NEW SWEDEN, Maine — It was an engineering marvel when the Thomas Park amphitheater was constructed in 1937, pieced together plank by plank with the know-how and community spirit of New Sweden volunteers.
Gravity and Mother Nature have since taken their toll on what the region has affectionately nicknamed the Music Bowl, but a handful of dedicated community members have once again banded together to put the historic structure on a solid base.
The group just broke ground on the project about a week ago and, as volunteers said on Friday, there’s a long way to go until the Music Bowl is fully repaired; as explained by project advocate Bub Anderson, the Music Bowl’s wings have been removed and the structure has been temporarily propped up to dissuade the building from shifting anymore.
Anderson is a member of the five-person Thomas Park Committee, which was formed two years ago to oversee the community park.
The group quickly discovered that the Music Bowl was in desperate need of attention; committee member Dana Carlson closely inspected the bowl and found that the structure had already started on its eventual way down.
“Where it’s a big bowl, the top’s coming down and the sides are spreading out,” Anderson explained earlier this summer.
Though the amphitheater was used throughout the summer without incident, as it was still structurally sound, committee members weren’t about to give another Aroostook winter the opportunity to do irreversible damage to the historic building.
Given the unique shape of the building — which was constructed to resemble the R.B. Hall Memorial Bowl in Waterville — wings were added to the amphitheatre at one point to help support the bowl’s shape. But the wings couldn’t stave the effects of the Music Bowl lacking a foundation.
The cost of fixing the Music Bowl is estimated to range between $10,000 and $15,000.
About $3,000 has been donated for the emergency repairs — just over a fourth of the estimated minimum cost — and volunteers have been faithfully tending to the building’s repairs for over a week.
“The main thing is to get it on a solid foundation so it doesn’t move anymore,” Anderson said.
Concrete will be poured and rebar set corner by corner, and a sturdy iron brace will be added to keep the 75-year-old music bowl standing tall.
The front of the structure will first be secured to help minimize the droop of the building’s apex.
For now, the historic building that seemed to stand impressively sturdy for decades sits atop thickly stacked wooden beams for stability and is braced with heavy metal cables across its front, and looks rather vulnerable with its underside exposed and wings removed.
“I’ll sleep better when the concrete has been poured and that bowl is secured,” Anderson said in a way that seemed half joking.
Anderson has said before that if the Music Bowl were lost, bringing it back would be no small project.
Peeking at the building’s architectural skeleton through the top of a small alcove, he pointed out some of the unique elements of the 75-year-old structure.
Anderson explained that on the outside, the amphitheater’s exterior shell is built like a barn. On the inside, the rounded dome was built like a ship, steamed plank-by-plank and pieced together like a puzzle.
While Thomas Park’s ambiance and history is an iconic piece of The County, organizers are working hard to ensure the $10,000-$15,000 fundraising goal is met.
If not, Thomas Park will enter a financial conundrum: funds exist that can be used to repair the Music Bowl, but the expenditure of those finite funds would mean a lack of resources to provide essential park maintenance services — like mowing and routine building upkeep.
As explained by Kathy Lausier, administrative assistant for New Sweden, a trust fund for Thomas Park does exist and the interest from that fund is used for maintenance; the park also has a savings account so that when individuals make donations for using the park for gatherings, those funds can be used for making repairs.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Lausier said there was about $19,000 that could be accessed for maintenance if needed, including the $3,000 in donations.
The “available” aspect of those funds, however, is a relative misnomer.
As explained by project advocate David Spooner, that $19,000 is all that exists to fund park maintenance; spending those funds even for the emergency restoration of the Music Bowl would mean a drastically decreased ability to care for the restored historic structure in the future — let alone the rest of the park and its facilities.
“Although there are funds that are accessible to the park, it would be completely irresponsible to spend that money without trying to fundraise to preserve this structure,” Spooner said.
While the Music Bowl is clearly the most urgent project to maintain the historic nature of Thomas Park, it is but one of many repairs needed.
“If you look at the ice cream stand, that little log cabin [near the stands of the amphitheater], it needs to be jacked up and the bottom logs need to be replaced — they’re essentially rotting in the ground,” Spooner explained, adding that the little well house next to the swing set also is in need of some serious carpentry support.
“We are laying our hopes on the fact that someone will see the value of this structure and the park,” Spooner said. “We will take the money out of operations if we must, but doing that will cripple anything that we do going forward.”
Those wishing to contribute to the Thomas Park Music Bowl repairs can make checks payable to the Thomas Park Restoration Fund and send them to the New Sweden Town Office.
Those wishing to lend a hand with construction efforts can email Spooner at DWSpooner@gmail.com or call the New Sweden Town Office at 896-3306.