Gorham’s so-called Ross Grant – with its agricultural and aristocractic roots from three centuries ago under British rule – is earmarked for a return to prominence at today’s eastern gateway to the town on Route 25.
The vision for the property, now owned by the nonprofit Shaw Brothers Family Foundation, calls for a large part of the 258 acres to be returned to farming. The plan also includes public access with walking trails and a road built to the Presumpscot River.
Heavy equipment recently has harvested logs and chipped other pine and brush that had grown up through the years on the former farmland. Jon Shaw, of Shaw Brothers Construction and the Shaw Brothers Family Foundation, said Tuesday that 100 acres have been cleared and a giant rototiller chewed up stumps.
“If we can save a farm, what better thing can you do,” said Shaw, who hopes to soon work on trails.
The foundation also will lease a lot to Sebago Brewing Co., which is seeking town permission to build a new headquarters there. The Gorham Planning Board conducted a public hearing Monday on the proposal and will set a site walk date. But planners appeared unaware Monday that clearing had begun.
“Pending approval from the town of Gorham, co-founders Kai Adams, Brad Monarch and Tim Haines will invest $5 million to build a 30,965-square-foot building that would double the size of the current Gorham brewery,” Amber Caron, Sebago Brewing publicist, said Wednesday
Sebago Brewing hopes to open its new facility in 2017.
“If plans continue as projected, we are anticipating a groundbreaking in November,” Caron said.
The Shaw foundation’s tract, near Westbrook, is bordered by two historic Gorham farms – the Rines family’s Walnut Crest Farm and the Mosher family’s Long View Farm.
The nickname of the Shaw foundation’s property, Ross Grant, stems from a rich merchant, Alexander Ross of Portland who bought up land in Gorham’s early days, according to the “History of Gorham, Maine” by Hugh McLellan. Ross’ son-in-law stirred up a storm in Gorham.
Elizabeth Ross married Col. William Tyng, who was loyal to the king of England during the American Revolution, and the couple’s arrival in Gorham to reside in a mansion following the war sparked outrage on the home front.
“Some got along with him and others despised him,” Dale Rines, of Walnut Crest Farm, said.
Much of the Ross Grant tract that the Shaw foundation bought from ecomaine, the waste management and recycling cooperative, was part of an original 300-acre land grant in 1730 to John Tyng of Tyngsboro, Mass., according to McLellan’s book. At that time, Maine was a district of Massachusetts during the reign of the British King George II.
The 300-acre grant also included some of today’s Walnut Crest Farm. The area is situated on the Presumpscot River, the highway into the wilderness at the time.
The old grant preceeded others alotted by the General Court of Massachusetts to settlers, who began arriving in 1736 when John Phinney paddled up the Presumpscot into Gorham, first known as Narragansett No. 7. Each of 120 proprietors was awarded 200 acres, in contrast to the 300 acres given John Tyng.
Through marriages, the Ross and Tyng families were linked to the old grant. Ross had hoped his daughter would marry some wealthy Bostonian, according to “Portland in the Past,” by William Gould.
Ross, according to Gould, frowned on Col. Tyng, and didn’t live to see his daughter wed in 1769 to Tyng, the Cumberland County sheriff and son of a British commodore. They were married by the Rev. Thomas Smith, whose wife, the former Sarah Tyng, was a sister to John Tyng, the original grantee.
Spurred by revolution fervor in 1775, some patriots plundered the Portland home of Col. Tyng and made off with valuables, including his gold-laced hat, according to historical accounts. Before being returned, the loot was stashed in Gorham.
Despite the indignation,Tyng, who was in New York during the revolution, aided some Gorham soldiers imprisoned by British forces.
For his service to the crown, McLellan wrote, Tyng received a British pension.
“He was sympathetic to the king,” said Gorham Town Councilor Ronald Shepard, past president of Gorham Historical Society.
Gorham patriots appeared to have liked Elizabeth Ross, the colonel’s mother-in-law, who built a mansion in Gorham during revolution. The Rev. Samuel Deane referenced Madam Ross in his 1780 poem, “Pitchwood Hill,” a hill located on today’s Walnut Crest Farm.
