One of the benefits of meeting new people is the opportunity to learn something new, which is what happened when I was in Searsport recently to meet with Dr. Ellen Fuller and the Richardson sisters, Mary Brann and Helen Nezda.
The women are members of Searsport Historical Society, which is in the midst of a major fundraising campaign to move a donated barn from Stockton Springs to the historical society campus on Sears Island Road.
What I learned during the visit is that Searsport is not just a lovely, historic Maine seaport village but is, in fact, a summer colony.
Perhaps it’s because I am a native of western Maine that I had never thought of this town in those terms, but these women are the proof in the pudding, so to speak.
They are all originally “from away,” coming to Searsport for the summer.
And while Ellen and Mary are now Searsport residents, Helen returns each summer from Texas. The family ties of all three to Searsport are generations deep, as is their commitment to this community and its history.
Ellen, who will be 87 in October, is a University of Pennsylvania-Philadelphia professor emeritus. She now resides in the family home where she summered as a child.
The Richardson sisters, in their mid-60s, grew up in Wellesley, Mass. and spent summers on Searsport’s Cottage Street.
The three are currently working with the SHS board, its president, Dr. Karen Kelley, and “clerk-of-the works” Valerie Murphy to raise $68,500 to move a beautiful old barn, donated by the Davis family of Stockton Springs, to be placed next to the circa 1830 Crary Carlin Coleman House on Sears Island Road, which is the historical society’s headquarters and museum.
The milk house attached to the barn will be converted into a post office of the era.
The funds must be raised by June 2011 because the donors want to use the property for other purposes.
Ellen is busily filling out grant applications, some of which have been successful, while other society members, including Mary and Helen, are heading up a variety of fundraising activities.
At this point, approximately $17,000 has been raised.
“When it reaches $20,000 we’re one-third of the way,” Ellen said, “but the last two-thirds will be difficult to raise.”
Funding this project will not only benefit Searsport Historical Society, but the local economy as well, she said, since SHS will be using local contractors to move the building and complete other aspects of the project.
The women have faith the money can be raised.
“It will be done, if we have anything to do with it,” Ellen said with a determined emphasis.
“People are enthused about the project, and we have lots of other things in the works. SHS is a living organism,” she said.
And while grants, auctions, dinners, fairs and art shows are all included in the fundraising plans, it’s the “summer colony” fundraiser that grabbed my attention.
Two years ago, Mary and Helen were asked to prepare a program for a SHS meeting and agreed to make a presentation based on a research paper by their late father, Dr. John Richardson, about the Searsport Brickyards.
In 2009, they used a 1985 audio tape of their father presenting 100 years of Searsport history.
This year, Mary and Helen “decided to do their own thing,” Ellen said.
“It Happened on Cottage Street” became one of the most popular SHS historic presentations to date.
The sisters asked cousins, neighbors and friends to share memories of their 1950s and 1960s summers on Cottage Street in Searsport and “what was received was a wonderful outpouring of precious and nostalgic memories,” according to Ellen.
Members of that special summer colony recalled everything from how the car was packed for the trip to Searsport to using a firecracker and an apple to make instant applesauce and the thrill of toy sailboat races.
One favorite memory, still talked about today, was the 1956 “Watery Wedding” reception on Cottage Street when all members of the wedding party dove into the ocean.
The response to Mary and Helen’s presentation was so well-received they have made it into a booklet including photos and a DVD, which is available for $25 each.
You can view the Searsport Cottage Street Project 2010 online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nun3s0gwYeg.
To make a donation to the SHS barn-moving project, order the booklet or, if you want more information, write Searsport Historical Society, P.O. Box 28, Searsport 04974.
Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; firstname.lastname@example.org; 990-8288.