OXFORD – According to the Annals of Oxford, the story of Marquis Fayette King over the city’s first 30 years, the death of city father Cyrus Shaw on January 12, 1833 was caused by “overwork”.
Considering he was 43 at the time of his death and his $ 40,000 estate would be worth nearly $ 1.2 million in 2021, King’s observation has merit.
Shaw’s remarkable life as a businessman and town leader will be the subject of a panel discussion at an Oxford Historical Society meeting on September 29. The meeting will be held at the Kay Museum House at 73 Pleasant Street. It starts at 6 p.m. and is open to the public. The panel discussion, “What do you think of Cyrus Shaw, one of Oxford’s first elected officials and his contributions to the unique history of Oxford” will start at 6.30pm.
Shaw, the son of Abner and Abigail Shaw, was born in Mansfield, Massachusetts on March 25, 1790. Two years later, his family moved to Paris. Around 1812 Shaw’s older brother Abner, a construction worker, built a small store in the Craigie’s Mill area, which is now the village area of Pleasant Street.
In 1816 Cyrus, also a housewife, moved to Craigie’s Mill where he established his own property and bought out his brother’s business.
Described as possessing wonderful vitality, energy and perseverance, Shaw used these traits to become one of the fathers of the city of Oxford and a dedicated accelerator of his industry.
Shaw has been noted as serving his community in several capacities: justice of the peace, postmaster, church deacon, coach, and other elected positions. He built what became known as Lake House and opened it as a hotel and trading post.
He donated the property on which the Baptist meeting house was built and opened on September 19, 1826, in the village. Still an entrepreneur, Shaw’s plan was to rent pews on an annual basis, using the proceeds to support the meeting house.
A vision of Shaw that was never realized was to develop a system of canals to connect the “Great Ponds of Cumberland and Oxford counties”. The meeting house was built using funds he won in a stock lottery run by Canal Bank, a chartered company in Portland and known by that name until the late 20th century when it merged with Key Bank.
Canal Bank’s initial capital was $ 300,000, with approximately $ 27,000 allocated to the lottery system. Shaw won a $ 5,000 prize after becoming an agent, which he used to fund the meeting house. His windfall of canal projects is a testament to his insight: As King notes in the Annals of Oxford, Cyrus Shaw was a thrifty man who would not normally trade his winnings for lottery tickets. However, he invested a large sum in this lottery, going so far as to buy back everything he had sold as an agent.
Speculation in building canals continued long after Shaw’s death in 1833, but the rise of railroads led to its demise. The Portland and Quebec Railway was established in 1834. In 1849, the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railway began operating via Oxford, thus eliminating the feasibility of a river transport mode of inland to the sea. It would not be a stretch to imagine that had he lived long enough, Shaw would also have been a driving force in the development of rail transport for Oxford.
The Oxford Historical Society’s September 29 meeting is the first to be held at the Kay House Museum since 2019, a consequence of the pandemic. Members of society as well as the public are invited to attend. Residents interested in helping to preserve the history and artifacts of the Oxford community are encouraged to inquire about two vacancies on the Oxford Historical Society Board of Trustees. Please call Patricia Larrivee, President of OHS, at 207-743-0569 for more information.
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