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The Watering Hole

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Monumental Monday Series

Civil War Memorial

Hollis, Maine

Here’s another that I’ve driven by a zillion times but never really seen until I went searching for it. There it was, hiding in plain sight beside a busy roadway. Given, it’s a spot where the locals will keep their eyes on the road. Salmon Falls Bridge, a crumbling old concrete jewel that’s overdue for replacement. Ancient, and narrow, it will get your attention when a semi goes rumbling by in the opposite direction. Chances of meeting one are pretty good, it’s a major route for any trucking company on the road. This aged bridge sits at the bottom of a super long grade, where engine brakes will rattle your guts as the drivers try to slow down for the bridge. The speed limit drops from highway speed to village speed right at the bottom of the hill. The authorities slowed bridge traffic after several incidents with local hooligans using the bridge as a jump-off point to the river below. There’s a nice embankment with a rope swing just a few yards downstream, but the problem persists on nice days. They have to jump off the bridge. The skinny bridge with no walkway, just barely wide enough for two semis. If that wasn’t bad enough, there are intersections at either end of the little span, side roads shooting off in both directions. If you stop on one of these crossroads, you can see the sparkles of broken glass and chrome, red and orange chicklets littering the ditches on both sides. If you were ever hoping to see an accident, I wouldn’t judge, and this would be a really good spot to set up a lawnchair.

I pulled up these photos that I took in early Spring, they immediately made me appreciate our gorgeous colors of Summer. Maine is a beautiful place, I’m thankful to call it home.

This monument sits behind the old Salmon Falls Library, on the right as you come down the hill.

It’s not much to look at, a simple watering trough for horses. It resembles the namesake trough at the end of Fountain Street, across from the Bar Mills Post Office. Neither has seen more than rain water in my lifetime, but back in the day, they were crucial. Filling stations for your horses. Rest stops.

But the river is right here, why would they need a trough? Easy. Because it made it easy. Yes, it’s the river, but scrambling a horse down the steep banks was no easy chore. A team? Fat chance. You’d have to unharness each horse and lead them one by one down to the water. I’m sure there was a big muddy spot, the closest access, where they’d have to be carefully led to the edge. A mission. Valuable time.

This watering tub was a wonderful gift. Just a few steps off the main road, I guarantee that every local horse would quickly warm up to it. Fresh water, right there on the roadside, a team could drink together. I’ve held a bucket while a thirsty horse drank from it, it’s a strangely rewarding experience. The beast was in no hurry, as most aren’t. Horses will test your patience. Just for fun. They’re also proud, they would have been quite relieved to give up the embarrassing slippery trips down the riverbank.

With other horses watching. Ghastly.

There’s no visible plumbing remaining on this old vat. It could have been filled the hard way, by lugging buckets up from the river a few times every day. If I know my ancestors, I’d say that more likely there was a system of crude aqueducts channeling water from a forgotten spring somewhere on the hillside in the background. Fresh, cool water, all day long.

Yankee ingenuity.

We have ladies to thank for this particular blessing, as forgotten as it may be today. As many as 20,000 Ladies Aid Society chapters had sprung up during the Civil War, doing their best to assist with tending to wounded and sickly Soldiers. They helped provide food and sanitary supplies to the miserable makeshift hospitals where so many lay suffering and succumbing to disease. After the War these fraternal organizations, along with many others would carry on with their important work. Focused on improving living conditions, education, morality, and religion. Trying to better us as a community, as a society. Lofty goals.

I find it fitting that these local ladies were responsible for this very practical monument, helpful to the whole community, and any that might pass by.

“In Memory of Our Soldiers, Presented by Ladies Aid Society, 1893.”

It took a long time for our Nation to heal after that terrible homespun conflict. Most monuments in my little study appeared at about this same time, a generation or two after the last shots were fired. Life was changing quickly, by the time this memorial was completed, newfangled horseless carriages were becoming reality, and the earliest ones would soon be chugging down this same dusty hill. They had no need to stop for a drink, but if I was the rich guy with the fancy new automobile, I’d be showing that baby off to every wide-eyed local I happened by. I would have definitely stopped at this water fountain.

The cars would be few and far between for another generation. There would still be plenty of thirsty horses passing by for many years to come. I guarantee that my own kinfolk stood here countless times waiting for their mount or team to finish their water break and get back on the road. My cousins were amongst those that built the very first rickety bridge here, across the mighty Saco. A pile of bridges have come and gone since those early days, and the current structure has to be slated for replacement.

I bet the fancy new bridge will be a lot wider. That’s a given. Progress. I’d even gamble that it will be designed to further deter the miscreant jumper/swimmer crowd, though I’m not sure by what means. I have a curious mind. I also have faith in our American ingenuity, I bet some engineer is figuring on it as we speak. I hope the new plan leaves room for this old relic from our past, dedicated to a group of outstanding men, by a group of outstanding ladies.

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