Edward B. Clemmens

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Sketch of Ned Clemens.

Edward B. Clemmens, better known as Ned Clemens or Ned Clemmens, was an early resident of the Old Orchard area, whose fame stemmed from his many business ventures and predictions that the area would receive national renown.

He was known as The Hermit of Old Orchard.

He also published one of the first newspapers in the town, known as the Goose Fare Guide and Old Orchard Bellows.[1]


Biography

Early Life

He was born in Philadelphia in 1810.[1]

Death

He died on 6/28/1865 and was buried two days later.[1]

Excerpts from Historical Sketches Of Old Orchard And The Shores Of Saco Bay Biddeford Pool, Old Orchard Beach, Pine Point, Prout's Neck

The following passages are from John Staples Locke's Historical Sketches Of Old Orchard And The Shores Of Saco Bay Biddeford Pool, Old Orchard Beach, Pine Point, Prout's Neck.[1]

In the early summer of 1845 a stranger made his appearance at the Thornton House, then a leading hotel in Saco. In a small town or village the arrival of a stranger is always an event to excite the curious and arouse gossip. The stranger was reticent in regard to his own history, but in general conversation was a fellow of infinite jest and most excellent fancies." His genial deportment soon won him many friends, and so peculiar were his features and manners that those who once saw him never forgot him. In music he was accomplished, and often beguiled his unemployed hours with the melodious strains of the flute. From his apt quotations he exhibited a knowledge of the dramatic poets and classic authors, and his acquaintance with American scenery and cities showed that he had acquired much knowledge from careful observation in extensive travel. His versatility of talent told that he was a genius of peculiar originality. Superior merit is often unappreciated, and pearls are trampled under foot by those who know not their value. Thus the stranger's talent had been unrewarded, and poverty was the only return for his genius. In his destitute condition he sought assistance from the proprietor of the hotel, who aided him in introducing a new institution for Saco. Up to this time bathing had been but a private luxury — the river or the ocean affording the only public bath. But the first bathing-houses were by him established under the Thornton House, which he conducted with but limited patronage till the house was burnt in 1851. For a time this darkened his prospects, but like the fabled phoenix he soon arose from his ashes and alighted with his bathing-tubs in the basement of the Cataract Block. To his bathing enterprise he here added " victualling and oysters," and his place became the resort for those who sought palatable refreshments — turtle-soup being a specialty, in the preparation of which he exhibited a marvellous talent. It is told that a massive turtle was exhibited on the street for several days, labelled "Turtle Soup, Friday evening." Epicures passing read the inviting notice, and daily sharpened their appetites with pleasant anticipations. At length the longed for evening came, and a large company assembled, sipped their soup, and satisfied their eager appetites, many were the compliments and commendations which these epicures heaped upon their host, all bearing testimony to the "superiority of his turtle-soup."

The next morning came, and in the same spot stood the tortoise. The epicures " waxed desperate with imagination." They had surely feasted on turtle-soup, yet no other turtle had been in town. Like the ghost in Hamlet, " it lifted up its head and addressed itself to motion," "like as it would some impartment make ;" but it " dared not tell the secrets of its prison house; " yet the secrets all leaked put from the wag who had stolen him the night before to prevent the soup being served.

Invention, which always comes to the relief of necessity, aided our host in his extremity, and rather than disappoint his patrons, he served soup from something else, and his guests went away satisfied. But neither cook-books nor history have recorded the composition of that soup. Bathing-rooms and restaurants were not enough to satisfy our versatile genius, and he collected a natural-history museum, which he added to the attractions of his place ; in the construction of shell ornaments he exhibited superior taste.

By the death of a brother in a distant State, who was an artist of distinction, he inherited a panoramic painting of the river Rhine. This to a person of his taste was an acceptable inheritance, and into the exhibition business he at once entered, and gave entertainments in Biddeford, Saco, and suburban towns.