The late Priscilla Rines, mother of Dale and Steve Rines, wrote in an American Journal article in 1986 that Deane relocated for safety in 1775 from Portland to Gorham. He lived near Pitchwood Hill in a house between the Westbrook line and the Tyng mansion, then the home of Madam Ross.
According to Deane, “Eliza” lived quietly in a mansion, and she dispensed “good to all around.”
After the revolution, Col. Tyng and his wife resided in that Gorham mansion. The Tyngs appeared to have lived royally and had a uniformed chauffeur.
“They had a carriage when most people rode horseback,” Dale Rines said.
The old mansion burned in 1808 after the colonel’s death, but his widow soon built a replica, a landmark today on Route 25. The mansion, which is posted for sale, is owned Kenneth Lefebvre of First Choice Title Co. in Gorham.
Lefebvre, a former Westbrook mayor, described the property as once a slave-holding plantation. Lefebvre said the mansion has 11 fireplaces among many old features.
“It’s such a cool building,” he said.
Angela Fall, of the Gorham code office, said she and her husband, Greg Fall, once lived in the mansion. She described the mansion as “beautifully elegant” with old English wallpaper and a feeling of hospitality.
No one, according to McLellan’s book, surpassed the hospitality of the generation that followed the Tyngs. Madam Tyng’s niece married John Tyng Smith, grandson of the Rev. Thomas and Sarah (Tyng) Smith. Beginning in 1798, acccording to information provided by Dale Rines, Smith farmed the 300-acre grant.
“The Smiths were native folks,” Rines said.
An ownership chronology of Walnut Crest Farm that includes some of the old grant was compiled by the late Bernard Rines, father of Dale and Steve. Walnut Crest Farm was established by J. Henry Rines in 1894 and cattle still graze there.
James Phinney Baxter was an ownership forerunner at Walnut Crest Farm. Baxter, father of Gov. Percival Baxter, for a time lived in a long-gone mansion on land he owned there 1871-1875.
On the Shaw foundation’s part of the old grant, the land being cleared became part of a farm once owned by a member of the S.D. Warren family. In the past century, it was known as Greenhill Farm. Herb Shaw, grandfather of Jon and Danny Shaw, once rented it, harvesting hay at the site his grandchildren are clearing. A tractor-drawn harrow was unearthed that Jon Shaw believes was his grandfather’s.
After World War II, Robert J. Grondin bought Greenhill. Phil Grondin of R.J. Grondin & Sons, said earlier this year his grandfather moved his dairy to the Gorham place from Twin Falls Farm on Spring Street in Westbrook. The home and huge barn were located at the site of today’s Grondin construction business on the opposite side of Route 25 from the old grant.
Until about 1960, the Grondin family farmed. Then, Boy Scouts planted pine trees on the big field, recalled Bill Gora of Gorham, one of the scouts.
“It’s exciting to see the Shaw Brothers buy that and plans they have for it,” Lefebvre said.
Three undeveloped adjoining land tracts remain much the same over centuries in East Gorham. But Mosher’s homestead wasn’t part of the 1730 grant. Albert Erlon Mosher said Tuesday his forebears settled in Gorham in 1738 and in 1770 bought the land where he still farms. The Mosher mansion was built in 1810.
The Shaw foundation’s 258 acres in the past survived plans for 900 houses, a stump dump, and an electrical generation plant. Now, the overgrown site is being preserved for farming and public recreation.
“I’m glad to see green grass again,” Dale Rines said.
Land clearing is underway in Gorham at the wooded, 258-acre Ross Grant site that the Shaw Brothers Family Foundation bought this year from ecomaine. The foundation plans include restoring 100 acres to farmland, creating public trails and access to the Presumpscot River. It will lease a lot to Sebago Brewing Co. to build a new headquarters.
The Tyng mansion, owned by former Westbrook Mayor Kenneth Lefebvre, is a landmark on Route 25 in Gorham near the Westbrook city line.