HISTORY OF OTISFIELD

In 1736, the Legislature of Massachusetts voted to give a grant of land in Maine to Captain John
Gorham and certain members of his company for services in the Indian War of 1690. When the
lines were run, it was found that most of the granted land was in New Hampshire, already
independent of Massachusetts; hence, the grant was not valid.

On June 15,1771, the Legislature voted a substitute grant of 49 square miles to the same
proprietors or their heirs. This land constitutes the present Town of Otisfield, excepting
numerous boundary changes over the years.

Parts of the original territory of Otisfield were incorporated into Casco, Harrison, Naples, Oxford
and Poland, while Poland conveyed several parcels of land to Otisfield. In 1803, Phillips Gore,
bordering the Norvvay line, was added to Otisfield by petition of its citizens.

The Town was officially given the name of "Otis Field" on October 16,1773, at a meeting of the
proprietors in Watertown, Massachusetts. The minutes of that meeting were reproduced in
facsimile on the inside cover of the 1976 Otisfield Town Report as part of the National
Bicentennial observance. Thus, Otisfield and the United States of America had their "birthdays"
in the same year. The town was named for the families of James and Samuel Otis, proprietors
and early patriots. Samuel's son, Harrison Gray Otis, later gave his name to the towns of
Harrison and Gray. In 1798 Otisfield was incorporated as Maine's 115 town.

The 1771 grant required the proprietors to settle at least 30 families in Otisfield within six years;
to build a meeting house for worship; and to employ "a learned Protestant Minister'. 1/64 of the
Town's area was to be awarded to the first settled minister, 1/64 to general support of the
ministry; 1/64 to support of a grammar school; and 1/64 to the use of Harvard College (where
ministers were trained). This last proviso resulted in the naming of College Swamp which is
located between Bell Hill Road and Bolsters Mills Road.

The required meeting house was not constructed until 1795 on Bell Hill, the second highest spot
in the town (Scribner Hill is higher), where settlers had built because the higher ground offered
less danger of early frost in the fall and late frost in the spring which might destroy their crops.
Two successive buildings have occupied this location. The second, built by Nathan Nutting in
1839, still survives and is now preserved as a historical monument with an annual service on the
last Sunday of each July. It has been supplemented by three others churches; a Congregational
Church at Spurr’s Corner; a Free Baptist Church in Rayville (originally a community church used
by both Methodist and Baptist congregations); and a Free- Will Baptist Church in South Otisfield,
which disappeared about 1950 after a long period of disuse.

Otisfield is and always has been a rural town with few concentrations of population. The names
and popular nicknames of the various areas are (east to west); the Gore, the Wardwell District
(upper end of the Bean Road); Canada Hill (along Route 121 by the shores of Thompson Lake;
East Otisfield (Pugleyville); Cobb's Hill Road (formerly Fore Street or New Road"); RayvilIe (after
Dr. David Ray who built a grist mill and sawmill at the outlet of Saturday Pond); Scribner Hill,
Swampville (down over the back side of Bell Hill Road); Bell Hill; Nutting Hill; Hancockville (area
north of Camp Powhatan); South Otisfield (Dunkertown); Bolster's Mills (partly in the Town of
Harrison); Otisfield (Spurr's Corner); Tamworth, Jugtown and Oak Hill. The earliest settlement in
Otisfield was at Edes Falls which became part of Naples in 1848.

Besides church-related entertainment, Otisfield has had several recreational groups. From the
beginnings to about 1930, organized singing groups met in various homes. Square dances were
held in the two halls of the National Grange; one on the Gore which is still in use., and one at
Spurr's Corner which has disappeared. Later such dances have been held in the Otisfield
Community Hall (formerly called the Jolly Time Pavilion)in East Otisfield. The front part of this
building was utilized as a small library, a gift of Eva Elliot of The Cape. The Fish and Game
Association has flourished for many years in conjunction with Oxford. The Masonic Lodge at
Bolster's Mill on the Harrison side, one of the earliest in Maine, is still active.  In recent years, the
Firemen's Association has been active in promoting recreational activities. Otisfield and Oxford
together have organized the Lake Thompson Senior Citizens with monthly meetings. In 1981 the
Otisfield Historical Society was formed.  Late as the 1930's Spurr's Corner organized a town fair
with stock judging, horse-pulling, a baseball game and a small "midway”  with games, a ferris
wheel, a merry-go-round, etc. Since then, however, Otisfield citizens have been content to attend
larger fairs at Oxford and Fryeburg. Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts. and 4-H Clubs flourish
intermittently.

