There was a hotel in West Forks, located along the Canada Road about five miles above the Forks bridge, for over sixty-five years. The hotel buildings burned in 1925. The lot on which they stood was first settled by Seth Wyman Steward and his wife Eliza. She was the daughter of early settlers at West Forks, Brown and Hannah (Robinson) Baker. Seth was born in Bloomfield, and first bought land in Bingham from the Estate of William Bingham in 1824.
Seth and his family moved from Bingham to West Forks by 1837, where he is shown in the Special Census taken that year. He sold his possessions on both the east and west sides of the Canada Road to Charles Benjamin Foster on October 3, 1842. The Stewards then moved to Monson, where their son Seth, Jr., a landscape painter of some note, was born in 1844. They joined Seth’s brother, Elijah Steward, who had settled in Monson years earlier.
Seth Steward’s deed to Foster stated that the lot on the west side of the road contained eighty-five acres, and adjoined another on which John Turtle lived; the east side contained about one hundred acres, and included his improvements.
John Turtle was born in England about 1811. He married Eliza Hamilton at Quebec City in July 1842, and was in West Forks later that year. Turtle bought the former Steward lot on the east side of the road from Charles Foster in 1843, and later bought the acreage on the west side from Abner Coburn. His hotel is shown on the 1860 Chace map of Somerset County, where his property seems to straddle the Canada Road. There were several settlers lots divided by the placement of the Canada Road, which served as the boundary between the Salmon Stream tract on the west, and the 3,000 Acre Tract on the east. Those tracts were sold by the Bingham Estate separately to two different speculators. Settlers who had not purchased divided lots before the tracts were sold, found themselves dealing with two new proprietors.
John Turtle and his family moved to Bingham after he sold his hotel to Lawrence Barney of Moose River in 1872, having lived at West Forks for thirty years. His Bingham home was on the road to Solon, just below what is now the Frank Savage Road. Turtle died in 1891, and is buried with his family in the Bingham Village Cemetery.
Lawrence Barney, who was married to Otis Holden’s daughter Hannah, only kept the hotel property for about a year, selling it to Sewall and Austin Dinsmore of Bingham in 1873. Barney and his family moved to Fairfield, where he worked as a teamster, and later as foreman in a sawmill.
During at least some of the years that the Dinsmores owned the hotel, the family of Eliphalet Gillette Smith lived there, where they are listed in the 1880 census. They were there as early as 1876, when a visiting minister recorded that he stopped at Smith’s on his way to Moose River for a Temperance Meeting. Eliphalet Smith, a native of Moscow, died in 1881, which may have led to the next sale of the property.
The Dinsmores sold the hotel to Patrick Murphy in 1882. Patrick may have been an older brother of Nicholas W. Murphy, who ran the hotel at Parlin Pond in 1900. Patrick’s daughter Rose married Willie Hill of Moscow; his daughter Margaret married James O’Brien, and later settled in Bingham. Another daughter, Mary, was the wife of Daniel Patience, who was born in Quebec in 1862. Murphy sold the hotel to Patience in 1896, under a mortgage agreement. Patrick Murphy was Postmaster at West Forks up until 1890, when his daughter Mary Patience was appointed. She served until 1897, when mail delivery went to The Forks.
Dan Patience moved to Bingham by 1920, and was recognized at one time as the oldest resident of the town. In 1952, at nearly ninety years old, he was boarding at the Bingham Hotel, operated by Lois Dutton. He was in his room on the cold March night when the hotel caught fire, and he narrowly escaped with his life. He suffered a heart attack while trying to escape. Four people were killed in the fire, and others badly burned. Dan Patience died in 1956 and is buried in Moscow, with his wife Mary, who died in 1829.
Somehow the hotel ended up once again, after 1897, in the possession of Sewall and Austin Dinsmore. In 1900, it was being managed by Davis C. Pierce and his wife Delora (McDaniels). In 1904, the Dinsmores sold the property to Edgar S. Purinton of Beverly, Massachusetts and Danville Durgin of West Forks. Danville died tragically the following year at the age of 26, of shock following a gunshot wound. His parents, Jeremiah and Matilda (Farley) Durgin, sold his share to Edgar Purinton. Purinton was a blacksmith by trade, and a native of Litchfield, Maine. Davis Pierce continued to manage the hotel at least until 1910. In 1911, Edgar Purinton sold the hotel to his son Clarence O. Purinton, also of Beverly.
The hotel came back to local ownership in 1916, when Clarence Purinton sold it to Maud (Kennedy) Holway, wife of Wilson J. Holway. The Holways ran a store in The Forks, just south of the bridge. They also built cabins on the lot where the large Forks Hotel was located before it burned in 1906. Maud sold the West Forks Hotel to Myrtie (Cleaveland) Berry, wife of Thomas Berry, just after she bought it in 1916. The Berrys ran the hotel until 1924, when Myrtie sold it to Daisy (Durgin) Comber, wife of Hugh Comber.
Daisy sold the hotel to her son, Edmund Comber, immediately after she purchased it in 1924. Unfortunately, the hotel burned to the ground in 1925. That brought an end to an old landmark along the Canada Road.
Deed descriptions make it difficult to determine the exact location of the West Forks Hotel, but it was either on, or very near, the former Wallingford property. It is also unclear whether any part of the structure that burned was the original hotel run by John Turtle – or maybe even the former home of Seth Steward.
- Chace Map of Somerset County, Maine, 1860.
- Somerset County Registry of Deeds.
- Vital Records, Ancestry.com.
- Seth Steward, Jr. Portrait, Maine Memory Network.
- For more about artist Seth Steward, Jr. and his art, see The Cherry Gallery.
- Independent Reporter Article on the West Forks fire, 1925.
- Waterville Sentinel Article on the Bingham Hotel Fire, 1952. Scrapbook of Eva D. Bachelder, Old Canada Road Historical Society.
- Hall, Jon F., The Upper Kennebec Valley. Dover, NH: Arcadia Press, 1997.
© 2018 Marilyn Sterling-Gondek