A Hall & A Man: Abner Coburn (Part I) – His Early Life

It was only by chance that I chose to feature Coburn Hall in this post, although I am sure I would have got to it eventually anyway.  When I started doing my research I came to realize that there are numerous halls that share the name Coburn.  Much to my surprise many of these halls are, in fact, namesaked for the same man, Abner Coburn, who was, among many other things, the 30th Governor of the State of Maine.  As I began to look into Mr. Coburn’s history I came to realize the full extent of his contributions, not just to the university, but the state and even the country.  In light of this I have chosen to present this post in 3 parts and rename it, focusing first on the man that was Abner Coburn.

Abner was born March 22, 1803 in what is now Skowhegan to Eleazar and Mary Weston Coburn.  He was the second oldest of nine brothers and five sisters.  His parents were both from very well respected families within the New England states.  His father grew up in what is now Dracut, Massachusetts until age 15 when his family moved to the Skowhegan area in 1792.  Numerous times between 1811 and 1830, Eleazar served in the Massachusetts and Maine legislatures.  Abner’s mother grew up in the Skowhegan area, her grand-father being among the first settlers of Somerset County.  From them he inherited their sound judgment, self-reliance, generally good character.

Abner learned the value of hard work and frugalness at an early age.  As soon as a member of the Coburn family was able, it was expected that they would earn their keep through manual labor.  As soon as age permitted, Abner began laboring on the family farm.  However the endless physical work did not prevent Abner from pursuing scholastic studies and he later attended Bloomfield Academy for several terms.

Abner’s industrious nature showed itself at an early age.  When just fourteen years old he helped drive a herd of cattle from Skowhegan to the Brighton Cattle Market outside of Boston (about 200 miles) with his father.  Demand for cattle was light at the time and not all of the herd was sold.  Rather than taking a loss on the remaining cattle, they drove the remaining herd a few miles into the country where they rented a pasture.  Abner had taken a pair of steers and drove them together in a yoke.  A farmer took notice of the “trained” steers for farm work and offered a good price for the pair.  The next day, Abner took another pair and “trained” them similarly.  Another farmer showed up to purchase this pair of steers.  Over the next two weeks, Abner repeated this process until all of the remaining steers were sold, all at a good price.  This shrewdness was only the beginning of the line for Abner Coburn.

Abner spent much of his teenage years assisting his father who was a well-established land surveyor.  As he grew into his twenty’s he became an expert surveyor himself.  In 1830, Abner, his father and brother, Philander, began a lumbering operation on the Kennebec River.  Over a half century and following the passing of their father, Abner and his brother cultivated one of the most successful and well-respected businesses in the state.

Come back Friday for Part II of the series to learn how Abner Coburn came to be one of the most successful businessmen of his time.

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