There were fourteen named school districts in Otisfield each with a one-room school but some of
these were subdivided and new buildings built without being recorded. Of all these schoolhouses
only one is left-- a brick structure built in 1839 adjacent to the grounds of Bell Hill. This has been
restored to its original condition and is kept as a historical monument open to the public on Bell
Hill Day.  Since the School Administrative District 17 was organized, the current Town Office
Building was formerly the Otisfield Central School and housed kindergarten first and
second-grade children of Otisfield and Oxford.  In 1990, the Otisfield Community School was
built in South Otisfield on the Powhatan Road and houses children from kindergarten through 6th
grade. The old Otisfield Central School was turned back over to the Town and became the Town
Office in 1992.

The population of Otisfield reflects its original settlement by English settlers from Massachusetts,
with later sizable influxes of French Canadien and Finnish peoples. Like other rural communities
of Maine, Otisfield lost heavily in population during the years after the Civil War. The westward
migration, the drift of population to the cities, the changes from small industry to large industry,
all toll heavily on the farm population. All over Otisfield one comes upon old foundations, cellar
holes, and chimneys in forests that were once cleared fields. The town has twelve cemeteries
within its boundaries. Otisfield has more woods and deer, and fewer people than it had 120
years ago; the highest population figure was 1,199 in 1960. In the days before the general use of
insulation and fossil fuels, a great deal of hard work went into supplying firewood for the winter.
The oldest homes have multiple fireplaces around a single chimney, but after the Civil War,
cast-iron stoves came more and more into general use.

For the poor, Otisfield maintained a poor farm on the Swampville Road (two successive
locations) and sometimes accepted bids at town meeting for care of the invalid poor to private
homes.  Young orphans were usually accepted in private families for what work they could do
until they were old enough to go out as hired men or hired girls. In later years, before the state
and federal welfare programs, grants of money by the selectmen were substituted for support on
the poor farm.

In earlier years, Otisfield's principle source of cash income was its sawmills; the earliest one was
built in 1812. The largest and longest lived of these was across the road from the general store
in East Otisfield (now torn down), operated before 1900 by Stephen D. Jillson and from
1900-1930 by the Kemp brothers. Another large mill was located at Bolster's Mills, on the
Otisfield side. The latest owner was Fred Clark and he closed the mill in the 1920's. The second
industry in importance was the "corn shop" (a cannery for sweet corn and sometimes for green
beans) in South Otisfield, operated by Ephraim and George Jillson during the first quarter of this
century. At various times Otisfield had grist mills, blacksmith shops, a tannery, a pants factory
and shoe shop, a cider mill and cannery for apples, a coopers shop for making barrels, a shingle
mill, and a carding machine to prepare wool for spinning. In the 1950's Glenn C Henry inventor
and engineer, ran a small factory at Spurr's Corner to make self-standing record albums book
racks and collapsible boats. These small industries have all gone but have been replaced by a
thriving tourist industry: camps and summer cottages on Pleasant Lake, Thompson Lake,
Saturday and Moose Ponds.

Today most Otisfield workers commute to factories or other businesses outside of town. The
town has become quite popular with retired citizens who enjoy the rural environment. A number
of these newcomers have bought and restored the ancient farm houses. The Portland-Montreal
Pipeline, which parallels the road from Spurr's Corner to Casco, has added something to the
Town's taxable resources.  In 1998, a new natural gas transmission line was laid along the same
route.   Agriculture once the occupation of most Otisfield people, has suffered greatly since
1920. Hops for outside breweries were once grown extensively in Otisfield, but no longer. Three
apple orchards sell their produce outside the town. Several prosperous chicken producers have
ceased operations and the last dairy farm closed down in 1989. Timber is sold to sawmills
outside. Most citizens grow gardens and a few raise meat-animals for their own use. Two stores
survive; one year-round in Bolster's Mills next to the bridge; and one summer only, on the shores
of Thompson Lake.

Perhaps the most striking event in Otisfield's recent history was its secession from Cumberland
County in 1978. The town joined Oxford County, a change which brought the town nearer to its
county seat and made more logical its inclusion in SAD 17, since our students attend Oxford
Hills Comprehensive High School.

1998 saw us celebrate our Bicentennial birthday with a variety of special events that included a
of July parade and fireworks over Pleasant Lake. Students at the Community School researched
a variety of buildings and also did a mapping project.

Otisfield remains a pleasant residential town for those who like to live in the country. Here the
present is closely linked with the past.

For more historical information on it's people and buildings A HISTORY OF OTISFIELD MAINE
by William Samuel Spurr may be purchased from the Town Office. OXFORD COUNTY MAINE.
Historic Architecture by Randall H. Bennett published by Bethel Historical Society, Bethel,
Maine, THE THOMPSON LAKE BOOK; A Narrative History by Joan C. Madden & Margaret E.
Slattery published by the Thompson Lake Environmental Association, 1991 and IMAGES OF
AMERICA REGION by Diane & Jack Barnes, pubished by Arcadia Publishing 1998.

Return to  Otisfield History Page
Created by Marilyn Strout 5/25/1999