John Whorff and Sons Ax Factory
Madison, Maine


This article was taken from a newspaper clipping, but the name of the newspaper and the author and date are unknown - the date was probably about 1945.


Although it has been many years since the Whorff Meeting House was in existence between Madison and Skowhegan, it is still sometimes mentioned by the older people and thus kept alive for posterity.  Not so much is told of the Whorff Tavern and the Whorff Axe Factory, all of which were in a strictly rural locality.  The Meeting House was probably built about 1830 according to the late Sumner C. Ward, long the local baggage master at the Maine Central Railroad Station.  He gave much information on the Church and locality many years ago.  A Church and a Hotel were both fairly often to be found in rather remote locations throughout the countryside, but the axe factory was more unusual.  Not often were the Church and the Tavern in so close proximity, and we have yet to learn of two such institutions being named for the same man.

Mr. Ward's uncle. Moody Ward, was master carpenter on the Church and his father worked for him, both living at that time on what is known as Ward's Hill in Madison, about one mile south of where the Meeting House was built.  Sumner Lawton of Norridgewock, who later became a physician and practiced in Bangor, worked with them.  J. P. Ward one of the builders, died in 1845 at the age of 35 and he was 20 years old when the Church was built.  From this is reckoned the date of its erection of about 1830.  Mr. Ward recalled the structure as being some 50x75 feet in dimensions, 20 foot poster with a belfry and spire bearing a large weathervane of bronze, making on the whole, an imposing structure for a rural sanctuary.  The entrance was on the west and there were two doors of admission, both opening into a large hall, that extended across the building.  From this there were stairs that led to the gallery where the singers were stationed.  Among those who made up the choir were Barnet Whorff, Warren Bacon, Owen Withee, Ansel Withee, Milton Adams, Mrs. Withee, Mrs. Bacon, Miss Dennis and Miss Wellington.  It is to be expected that there are now living in Somerset County many descendants of these choir members and it would be of particular interest to
receive communications from them, especially with regard to any information they might have of these ancestors or others, who were heard and not mentioned as members of the choir.

When these people were singing, the Whorff Meeting House boasted no musical instrument---and their guide was the tuning fork of their leader used to acquire the right pitch.  The pulpit was quite an elaborate affair being covered inside with red velvet.  The minister was obliged to climb three flights of stairs to reach his desk.  Then he was in a position to look down onto his congregation.  Mr. Ward informed us that among the ministers he could recall as pastoring this Church were John Hutchins, Joseph Withee, Hoses Washburn, Thomas Mitchell, James Longley, John Dennis, Mr. Morse and Mark Merrill.  Mr. Ward explained that preachers in those days were not looking for large salaries, but were content to preach and do good for what their parishioners saw fit to donate.  Sometimes it would be a quarter of beef or a quarter of mutton, hams or spareribs, and vegetables and occasionally a bag of wheat, corn or oats, as at that time farmers raised all such commodities.

Evidently foot-stoves were outmoded in the days of the Whorff Meeting House, for wood stoves were reported as furnishing heat.  These were located near the pulpit with a funnel running back the whole length of the auditorium distributing heat along the way to the chimney vent which was at the opposite end of the building.  On a cold day, however, it was said those near the stoves would be roasting hot and others freezing cold at the opposite end of the room.  For evening services tallow candles were used for lighting.  The candles were stuck in a block of wood into which a hole had been bored.  The backs of the pews were made of a single pine board at least 30 inches wide.  Each pew had a paneled door.  The Church was long ago razed; at least 40 or more years ago.  (probably about 1905.)  Its timbers went into a dwelling house in Madison village.

There was considerable activity in the Whorff Corner area.  John Whorff appears to have given the Meeting House its name since he operated a Tavern across the road from the temple of worship.  He accommodated the teaming that was then carried on between the down river communities of Waterville and Augusta and the towns further up the Kennebec.  It was said to have been a paying business for the landlord, as nearly all his patrons drank good old New England rum of which he always had a good stock on hand.  That Mr. Whorff was a man of enterprise was indicated from the fact that he also had a shop where he manufactured axes.  These were made entirely by hand and were rated as tools of the highest grade at the time.  His son, Barnet, was later located in Skowhegan.  Barnet bought the machine shop of Gould, Cleveland and Bacon in Skowhegan in 1861 and was in partnership with S. F. Cleveland in the axe making business.  This was on Mill Street on the banks of the Kennebec  River.  The reputation of the Whorff axes became well established not alone in this area for in 1869, there were 4,000 axes sold to purchasers in Wisconsin.  Barnet Whorff was first selectman of Skowhegan in 1879.

John Whorff was born in Rowley, Mass. in 1784.  He was apprenticed to a blacksmith in New Hampshire, but apparently changed his mind about his future occupation because he came to Maine in young manhood to learn to make axes.  He followed this trade in Bath and Norridgewock before he went into the Hotel business already referred to in Madison.

He followed the trade for 68 years and it is said after his 88th birthday he made and tempered an axe for a Wisconsin customer who had formerly lived in Skowhegan.  Albert Whorff, who will be remembered by many Skowhegan people, as a resident of that town, was a grandson of John Whorff.

According to the Sesquicentennial History of Caratunk by Donna McAllister (pub. 1990) the Caratunk Congregational Church was built in 1888 and "the furniture and the pulpit came from the Whorff Meeting House in Madison which was being razed at the time".

Whorff Corner is the intersection of Route 148 (White School House Road) County Road and Ward Hill Road.

For more information see the Registry of Maine Toolmakers listing for the Whorffs.