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Name of memorial park a mystery
WHAT'S IN A NAME? — Few sources can even agree on the spelling of, much less the reason behind, the name of Witherell Park on Main Street, Norway. Some digging through the records, however, reveals that a wealthy family of Witherells instrumental in bringing the shoe-making industry to Norway is its most likely namesake.
NORWAY — A park in Norway that houses a Civil War Memorial has a rather mysterious name.
Various articles and reports contain different versions of the name for the patch of grass at the corner of Main and Lynn Streets, between Norway Savings Bank and Cumberland Farms. It is either Wetherall Park, Wetherell Park, or Witherall Park, depending on which report one finds to be most reliable, though all agree that the monument was constructed in 1924.
The source of the name is even less certain than the spelling. No Wetherells, Wetheralls, or Witheralls from Norway or the surrounding towns served in the Civil War, nor is there any record of any being born or dying here.
Combing through the records on Friday, however, Charles Longley, curator for the Norway Historical Society was able to turn up a possible explanation.
A speech delivered by Municipal Judge Charles F. Whitman at Norway's Centennial celebration, and included on page 434 in David Noyes' History of Norway, speaks highly of a family by the name of Witherell, crediting him or her with revitalizing the town in a time of need.
"For twenty-five years more Norway stood still, apparently having reached the limit of its growth, when Spinney and Witherell, and Bartlett and Chase came, and with the Hornes and Cummings poured a golden stream of wealth into our midst," reads Whitman's speech.
Spinney, who was mentioned along with Witherell, was the first operator of the shoe factory on Lynn Street, said Longley. It opened in 1873.
Longley also located in Noyes' History a mention of Ivers and John Witherell in the reports from an 1880 town meeting, which describes changes to the town's citizenry over the course of the year as a result of changing ownership at the shoe factory on Lynn Street. It pointed to a set of Witherells: Ivers and John.
"Changes in the ownership and management of the shoe factory in November of this year resulted in the loss of several good citizens who removed from town. Among others were Ivers L. Witherell, John H. Witherell, Charles H. Chase, and E.A. Watson," reads the report.
The combination of being mentioned alongside Spinney and then alongside the shoe mill suggested to Longley that Witherell was a partner of Spinney, and once a part owner of the mill on Lynn Street, next to where the park stands.
His suspicions were confirmed in an article in the Norway Advertiser published on November 16, 1880.
"Mr. Ivers L. Witherell, who has been with Mr. Spinney for 15 years, has retired from the firm," reads the article. "Mr. Witherell has been a regular and welcome visitor in the town, and for about three years was a resident, erecting a fine and costly residence and otherwise improving the appearance of our village in many ways."
His brother too, it seems, was a popular member of the community, albeit for a short time.
"Mr. John H. Witherell who has been the popular superintendent of the factory since it has been in operation will leave very many friends behind."
Whether the park was named after these particular Witherells is never specifically discussed. They were only briefly residents, arriving with Spinney to open the shoe mill in 1873 and departing in 1880, 44 years before the erection of the Civil War monument.
Further, if it is named for them, it is not clear whether it is so because they donated the land or were simply popular enough to merit a namesake. Maps of the town from the period, preserved at the historical society, show that when the Witherells left in 1880, the land where the park is now located was simply empty land. By 1895, though, it had come into the town's ownership.
It seems clear that the Witherells were well-regarded in their short time in Norway, and they appear to be the only people with that name or anything like it who have resided here. That the park is named for them seems clear, but why it is so is not quite as evident. If any amateur historians out there have evidence that fills the gap, the Norway Historical Society would appreciate hearing their input.