With the kick-off of this year’s Maine Community Heritage Project (MCHP)–officially inaugurated on July 21-22 with an orientation for the participating communities here at Maine Historical Society (MHS) in Portland–we begin regular road-tripping around the state. A year-long project that results in a community history website on Maine Memory Network (MMN), MCHP requires monthly team meetings, many of which MMN staff attend. What a great way to really get to know, or revisit, the wonderfully varied towns and cities in the Pine Tree State!
Strong, Maine–about 10 miles north of Farmington–led the pack with a meeting the second week in August. The Strong MCHP team consists of about eight members from the historical society, local schools, public library, and the nearby High Peaks Alliance.
The birthplace of Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby–she held the very first Maine Guide license–Strong also boasts a solid wood manufacturing history. Once the “toothpick capital of the world,” Strong Historical Society’s thousands of artifacts include a wide variety of memorabilia from Strong Wood Products, which used to produce 20 million toothpicks a day. This little western Maine town has a big and wonderfully unique story to tell.
Two weeks later, things took a decidedly (down)eastern turn. On a recent Monday, we visited the other two MCHP communities of Surry and Swan’s Island. Despite the 7-8 hours of driving time involved, plus ferry transportation, and the necessity of an overnight away from home, visiting these lovely coastal Maine communities is hardly a hardship. Especially on a bright sunny day!
The Surry team met in the early afternoon at Surry Elementary School, which is the lead organization for the project. Surry Historical Society and Blue Hill Public Library (the library that serves Surry) are partnering with the School to build a community history website. The first team meeting consisted of nailing down a workplan, discussing a public community event to announce the project (scheduled for the evening of October 6), and brainstorming exhibit topics. So far, favorites include: history of education in Surry, the Surry Opera House and Surry Playhouse, shipbuilding, fishing (especially smelting), and Surry’s contribution to U.S. military efforts.
Then it was onto Bass Harbor to catch the 5:15PM ferry to Swan’s Island–the last one of the day. A dinner meeting at the Swan’s Island Educational Society (SIES)–the combo library and historical society–brought together two SIES representatives and a Swan’s Island School teacher. The Island’s library burned to the ground in 2008 after a lightning strike. Nearly all the community’s historical material, which was stored at the library, was lost. Since then, the SIES has digitized hundreds of historic photos owned by community members. Some of these, as well as new contributions, will become part of the MCHP website, as will oral histories conducted by the Island Institute following the devastating fire.
After a lovely evening on the island at the home of the team’s project director–and a busy two weeks of travel that also included grantee and workshops visits to other corners of the state–it was back to mainland and office reality. Happily, though, because MCHP is a nearly-year-long project, we’ll be back to each of these great communities 6-7 times in the next 10 months!