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Sweden celebrates split from Lovell
VIEW FROM THE PAST — Looking west on Holden Hill Road, now Route 93, in central Sweden near the current location of the fire house.
SWEDEN — Almost exactly 200 years ago, residents from the town of Lovell set off on their own and founded neighboring Sweden.
In recognition of the town's bicentennial, the Sweden Historical Society is planning events throughout the year, starting with a community supper this Saturday, February 23, featuring early 19th century Maine fare.
The separation from Lovell was probably amicable, according to Richard Lyman, founding president of the town's historical society.
More colorful explanations, like alcohol abuse and Lovell's "tyranny" have formed community lore in the centuries since the split, but Lyman remains unconvinced of their accuracy.
The split was part of natural growth as the communities acquired water-power sources, populations increased, schools were built and ministers arrived, hypothesizes Lyman, a former professor of history at Simmons College and Brandeis University in an unpublished essay "Sweden Separates from Lovell: A Case Study in Changing Human Geography."
An expected split?
Lovell was incorporated as a town in 1800 out of a tract called New Suncook Plantation. By 1813, however, developments encouraged settlers in eastern Lovell to set off on their own.
The split, Lyman argues, may have been a foregone conclusion.
" ... the central reality is that these settlements expected to divide, and probably welcomed such a separation," Lyman recounts.
Other New England towns went through similar separations, Lyman says, including three local communities created from a tract owned by Harrison Gray Otis, a prominent 19th century Bostonian.
As Lovell grew, Lyman argues, its center shifted southward to a better town mill site in present-day Lovell village, at the intersection of Routes 5 and 93.
For residents of what would soon become Sweden, however, the new mill was inconvenient.
The old mill in Center Lovell was accessible to Sweden's settlers through a network of roads, but the new mill lay on the other side of an expanse of sandy, infertile land called “Sweden Plains," which sat unused until the 20th century, Lyman recounts.
The poor soil of Sweden Plains was useless for farming and frustrated road-building, Lyman says – it essentially formed the new town's western boundary.
Around the same time, Sweden residents began to access a new mill at the north end of Keyes Pond, in the opposite direction from the Lovell Village mill.
To put time and energy into constructing a road through uninhabited land to connect with Lovell, therefore, made little sense, Lyman argues.
A copy of an 1880 Sweden town map, for example, clearly shows settlement remained concentrated in central Sweden and extended mainly south, north and west, with few properties marked on the roads leading east to Lovell village.
“You only built a road where is was really necessary,” Lyman writes. “So the early farmers and millers settled in places that were logical to them, and built their roads to connect themselves to each other.”
Only in the decade following the split, were roads surveyed and built across the Plains, Lyman notes.
In contrast, the soil in Sweden Plains now offers home building opportunities, indicating how “geography changes as the human use of the landscape changes,” Lyman says.
Lyman concedes there are juicier, but less powerful explanations for the split.
Social conflict is often the most tempting explanation for type of separation, Lyman says, but there is little evidence to suggest the Sweden-Lovell split was prompted by religious difference, interpersonal feuds, competing livelihoods (“farmers vs. mill people”), governmental disagreements, or alcohol abuse.
That doesn't mean some of those explanations haven't dribbled into local lore about the division.
For example, Lyman recounts he has it “'on reliable authority'” that Sweden people were alienated because “'they drank in Lovell'” and vice-versa.
Another common explanation is Sweden separated to escape Lovell's “tyranny,” Lyman says.
It has been suggested that naming the town “Sweden” for example, was to honor Sweden, the country, then engaged in a struggle with Napoleon Bonaparte – the analogy, Lyman says, was Sweden's supposed struggle with Lovell tyranny.
“Likelier explanation in the naming area, if less dramatic, is that 'Norway' and 'Denmark' had been taken, leaving 'Sweden,' to satisfy the regional hobby in western Maine of using European place names,” Lyman says.
Although lacking in drama, natural town growth and geographic constraints probably made governmental, economic and social connections between people in Sweden more feasible than with neighboring Lovell, Lyman concludes.
“This ... development would have seemed natural to the settlers, nothing to be feared or dreaded or explained away,” he writes.
The Bicentennial Supper will be held Saturday, February 23 at 5 p.m. at the Sweden Town Meeting House. It costs $7 (children under 12 are free) and will feature baked beans, home-made sausages, root vegetable dishes, winter squash and corn bread; foods that 19th century settlers would have eaten.
BOOMING SETTLEMENT — This copy of a 1880 map of Sweden shows the town's growth after splitting from Lovell in 1813.
OLD-TIMEY — Two early residents take a load off in front of the town's old Post Office, at Webber's Corner in Sweden. The building sits at today's corner of Route 93 and Tapawingo Road.
LAKE VIEWS — A view of Holden Place, looking across Holden Hill Road (modern-day Route 93) to Keye's Pond in Sweden.
ORIGINAL CHURCH — A modern-day view of Sweden's original Congregational church, built in 1817.
MEETING PLACE — The Sweden Town Meeting House, pictured here, was originally built by Col. Samuel Nevers, one of the first two settlers in the town. It was rebuilt in 1861 and again in the 1990s.
HOMESTEAD — An old Sweden homestead, probably dating back to the late 19th century. According to the Sweden historical society's website, little is known about this photo other than it was labled with the name "Hutchins."