Mr. Sylvester Remembers the Old Junkins Garrison

The article below appeared in JFA newsletter no. 4, Summer 1991.

The following description of the Junkins Garrison house of York, Maine is an excerpt from a book called Reminiscences of Old York2 by Sylvester, pp. 356-357. Roland Junkins found it tucked away in a copy of Davis' The Junkins Family1 in the Hurd Library in No. Berwick, Maine, February 1991.

"Perhaps you have never seen this old Junkins garrison. If such is the case, let me tell you some thing about it… If the sun were up one could see that this ancient place has a wide outlook. From its vantage point of hilltop the river and the lowlands that make its peasant marge are in sight. The land breaks away in all direction in these days, for it is like a city set on a hill that cannot be hid…

"It is an old rookery as one sees it now, and the rain and snow beat in upon its rough floors, and the winds make weird noises as they search out the nooks and crannies that widen with the years. Its huge chimney and its great square umhead have the appearance of great stability and ancientness of construction. It must date from somewhere about 1640, though some annalists do not accord it so great an age, yet it must have been contemporary with the building here of the McIntires… (The York Garrison houses) have the same projecting roofs and widely over hanging upper stories.

"Its great chimney is a curiosity in its way, and the great fireplace that even disports the ancient crane, and the great timbers that everywhere stick out or protrude like the ribs of a lean horse, keep its consistent and suggestive companionship.

"This old Junkins garrison is a forsaken thing, the quintessence of lonely dejection, at least in appearance."

Editor's Note: This description found by Roland Junkins and submitted by his brother, Donald Junkins, was sent to me for the newsletter without either knowing that I have a copy of the Limited Edition printing of Herbert M. Sylvester's book written, or at least illustrated, before 1898 and published in 1906. I found it in a book store in Cleveland, Ohio about 25 years ago. There were only 1,000 copies printed and mine is hand signed as copy number 670. Mr. Sylvester did all the illustration himself, of which there are over one thousand in the set of five books of the collection. In the front of volume one is found a hand written letter by Mr. Sylvester, dated July 27th 1908 and tipped in along with one of the original illustrations which I have framed and hangs proudly in our living room.

On page 310 of the volume that Roland took his quotes from can be found Mr. Sylvester's illustration of "The Junkins Garrison House." You will find it reproduced on p. 8 of newsletter 2, spring 1990. On page 306, Mr. Sylvester gives a further description of the garrison as he saw it shortly before it burned.

"The Junkins garrison…may yet be seen, but in a dilapidated condition. After the Indian outbreaks, which began as early as 1676, the number of block houses increased so that York was well supplied with these houses of refuge, and each had its billet of settlers; nor were they over large; and at such times as the long tin horn sent its note flying across country, they must have found their individual capacities somewhat strained.

"It is difficult for one to convey a likeness of one of these old forts, for the eye sees only the shell of an old house. Timbers hewn, dove-tailed and tree-nailed, gave it a redoubtable massiveness. The seams were calked like those of a ship, loop-holes were cut in the sides for small-arms, and the second story was provided with an overhang, or off-set, and in the floors of this projection, which followed the outer wall around the building completely, openings were made for offensive as well as defensive purposes. It wa a favorite trick of these aborigines to push carts of straw of other flammable matter against the house of the settler, and in such a case from these projections could be poured water to extinguish any conflagaration possible. In the second story was a loft, and here were loopholes from which a watch could be kept. And it was to such places the women and children fled at the first alarm.

"That is what one sees with the outward eye.

"But there are other things here that have the human touch. The chimney-back is painted with soot stains, and the walls are dyed a deep sepia by the unruly smokes, and there is a smell of creosote, suggestive of advanced age. There are signs of decrepitude. The windows have a bleary aspect. The roofs are ragged and out at the knees, and even their rigidity betokens weariness at having to stand so long. There are weeds and briars choking the old footways, as if Nature were making ready to shortly assume charge of the remains. This is especially true of the old Junkins garrison house, not far from the McIntire homestead.

"But here are some old andirons, twisted and bent and eaten up, almost, by ravenous fires that have long ago burned themselves out; and here is some wood, and an old pine knot that is so 'fat' that is shows the varnish of its resinous saps, and is rich in its coloring as the back of some old violin made in the days of Stradivarius. I do not see the rusty tin tinder-box, in which was always kept the flint and steel and a bit of punk, that ought to be at one end of the rude mantel over the fireplace; but the ill-smelling brimstone match will do as well, except that the flint and steel and its old-fashioned appliances would have given me time to gather my wits, which is quite an important consideration, if one is to indulge somewhat in romancing.

"But let me light this pitch-knot and set the old broken hearth ablaze. The smoke chokes a moment in the old Junkins chimney throat, and then the flame leaps, and the light dances up and down the time-stained walls; the backlog crackles and croons a song of the wilderness woods. The old voicings come, and the looms in the brain begin to work; the sleys go up and down as the shuttle flies back and forth, and the web grows eerily to the rhythm of the incoming tide, and the rough sibilance of the wet, salty winds that are 'blowing up a storm'…

"But how the winds buffet against the gable of the old garrison house! The two shag-bearded men under the little square window by the farther corner are Junkins and McIntire, and if you get near enough to catch their whispers between their generous pulls at the quart stroup of steaming rum between them, you will hear the story of old Trickery, a story that is still told along the sands of York when the winds are high and the sheeted rain drives in from the east. …amoung the ancient New England settlements no place is more abundant in legend and tradition than the reaches of shore, the strips of sand and ragged headlands of this broken coast of York."

1. Davis, Harry Alexander. The Junkins Family, Descendants of Robert Junkins of York County, Maine. Washington, D.C., 1938.
2. Sylvester, Herbert M. Reminiscences of Old York. 1906.
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