Some of the strangest occurrences happen in my family, who live in southern Maine. Recently, my sister recounted this story to me: our fourteen-year-old cousin had texted her on the telephone, saying that he had gotten a new dog. My sister, wanting to see the dog, asked him to come over with it. When he arrived by auto (my uncle was driving), he opened the door and, instead of a dog, a mature chicken hobbled out! When she told me this, I could not help but burst into laughter. This astounding story made me recall something even crazier that happened at the Exchange Hotel in Farmington back in May of 1915.
Before we embark on our journey, here is a bit of background information. The Exchange Hotel was one of Farmington’s few hotels in town a century ago, with the Hotel Willows and the Stoddard House also coming to mind. It is interesting to note that the name “Exchange Hotel” was a popular hotel name at that time, with many other hotels of the same name all over the state. The hotel was built after the Great Fire of 1886, which destroyed an earlier hotel at the same location called the Blue Mountain House. Sometime in the “nineteen oughts”, the hotel’s roof was redesigned as a mansard roof, reflecting the Second Empire French style. It was possibly the most popular hotel in town, as many visitors from out of town stayed there and it was well advertised. Now that we have gotten the rundown on the hotel, let us go back.
It is the very early morning of Tuesday, May 4, 1915. Many of the Exchange Hotel’s guests are sound asleep in their beds. The town of Farmington is peacefully silent and tranquil. Suddenly, a horrific commotion starts. A guinea hen, which had escaped from its pen adjacent to a nearby house, begins bellowing horrible raucous calls (for readers who are not familiar, guinea hens are extremely noisy birds). This goes on for quite a long time, and most of the guests of the hotel are rudely awakened. Not only the guests, but many people living on Main Street in the vicinity of the hotel are awakened as well. Soon, angry, tired people gather to put an end to this foolishness.
A mob is organized by Schuyler Austin and Bill McGuire, consisting of residents of the area and guests of the hotel. The group spots the bird and chases it down Main Street to the Metcalf Auto Company Motor Mart building (today, this is the building that houses Dunkin Donuts). The bird then manages to get itself onto the edge of the roof of the building, continuing to bellow almost mocking calls to the group of angry people. One of the members of the crowd, Archie B. Carr, decides to quickly end the disturbance. He pulls out his Winchester repeating shotgun, takes aim, and blasts the bird to smithereens. The bird does not fall off the edge, but it is sent back onto the roof of the building. Carr scales the building and retrieves the carcass, which turns out was one of his birds. With a sigh of relief and maybe some fanfare, the residents and guests return to their beds for a much-needed rest.
The Exchange Hotel continued being the major hotel in Farmington for many years after the guinea hen incident. The building itself was expanded sometime between 1922 and 1933, and it continued operating until the 1950s. At that time, the beautiful old landmark met the wrecking ball, and a grocery store was erected in its place. Today, the building which once housed the store is the loan office of Franklin Savings Bank. Also, I do not believe that any Farmingtonian will ever witness a man blasting a bird with a shotgun in the middle of the village district in the near or even far future (Story sourced from the Franklin Journal).
Layne Nason is a Farmington historian, specializing in the history of the Abbott School for Boys and Farmington during the era of the Great War.