International Appalachian Trail: Collection from the Founders

By Jordis Rosberg. MHS Project Archivist

In the summer of 2021, Maine Historical Society received the papers and records of the Maine chapter of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) from founders Richard Anderson and Don Hudson. Anderson first conceived of the IAT in 1993 as a trail that would extend north along the eponymous mountain chain from the Appalachian Trail’s terminus at Katahdin, Maine, across the border into Canada and, eventually, across the Atlantic Ocean. This trail would follow the geological remnants of the original range formed by the supercontinent Pangea hundreds of millions of years ago, which today spans portions of the United States, Canada, Greenland, Western Europe, and North Africa.

Richard Anderson, 1996

It was no small feat to take the seed of this idea for an International Appalachian Trail and turn it into a reality. The organizational records gifted to MHS (Coll. 4213) reveal years’ worth of thoughtful route planning, land lease agreements, public relations, campsite creation and maintenance, and cooperative work with representatives and trail enthusiasts in a dozen countries. To accomplish these many and varied tasks, IAT incorporated as a non-profit, established a board of directors, created trail guides, maps, and other merchandise to assist hikers and raise funds, and corresponded with Maine landowners and lawmakers. The IAT collection offers a crash course in grassroots efforts, perseverance, and the physical and cultural contours of trails and hiking. The magnitude of the IAT undertaking is clear with just a quick glance at the 27 archival boxes packed with material.

Informational material by SIA-IAT, representing the trail in Canada
and the United States
Map by Charlie Gilman depicting proposed routes for the trail through the Saint Croix Lake region.

The collection contains more than administrative and organizational records, however. Filed amongst the various IAT documents, records, maps, and plans are also newsletters and brochures of other trail associations in the U.S., Canada, and beyond. Folders with pages from trail registers containing notes left by hikers using IAT lean-tos complement letters from thru hikers sharing their experiences of and suggestions for the trail.

Carefully penned and hand-drawn plans for routes and drafts of trail guides are housed alongside correspondence revealing the depth of thought, planning and detail that went into the creation and maintenance of the IAT. And throughout are hundreds of photographs documenting the beauty of Northern Maine and Canada. All of these records together immerse the user in the world of long-distance hiking – its language, camaraderie, and particular quietude.

Architectural drawings for an IAT lean-to, 2005

The IAT collection has many potential uses. Certainly, anyone with an interest – personal, professional, or scholarly – in hiking, trails, non-profit organizations, and Maine’s recreational land use would find much of note in the collection. Anderson and Hudson delivered the IAT materials particularly well-organized, and this fact, coupled with their overall diligence in record keeping, means that the IAT collection also offers an interesting glimpse into general organizational processes and administration. 

Altogether, the IAT collection is one of historic, aesthetic, organizational, and human interest. We look forward to sharing it with visitors to the MHS Brown Research Library in the years ahead, and to learning more about its connections to the people, places, and story of Maine. 

Jordis Rosberg is an archivist and librarian who processed this collection for MHS as part of an internship sponsored by the International Appalachian Trail (IAT).

The Sanctity of Archives

By Steve Bromage, MHS Executive Director

You may have heard about a controversy that has emerged this week surrounding the National Archives and Records Administration: NARA, which refers to itself as the “country’s record keeper,” has been taken to task for altering historic images used to promote its exhibit celebrating the centennial of the women’s suffrage movement. Images of the 2017 Women’s March were blurred to obscure references to “Trump” and female anatomy, drawing criticism from historians, the museum field, and many others (including those who participated in the March).

You can read about the controversy in this New York Times article.

History is messy and complex (and wonderful and an incredibly important resource). This controversy strikes a chord: it raises questions about how institutions like Maine Historical Society go about our work at a time when the concepts of “facts, ” “knowledge,” and “truth” are under siege.

At MHS, our mission is to preserve and share Maine’s story. Central to our work is caring for and providing access to documents and other historical items that serve as the foundation of the historical record. We strive to provide broad access to our collections and work closely with partners throughout the state to develop exhibits, public programs, publications, and online resources that provide context for issues that Mainers are focused on today.

