Somehow it seems entirely appropriate Calvin Dodge is a tangible part of Damariscotta history.
Like his fellow local historians Arlene Cole, of Newcastle, and the late George Dow, of Nobleboro, among others, Dodge has compiled a significant body of work that will serve as an invaluable resource for future Midcoast historians.
Dodge has channeled his lifelong interests in the people and past of the Twin Villages into the “Damariscotta History” column, which he has contributed to The Lincoln County News on a weekly basis since April 2005. Originally co-written with his late wife, Marjorie, Dodge’s column is currently one of LCN’s longest running and most popular features.
The dean of Damariscotta history was actually born in Gardiner in 1936. His parents, Merrill and Nellie Dodge, moved their family to Newcastle when Calvin was a few months old. The farmhouse Calvin grew up in was moved to the Lower Cross Road in Edgecomb after the state took the Dodge property by eminent domain in 1961 to make way for the Route 1 bypass.
That same year, Calvin Dodge returned home from active service with the Air Force National Guard, married his sweetheart, Marjorie Cooper, and built a home on Back Meadow Road in Damariscotta. Marjorie and Calvin had met in an ad hoc church group for older teenagers and young adults in 1958.
They were together for 62 years before Marjorie Dodge passed away in April 2020, sharing one son, four grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
“I retired in 1990, with 33 years (of working) and I have been retired, come May 1, for 33 years,” Calvin Dodge said. “I often think about how nice it was. I retired and spent 30 years with my wife after retirement. We did things together when we were young enough, when we could go do things. We could go visit, take care of the grandchildren. That is something so many people don’t have a chance to do.”
According to Dodge, Dow is actually the one who encouraged him to start writing his own column in the first place. The two men bonded over a shared appreciation for local history.
“George Dow used to come and sit down there and we’d talk for an hour and he’d write down his notes,” Dodge said. “He got me started writing for the paper. And I said ‘oh George, I don’t know as I am up for it.’ He said ‘just a small article. It doesn’t have to be a huge article, just something small and work your way up to it.’”
Dodge said his interest in history started early, prompted by stories of his grandfather, who sailed for the Eastern Steamship Co. connecting Maine merchants to ports in Portland, Boston, and New York via the Kennebec River.
“I was always interested in history,” he said. “In grammar school, you had to pass Maine history so I wrote a thesis about Maine history and my relatives and lo and behold, I got an A and ever since then …”
Dodge often hears from his readers, who frequently stop him in public to share their personal stories about something he’s written or suggest subjects for future columns. It is not uncommon to field two or three phone calls a week inquiring after various subjects, and he receives correspondence from across the country, he said.
“People call me so many times on my articles, ask me questions,” he said. “I get so much mail from out of state it’s unbelievable.”
The feedback frequently provides fodder for future columns, he said.
“I often say, a thought comes into my mind and I jot it down on a piece of paper, maybe that’s something to talk about in the future,” Dodge said. “Somebody calls me and I say let me do a little research and dig into that article and if I can find enough information I will put it together.”
Any one column might take a week and half or so of dedicated time to complete, depending on the subject and the research involved. However, he usually has a number of articles in process at any one time, so it is not uncommon for one piece to come together over a period of weeks or months.
“Some of these articles I have probably worked on for two months; just write a little bit, and when I thought about it, get a little more information,” he said. “I’ve got two, three sitting there now.”
Among the many subjects covered in the column, Marjorie’s parents, Winfield and Kathleen Cooper, have been featured in part due to their association with Round Top Farm. The Coopers arrived in Damariscotta in 1923 and lived and worked on the farm during its final years as an active dairy farm. The Coopers later purchased the Knowlton Farm, which they used to build Cooper’s Red Barn, an antiques shop and auction business to supplement their income.
When Winfield Cooper died in 1973, Calvin and Marjorie Dodge moved to the Knowlton Farm and built an in-law apartment for Kathleen Cooper. After Calvin Dodge retired from Bath Iron Works in 1990, Kathleen Cooper increasingly turned the antiques business over to her daughter and son-in-law.
Unsurprisingly for a curious man with a passion for history, Calvin Dodge loved working in the antiques business.
“I enjoyed meeting the public,” he said. “We would sit down and talk. They would pull up a chair, and they would discuss the times when they were young. So many people came here as summer people. They came here as young people, their mother or father would rent a cottage for a week or a month. I learned what they were doing. It was really a lot of good conversations.”
Dodge did not attend college but he credits his Lincoln Academy industrial arts education for giving him everything he needed to advance professionally. Beginning in high school, he worked for local contractors during his summers and he might have gone into carpentry, except his father helped him get in the door at BIW where he went to work in the pipe-fitting department.
“As a young man, I was making good money at BIW,” Dodge said. “I was probably making at least $1.75 an hour more than I could being a first class carpenter and I had the benefits. The local people never gave you time off for holidays, or paid leave, or sick leave, and I had these automatically at BIW. I thought I had the world by the foot, and I did. For 32 years, I was graced.”
Dodge took advantage of the opportunity. Volunteering for extra duties like multi-day sea trials, which paid around the clock for the duration, he worked his way into management and was eventually able to pay off his house at the age of 32.
Born during the depths of the Great Depression in 1936, Dodge has seen Lincoln County survive economic deprivation to become an internationally known vacation destination. When he was young, year-round work was a rarity and people still practiced a rugged brand of self-sufficiency.
“It’s been a big change,” Dodge said. “If anybody – going back to ’42, maybe ’38 – if you had a full-time job you were very lucky. Ninety percent of the jobs were seasonal. You opened in the spring. You closed when the ground froze. The carpentry trade, nobody built a house in the wintertime. Nobody built a chimney in the wintertime. So, most everybody had a small victory garden. Most everybody canned goods, raised potatoes, squash, and put them away for the winter. They all prepared and made sure they had an ample amount of food for the winter, they would, raise a hog or a beef critter, or they would buy part of a beef critter, or a hog and share it with a family.”
Throughout his life, Dodge said he has always enjoyed talking to people. Ever since that grade school thesis first inspired his passion for history, he has never been bashful about approaching people and asking questions. Everybody has a story and almost everybody can tell something you don’t already know, he said,
“If you talk to somebody and you’d find out something you didn’t know, jot it down for a moment,” he said. “And I think these last 30 years, writing these articles, researching, it’s kept my mind active. It really has.”
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