His love of nature, and love of romance, led him to Old Orchard, and upon the sandy beach where the ocean hangs its veiling mists, in the fragrant whispering pines near the present Seashore House, he erected a small structure which he rudely furnished, and ornamented with natural-history specimens. This was called the "Old Orchard Retreat." Here lie dwelt alone ; was proprietor, manager, and servant, and with a simple bill of fare, principally chowder, he entertained his patrons. One hungry party tells of a well-relished dinner there, each course of which consisted of potatoes and salt. Picnics and pleasure parties sought this retreat, and for several summers it was the only place of entertainment near the ocean. He supplied bathing suits for his patrons, but his limited capital compelled him to make them of the cheapest material, and his suits were sometimes too thin to endure the fury of the waves. His dinners were said to be palatable, though his scanty supply of culinary utensils forced him to cook everything in the same dish. Notwithstanding the destitute furnishings of the "Old Orchard Retreat," or "Astor House" as he sometimes termed it, yet it was popularly known to all beach visitors, and was the first structure on the shore. Here he engaged in literary labor, and issued a newspaper called the Goose Fare Guide and Old Orchard Bellows. Not a copy is now known to exist, but it is acknowledged to be the first Guide " to these shores, and the " Bellows " which first blew for Old Orchard. Its proprietor, with prophetic inspiration, told what would surely come. That Old Orchard would be the illustrious " place of New England ; that railroads would traverse its shores ; lightning communications would open it to the whole world, and every summer pleasure-seekers would flock to its shores like doves to their windows. But these prophecies were unheeded, and those whom he exhorted to invest capital here only laughed at his chimerical ideas. Those who are in advance of their age are always the objects of ridicule, and it falls to subsequent time to record the truth of their prophecies. Thus with him : almost a city has arisen around where his rude structure stood. Crowds come and go ; the gay laugh and the solemn brood of care plods on," each chasing his favorite phantom. But the lone settler, the hermit, the prophet, lived not to see his bright dreams fulfilled.

Ill his last days, to confiding friends he told the story of his life. He was born in Philadelphia, 1810 ; was there educated for a dramatic life, and for several years acted in that profession. In the early days of Ethiopian minstrelsy he bore many distinguished parts, and was with Barnum in the organization of his popular exhibition. An early disappointment in his matrimonial prospects caused him to leave his native State and seek an abode among strangers. To Philadelphia he never returned. None of his kindred were near to soothe his last moments, yet he found kind friends to minister to his necessities and close his eyes to earthly scenes. He died June 28, 1865 ; and on June 30, as the afternoon sun shed its slanting rays and lengthened the solemn shadows of the drooping elms, in Saco's silent cemetery a few friends laid in its last resting-place all that was mortal of Edward B. Clemmens.

Excerpts from A Gazetteer of the State of Maine: Old Orchard

The following passages are from George J. Varney's A Gazetteer of the State of Maine: Old Orchard, from 1881. [2]

No summer resort can be complete without a picturesque character in its history ; and this want is supplied to Old Orchard by its pioneer caterer, Ned Clemens— half hermit, half epicure.

The first knowledge of him in this region was his arrival at a hotel in Saco, where his genial deportment soon won him many friends. By his apt quotations, he exhibited a knowledge of the dramatic poets and classic authors ; and his acquaintance with American scenery showed that he had acquired much knowledge from travel. In music he was accomplished, and often beguiled his leisure with his flute.

He was reticent in regard to his previous life, but in later years it became known that he was a native of Philadelphia, where he was educated for a dramatic life; and several years acted in that profession. He was with Barnum in the first organization of his popular exhibition.

Evidently he was not successful in this line; and having met with disaster in a matrimonial project, he had wandered to Saco to start afresh in a new place. Looking about for a means of livelihood, he opened some bathing-rooms under the Thornton House. After awhile this house was burned down, and poor Ned had to make a new shift; and he next alighted with his bathing-tubs in the basement of Cataract Block. Then to his bathing he added victualling. By the death of an artist brother in a distant State, he became the possessor of a panorama of the River Rhine, with which he travelled for awhile.

His tastes—and poverty—at length led him to Old Orchard Beach, where among the whispering pines which then stood near the site of the present Sea Shore House, he erected a small building which he furnished, ornamenting it with natural history specimens. This received the name of "Old Orchard Retreat," where he dwelt alone, and entertained such patrons as came with chowders and other simple fare. He also supplied bathing-suits to his patrons.

Here, too, he issued a small newspaper called the Goose Fare Guide and Old Orchard Bellows. It is acknowledged to be the first "Guide" to these shores, and the "Bellows" which first blew abroad the praises of Old Orchard.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Locke, John Staples. Historical sketches of Old Orchard and the shores of Saco Bay : Biddeford Pool, Old Orchard Beach, Pine Point, Prout's Neck. C.H. Woodman. Boston. 1884.
  2. Varney, George J. A Gazetteer of the State of Maine. Boston: B.B. Russell, 1881. Pages 407-409.