Governor Joseph Robinson Bodwell


A Collection of Biographical Sketches of all the Governors since the formation of the State.

Prepaired under the direction of Henry Chase
Portland, ME.
The Lakeside Press, Publisher

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JOSEPH ROBINSON BODWELL was born in that portion of Methuen, Mass., now embraced in the City of Lawrence, June 18, 1818. His father was Joseph Bodwell, who owned a small farm at the mouth of the Spigot River, on which he resided nearly all his life. He was in poor circumstances, and young Joseph, at the age of eight years, went to live with Patrick Fleming, a resident of the town of Methuen proper. Here he worked on the farm, receiving but very little instruction in the district school, until he reached the age of sixteen, when he hired out as a farm laborer for six dollars a month. In 1835 he began to learn the trade of a shoe-maker, attending school in the day-time and working at shoe-making nights and mornings. He would often work far into the night, sometimes making a shoe in an evening.

He continued this work three years, when in 1838 he, in connection with his father, bought a farm at West Methuen, and they continued to till it together for ten years. While engaged in this work, the improvements in the Merrimack River at Lawrence were begun and the erection of a dam commenced, for which an immense amount of stone was required. Young Bodwell was employed to help haul the stone from Peiham, N. H., where it was quarried. Here dates Mr. Bodwell's first connection with the stone business, in which, in after years, he became one of the largest operatives in the country. In hauling the stone for the Lawrence dam and working in the quarries he became entirely familiar with all the processes of quarrying, cutting, and handling stone.

In 1852 Mr. Bodwell, imbued with that spirit of enterprise which ever characterized all his work, conceived the idea of going into the stone business on his own account. In company with Moses Webster he began operations on Fox Island, Vinalhaven, having but one yoke of oxen, which he drove, shod, and tended himself. About this time the demand for granite for buildings, bridges, and pavements began to increase rapidly, and the young firm's business grew correspondingly. Their location was most admirable, as was also the quality of their granite. They could lift the stone from their quarry into the hold of a vessel and transport it to Boston, New York, and other large cities, at the cheapest possible rate. This advantage they have always had, which has made competition with them difficult. Some large government buildings, including the new State, War, and Navy Departments building at Washington, which is one of the largest and finest public buildings in the country, were quarried and cut at Fox rsland, as were some of the finest commercial blocks in most of the large cities.

So fast did the business grow under Mr. Bodwell's energetic management that more capital and larger facilities were required. Therefore a corporation was formed, and Mr. Bodwell became the President and in fact the General Manager of its affairs, in which position he continued until his death. This is probably the largest granite works in the country to-day. In 1866 he removed to Hallowell, where, in company with Mr. William Wilson, he opened the Hallowell quarries, about two miles west of the town. This granite is of a much lighter color than the Vinalhaven granite and much easier to work. It is preferred for the lighter styles of architecture, especially for commercial buildings, and more particularly for monumental work. The products of this quarry went rapidly into the market and may be seen in almost every State in the Union in elegant monuments and statuary. The great statue, Liberty, forty feet tall, which crowns the Pilgrims' monument at Plymouth, was quarried and cut at the Hallowell quarries. In 1870 this property went into a corporation, with Mr. Bodwell as President, and it has always been most successful.

Mr. Bodwell's early love for agricultural pursuits followed him through all his other great business operations and finally gained the mastery over him. He purchased a large farm in Hallowell and cultivated it with much success and with great satisfaction to himself. He also engaged in stock breeding and stock raising with Hon. Hall C. Burleigh of Vassalboro. They selected herds of the finest animals in England, Scotland, and Wales and imported them to this country. Their operations in this line were the largest in New England, and their animals were sold in almost every State in the Union. The benefits conferred by Mr. Bodwell and Mr. Burleigh upon the farmers of the country is almost beyond computing. Other great business enterprises claimed some attention from Mr. Bodwell. He was President of the Bodwell Water Power Company at Oldtown, was engaged in ice and lumbering operations on the Kennebec, and also with several railroad enterprises. In all of these he was a grand success.

In politics he was not especially interested beyond what was required of him as a good citizen. Twice he was prevailed upon to represent his city in the Legislature, and for two years he was Mayor of Hallowell. He went as delegate to the Republican Convention at Chicago in 1880. He had been urged to accept other offices, but declined, always saying he had too much business to admit of his taking any office. Early in 1886 he began to be talked about in ihe newspapers and by the people as a candidate for Governor. At the Republican Convention that summer he was nominated, it is putting it mildly to say, without any effort of his own; it would be more correct to say against his will, and, of course, elected in September. In January, 1887, he entered upon the discharge of his duties as Governor of Maine with that vigor and ability that characterized all of his acts. He was a business man, and the business of the State was conducted in a business-like way, as far as he had to do with it. His administration, as far as it went, was a success and highly satisfactory. His valued services were terminated by death, at his home in Hallowell, on December 15, 1887.

Mr. Bodwell, in his early years, had many a hard hill to climb on his road to success, and many adverse circumstances to contend with. But full of courage he toiled on and finally conquered. Broadmmded, bighearted, and generous to a fault, the remembrance of his own early struggles awakened his sympathies in behalf of those whom, in later years, he found similarly situated, and to not a few has he extended his strong arm and helped along the rugged pathway of life. His energy and enterprise knew no bounds, and he worked in season and out, worked days and traveled nights, until at last his health broke down and he was obliged to give up. His death was widely lamented, and his name will long be borne in loving remembrance by many who could justly claim him as their friend.

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