A Hall & A Man: Abner Coburn (Part II) – The Shrewd Businessman

When we left off Abner Coburn was just starting to come in to his own.  Let’s see how far he got.

From 1830 to 1845 Abner and Philander Coburn worked alongside their father, and when their father died in 1845, the two brothers carried on the business.  In addition to being one of the most successful businesses in Maine, the Coburn brothers ran the business with such sound judgment and integrity that they earned the respect of every person with whom they met.  The men who worked for them lumbering remained loyal to the brothers though their entire employment.  It was recounted that one of their employees, a fervent Democrat, voted only twice against the party and those two times were for the Coburns.  This loyalty was well deserved, as many of those who worked for the brothers would raise through the ranks and end up as successful lumbermen of their own.

Their business ventures didn’t stop at land and lumber either.  In 1854, the Coburn brothers entered the business of railroads.  At this time the Portland & Kennebec railroad extended from Portland to Augusta.  There was an undertaking by the Somerset & Kennebec railroad to extend the line to Skowhegan, however funding for this extension quickly ran out.  The Coburn brothers took it upon themselves to raise the remaining funds and, to their credit, the railroad was completed.  From its creation, one or the other brother served as Director of the line and prior to its lease to the Portland & Kennebec railroad, Abner Coburn served as its President.  After the merger, Abner was a prominent Director for the now expanded Portland & Kennebec.

In 1870, Portland & Kennebec and the Maine Central railroad consolidated under the name of the latter, to which Abner Coburn served as Director for the company.  In 1875, in an effort to prevent its own collapse, the Eastern Railroad Company acquired majority holdings in Maine Central.  As such, it was able to dictate selection of the Board of Directors.  In a move to avoid local controversy, and under the assumption that he would not commit fully to the task, they elected Abner Coburn as President.  Much to their mistake, Abner directed as much vigor and honor to this undertaking as he had any other in his life, doing so with the best interest of his stockholders in mind.  Unfortunately for Eastern Railroad Company, his dedication to Maine Central’s interests precluded Eastern from using it to prevent its own collapse.  While president of the Maine Central railroad he was able to maintain its efficiency in the face of declining revenues all while increasing the company’s earnings.  Yet another example of Abner Coburn’s tremendous abilities as a businessman.

Abner Coburn didn’t stop there and went on to become Director, and then President, of the Skowhegan Bank, which later became the First National Bank of Skowhegan.  He also became President of the Skowhegan Savings bank.  Abner Coburn’s interests were diverse and seemingly neverending.  And to think, while he was doing all this, he also found the time to join the political arena, becoming Maine’s 30th Governor.

Come back Sunday for Part III of the series to see how Abner Coburn became vital to the success of the University of Maine.

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