Who Was George W. Stearns?
Odds and Ends From The MUSEUM!
By Trudy Wyman, Curator, Millinocket Historical Society Museum
Anyone who has lived or visited Millinocket knows the name George W. Stearns. It is the name over the front door of the town’s best-known high school building. But who was George W. Stearns?
George Ward Stearns was born in New Hampshire on April 18, 1865, the son of Horatio and Sarah Stearns. His birth occurred just nine days after the end of the Civil War and four days after the assassination of President Lincoln. When Stearns was two, his family moved to a small town in Oxford County, Maine. His early schooling was in Lovell, Maine and at Bridgton Academy. It was in Oxford County that George became acquainted with log-filled rivers and learned the business of river-driving. He also loved to hunt and fish.
His Bridgton Academy education qualified him as a teacher and he taught a year in Bridgeton. He took courses in Massachusetts with private tutors (Latin, Greek, German and higher mathematics). He was talented in music and sang first tenor in a Cecilian Quartet. George also became a talented baseball player at that time and was the catcher for the New Bedford, Massachusetts team. However, he developed tuberculosis and returned to Maine. Recovering, he took a teaching job in Rumford, becoming principal and serving on the Board of Selectmen and as Rumford postmaster.
On April 1, 1900 Stearns came to Millinocket as the land agent for the new GNP company. He helped the company purchase more than 250 thousand acres of land for about $4.00 an acre. The mill was to be located in Indian Township No. 3 and included lots along Millinocket Stream, on both sides of the West Branch and Quakish Lake. Also included was the area where the Thomas Fowler Sr. farm was located. Stearns held the land agent job for 30 years.
In his Millinocket years, in addition to being the company’s land agent, he served as first selectman from 1901 when Millinocket was incorporated until his death in 1931. A busy man, Stearns served as Superintendent of Schools from 1901-1908 (except 1905). In 1903-04 and 1905-06 he was a member of the Maine Legislature in the House of Representatives. In 1908-09, he was in the Maine Senate. He was asked to run for governor three times, but declined each time. Along with all these jobs, Stearns served as the first judge of the Millinocket Court.
George and his wife Myrtie built a Victorian style house on Highland Avenue (Society Hill). It is still referred to as the Stearns house. When the new high school was constructed and opened in 1923, it was named George W. Stearns High School. That name can still be seen on the building over the front door and well as on a sign on the current SHS building on State Street.
Stearns was a busy man and in addition to all the above jobs, he was a member of numerous local organizations. The museum has his ceremonial Masonic sword on display. Also in the museum collection is a large portrait of Stearns, donated several years ago when his three grandsons visited the museum.