Autumn in Maine is best spent out and about, viewing the colors, breathing in the crisp fall air, and going to places that will be a little harder to reach once the white stuff hits the ground. Fall “road” trips (in Maine, read: “or sea”) are especially nice if the weather involves bright sunshine and temps that rise to the mid-70s (and even beyond) by mid-day.
So lucky for several of us in the Maine Memory Network and Education departments at MHS that work necessitated trips over and around the Columbus Day weekend to Bangor, Surry, Swan’s Island, and Strong. The weather was great, but the best part of the journey was the people we met along the way.
First came a day long fall grantees training at the Bangor Public Library on Wednesday, October 5. Nine of the 11 new grant recipients (profiled in this 9/22/11 post) were represented–comprising a diverse group in terms of both geography and topics covered–for a total of about 20 people. Facilitators included MHS’s Director of Digital Projects, Kathy Amoroso; MMN Curator Candace Kanes; Community Partnership Coordinator Larissa Vigue Picard; and Education Assistant Rachel Miller. The training covered “good history,” project planning, scanning, and cataloging.
The next day Larissa and Rachel headed to Surry, a small village between Blue Hill and Ellsworth, and one of this year’s Maine Community Heritage Project (MCHP) teams.
In the morning, Rachel presented a lively Maine Memory demo to students. In the evening, Rachel and Larissa, joined by MHS Assistant Director Steve Bromage, were in the audience for a dynamic community conversation about the town’s history at Surry Elementary School.
Led by project coordinator and teacher Lynn Bonsey, more than 25 people from the community gathered to contribute topic ideas and stories for the website the Surry team (consisting of teachers from the school, historical society members, and staff from Blue Hill Public Library) will build.
The discussion ranged from a well-known rivalry between shopkeepers a few generations back, to the town’s longtime fishing and farming history, to the Native American origins in the area (and much in between). Some of project coordinator Lynn Bonsey’s students, who will be working on the project all year, made posters for the event.
The next day, Rachel and Larissa boarded the 11AM ferry to Swan’s Island, about a half-hour trip from Southwest Harbor. Again, Rachel spoke with students gearing up to participate in MCHP this year. She presented to two classes: a 6th-8th grade class and a 3rd-5th grade class, a total of about 25 students.
The kids suggested clever search queries on Maine Memory (toys, Native American tools, tractors, their last name), and many of them are eager to be on the student team that will contribute to Swan’s Island MCHP website. The younger students are studying a special Swan’s Island history unit this year, and have already taken a couple history-based field trips.
After Steve rejoined the group in the afternoon, it was onto the Swan’s Island Educational Society, the combination library and historical society, for the MCHP community gathering. Newly constructed over the past couple of years, the SIES building replaces the library that succumbed to fire in the summer of 2008. Most of the island’s collected historical ephemera was lost, but thanks to a concerted effort, the SIES has received new donations, digitized numerous photos owned by locals, and taken oral histories.
More than 20 community members enjoyed cookies and lemonade as they shared ideas with team members including SIES Director and MCHP team coordinator, Candis Joyce; teacher Kim Colbeth; historical society member Bev McAloon; and Island Institute Fellow for Swan’s Island, Kate Webber. Suggestions were written on poster paper scattered throughout the building.
Finally, on Sunday, October 9, Larissa wended her way to the western region of Maine to attend the town of Strong’s MCHP event, an early afternoon ice cream social designed to share plans for the project and invite community members to view a variety of historical displays.
To the great delight of the team, more than 100 filled the town hall to hear from representatives of Strong Historical Society, Strong Elementary School, High Peaks Alliance, and other community members about their contributions to the project.
Several of the displays included interactive components with prizes, such as “Whozit?” “Whatzit?” and “Wherezit?” photo and artifact guessing stations. Other displays highlighted topics the team has chosen to focus on for the website including Civil War and Reconstruction, the town’s manufacturing history, and Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby, Maine’s first hunting and fishing guide, who was born in Strong.
In addition to the tasty (and donated) Gifford’s ice cream, which was dished out in teacups, one of the afternoon’s special moments was the unexpected donation of a 19th century family Bible to the historical society. Historical society president Carl Stinchfield accepted it with great pleasure.
That sentiment aptly applies to the entire five day road trip. Our staff witnessed and absorbed so much pleasure about, and engagement with, local history, it undoubtedly will sustain us until the next excursion.