CHURCHESHistory of the early churches and religion is not as well documented as other the aspects of the lives of the early settlers. We know from all recorded records that Nehemiah Leavitt; the original settler of Smyrna was a Methodist Minister from Royalton, Vermont. Being a Methodist minister, he brought other settlers of the Methodist faith with him. In the past, there have been other churches in Smyrna, but now the only two churches in Smyrna are the United Methodist Church and the Church in the Amish Village. There are several churches within twenty minutes of Smyrna, they are: Bethel Pentecostal Church, Oakfield Baptist Church, Seventh Day Advent Church, a couple of Catholic Churches and the Church of the Latter Day Saints. The original Methodist church built in 1880, burned in 1932. In 1932, volunteers and church members constructed the present church. By researching early records of the town, we can glean that the citizens of early days held church services and prayer meetings in schools and in private homes. In reading the history of the town and old correspondence, it is apparent that the teaching and practicing of Christianity was of utmost importance to the settlers and leaders of the town.
HISTORY:In 1830, the State of Maine granted a township to Nehemiah Leavitt, a Methodist Minister from Royalton Vermont provided he could place one hundred settlers on the town within five years, build a sawmill, a gristmill and four schoolhouses. The present day Lilley Farms was the site chosen by Mr. Leavitt to build a cabin for his bride when they first arrived in Smyrna. Realizing that he was not going to meet the requirements, Mr. Leavitt applied for and received a five-year extension. Nehemiah Leavitt Jr. was a land surveyor and in 1836 lotted the town of Smyrna – all deeds refer to this survey. The town was incorporated as the Town of Smyrna March 7, 1839.
Mr. Leavitt still could not fulfill the conditions and sold his claim of twenty three thousand acres to Mr. Dunn and Mr. Jefferds. In 1841, Mr. Dunn and Mr. Jefferds built a sawmill on the East Side of the East Branch of the Mattawamkeag River. Mr. Leavitt continued to live in Smyrna until 1846 when he left to go west.
Probably discouraged and bitter regarding the sale, folklore has it that Mr. Nehemiah Leavitt named the town "Smyrna" after the town of Smyrna, Turkey. Smyrna, Turkey was a very wicked city and known worldwide for its sins. Originally, Mr. Leavitt was chosen to name the town and he wanted to name the town Royalton after the town of his birth. Several of the settlers disagreed with him, which caused him great distress.
Taken from the Original Charter as found in the Archives in Bangor:
The original name was penned in "Royalton" with a notation from the secretary of State's office at the beginning of the charter to Strike out the word "Royalton" in the title and wherever it occurs in the bill, insert "Smyrna".
The original charter shows that Smyrna was part of Penobscot County – probably because Aroostook County had not been incorporated at the time. Archives show that on March 16, 1839, Aroostook County was erected, by the taking of all the land lying north of Mattawamkeag, Kingman and Drew Plantation from Penobscot County - thus Smyrna becomes a town in Aroostook.
Among the early settlers were John Marley of England who first went to Boston and then to Smyrna in 1831. Descendants of John Marley continue to live in Smyrna to this day. Willard Corliss who came from Lubec in 1833, Elias and Franklin Blodgett from Western Maine, and Samuel Drew a minister of the Free Baptist faith from Limerick, who went to New Limerick in 1820 and to Smyrna in 1835. Mr. Drew's son Moses purchased land from his father and constructed a set of farm buildings and a hotel. Moses ran the Yerxa Hotel for twelve years before selling it and building a large hotel near the river in town. Mr. Drew's wife was the daughter of John Marley and held the honors of being the first child born in Smyrna. Other early settlers included Alexander Herrick from Norridgewock, Thomas Hassett from Ireland, William Irish from Buckfield who later moved to Sherman. Mr. Irish a learned man served as representative to the Legislature and later as Senator from Aroostook County. More Leavitts, relatives of the first Mr. Leavitt, and with them came Laughtons, Lyons, Oakes and Jonathan Sleeper with Moses, Daniel P., William T. and Jonathan Jr., his four sons. George Taylor from New Hampshire, Sheubael C. West from Industry who went insane and was later committed to the Insane Asylum at Augusta. William Woods from Rhode Island, brothers Elias and Ephraim Wiggin, Thomas McGary from Ireland, Ira Webber from Limerick. The above named are most of the settlers listed when Smyrna was incorporated in 1839. It is interesting to note that women were not listed by name – if mentioned at all they are listed as someone's wife or daughter!
Smyrna has had a number of prominent citizens. In addition to Mr. Leavitt and Mr. Irish, Mr. Osgood Pingry originally from New Hampshire, settled in Smyrna in 1840 and was elected to the Legislature in 1841. He later owned and operated a hotel for many years. In addition, he was a Justice of the Peace. Levi Berry originally from Wilton, was engaged in farming and lumbering. Peleg Berry, son of Levi was a merchant of great means in Houlton for many years. Dr. T.C. S. Berry, another of Levi's son was a physician in Houlton. Mr. Franklin Ham, a local businessman came to Smyrna in 1856 and served for years on the Board of County commissioners.
A passage from A Gazetteer of Maine by George Varney, 1881: "The settlements are chiefly in the southern portion of the town. The public and private buildings are generally in good repair, and the roads are kept in fair condition. The nearest railroad station is at Houlton. This town was organized March 7, 1839. It furnished six men for the defense of the Union in the war of the Rebellion, of whom one half were lost. Among its valued citizens have been William Irish, Levi Berry and Nehemiah Leavitt. There is a Baptist Clergyman resident in the town, and a good interest is manifested in Sunday Schools. The public schoolhouses are three in number, and are valued at $600.00. The population in 1870 was 159. The population of 1880 is 237. The taxable valuation of the town in 1880 was $60,872.00 and the rate of taxation was three and 3/10 percent; highway tax four and 5/10 percent."
Traditionally a farming and lumbering town, the railroad made Smyrna a local hub of activity where you could find commodities from baled salt to codfish, to horse collars to drygoods packed in huge pine boxes being unloaded at the rail station. Smyrna was the supply center for the area. A story found in the Bangor Daily News Archives August 16, 1989. Reads: "Like the time they unloaded 200 earthenware chamber pots bearing painted artwork on the covers and sides that would knock your eyes out. And no less a knockout were the trainhands' spicy speculations on the design itself and on the various possibilities that might have created such a boom in the local demand for that particular commodity."
While change is good, it is also good to hold traditional values -It is very apparent that the area was very prosperous and the citizens were willing to serve their country. The early settlers like today's citizens also placed great emphasis on their spiritual lives and on education. If you have the good fortune of visiting Smyrna – you will find decent and noble citizens holding onto those same values.
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