The pre-Revolutionary Pownalborough Court House in Dresden gets pretty spooky when its lights are dimmed. As the sun was slowly setting Saturday evening, Lincoln Country Historical Association opened the doors to visitors for its Halloween-themed, “Voices from the Past” tour.
“The darker it gets, the creepier it becomes,” said Faye Snyder of Wiscasset. She and other guides dressed in period clothing. Snyder is a trustee and the collections chairman. “Many visitors have been here before, but never at night, which is a whole new experience.”
Along with Snyder, docents Judy Tunkle of Dresden and Greg Edwards of Bowdoin led visitors through the main building, built in 1761. White holiday lights strung on the walls, floors and stairways provided illumination. As darkness gathered, eerie shadows appeared on the plaster walls and overhead on massive wooden timbers, or dragon beams, used to the keep the building square and true. Visitors slowly made their way from room to room; the wide “pumpkin pine” floorboards groaned and creaked beneath their feet. At a table in the former tap room sat a full-sized skeleton, with a black tri-cornered hat tilted back on his head and a pewter mug in his boney hand.
Up a narrow set of stairs on the second floor, guests entered the ancient court room. Here sitting behind a long table sat a very real Amanda Silverman of Dresden, wearing a white wing and clad in the black robe of a magistrate. Silverman held a wooden gavel and rope tied into a hangman’s noose.
She said that, long ago, evil criminals found guilty of murder or mayhem were hanged until “dead, dead, dead.” She said it shaking the rope at two young lads in the witness box.
The court house’s most famous orator was John Adams. Before becoming our nation’s second president, he argued a case here to determine how thick a pencil line could be when a map was drawn. He won. In his journal, he wrote he made the long trip from Massachusetts to the village of Pownalborough on horseback because above all else he hated traveling by boat.
Along with Adams other notable visitors of yesteryear included the infamous Gen. Benedict Arnold, whose name is associated with treason during the Revolutionary War.
In this room, Judge North presided over the trial featured in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and based on the diary of a local lass named Martha Ballard, Silverman said.
Besides a court house, the building has also been a tavern, a place of worship and the Dresden Post Office before becoming a private home.
Snyder said about a dozen volunteers spent about six hours putting up the Halloween decorations. The tours concluded with cups of mulled cider and freshly baked cookies provided by the LCHA membership. If you missed the “Voices of the Past” tour, you’ll have to wait until next year. It was for only one evening.
Snyder said this was the final LCHA event of the season. Besides the court house, the nonprofit owns the Old Jail and Museum on Federal Street, Wiscasset and Chapman-Hall House, Main Street in Damariscotta. For more information, visit www.lincolncountyhistory.org