Sanders Store to Northwoods Outfitters in continual operation for the past 163 years

David Tildon Sanders was born in Bath, Maine in 1836 and moved with his brothers to a farm in Sangerville. D.T. did not like farming, so asked his parents to allow him to apprentice with a man who owned a store in Greenville. That man turned out to be John H. Eveleth, an indefatigable pioneer of the Moosehead region, with a diverse interest in businesses. Mr. Eveleth gave the boy a job, $50 a year, and room and board.

He was only 14 years of age when he apprenticed with Eveleth, but he expected that after some years of learning the trade, he would become his partner. That offer was never made. Nearing the age of 21, another competitive businessman, Milton G. Shaw, offered the young man a partnership in his store, Shaw & Barton, which ran everything from the town waterworks to lumber camps. D.T. readily agreed. Shaw & Barton eventually split, with one-half the assets going to D.T. Sanders.

He worked seven days and nights a week. Over the years there were four generations of Sanders who operated what eventually became D.T. Sanders & Son. Descendants described him as a short, wiry man with an abundance of energy.

D.T. earned the reputation of being a smart businessman. During the 1880s, there was a financial panic and money was scarce. So in place of money, the logging companies used to issue scrip, which was a type of IOU with, for example, Great North Paper Company’s name on it. Another reason scrip was used was because that it held logging crews long enough to complete the drives and get logs down to the East Outlet and into the Kennebec River. The scrip had dates, which meant it could only be cashed in on a certain day — after the drives were completed.

When the loggers came off the boats, D.T. would meet the them and buy the scrip for so much on the dollar. Then, the loggers would off on a bender in town with the cash and D.T. would hold the scrip until its date, cash in on it, and make a bundle. It wasn’t illegal, but companies weren’t happy about it because they’d have a heck of a time getting their crews back to finish the drives. D.T. also supplied the loggers’ food and “wangan,” all the necessities of life, including blankets, clothes, and tobacco.

By the 1880s, the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad was being built. It stopped in Greenville Junction and tied into the Canadian-Pacific Railroad. At the time, there were many nationalities coming in to work on the railroad: Chinese, Irish, Poles, and Finns. One of D.T.’s great grandsons recalled in an interview that D.T. said Greenville was a rough and tumble place, with all these men ready for a fight. He said, “There’s three places in the whole United States which are the worst places to be. The White River Junction in Vermont; the Silver Dollar in Galveston, Texas; and the Push and Pull Saloon in Greenville Junction.” Harry Sanders III, the fourth generation to run Sanders Store, remembers his father saying that hardly a night went by over the near Push and Pull that somebody wasn’t killed — hit over the head for his poke by the locals — all kinds of brawls — and no law, where the Long Branch Bar in the Junction used to be.

Sanders & Son shipped loggers supplies of all type from his store, by horse drawn tote team in the winter and by boat in the summer. These helped create way stations in Lily Bay, Kokadjo, Twenty Mile, Grant Farm, and Chesuncook.

Sanders III recalled that at the turn of the last century, the Allagash River canoe trip began in East Cove, across from the store, employing many Indian guides who lived around Mt. Kineo and the Rockwood area, “These guides would often be hired by city slickers for a whole summer to show sports around.”

D.T. Sanders Store carried every imaginable item, from wood supplies to ties and business suits. The Sanders family outfitted visitors on the spot, from a canoe, the hire of a guide, mapping out a trip, putting them in the lake and picking them up in Fort Kent. The Sanders family outfitted many famous individuals, from Henry David Thoreau to Sir Harry Oakes and Chief Justice Douglas.

In 1981 Harry Sanders III sold the store to Melbourne Sanborn, who had been managing it, and to Roy F. Williams Jr., himself a retired store owner who had in recent years moved to Moosehead. It was still called Sanders Store.

In 1995, Mike Boutin purchased it, made it his own, painted the storefront green, and named it Northwoods Outfitters. For the last quarter of a century, he has been running it much the same way — an outfitting service, with a modern twist. Today, walk into the shop, and you’ll find the kind of gear you need to hike summer and, now, climb winter mountains, fish, camp, and wildlife watch. You can still hire a guide, get expert advice on mapping a trip, or rent snowmobiles. They also offer free Wi-Fi and a darned good cup of coffee and a sweet.

Excerpts of this article were from an interview of Harry Sanders III by William Pohl, Downeast Magazine, July 1980