Editor’s Note: Last summer when I taught my class on writing local and family history I got to read some wonderful work. One of the projects I know will be of interest to my readers is this one by Mt. Blue High School senior Sylivie Haslam. Sylvie’s family history in Weld is interwoven with the Cushman family, prominent in the 1800s and with artist Seavern Hilton who made his mark in the mid twentieth century. Join us as Sylvie explores Weld history, family history and the folk art that traveled far beyond the village of Weld.
By Sylvie Haslam
Hilton’s Time at the Shop Land
A book published in the early 90s by the Weld Historical Society describes the progression of Hilton’s shop. He opened it along with George Lee in 1935. According to the book, “As the business expanded, it became necessary to move to a larger building,” and Hilton moved the shop to the old Cushman barn.
The shop employed between “10 and 30” workers during its time in the Cushman barn. My grandmother said it was quite common for young locals to work at the Woodworkers of Weld shop for a few hours a week. This is mentioned in many obituaries of people from Weld, These workers would do anything from carving the wood itself to painting the tiny details onto Hilton’s figurines. These figurines were sold separately and also as part of nursery lamps. At its height, workers in the Cushman Barn were turning out upwards to 60,000 figurines a month, and sales were made through big city agents and trade shows to gift shops and department stores up and down the East Coast.
Locally Minear said the figurines were sold at a store called Gerty Trask’s. I found a mention of the store in a book called Aunt Susy’s Boarding House: The Story of A Girl Growing Up In Maine a memoir by Joy Swan about her time in Weld in the early 1900s. She mentions Gerty Trask’s, talking about “the beckoning smell of ice cream” and the “smiling shop owner.” Swan says that the store “is long remembered by everyone who had ever visited this unique little shop.” The store seems to have been a landmark in the town of Weld during its bustling prime.
John Cushman’s first wife, Sadie, was one of the locals who worked at the shop. My grandmother told me that she would paint the tiny details onto Hilton’s figurines. I can only imagine how talented she must have been. The people are tiny, perhaps about the size of a clothespin, and their features are tinier.
The Weld Historical Society has a group picture of the workers in front of the shop. A big window frames them from behind, showing a little peek inside. The building is covered in wooden shingles. The barn itself looks very similar to the one still at my grandfather’s farm. It was likely built by the same people.
The group in the photo consists of twenty-two people, from young men and women, who look to be in their late teens, to much older women with short curly white hair. The age diversity of the group and the number of women surprised me; I wonder if the women participated in the woodworking itself. Many of the workers in the photo are smiling and are looking to the right of the camera.
The people who worked at the Woodworkers of Weld in its heyday were mostly these young locals. Most of them probably grew up on family farms in the Weld area during a difficult time. They likely lived without much money for the majority of their lives. This is evident in their clothing and hairstyles in the picture above; the women wore fairly plain dresses and kept their hair short, while the men wore a lot of flannels and workmen’s pants.
During the time that Hilton worked at this shop in the Cushman barn, he lived on his family farm on Center Hill. The Woodworkers of Weld was located in the old Cushman barn for a solid fifteen years, from 1940 until 1955. Then, the shop burned down. At this time, Seaverns Hilton was in his late fifties. After the fire, the Weld Historical Society’s book says that Hilton moved his business to Wilton. I am not sure how long he continued woodworking until he retired, but I do know that Hilton died in the 1970s.
Today on the property not much trace of this once thriving business remains except for the outlines of a foundation, saplings growing within it.
Scott. Mountain Climbing from Weld, 21 June 2015, http://artandwater.blogspot.com/2015/06/mountain-climbing-from-weld.html
I Remember When– a Weld Family Album: a Celebration in Pictures of the Town of Weld, Maine. Weld Historical Society, 1993.
Weld Sesquicentennial 1816~1966: History and Program, 1966, www.pegslist.org/Images/Docs/Masterman/Weld_150th.pdf.
Titus , Mina M. “Like Swiss Toymakers and Woodcarvers of the Alps Are These Woodworkers in Maine Village of Weld.” Lewiston Evening Journal , 5 Oct. 1940, https://books.google.com/books?id=6Jc0AAAAIBAJ&pg=PA9&dq=Woodworkers+Weld+Maine&article_id=2127,456754&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwilhqPgrLHqAhXFl3IEHWkcAhEQ6AEwBXoECAAQAg#v=onepage&q=Woodworkers%20Weld%20Maine&f=false
Graham, Amy. Personal interview. July 7, 2020.
Graham, Michael. Personal interview. July 9, 2020.
Graham, Lee. Personal interview. July 12, 2020.
Graham, Peninnah. Personal interview. July 9, 2020.
Black and white photograph, year unknown, Weld Historical Society.
Library of Congress. “Catalog of Copyright Entries. Third Series.” Google Books, Google, 1976, www.google.com/books/edition/Catalog_of_Copyright_Entries_Third_Serie/jkchAQAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0.
Swan, Joy. Aunt Susy’s Boarding House: the Story of a Girl Growing up in Maine. Outskirts Press, 2015.
Welts, Raymond E. “‘The Farmer’s Wife.’” Life, 15 Aug. 1938, pp. 66–66, https://books.google.com/books?id=gE8EAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA66&dq=The+Farmer%27s+Wife+Weld+Maine&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjkn4mo9tbqAhW9lnIEHYBxBEcQuwUwAHoECAAQBg#v=onepage&q=The%20Farmer’s%20Wife%20Weld%20Maine&f=false.
Sylvie Haslam is a senior at Mt Blue High School who has lived in the Farmington area her entire life. She loves reading, writing and chickens, not necessarily in that order.