In my research, one story often leads to another. I used the 1900 US Federal census to help me determine that Octave LeBel’s property was the burial place for baby Joseph Henri Deschenes. Several entries below the LeBel family was Mary Belcher’s household. The census-taker, 19-year-old Bowdoin student Clement F. Robinson, didn’t mince words. He listed Mary as a whorehouse keeper, her 3 boarders as whores, and James Adams as the head man. Here is Mary’s story.
In 1881, 29-year-old Mary E. Belcher bought, a piece of land on the Brunswick side of the New Meadows River from Sarah Dunning of Bath. Mary’s purchase was made in her own name, even though the practice of that time was for land to belong to the husband. Her husband was blacksmith Charles F. Belcher. They had 2 daughters, 8-year-old Ellen and 2-year-old Emma.
Six years later, Mary and Charles had a son, Charles J. That same year Mary purchased more property, this time from Bath resident Charles Greenleaf. Then in 1890 Mary bought 5 acres from her husband. The property, like the others, was between King’s Turnpike (Bath Rd.), the railroad track, and the New Meadows River. Town directories gave no clue as to what Mary was doing with all that land. If the 1890 census hadn’t been destroyed, perhaps her occupation would have been listed. And perhaps a woman named Etta Day would be part of the Belcher household.
In the spring of 1891, two undercover detectives arrested both Etta Day and Mary Belcher. Since prohibition had already begun in Maine, the men could have apprehended the Etta and Mary immediately upon being served alcohol. However, the American Sentinel reported that the dedicated detectives made their arrests only after both had received the “full hospitality of the house.” Etta paid a fine and was sent back to the Belcher home. Mary was sentenced to 10 months at hard labor. As she was led through the crowd to board the train to prison, Mary most “emphatically expressed” her opinion of the detectives and the judge. Her incarceration left husband Charles to care for their 4-year-old son. Unable to make ends meet, her husband received town aid. The family’s finances bounced back after Mary returned and she bought another nearby piece of land in 1897.
In May of 1900 the Brunswick Telegraph reported: The disorderly house known as the Red Ribbon, situated near Cooks Corner is no more. There are others. Let the good work go on.
Was the Red Ribbon Mary’s house? If so, it wasn’t closed for good yet. In September 1902 the Brunswick Telegraph’s front page reported:
The Yellow House Closed And The Owner will Leave
The notorious road house run by Mrs. Mary Belcher is at last closed. As a result of Mr. Bisbee’s work, Mary Belcher paid a fine and costs aggregoling $600 with the agreement that she should no longer reside in Cumberland County. The responsibility now rests on Sagadahoc…
Another article directly beneath the first continued: Mary Belcher, the proprietoress and conductress of a road house on the road between Brunswick and Bath, known to fame as “The Farm,” paid an eloquent tribute to the efficiency of Deputy Sheriff Bisbee in the Superior Court this morning after she had been sentenced…The judge then told her…if she were ever brought before him again that he would sentence her to one year in prison. He then called Deputy Bisbee and asked him to keep a close watch on the house in the future. The deputy stated that he would when Mary interrupted with, “He’s kept his eye on me pretty well as it is”…
Mary moved to Bath with her son Charles J. She ran a boarding house and he became a bookkeeper. Sadly, in 1905, young Charles died of wood alcohol poisoning, possibly from bootleg or homemade liquor. When Mary died in 1926, she left and estate valued at $16,266. It included a cottage and land in Westport, a house and lot at 140 Water St. in Bath, diamond and opal jewelry, savings accounts, bonds, life insurance, and Central Maine Power. Co. stock. Her heirs included daughters Emma and Ellen, Emma’s daughters Ida Mae and Camilla, and Ellen’s children Edward, George and Chester.
In the Catholic tradition, she also bequeathed $500 to the pastor of Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church of Bath for masses to be sung for the repose of her soul. She is buried in the city where she was probably born, and where her descendants still reside, Lewiston, Maine – in Androscoggin County. Next Blog: A Flora Bouquet
- Image from A-M Religious Gifts, http://amreligiousgifts.com/~amchurch/mass-cards/30781-prayerful-mary-mass-card.html
- American Sentinel, Oct. 1, 1891
- Ancestry.com: Various including City Directories, Family Trees, United States Federal and State Censuses, Vital Records (Birth, Death, and Marriage)
- Brunswick Telegraph, May 12, 1900, and Sept. 17, 1902
- Cumberland County Registry of Deeds, 25 Pearl St., Portland, Maine and https://me.uslandrecords.com/ME/Cumberland/D/Default.aspx
- Town Directories 1867-1985, Curtis Memorial Library, http://www.curtislibrary.com/research/topical-directory/brunswick-history/town-directories-1867-1960/
- Lewiston Daily Sun, June 5, 1975,Vol 83, p 18
- National Archives http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1996/spring/1890-census-1.html
- Sagadahoc County Register of Probate, 752 High St., Bath, Maine
Prohibition and Wood Alcohol:
- ABC Health & Wellness, http://www.abc.net.au/health/features/stories/2013/09/10/3845522.htm
- Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com/2011/10/02/when-maine-went-dry_2011-10-02/
- Image from True Democracy Party, http://truedemocracyparty.net/wp-content/uploads/wood-alcohol.jpg
- WGBH: American Experience, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/photo-gallery/poisoners/?flavour=mobile