I was in Guilford for its Maine Community Heritage Project team’s second (already!) meeting on Wednesday night, September 2. What a gorgeous drive up Route 23 that day–the sun glinting off Dexter’s Wassookeag Lake and the stained glass windows of Sangerville’s Unitarian Universalist Church, the trees still lush and deep green, the sky nearly cloudless and postcard blue.
And upon arrival, being greeted by team leader Cindy Woodworth’s cheeriness, and the matching open-air-i-ness of Guilford’s charming Historical Society, sunlight streaming in the back door, the quiet whirr of the ceiling fan overhead. Not to mention all those marvelous treasures laid out inside! (Some favorites: the long, long, long handmade toboggan greeting visitors by the door, the Legion Hall drum hanging on the wall, the case of military uniforms going back to the Civil War).
I grew up in the interior of Maine (in Pittsfield) and I especially love its winding back roads and tucked-away small towns at this time of year. Summer is fast drawing to a close (if you ask the schoolkids, it’s over!) and an autumn crispness is creeping, Halloween-like, into the air (it wakes us in the chilly mornings with a great big “Boo!”). It’s bittersweet, I know. “Late Corn Best Corn” read a sign at a roadside stand in Corinna. Oh no! I thought. I have to get some before it’s gone!
On the other hand, think of the bounty yet to come: apple-picking (my favorite childhood orchard was Rowe’s in Newport), cider, cornfield mazes, pumpkins, jumping in leaves, harvest fairs. Guilford’s, in fact, is on Saturday, October 3 — and will serve as, among other things, its MCHP community event. In case you’re curious about the “other things,” they are many: A community lunch full of homemade soups and chowders and salads and breads (if you’ve never been to a central Maine potluck, what are you waiting for?), an open house at the Historical Society, kids’ games, pumpkin decorating, a “Flea-n-tique” market, and more–all capped off by an evening cemetery tour!
These kinds of event are unique to small towns. Miles from the big cities, small towns admittedly have less of some things. But they often have a darn lot of what counts and what is sometimes sorely missing in other places–a thriving sense of community. It’s in the air in Guilford as it is in many of these tucked-away pockets across the state. Maybe they’ve struggled mightily at one or another period in their history, maybe they don’t get as much attention as the big guys (except, in Guilford’s case, when they manage to keep the manufacturing sector going strong against all odds, and when they get to pilot what has now become a nationally-known laptop program!), but what’s kept the town together and proud and carrying on is its rock-solid people. They love the place and will do anything for it.
Take, for instance, the existence of the Historical Society. There wouldn’t be one in Guilford if not for the efforts of a small band of residents who believed in sharing the story of their town and created the organization in 1983. For the past 17 years, MCHP team members (and husband-and-wife team) Sieferd, or “Stub,” and Nena Schultz have been the driving forces behind its vitality. You can’t buy that kind of dedication; it’s either there or it isn’t. And in Guilford, it’s there. I’m pretty sure it grows in the soil.
I’m really looking forward to seeing that tangible sense of community translated into the virtual world of a local history website. Planned exhibits include Guilford’s industrial history and sense of entrepreneurism; the fun, friendship, and festivity of its fairs and celebrations; how natural disasters have galvanized the town into action throughout its history; how it has supported its school budgets pretty much from day one.
Notice a recurring theme? Townspeople coming together to care for a place and each other. Now, that’s a heritage to be proud of.