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The Society Pages:   Spring 2020

News about the people and projects of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society




From the Director, Raney Bench:

Welcome to the first quarterly newsletter from the Mount Desert Island Historical Society! Our members are such an important part of the societies success that we feel it’s important to let you know what we’re up to so you can be sure not to miss anything.

If we haven’t already met, I am the new executive director, stepping in to allow Tim Garrity, our previous Director, the opportunity to refocus his work on his true passion- history. Tim has moved into a new position as historian, focused on coordinating the many responsibilities related to the annual edition of Chebacco, curating new exhibits at our Somesville campus, and helping to provide historical resources to anyone and everyone. The other members of our staff include Leah Lucey, our director of operations, and Patrick Callaway, our collections manager.

I have a long history with the society, having served on the Board and as Vice President for almost a decade. Small history museums can have big impacts in their communities and I have spent my career caring for and sharing historic collections, including as Curator of Education for the Abbe Museum, and as Executive Director for the Seal Cove Auto Museum. I am passionate about the importance of history in our lives, and I seek opportunities to make island history relevant to the issues and activities taking place in our communities today. I look forward to hearing what history means to you, and hope to see you at a program or event this year.

Upcoming Events:

June 17: History Happy Hour at 5 pm- location TBD
June 25: Exhibit Opening at 5 pm- Somesville Museum
July 7: Strawberry Festival 1-3 pm- Somesville Firehouse
July 24: Annual Meeting at 5 pm- Neighborhood House

*Attention Voyagers: In appreciation of your
support, this summer we are hosting a variety of small curator-led tours based on Chebacco! Dates and details will be sent soon. If you are interested please
contact Raney at 207-276-9323,
Voyagers are society members that give $1,000  or more each year.

History Trust: Stewarding the islands historical collections

The Mount Desert Island Historical Society has partnered with ten other island organizations to form the History Trust with the following mission: The stewards of Mount Desert Island regional collections, united as the History Trust, work together to improve collections care, enhance digital and physical
access, and engage the public to better understand and use these essential, irreplaceable historical and cultural resources.

History Trust was founded on two core ideas- that as stewards of history, museums, libraries, historical societies, and collectors are not owners of the materials in our collections but caretakers. As such, our responsibilities are simple: care for those collections in perpetuity, and make them accessible to as many people as possible. Second, we value a collective approach. By working together new connections between people, places, and events will become knowable for the first time through a shared database, and that a collective will help to elevate the standards of care for all partners, reduce the impact on donors, and open up new avenues for financial support through grants.

After several years of conversation, study, and investment, History Trust recently accomplished a significant milestone by approving three major initiatives. First, History Trust is moving forward to establish a shared database where people can search the records of all partner organizations from one l

Baby bonnet from our collection made by Judith Somes in 1786.

ocation. So, if you want to know if your grandparent was a member of the fire departments in Southwest
Harbor and Islesford, you no longer have to make separate inquiries to Southwest Harbor library, Historical Society, and Islesford Historical Society- the records of all three collections can be found with the click of one button. Digital Archive was developed by local software engineer George Soules, co-founder of AvantLogic. Three other local organizations already use the program with great success, and with the addition of the History Trust members, the history of our region is more accessible than ever before.

The second initiative is to hire a contract Project Manager to oversee the process of converting all the different collections records into one database, and to write grants and seek funding to support the work of History Trust moving forward. Finally, we have been incorporated by the state, and are in the final stages of securing our nonprofit status. While there are already many nonprofits on the island, History Trust felt it was important to be able to apply as a collective for
funding that would not be available to an individual organization, and to be able to hire and oversee the project manager and History Trust finances without the aid of a fiscal agent.

As History Trust continues to grow, keep an eye out for combined programs, exhibits, and events that will showcase the unique opportunities to share local history afforded by this collective approach.


Her Island, Her Story: A new focus for History Harvest

It can be a challenge for historical societies to keep up with collecting the stories and artifacts from our most recent past and today. It can be difficult to sort through the moments of everyday life that someone in the future might want to know about, but collecting also requires a large amount of space and
resources to care for the artifacts. The photos, documents, and artifacts that are important to someone today should remain part of the family as heirlooms or beloved memories and keepsakes.

For all of these reasons, in 2018 the society launched a new program called History Harvest, where we record stories and take high resolution scans of images, documents and artifacts that are shared on our website.

In honor of the centennial of the right for women to vote, over the course of the year we will focus on collecting the stories of island women. So far we’ve conducted three interviews with women born here and women who came here later. Stories like Alberta Willey who was born to a family of lighthouse keepers in 1944. Alberta was raised in Tremont and worked in the crab picking plant before becoming a seamstress at Hinckley. She recalls how after WWII people took care of each other as poverty was an issue. She said her family took two others under their wing to make sure they had enough food and presents for the kids at Christmas. Alberta’s story helps us capture the day-to-day life of island women and families that might otherwise get lost as generations pass on and take their stories with them.

We would love to hear your story! For more information or to make an appointment, call 207-276-9323 or email Raney Bench at

Click here to view our History Harvest web page.

Chebacco Volume XXI “Before 1820”

A substantial amount of work goes into our annual scholarly journal, Chebacco and we are excited to release a new edition with beautiful images and fascinating articles. The next Chebacco will be published in April. commemorating the bicentennial by taking a look at what life on the island was like leading up to statehood. A version of this work will be on exhibit at the Somesville campus through a new exhibit comparing how and why we commemorate anniversaries and what those commemorations say about our community and society at the time. We will compare the 1920 celebration which included military parades and delegates from around the world to the commemorations taking place this year, which are more reflective and personal.

Again, we will feature the work of Artist-in-Residence Jenn Booher. Jenn has created a portrait series of Wabanaki history keepers: historians, anthropologists, artists, and storytellers. Here are two samples of her work.

John Dennis, Cultural Director for the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, at the Micmac Cultural Center in Presque Isle. John is holding a drum he uses in storytelling and an eagle feather. He is seated on a splint shaving bench, and on the floor beside him are traditional games he uses in educational programs.

Suzanne Greenlaw, Maliseet, is
pictured in a grove of brown ash trees in Orono. She uses brown ash in her basketmaking.

















You still have a chance to receive your copy of Chebacco by becoming a member of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society. Click here to join or renew your membership online.