By Sara Ericsson
Clara Spinney and Sharon Lake share more than a childhood in Black River: they both share relation to the late Carrie Grover.
Carrie Grover was born Carrie Spinney in 1879 and raised in Black River, where she lived until the age of 12. Her mother and father were both very musical, and taught their children folk songs that were passed down from their ancestors in England and Scotland.
According to Spinney and Lake, Grover’s life was full of music. Her parents asked her to memorize the music, and its lyrics, as a way to preserve it. According to Lake, “these songs were the key to remembering their family history.”
It was Grover’s mother. Eliza Spinney, who encouraged her to record the songs to preserve the history.
Her mother’s encouragement resulted in the creation of two separate works: a manuscript, detailing experience in Black River, and A Heritage of Songs: a songbook containing her parents’ songs and entries that detail what each song meant to her.
Historical and musical interests converged when Julie Mainstone, a first grade teacher from Seattle, stumbled across Grover’s songbook by chance. With aid provided by winning a Helen Creighton Award, Mainstone traveled to Black River and met with Lake, Spinney and Gladys Long.
After a surprise dinner was arranged with 12 other Spinney family members, Mainstone received information about the beginning of Grover’s life in Black River, while in turn providing genealogical information about Grover’s family after her move to Maine.
Grover’s work is significant. Her collection has preserved musical as well as social history, with references to such events as the American Civil War and its effects on Canada, which prompted the Spinney family’s move to Maine.
The songbook also contains the tunes her father learned while working as a sailor. Among these are the songs he learned from the black sailors, which were called “darkie songs.” Grover’s songbook is the only existing written record of these pieces.
The historical yet personal nature of Grover’s songs is what originally allured Mainstone, who is also a folk singer, to the songbook.
“Here was the real, living history of a family and their music that spanned generations.”
As members of the same community in which Grover grew up, Spinney and Lake are most touched by the contents of her manuscript, which discusses many places in the Black River community that still exist.
When reading the documents, Spinney can actually pinpoint exact areas where she and Grover both played, albeit separated by generations.
“It really touches me that someone back then appreciated the same things I appreciate today.
Grover’s work connects past and the present. While Mainstone was in Maine doing more research on Grover, she accidentally encountered her living relatives while searching for gravesites. Ina, who was 94, was the daughter of Grover’s brother, Eli.
Although she exchanged information with Ina during her visit, Mainstone felt that she had yet to unearth Grover’s full character.
“I didn’t feel like I’d found the person, who Carrie was.”
Lake and Spinney offered their help, showing Mainstone the numerous letters of Grover’s lifetime correspondence with her cousin, Bessie.
Inspired by the many unexpected turns throughout her travels. Mainstone is in the process of republishing Grover’s book A Heritage of Songs,with an additional biography she is writing.
“I’m just not done,” says Mainstone of her research. “People want to be told and the book wants to be read.”