Notes from the Director: Stimulating Maine’s Economy

by Steve Bromage, MHS executive director

Yesterday’s New York Times ran an interesting article on the proposed east-west highway through Central Maine. Proponents see the private toll highway as an important economic development tool; opponents are concerned about how it might affect the identify, character, and allure of the region.

Great Eastern Depot, Portland, ca. 1860. MMN #25040.

The article calls to mind the story of John Poor and the effort to build the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad in the 1840s which is captured in this exhibit on Maine Memory Network. Poor’s goal was to create a rail link between Montreal and Portland that would establish Portland as the winter port for Canadian grain.

Economic development is a pressing issue across the state, and Maine history has an important role to play. The state—and each of its communities—has been defined in large part by economic forces—by geography, natural resources, moments of opportunity, entrepreneurship, and national and international pushes and pulls. Looking at how Mainers have responded to economic opportunities and challenges—when, why, and how communities have thrived, and how things change—can provide useful context as we all think about and plan what might come next. History can inform conversations about economic development in diverse ways and places.

At MHS, our efforts to help communities mobilize around their history through Maine Memory often leads to new collaboration, sharing of resources, the development of skills, and important discussions about local identity, issues, and opportunities. Our new exhibit, Wired, explores how electrification shaped Maine during the 20th century; we look forward to offering programs throughout the coming year that consider both that history and how contemporary efforts to find clean, sustainable energy might shape Maine in the future.

MHS collections capture the story of how countless Mainers have made their way in the world, economically and otherwise. These are just a few examples.

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