Belle Atherton, Boarding House Owner
Updated: Jun 26, 2022
Odds and Ends From The MUSEUM!
By Trudy Wyman, Curator, Millinocket Society Museum
She was one of Millinocket’s “pioneer” ladies who came to the area around the time of Millinocket’s incorporation in 1901. Her name was Isabelle “Belle” (Longstaff) Atherton. Belle and her husband (John Spofford Atherton) came to Millinocket from New Brunswick with a cow, a pig and a few hens. He did carpenter work to earn money to build a house. The house was located on Penobscot Avenue near the Mtn. View Hotel (about where telephone company building is today). Three children were raised in that house. After the death of her husband, Belle supported herself by keeping boarders from the mill. In the town’s early years, there were several boarding houses in that area and along Katahdin Avenue.
A granddaughter of Belle, Ruth Morgan, compiled a family genealogy and wrote a lengthy essay about her grandmother. A copy of these two items is in the museum’s collection and some of her memories are repeated here. She was known as “Gaddy” by the grandchildren as the oldest had a hard time saying “Grammy.” Gaddy loved to sit on the porch and watch the mill workers walking past going to and from work. She provided food for the boarders’ dinner pails (including cookies, donuts, home-made pickles and bread). She was a bit of a prankster and was known to sometimes sprinkle certain workers with the hose as they walked by. She was known for doing kind deeds for people in need. She had a keen memory and loved to recite poetry. On one occasion she was invited to the local theater to recite several of her favorites.
In 1953, Belle celebrated her 90th birthday. She was interviewed prior to that occasion for the local newspaper. She stated that the first day she opened her boarding house, there were nine men lined up for a room and board. She placed that first day receipts ($3.90) in her apron pocket and somehow the money was lost. Some years later, she learned that a young boy had found the money and spent it on toys. When he offered to pay her, Belle refused to accept the money. Belle did all her own cooking and often had as many as 25 boarders at a time. She said she used a barrel of flour every three weeks.
The interview was prior to Isabelle’s 90th birthday and she went on to live to age 94. Her granddaughter Joyce Morgan Robinson has provided the museum with many photographs and ephemera (paper items) regarding Belle and her family as well as other branches of the family tree (Morgan, Carroll). Joyce, a favorite longtime visitor to the museum is about to celebrate her 97th birthday on June 29th!