Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cap'n Will's 6,000 Pieces of Inheritance

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cap'n Will's 6,000 Pieces of Inheritance

Article excerpt

SOMETHING made me think the other day of Cap'n Will Harding, and I guess it was the hoewood table. Cap'n Will was the last of the fabulous Harding family that kept an estate at Harding's Station on the Maine Central Railroad. Having your own railroad station was appropriate because the Hardings frequently had folks come from Boston and New York and Philadelphia by steamcar - the Harding stables could put 25 such guests on horseback for canters along the scenic New Meadows River.

The Harding fortune had originated early by what we can politely call commerce and seafaring. In the Harding kitchen was an oil painting of a pink-cheeked gentleman in velvet, brocade, and lace. His expression suggested satisfaction with himself. When visitors inquired about this portrait, Cap'n Will would say, "Yes, an ancestor. The one who signed the Declaration."

This was true. Then, after this had sunk in, Cap'n Will would add, "A pirate, you know." This, also, was true.

Cap'n Will himself had retired from active affairs shortly after the war, and just before the Florida land bust. He said he was the only member of his real estate firm that didn't jump out a window, and I guess that, too, was true. He was a gentle sort, and Mrs. Harding, Lillian, was a gracious lady. Back in the 1930s we visited them often in the great Harding mansion, and one time Will gave us the hoewood table.

There had been a maiden aunt in the Harding family, and although Cap'n Will didn't remember her - perhaps he never saw her - she lingered in memory vividly. She was certainly of a buccaneer tendency for a woman in her time, and had left Maine early in her life to become clerk at a Wells Fargo Express office in San Francisco.

In 1852, when Commodore Perry had opened Japan to Western trade, Aunt Helen had gone to Yokohama as a Wells Fargo agent, and for years had a finger upon just about every cargo headed for California. Cap'n Will Harding never told me if Aunt Helen returned to America, but she became a wealthy woman by her astute trading.

Every now and then, as she handled goods as a broker and an agent, she would see a chance to do a little something for herself on the side. …

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