This Tuesday, August 21 at 5:30 p.m., the Brewer Historical Society will host a tour of a little-understood and often-forgotten patch of land in North Brewer.
On Veterans Day in 1997, when the Chamberlain Freedom Park was dedicated at North Main and State Streets in Brewer, there was much fanfare. The annual parade, which usually marched down Wilson Street, was diverted down State to pass the park. About a thousand people showed up, including Gov. Angus King and Congressman John Baldacci. The Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department’s color guard attended, and the 20th Maine re-enactors offered a 21-gun salute.
But after all that fanfare, today the park is largely ignored. Even those who know who the statue there depicts usually know nothing else about the history the park tells.
“Nobody knows what it is,” said Dick Campbell, the park’s landscape designer. That’s why he’ll lead this Tuesday’s tour, educating people about the myriad features of the park.
Chamberlain Freedom Park honors Brewer’s involvement in the Civil War. That statue high on the hill depicts Joshua Chamberlain — as a colonel, the rank he held when he led the legendary defense of Little Round Top, which helped the North to a decisive victory at Gettysburg. Historians generally regard that as the linchpin of the Union Army’s defense that day, and a major turning point in the war.
The park is on the former site of the historic John Holyoke House, which was a safe house on the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves to freedom in Canada. In honor of this, another statue depicts a slave climbing out of the ground — apt, because beneath that statue is the actual shaft that once led slaves from a secret tunnel leading from the river to the house. (Despite efforts to preserve it, the Holyoke House was razed to support the new bridge construction in 1995.)
Other elements in the park aren’t so obvious. The park itself was designed to represent aspects of the battlefield, notably the boulder-strewn ridge of Little Round Top. Campbell’s design was impressive enough for Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Christina Moon to visit Brewer and dub the site “‘Little’ Little Round Top.”
The park’s boulders deliberately represent the battlefield breastworks — the boulder fortifications that gave cover to soldiers. There’s even a lone white pine representing a lone white pine growing at Gettysburg, where white pines don’t normally grow. There’s even a direct view of the former Bangor Theological Seminary, which Chamberlain attended.
These are just a few of the many points Campbell will explain on the tour. He hopes to raise awareness about what the park represents, and of the loss of the historic Holyoke House.
“It is totally an interpretive park,” he said. “It’s our impression of the historical significance of Brewer, and what Brewer has provided — from the freedom of the slaves to the savior of the Union, and the loss of something extremely significant that no one seemed to care about.”
The park shares a parking lot with the Circle-K, but parking may be limited. There is ample parking on the many side streets off North Main Street, so visitors can easily get to the park. There is also parking for the park below it on State Street.