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The Narrows (Part 2)

May 16, 2015

We know from deeds that Nathan Preston built a home on his ‘Narrows’ property, probably the standard fare in those days and that place, a simple log cabin. When he sold to Ezekiel Prince in 1810, for 280 dollars, the deed read, “…the same lot of land that I live and dwell upon.” Prince a merchant and land speculator from Newburyport, Mass was the son of Joseph Prince, "the blind preacher of Newburyport.". Several deeds suggest he divided his time between Newburyport and the nearby emerging port of Eastport where he would relocate full time. He held the property for 18 years, likely renting the farm and buildings to the local labor force; farmers, sawmill workers, fisherman or the like.

In 1828, he sold to Machias native, Solomon Foster, for 650 dollars. Concurrent with this sale, Ezekiel founded and was on the building commitee of the Central Congregational Church of Eastport. The impressive Federal edifice still stands today and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Living into his nineties, he was described in a local history as, “a marked figure on our streets, - the last of an old school, - clad in long stockings and knee breeches.”

Solomon, one of Dennysvile's first Sunday school teachers and later a hotel keeper and mill owner, likely purchased the property with its sturdy log cabin as a starter home for himself and his new bride, Elizabeth Ayer Wilder. Just next door ’Eliza’s’ sister, Deborah, and her husband, Captain Bela Reynolds, were preparing to purchase the former Benner homestead. The Foster’s would live in Preston's simple cabin for ten years. Their first four children were born there. In 1838, they sold their 25 acre farm to Deborah and the Captain, for 800 dollars.

The second of fourteen children, Bela R. Reynolds was born in Township #2, in 1797, to Jonathan Reynolds, a millwright and Persis Wilder, the daughter of a Dennysville founder. They were married in Eastport in 1795 when Persis was just 15. Her father, Theophilis Wilder, a captain in the Revolutionary War, was one of Hingham’s band of sixteen. Growing up in the fledgling town, Bela would have learned his lessons as a young boy under the tutelage of Dennysville’s second schoolteacher, Benjamin R. Jones.

In October of 1822, at the age of twenty five, he purchased shorefront property on the ‘Narrows Peninsula,' “…together with two undivided third parts of all the buildings & improvements belonging to the same.” These were likely the wharves where he established his business making daily packet trips, carrying passengers and freight from the Narrows of the Dennys River, through the merciless and deadly Cobscook Falls to and from Eastport,

In May of 1824, he purchased another piece of land at the end of the road to the Narrows from Theodore Lincoln. The land forming the point of the peninsula was owned at the very beginning by Thomas Russell, one of the original proprietors. In 1797, Russell died in Boston with his holding’s passing to his brother, James, who lived in Bristol, England. For nearly 30 years, Theodore Lincoln had charge of Russell’s lands, without the power to sell lots, negotiate with prospective settlers, or evict those squatters who took possession illegally. In 1824, Lincoln was finally able to arrange the purchase of the Russell holdings, freeing the properties for sale.

Three months after this purchase, in August of 1824, Bela married 20 year old Deborah Ayer Wilder, his first cousin and Eliza Wilder’s sister. In 1828 he would again expand his holdings, purchasing additional shorefront from Theodore Lincoln as well as the former Benner property. It may have been shortly after these purchases that Bela and Deborah built a new home.

According to a descendant, Ella Gardner Waite, the Reynolds erected their impressive Federal Cape on the site of the old Benner log cabin, not too distant from the shore, probably with the help of Deborah’s father, Ebenezer Cushing Wilder. Ebenezer, a carpenter, previously built the first schoolhouse in town and would later supervise the construction of the Congregational Church. The home still stands today (as does the church), largely intact, with its elegant front door facing - not the road - but the water.

Bela and his wife would have five children together. On the 19th of January in 1834, Deborah Ayer Reynolds, now 30 years old, gave birth to a baby girl. She would name her child Hannah. Sadly, there must have been complications of the most catastrophic nature. Just seven days later, Hannah’s short life came to an end. The following day her despondent mother would succumb to the rigors of child birth as well. With a family to rear and young children in need of a mother, Bela set aside his grief and soon found new wife, a 26 year old Sunday school teacher, Amelia Hersey Jones. Amelia was the sixth child and fourth daughter of, surveyor and clock-maker, Benjamin R. Jones. She and Bela were married in August of the same year. It was two years after that, that the couple would purchase the old Preston farm.

With her husband, Amelia would bare six children of her own. The last, Henry Jones Reynolds, born in August of 1853, would never meet his father. Just three months prior, Bela’s fate was sealed in the currents of the Dennys River, a stone’s throw from the Narrows. He was 56 years old. In the late 19th century, Cyrus Hamlin Kilby recounted the sad tale;

In 1821, Captain B. R. Reynolds commenced boating between this place and Eastport and continued for thirty-two years to run regular trips on the river; at first, with a small, open, twenty feet boat which he purchased of William Chase of Lubec; but as time and his business progressed, larger and more expensive boats were procured and put into his service. He was an active business man generally prepared for any emergency which might come upon him in his line. But after his many years of hard experience among the rocks and shoals in "Cobscook Falls" by day and night, in calm and storm, he at last found a watery grave on the 3d of May,1853, in sight of his own house, only a few rods from the wharf at which he was preparing to land.

Click here for  Part 1Part 3 and Part 4

Photos courtesy Dennys River Historical Society

(click photo to view larger image)

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