HISTORY and TIMES of THE KINGDOM
The Rome Sentinel
This page is here through the contribution of a reader who once lived in the Rome area, and whose grandfather nearly went to Shiloh. Mrs. Mabel Downing of Pittsburgh, PA. provided the newspaper clippings below. Her grandfather owned a truck-farm together with his father-in-law. When her grandfather expressed a desire to go to Maine and enroll in the Bible School, the father-in-law refused to buy out the grandfather's interest in the business. The grandfather's brother-in-law, however, without the father-in-law or the grandfather, went along with a contingent of others from the Rome area, as described below. Like most newspaper articles then and now, some of the details are inaccurate, namely the Kingdom was not the flagship of the Kingdom fleet nor did it sink off Yarmouth, Maine in 1910. The Kingdom was the largest ship in the fleet, and it did run aground off Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in 1910, and then again off West Africa in 1911, where she was burned to the water line. Ridge Mills is a section in the north part of Rome, as the map below indicates.
As far back as the fall of 1898, Sandford had contact with Rome, New York through a "Sister Huntington" as mentioned in a November 1898 issue of Tongues of Fire.
Pg 4 Daily Sentinel, Rome, N.Y. Tuesday Evening, November 21, 1978
EDITORIAL OPINIONIt Happened Here The reports from Guyana are not complete but enough is known to realize that the ambush of American visitors by Americans of the Peoples Temple commune and the mass suicide by members of the cult may be the most bizarre event of the decade.
It illustrates that nothing is predictable, especially when uncommon religious practices are involved.
Such are not new to the Rome area although few may remember the religious cult, "The Holy Ghost and Us," in the early 1900s at Ridge Mills.
This story also is almost unbelievable.
The "Holy Ghost Station" was established in 1901 by a Rev. Frank W. Sandford, later was to be convicted and sentenced for the death of six persons, one of Ridge Mills. He had founded the cult nine years before in eastern New York.
When Sandford came to Ridge Mills, meetings were first held in a tent on the east side of James Street, a short distance south of the turn in the road at Ridge Mills. Within a few weeks, Sandford had baptized a number of persons, including two well to do Rome area farmers. To all questions, Sandford and his followers declared they had found the path to salvation, and that there was to be an end of the world in the near future and that only those on their side would survive in the "life hereafter.
In May of 1903, a church accommodating 400 was built across James Street from the tent, on land donated by a member.
In April of 1905, some of the "saints," as they called themselves, left Ridge Mills for Shiloh, Maine, many of them selling the property and giving most of it to Sandford. Twenty two persons left Ridge Mills in a body, "to wait the end of the world." In all, 25 of the Rome area, 14 of them children, "answered the call." Meetings at Ridge Mills continued, with leaders exhorting others to join those in Maine.
The end of the world did not come but most of those who went to Shiloh remained there to experience sufferings which led to a state investigation.
Preacher Sandford, at one time a Baptist pastor of a wealthy parish, said mysterious voices told him to take all his possessions and go to Shiloh, Maine. He said he was broke when he arrived there but soon the property in Shiloh was worth more than $250,000 as followers in numerous places, including Ridge Mills, poured in contributions.
The Shiloh community put all earnings into a common purse and drew all supplies from a common larder. Soon poor crops caused reports of hunger in the commune. Meanwhile, Sandford was some place on his yacht, searching, he said, for another Shiloh and a new end-of-world date.
One member broke away and reported: "I have endured the tortures of hell since I joined. . . They have taken all my money, deprived me of my family, ruined my health and were starving me to death."
At this time, they were about 700 converts at Shiloh, mainly engaged in farming. A faithful member returned to Ridge Mills, declaring all was well and urged Rome area people to go to Shiloh, bringing with them their wealth for the common pot.
Then Sandford was charged with manslaughter in causing the death of a boy by refusing to permit administration of medicine while the boy was suffering from diphtheria. A jury disagreed in the first trial, he was convicted in the second but the verdict was set aside on the grounds that public opinion was unfriendly to him.
Meanwhile, another refugee from Shiloh, a Ridge Mills man, declared they had been permitted only one meal a day, usually mush and milk, and that sickness was ravaging the disciples. A state investigation uncovered what were called cases of cruelty to children, it being declared that Sandford was, "ruling his people with fear, they following his merest suggestions implicitly." Sandford was called "insane."
On July 14, 1910 the Ridge Mills church was acquired by local persons interested in using the structure as a tuberculosis hospital. After that use ended, the structure became a dwelling.
Then in August of 1910 came news that the bark Kingdom, flagship of the Holy Ghost and Us squadron then at sea, had been wrecked of Yarmouth, Maine. On August 3, 1911, the yacht Coronet, with 48 men, women and children of the cult aboard, was reported in distress off West Africa and short of provisions. None knew where they were supposed to be going.
That same year in October, Sandford was arrested in Portland, Me. on complaint of a woman ex-follower who alleged she had been illegally detained aboard the Kingdom. In December, Sandford was indicted on six counts for causing deaths among his people and convicted. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and in 1918, seven years later, was paroled on good behavior.
The Holy Ghost and Us church building, enlarged, still stands on the west side of James Street at Ridge Mills, just south of the intersection, a reminder, to the few who remember, that some can exert strange influence on others, often with grave consequences.
The Sunday Sentinel article below, printed in 1979, was a reprint of an article first printed in 1910. The column "Curious Bits of History" carried articles of "yesteryear" for the sake of their readership's nostalgia.
Sunday Sentinel, October 14, 1979Family Section "Curious Bits of History" County Judge George E. Pritchard of Utica has granted an order permitting a church organization known as the Kingdom, located in Maine, to sell a building at Ridge Mills that formerly housed the now famous Holy Ghost and Us Church. The purchaser is a group of local persons interested in establishing a tuberculosis sanitarium.
Back in 1901 there came to the hamlet of Ridge Mills one Rev. Frank W. Sandford who began holding religious meetings in a tent. Brother Sandford, as he became known, also was called the "Second Elijah" by his following.
The denomination started in 1896 at Shiloh, Maine, when Sandford, then a Baptist minister decided to set up his own church. He gave up a pastorate paying $1500 and drew all his money from the bank and sent it to missionaries in Africa.
Without a single cent, he started to build a church in Shiloh. He took a wheelbarrow and began to excavate on top of a hill. Others came to help and today there are buildings at this site values at $250,000.
The sect soon had 30 converts at Ridge Mills. On May 16, 1903, construction was begun on a frame building, 32 by 50 feet, estimated to seat 400. The land was donated to "The Kingdom" by a Ridge Mills resident, one of the first converts.
In 1905, Sandford issued a call for all the faithful to assemble at Shiloh, Maine. An exodus of members from Ridge Mills and the area followed, taking with them all their monies for donation to the cause.
The few who have returned to Rome are reluctant to talk but it has been learned that the organization has fallen upon hard times, that Sandford has had problems with the law and that all is not well -- Horticus, July, 1910