Sitting on a small hill in York, Maine is a gambrel-roofed wood and stone building of consequence. With the original construction beginning 300 years ago this year, it’s been a unique witness to history. This is a building with stories to tell.
Gaol means jail, and that’s what this building was for the Province of Maine, a part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which of course eventually became the State of Maine. Situated as it is in York, 27 years after the Candelmas Massacre hit this town hard, the jail was used to hold prisoners from Pisataqua River to the south to the St. John River to the North. It is thought to be the earliest surviving British colonial structure in North America. By comparison, Fort Western in Augusta, Maine wasn’t built until 1754.
This old Gaol has witnessed the French & Indian War, the Revolutionary War, recruitment for the Civil War and countless changes to the landscape around it. It’s a fascinating little bit of history perched on a hill in York. I’ve driven by it many times over the years, so it’s witnessed me grow from a know-it-all teenager to a harried soccer parent to an empty-nester history buff. It was about time I started paying attention as well.