Sam Alexander, Sr. knows Harpswell pretty well, which is not surprising since he’s spent most of his three score and ten years here (so far). His ancestor, William Alexander, was one of the first persons of European descent to live here, moving from Topsham after his father was killed in a raid by Native Americans in 1722. William built a house in the Two Coves area and remained in Harpswell for the rest of his life, raising a family and having a hand in building the Meeting House. Now, ten generations later, Sam and his wife, Janet live in a house he built from lumber harvested on the property. Though somewhat retired from Alexander and Allen, the construction company he started with Paul Allen, Sam continues to harvest hay from the family farm at Sunset Hill.
Harpswell has plenty of people “from away,” and one reason is because the definition is closely drawn. One of Sam’s neighbors, now in his 60s, demurred when I asked if he was local. “No,” he said, “my folks didn’t move down here from Brunswick until I was five.” In a culture that seems to be always on the move, these deep generational roots are increasingly valuable.
Sam went away to attend Southern Maine Community College in the mid-60s, then became the first employee and foreman at Wood Structures, Inc. a start-up company that made trusses and panelized building components. After three years, the job ran out of challenges and when the owner refused Sam’s request for a 25¢ per hour raise, Sam quit and moved back to Harpswell, where he built the house he and Janet live in today.
History surrounds us every day, but it is not easy to do the research and capture the details when running several companies and being part of a large family. When asked about his informal role as one of our local historians, Sam mentioned his uncle Thurlow Alexander (1902-1984). He was a founding member and first president of the Harpswell Historical Society and passed along to nephew Sam the importance of historical information and perspective. Thurlow attended Northeastern University and then went on to teach there, eventually becoming dean. In 1952 Thurlow was a delegate to a meeting in the USSR, and Sam has strong memories of the photos taken on that trip. Perhaps that experience added gravitas to his awareness of history and the importance of keeping records. It is no coincidence that Sam currently serves on the board of the Historical Society.
Though celebrations of Maine’s bicentennial were delayed by the pandemic, several initiatives related to the 200th anniversary went forward. Locally, we are treated with Glimpses of Harpswell Past and Present, a handsome large-format book with a wealth of stories and photos of the town, already in its third printing. Not as much a scholarly tome as a comfortable chat with a neighbor, the eighteen chapters were each written or collected by a local person. Sam, for instance, wrote about fraternal organizations, including one of personal interest, Merriconeag Grange #425, which celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2013. This is a rare distinction because fraternal organizations, particularly those related to agriculture, have declined in popularity over the years. But in Harpswell, people around town remember when the grange hosted town committee meetings, graduations, and Friday night dances.
In addition to writing a chapter in “Glimpses,” Sam was one of the five editors who oversaw the creation of the book. He played an important role in identifying local people who could address the specific topics of each chapter—and in some cases perhaps doing a little arm-twisting to get them to agree.
We have plaques on buildings around town to make note of their history and importance. We haven’t gotten around to nailing plaques onto any of the large group of people who are deserving of such recognition, but when the time comes, Sam Alexander will be among that large and steadfast group.