School on Saturday to browse the arts and crafts tables under a large tent on the ballfield, listen to live music, take in the history exhibit in the gym, and win a tug-of-war with Bristol.
“I’m really overwhelmed,” South Bristol Selectman Chester Rice said Saturday afternoon. “The thing has been so well-received. It’s a tribute to a small town that does well. I don’t think we could be happier.”
Daniel Kaplinger (left) and Norman Wright in the South Bristol centennial parade. (J.W. Oliver photo)
During the parade, Rice said a symbolic goodbye to the old swing bridge over The Gut with a brief speech about the town’s effort to convince the state to replace the bridge, and the compromise necessary to determine what the new bridge would look like.
Rice threw a bouquet over the side and the parade resumed. Construction at the bridge site will resume in the coming months. The schedule on the Maine Department of Transportation website calls for a new drawbridge to open May 23, 2016.
Years before the aging bridge was in place, a previous bridge played a role in South Bristol’s split from Bristol in 1915.
“The bridge was a major issue, which people can understand better now than they used to,” South Bristol Historical Society Co-president Ellen Wells said. “It wasn’t being maintained, and yet it was very essential, because there was a lot of population on the island then.”
There were other issues too.
“The schools were a problem,” Wells said. “They weren’t getting maintained the way the schools in Bristol were being maintained; teachers weren’t being paid as much.”
Residents of Rutherford Island and the south side of mainland South Bristol were particularly discontented because of the difficulty of traveling to a town meeting in Bristol Mills.
In short, South Bristol residents were paying taxes, but receiving few or inadequate services. “Money went in there and they had trouble getting it out,” Wells said.
Early attempts to separate from South Bristol would have split the towns at a place locals call Four Corners – the intersection of State Route 129 with Clark’s Cove Road and Harrington Road.
“That left the town of Bristol really maintaining, controlling the road that got down to South Bristol, so when they changed that, it seemed to make more sense to everybody,” Wells said.
Finally, the Maine Legislature established South Bristol as the state’s 482nd town over the objections of Bristol residents, who collected 10,000 signatures to force a statewide vote.
The people of South Bristol, however, “got some good lawyers and challenged the way the petitions had been circulated and the way that signatures had been certified, so that did not go through, there was not a vote, and the Legislature’s bill stood,” Wells said.
The centennial celebration lasted all weekend. Events included the dedication of a new veterans’ memorial at the town office (see “South Bristol dedicates veterans’ memorial” in this edition) and the unveiling of a plaque at Eugley Landing.
The plaque reads “Eugley Landing” in large letters and below, “made possible by the generosity of Anne Wilder Stratton.”
The name of the new boat launch and park on Thompson Inn Road recognizes the Eugley family, longtime owners and residents of the property. The nod to Stratton expresses gratitude for her multimillion-dollar bequest to the town in 2004.
South Bristol Selectman Chris Plummer talked about the town’s approximately 20-year search for land suitable to build a boat ramp during the Eugley Landing ceremony.
Plummer also thanked the many contractors and individuals who worked on the project, including many volunteers. The final product includes a boat ramp, new floats, a new wharf with picnic tables, and plenty of parking.
“We hope everybody comes down and uses it,” Selectman Ken Lincoln said.
Centennial events also included a well-attended barbecue and live music at Gamage Shipyard before the fireworks Saturday, a bean supper, a lobster bake, a road race, and a special service at the Union Church, among other events.
Saturday afternoon, South Bristol School buried a time capsule by the school flagpole, which it plans to dig up at the time of the town’s 125th anniversary in 2040.
The “Down on the Island, Up on the Main” exhibit was a major attraction in the South Bristol School gym Saturday, July 18. The exhibit by the late author and historian Ellen Vincent was on display as part of the South Bristol centennial celebration. (J.W. Oliver photo)
The capsule holds school newsletters, photos, and schedules, as well as a first-generation iPod. In addition, each of the school’s students wrote their favorite book, movie, and sports team, as well as where they want to be in 25 years.
For example, eighth-grader Galen Daly-O’Donnell wants to be an FBI agent and eighth-grader Haley Graves a musician on a world tour, South Bristol School Principal Scott White said.
The Maine Legislature recognized the centennial with a sentiment sponsored by Sen. Chris Johnson and co-sponsored by Reps. Mick Devin and Stephanie Hawke.
State Sen. Chris Johnson (second from left) reads a legislative sentiment recognizing the occasion of South Bristol’s centennial during a ceremony at the town office Friday, July 17. From left: state Rep. Mick Devin, Johnson, state Rep. Stephanie Hawke, and Chris Rector, regional representative for U.S. Sen. Angus King. (J.W. Oliver photo)
“On March 16, 1915, the Legislature approved the petitions by its citizens and the town of South Bristol became Maine’s 482nd town,” the sentiment reads. “We send our congratulations and best wishes on the 100th anniversary to the citizens of South Bristol.”
U.S. Sen. Angus King did not attend the centennial events, although his regional representative was present for the veterans’ memorial ceremony and delivered a senatorial sentiment to the selectmen.
“I congratulate and recognize the people of South Bristol who have contributed to its resilience and success,” King said in the document. “Here’s to the next 100! My best wishes for South Bristol in the years to come.”