A core tenet articulated in our strategic plan states that MHS is “committed to rigorous scholarship, freedom of inquiry, confronting all aspects of the historical record, and advocates the use of history to support planning for the future.” We take this very seriously.

This means that we are meticulous in how we approach, think about, and present the historical record: we do not alter images, manipulate them for effect, sanitize them, or attempt to put aspects of Maine’s story in a more favorable light.

Our staff engages in constant discussion internally and with partners throughout Maine to identify topics of interest and relevance to the community, to include diverse perspectives, and to present multiple viewpoints.

There are inherent biases in all history—based on what records survive, what materials have been valued and collected, the era in which the history is written, and the background and perspective of the historian and institution. We work hard to identify, acknowledge, and address those biases.

I could cite many examples of MHS’s work in recent years that reflect these commitments: exhibitions on immigration in Maine, the paper industry, and Maine’s food culture and economy.

Our current exhibition, Holding Up the Sky, offers a case in point. As the State of Maine commemorates its Bicentennial this year, we felt that it was essential to first place 200 years of Statehood into the context of 13,000 years of Maine history. The exhibition explores the experience and leadership of the Wabanaki, Maine’s first people, who have lived here and been stewards of the place we now know as Maine for thousands of years.

Holding Up The Sky logo 1 NEW

The exhibit revisits historic documents, like treaties, from the Wabanaki perspective and acknowledges that early Maine leaders, like the Longfellow family (near and dear to MHS), acted in deeply disturbing ways (e.g. by offering scalping bounties). The story is complex, tragic, moving, inspiring, and many other things. It is a story that people who care about Maine need to know, good and bad. Information, awareness, and open dialog is the foundation for moving forward together on this and every other topic of contemporary interest and concern.

I hope you’ll have the chance to visit Holding Up the Sky before it closes on February 1.

Exhibitions are one important way for the public to encounter and explore history. Each story, fact, object, label, panel, and graphic plays a role in establishing knowledge, understanding, and trust. It is essential that each is presented with honesty, accuracy, and transparency.

We are fortunate: Maine has an incredible historical community. Scholars, professors, graduate students, and local historians are dedicated to these principles, as are museums, archives, local historical societies, libraries, and many other organizations throughout the state.

These individuals and institutions are an invaluable resource and source of information. You can be confident in their vigilance and commitment to providing information that supports civic dialog.

We deeply appreciate the support of MHS members and donors who make this work possible.

Maine Historical Society Introduces New Genealogy Experience

In June, Maine Historical Society kicked off a weekly guided introduction to genealogical research: Find Your Place in History.

Genealogy-Experience-Final-Logo_WEB

On Thursday afternoons from June to October 2018, small groups gather in MHS’s renowned Brown Research Library and embark on the Find Your Place in History program from 4:00 to 5:30pm. During the program, participants explore history on all levels: from the history of their own family to artifacts that help tell the story of western civilization.

“Genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States, and many of our visitors to the Brown Research Library are genealogists doing research” says Nan Cumming, Director of Advancement and creator of the Find Your Place in History program. “But we have heard from a number of patrons that there is really no guided introduction to genealogy except reading a book or watching a couple of YouTube videos. We have the expertise, the information, and the collections here – this is certainly a gap in the market we can fill!”

During their afternoon session, Find Your Place in History participants dig into their own family story with the guidance of Maine Historical Society staff. In addition, they view artifacts from the collections of the Maine Historical Society and put on the white gloves and explore Maine Historical Society’s archives—off limits to regular visitors. After their work in the library, the participants gather in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House garden to enjoy refreshments.

“We’re delighted to kick off the Find Your Place in History program and to welcome those who have always had an interest in genealogy, but frankly didn’t know where to start!” said Cumming.

Find Your Place in History: A Maine Historical Society Genealogy Experience is offered Thursdays from June to October, from 4:00pm to 5:30pm. Check-in at the MHS Museum Store at 489 Congress Street.

This is a guided introduction to genealogical research—not for experienced genealogists. To ensure you have the most fascinating experience, bring the names and birthdates of a few relatives to your session.

Ticket Price: $75 each. There is a maximum of 6 people per tour. The deadline to register for each event is the Monday prior to the event. Available by advance registration online at mainehistory.org or by phone at 207-774-1822 ext. 216