The Gift of History

The LHS sign with the Corro House in the background

Over the course of two days — Friday, December 18, and Monday, December 21 — about 180 Mattanawcook Junior High School 7th and 8th graders visited the Lincoln Historical Society to conduct a scavenger hunt as part of their participation in the MCHP.

The Corro House (courtesy http://www.lincolnmaine.us/news)

While the logistics of this were no small feat (Kudos, teachers!), splitting the kids up into five groups made the activity manageable. In clusters of roughly 35 each, they fit comfortably into the several ample inside rooms and outbuildings of the Corro House, the 1836 cape on West Broadway that has been the home of the society since last summer.

Students search for scavenger hunt answers in the Corro House kitchen

In fact, with a little squeezing, each group first crowded into just one room — the bright and spacious kitchen — for a quick introduction to the house by LHS president Jeanette King, before spreading out to undertake their detective work.

LHS president Jeanette King and Mattanawcook teacher and MCHP team leader Heidi Harris

Admittedly, the floors looked a tad ready for a mop when the kids filed out. But the sound of their footsteps passing through the rooms was music to everyone’s ears. After all, it’s unlikely this kind of field trip could have happened in the society’s previous location — five small rooms of a building further south on West Broadway. Though LHS owned the building, they had to rent out the top floor to cover the costs of running their museum.

The story of how LHS came to be in the Corro House — and its subsequent increased visibility and accessibility — is timely. Universal themes of struggle, hope, and determination; a heroic figure appealing to the powers that be; and an 11th-hour happy ending, might incline one — in the waning days of December — to compare it to that holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. (Minus the life-or-death circumstances!)

Early 20th c. wheelchair used in Lincoln's Workman's Hospital

For some time prior to securing the Corro House, the board had been contemplating how to to build an addition to their current space to appropriately house and display its many unique artifacts. Fundraising, and lots of it, would be needed. And then one day in September, 2008, Jeanette King had a vision.

The Little Red Schoolhouse, which operated from 1891-1925

“I was driving down West Broadway and passed the Corro House,” she recalls. “Suddenly, I saw the Lincoln Historical Society located in that house–the old carriage we own sitting in the open doorway [of the garage], the [historic] Little Red Schoolhouse across the street. For the first time, the value of the location dawned on me.”

Students perched on the unique double stairwell of the Corro House

Jeanette immediately headed to the home of a town council member, who suggested she speak to the town manager and get a tour of the building. Two days later, all the society’s board members did a walk-through and took pictures. The interior needed considerable cosmetic work but everyone agreed the historic features and increased space would be ideal for the museum.

Initial conversations with the town seemed positive — headed toward a leasing arrangement. However, at a late October meeting, council members voted instead to tear down the house. They had their reasons. Originally, the town had purchased the building with the noble intent of expanding the Lincoln Memorial Library, located next door, at some future point. Regardless of the interest from the historical society, this still seemed the best course of action.

Students examine some of the 148 paperweights from around the globe owned by LHS

Not as far as Jeanette was concerned. She felt the library could just as easily be expanded on its north side. After getting wind of the vote, she and another LHS member started a petition. In three days, they had 250 signatures. They immediately submitted the names to the town manager and were put on the agenda for a special council meeting that night, which happened to be a Monday.

Just prior to the meeting, the historical society members learned that time was running out faster than they thought. The crew engaged to raze the house was meeting the following day to make plans. Due to an expiring lease on an excavator, the building had to be down by that Friday.

This bi-centennial "Penobscot Story" quilt hangs in the Corro House entryway

After a general plea pointing out all the positive aspects for saving one of the oldest buildings in town, Jeanette got personal. Practically on bended knee and entirely from the heart, she spoke directly to each individual on the council that wanted to raze the building.

“I recalled how two of them had family going back to the organization of the town, one whose grandfather had been a well-known person, another who whose family dated to the 1800s and is still widespread today.” To a third skeptical member, Jeanette pointed out the genealogical research she’d done recently on the council member’s family.

Students answer a scavenger hunt question about Mrs. Asa Straw's mid-19th c. record of family and friends based on locks of their hair

Finally, she spoke of the value of creating an historic walking district–in addition to the Little Red Schoolhouse across the street, the library, the Worsted Mill building (now Region 111 School) just south of the Corro House, and a nearby bridge, are all original or historic structures–to capitalize on potential visitors, such as residents of a senior housing development scheduled to be built about a block away.

Please, she told them, “preserve this piece of history… [it’s] a wonderful opportunity for the town.”

Students comment on "Looking Down Chesley Hill in Winter," a pastoral Lincoln scene from yesteryear

When the vote was finally taken, it was unanimous… not to tear down the Corro House. And by late spring of this year the town had agreed to an intial lease agreement with LHS for the princely sum of $1 a year for 10 years. While Jeanette still hopes that LHS can eventually own the house outright, she is more than happy with the outcome of her whirlwind crusade. And happier still to see that the house is being used as it should be… to show off the many treasures of Lincoln’s past, and welcome in the present crowds of young people on which rests the town’s future.

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About mainechp

Maine Community Heritage Project at Maine Historical Society
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One Response to The Gift of History

  1. Dolly Phillips says:

    This is a wonderful well written article. Thank you. As I watched Mom (Jeanette) tirelessly working to preserve such a beautiful architect of a building I was never more proud. Her love of antiques has been passed down to at least 3 or her 3 daughters (yes I did mean all 3 of us). The work done by the society to so beautifully redecorate and by Dad and Dennis to repair and restore so much is commendable. Keep up the good work and may more people visit and enjoy the history being preserved!

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