Governor Abner Coburn


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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ABNER COBURN of Skowhegan was, by natural endowment, one of the strong men of Maine, and for fifty years he, in connection with his father, Eleazer, and his brother, Philander, was a leader of men and a director of affairs along the whole line of the Kennebec Valley. Eleazer Coburn was a land surveyor and Abner early became an assistant to his father. In 1825 Abner began to survey land on his own account, and in 1830 Eleazer Coburn and his two sons, Abner and Philander, formed a partnership under the firm name of E. Coburn & Sons. The business of this firm was surveying, buying land, and cutting timber on the Kennebec. The concern prospered greatly and grew rapidly, year by year, until 1845, when it was terminated by the death of the father, Eleazer Coburn. The two brothers immediately formed another firm under the name of A. & P. Coburn, which continued the business of the older firm, and was equally prosperous. Their operations became very extensive, and they were well and most favorably known by the lumber dealers throughout New England, and in the West even, where at one time they held more than sixty thousand acres of valuable timber lands.

The Coburns were men of great sturdiness of character, of the highest integrity, but were very shrewd and sagacious business operators. They were pioneers in the land and lumber business, and from their first operations they had seen timber lands constantly advance in price. They early began to purchase these lands, when they were very cheap, and continued up to 1870, when they were by far the largest land owners in the State, owning no less than four hundred and fifty thousand acres, or more than seven hundred square miles, of land. In 1872 the larger part of these lands was sold for $1,500,000, but the buyer was unable to carry out his contract, and the property fell back into the possession of the Coburns.

But while they were large land and timber operators they were also engaged in other enterprises. Abner became largely identified with the railroad interests of the State, more especially with the line of road from Skowhegan to Augusta and Portland. When, in 1854, the Kennebec & Portland Railroad was completed to Augusta, and the Somerset & Kennebec Road from Augusta to Skowhegan was about half completed, the latter concern was unable to proceed further with the work of construction from the lack of funds, when the Coburns came to the aid of the company, and the road was rapidly completed. One of the brothers was always on the Board of Directors, and Abner was the President for several years. He continued on the Board after the re-organization of both roads under the name of the Portland & Kennebec Railroad. In those days only one passenger train each way was run, and it was sometimes difficult to keep them going. It was not unfrequently that Mr. Coburn had to come to the rescue of the treasury. After Judge Rice became President, in 1863, the business of the road began to increase, and it has constantly grown until this time. Abner Coburn owned two thousand shares of the stock at one time, and he remained on the Board of Directors and was President after its consolidation with the Maine Central; and until the day of his death he was a strong friend of the road.

In politics he took an active part. In his early days he was a Federalist, afterwards becoming a Whig, and later a Republican. In 1830 he was elected to the Maine Legislature, and again in 1840 and 1844. He was one of the founders, in this State, of the Republican party, and in 1855 was a member of Gov. Anson P. Morrill’s Council; in 1857 he was in Governor Hamlin’s Council. In 1860 he was Presidential Elector and threw his vote as such for Abraham Lincoln.

When Governor Washburn, in 1862, expressed a wish to retire at the end of his second term, the great business ability of Abner Coburn commended him as the man above all others to step into his place and carry along the great work of raising and equipping troops and forwarding them to the front to aid in suppressing the rebellion. He was nomInated and elected Governor, serving during the year 1863 with distinguished ability. That was, perhaps, the most trying year of the whole war. There was a growing feeling against some of the war leaders and the “Peace Party” was gaining in the Northern States. Battles were being lost and many men began to get discouraged. But Governor Coburn never lost his courage or in the least ceased his efforts or faltered in the work of sustaining the President in prosecuting the war. His administration was honest, able, efficient, and strong in every respect, and he retired at the end of his term with the high regard of all the people.

Governor Coburn was not an educated man. In his boyhood days he took a few terms in the district school and two or three terms in the Bloomfield Academy. These comprised about all the schooling he ever had, but in later years he became a great benefactor of the cause of education. He materially augmented the fund of the old Bloomfield Academy, where he received his early education, and of the Skow began High School. The College of Agriculture and Liberal Arts frequently felt the thrill of his liberality and great love for the cause of education, as did also the Colby University at Waterville. and the Coburn Classical Institute of the same city, both of which institutions attained to great prosperity under his directing hand and fostering care. He was closely connected with these institutions for many of the later years of his life. He presented Somerset County with its elegant court-house and Skowbegan with its fine public hall, named for the donor. His golden favors also flowed in many other channels.

Governor Coburn was born in Canaan, in the portion now called Skowhegan, March 22, 1803. His father, Eleazer, came from Massachusetts in 1792, and married Mary Weston, whose grandfather, Joseph Weston, was a guide for Benedict Arnold in his trip to Quebec. While Governor Coburn was a very wealthy man, be was very democratic in his habits and tastes and plain and unassuming in his manners. His energy was untiring and his integrity unquestioned. He lived in Skowhegan all his days, beloved by the people of his town and admired and respected by the people of the State. His fame will long outlive his fortune.

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