Saturday, December 26, 2015

William Lee Clarke (Town Clerk of Westbrook Maine)


William Lee "Bill" Clarke (1919-1996) was Town Clerk of Westbrook for a record 38 years.  I recall when growing up there that he often ran unopposed, and I myself voted for him when I came of age to do so. I had often wondered if he might bear any relation to my extensive Clarke family of Maine, and Connecticut before that, which had originated in America at the Jamestowne Settlement in the early 1600s with the arrival of John Clarke.  I was surprised and delighted to discover in 2015, upon researching the matter, that an ancestor of Bill's had come from Connecticut, so there may be a distant connection (more on this below), but nothing definitive can be found as yet.

Bill Clarke was born in 1919 in Westbrook, and for the first few months of his life the family lived on 111 Mechanic Street, corner of West Valentine, just eight years after the migration of his father, Lee Elbert Clarke, from New Canaan, Canada in 1911.  Lee lived on Manners Avenue in Portland upon his naturalization in 1914.  He married Casco-born Millie Dawn Scribner in July of 1916, and bought the house on Mechanic Street shortly thereafter.  Lee worked as a bookkeeper at Parker & Thomas Company in Portland, and had lost his arm, and was thus exempt from the draft during WWI in 1917. I learned from a grandson of Lee's that this was due to a hunting accident in Canada in 1909 when Lee was 20 years old.  It isn't known if the gun fell over or what happened, but his injury was sustained to the left arm, back of the wrist, and therefore his arm was amputated just below the elbow.


The Clarke farm house on Spring Street was originally built in 1910 for William B. Bragdon, who later became mayor of Westbrook. Bragdon lived there for about a decade, and was known for having given a public speech from the front porch around 1919, the year he was elected Mayor (one year term).  Not long after the election, in April 1920, Bragdon sold the house to Lee Clarke and William Scribner (Lee's father-in-law), when Bill Clarke was about 7 months old.  Lee maintained his bookkeeping practice, while his son Bill eventually ran a dairy farm there called Blue Spruce, and he used to deliver the milk door to door.  Blue Spruce continued in the family until the late 1980s, and Bill would also eventually sell his milk to Oakhurst Dairy in Portland.

From 1943 to 1949, Bill worked on Westbrook City Council, and at the end of this run he married Jackie Rochelau, whose father was a WWI veteran, and business owner, born to French Canadian immigrants.

In 1956, Bill Clarke ran for Town Clerk, a post he succeeded to and kept for 38 years, elected for 19 consecutive two year terms, until 1994.  In addition to working tirelessly to help many people obtain their fishing and hunting licenses, he was the officiator of many thousands of marriages of Westbrook's citizens, including my own mother's second marriage in 1980.  Clarke made a comment to mom about their shared name, and they joked together about the possibility of a relation.

Bill officially gained ownership of the house and farm in August 1977, when his elderly mother and two siblings deeded the land to him and Jackie.

Bill Clarke passed in 1996, and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the family plot with his parents and siblings.  He is fondly remembered by many in Westbrook for his kind nature and encyclopedic mind. A couple years before his passing, Wayside Drive in Westbrook was renamed "William L Clarke Drive".


Paternal Ancestry of Bill Clarke

Bill was born to bookkeeper Lee Clarke, an immigrant to Maine originally from New Canaan, New Brunswick, Canada.  Lee's father, Gesner Abner Clark, grandfather Charles Clark, and great grandfather Nehemiah Clark, were all born in New Brunswick as well.

Bill's father Lee is shown in this family photo, he's second from the right, amongst his brothers.  In the second row is seated Gesner and his wife Melissa.  (Courtesy of Haddon Clarke family)

Nehemiah's father, Elias Clark, was from Hartford Connecticut, and appears to have migrated to New Brunswick, Canada in 1779, just after the Revolution.  This could one day bring me to a Connecticut connection between my family and his.  One thing I've learned, is that Elias' father was named Joseph Clark, but he is not to be confused with a Joseph Clark III of Middletown.  This Joseph was indeed an indirect ancestor of mine, and records and DNA testing have proven to me that Elias is not the son of this Joseph.  However, it's possible that this Joseph of Hartford (born abt 1730) may also be a relation, yet likely more distant.

The Future of the Clarke Farmhouse

Mr. Clarke's farm and house lot was sold to Risbara Construction in January of 2014.  There are currently discussions of converting the property into a mixed use development (and there are mixed reactions to this among the City's residents).



Westbrook Historical Society

U.S. Federal Census Records

Census of Canada

Maine Birth Records

Maine Death Records

Ancestry Family Trees

U.S. Social Security Death Index

U.S. Naturalization Records

Cumberland County Registry of Deeds

Portland Press Herald

American Journal

Google Earth


  1. Wonderful write-up Scott ! So proud of you son,and your never ending drive to learn all there is to learn of our ancestors! It's all so very important.
    Good digging !!!

  2. A great account of the Clark(e) ancestry. I am a great grandson of Gesner A. Clark(e), lee Clarke's father. I was born in New Canaan, New Brunswick, Canada, and lived there for the first 49 years of my life. I have family still living in New Canaan. I have always wondered where Elias Clarke, the first Clark to come to New Canaan, might have come from before showing up in Nova Scotia where he married Mary Tinker and later came to New Brunswick.

    Gerald G Clarke (a first cousin, once removed, of Bill Clarke)

    1. Hi Gerald, Elias' immigration paperwork to Canada is dated 1779. It's not clear why he moved, but perhaps there was a connection to post-Revolution sentiment?

    2. I don't know of his reasons either but am pleased to know of his ancestry; details that you have provided. Have you ever visited New Canaan, New Brunswick, Canada?

  3. I emailed you a photo of Gesner and his family. Great research you've done so far!