There have been European settlers at Cape Newagen at least since 1623, but it wasn’t until 1900 that the United States Postal Department saw fit to establish a Post Office under the Postmastership of Ellsworth “Bub” Gray.
Bub ran a store and boarding house on the shore, half way between the present Town Landing and the Newagen Inn. The store was stocked by ship from Portland. The Post Office was in the store.
One time he bought a large stalk of bananas from Portland that proved very popular. The stalk hung in the store and bananas sold quickly. Later, when the supply had run out, he was asked why he no longer sold bananas. The laconic reply was, “Can’t keep up with the demand. Can’t be bothered to stock ’em”
He sold ice cream and as the cartons emptied he sought help from small children to “clean out the empties”. According to a current resident who was a playmate of Mr. Gray’s granddaughter, the “empties” were never really empty and she and her small friends carried out the “task” with considerable enthusiasm.
Bub sold other items on the second story of the store and one day around 1920 eleven-year-old Leland Snowman and a contemporary found the lower level unattended. Deeply tempted by the supply of penny candy, they opened the case and “liberated” three or four pieces. As they started for the door, Bub’s deep accusing voice was heard from upstairs. Dropping their loot, they left in terror. A week or so later Bub sent for them and they sat before him in the store. He had observed their theft through a peephole in the floor and told them in no uncertain terms of their sin. He then went to the penny candy bin, picked out a treat for each of them and told them to go and sin no more. Nearly eighty years later, Leland tells the story with gratitude for the lessons learned. The store burned in 1930.
Bub’s son, Scott, built a new store at what is now the southern end of Route 27 opposite the Town Landing Road. He sold various staples including only two cuts of beef. If asked for beef he would take the knife and ask “A chunk to fry or a chunk to boil?” Bub continued as postmaster until his death in 1940 when Scott became Postmaster. One summer visitor was mailing a letter and asked if he should put it in the slot inside or outside. Scott is reputed to have replied, “Inside. We don’t empty the outside one till it”s full.”
In 1967, Scott died and a small part of the building was set aside for the Post Office. Louise Dill became Postmaster and from then until 1988 her cheerful smile made going for the mail a daily pleasure. She knew all the children of the area and when young people were awaiting an anticipated letter, she would greet them with a cheerful “Yes” or “No” as they approached the window.
Carolyn Gamage, the late mother of current Selectman, Gerry Gamage, was a clerk in the Post Office from 1962 to 1988 when she succeeded Louise as Postmaster. Her cheerfulness continued the Dill tradition. Perhaps the fact that there was no longer a grocery store to run along with the post office made the job of Postmaster lonelier so that there was more time for company and conversation. Whatever the cause, the Post Office was a community center of information and companionship.
One of the questions most frequently asked was “Which way to Boston?” At least once a week someone would leave Boothbay heading South in hopes of getting to Boston. There was no Route 238 in those days and Route 27 circled the island. Some people would make the circuit several times before stopping in frustration. One visitor, who was told he should go back over the drawbridge, avowed that he had never come over a drawbridge. The postmaster’s reply: “If you never crossed the bridge, you aren’t here!”
There were at one time three year round post offices on the island: the Southport post office near the bridge, one at West Southport in the Island Store, and another at Newagen. As postal business dropped and automobile transportation increased, first the Southport one was closed. Then, in 1992, Newagen became a contract post office and was staffed by a variety of temporary postmasters.
From 1995 to 1998 it was housed in the Sweet Dreams Bakery just north of the old office on Route 238. Marie Kelly ran the bakery and held the postal contract, although her mother, Ralva Orchard, was often on duty behind the grate. They, too, made going for the mail a community project. With the final closing of the office in 1998, Newagen has sadly lost another bond that help make us a community.
Through the efforts of Ralva’s husband, Ron, most of the facilities were moved and are now on display here in the Museum. Ron designed the display and did all of the necessary carpentry and he now bears the title of Honorary Newagen Postmaster, duly conferred at the opening of the display on June 30, 1998.