The Maine Community Heritage Project, begun in 2008, officially came to an end recently with two culminating team events–in Dixfield on Wednesday, May 29, and in Northeast Harbor on Wednesday, June 5. The project has been twice funded under a National Leadership Grant by the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the second grant ends this summer.
Sixteen teams participated during the first iteration of the program in 2008-2010. Three teams participated during 2011-2012, and two during 2012-2013. In addition, two other communities served as pilot projects before the official creation of MCHP, bringing the total number of community history websites on Maine Memory to 23.
On each team, at least one historical society, library, and educational institution have joined together to research and write history, digitize historic collections, and build a website with multiple online exhibits about that community’s local history. In a number of cases, however, teams have been comprised of well more than just three partners.
Both 2012-2013 teams were the largest ever to take on MCHP. Comprised of six different towns, the Western Maine Foothills Region project served a large swath of RSU #10, the largest school school district, in terms of square miles, east of the Mississippi. Buckfield, Byron, Dixfield, Mexico, Peru, and Rumford all contributed to the website, and plans call for additional towns in the RSU to add to the site in succeeding years. The other team–a group from Mount Desert Island–reached across individual towns and villages to reinvigorate a site that was originally created as a pilot project in 2006-2007.
Both project-ending celebrations, during which the sites were revealed to the public, drew enthusiastic audiences. In Dixfield, at Dirigo High School, 60 community members gathered to hear enjoy desserts and coffee, and hear from Superintendent Dr. Tom Ward, MCHP team leader Nick Waugh, and various team members about the success of the project. Attendees could also view the site in detail on laptops stationed around the room.
One of the teachers involved, Dirigo High history teacher Kurt Rowley spoke eloquently about how the project became, “not just a course, but a life experience” for his students. They worked primarily on an exhibit about the Tuscan Opera House in Dixfield, for which they scanned and photographed artifacts, wrote catalog descriptions, wrote an essay, and built the exhibit online.
Another moving presentation was given by Irene Hutchinson, of the Mexico Historical Society, who told the story that became the basis for the exhibit, “A Man’s Life in a Suitcase,” about Mexico resident John Edward Barry. Little is known about Barry other than facts based on items preserved in his suitcase–photographs, documents, and artifacts relating to his childhood with an adopted family in Mexico, his schooling, and his World War II service and early death. The suitcase was discovered in Rangeley and eventually donated to the Mexico Historical Society. As audience members viewed the digitized versions on-screen, she pulled their physical counterparts out of the actual suitcase; particularly moving were Barry’s scuffed baby shoes.
A write-up about the event appeared in the May 30 edition of the Sun Journal. Additional photos of the event, as well as of other activities throughout the project, can be accessed via the RSU’s website.
The MDI final celebration was held at Northeast Harbor Library where the team’s monthly meetings had taken place. Attended by about 40 community members, it featured a lively presentation by College of the Atlantic student Taylor Thomas-Marsh. With input from COA professor Jody Baker, Thomas-Marsh built three-part exhibit on “A Short History of the Performing Arts on Mount Desert Island” as a senior project. She reviewed the sections of the site and delivered a history lesson along the way.
Tim Garrity, Executive Director of MDI Historical Society, provided an overview of the site generally, explaining how topics were chosen to highlight various aspects of a multi-faceted island “Shaped by Nature.” Following the presentations, attendees chatted over cookies and browsed both the website and artifacts on display.
Although the Maine Community Heritage Project has officially concluded, many other community teams continue to work on smaller grant projects with Maine Memory. In addition, MHS has embarked on a three-year Civil War community grant project in conjunction with Maine Humanities Council using the MCHP model and involving work on Maine Memory. So the spirit, structure, tasks, and teamwork of MCHP continue to live on in other ways.