Stipend supported Teacher Workshops coming in August!

LOCTPSlogoMaine Historical Society recently received a Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources grant to create robust lesson plans pairing historical items on Maine Memory Network with related items from the Library of Congress’s American Memory. Curriculum is being created on three pilot topics (immigration, World War I, and Maine statehood) and two teacher workshops will be held in August (one in Portland on August 4, one in Bangor on August 6) to share the plans and provide hands on sessions using the databases.

Stipends of $50 are available to attend the workshop. Teachers are encouraged to share what they learn back in their district with members of their teaching teams and other colleagues. Five teachers who attend the workshops will be invited to serve as case studies during the 2015-2016 academic year for an additional, larger stipend. Case studies involve having 4-6 classroom visits by MHS education staff throughout the year.

If would you like to learn more about the workshops and get a registration form, please email Kathleen Neumann, Manager of School Programs, at If you know a teacher who might be interested, please pass this along.


Autumn in the Maine woods…100 years ago

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist & Cataloger

Harris S. Colt, grandson of longtime Parmachenee Club member Harris D. Colt of New York City, poses with the staff of the private hunting-fishing club at Parmachenee Lake.
Harris S. Colt, grandson of longtime Parmachenee Club member Harris D. Colt of New York City, poses with the staff of the private hunting-fishing club at Parmachenee Lake. MMN# 19381

Being outdoors in the Maine woods in the fall is the best time – crisp cool nights, warm days, colorful autumn foliage, and, best of all, no mosquitoes or black flies. In northern Maine there are many sporting camps that lure folks from afar to where hunting and fishing opportunities abound. At the turn of the 20th century one of these camps, owned by the Parmachenee Club, offered expeditions into these northern woods.

Teresa Colt (Mrs. Harris D. Colt Jr.) and her father-in-law, Harris D. Colt, with an unidentified friend at the Parmachenee Club on Parmachenee Lake. MMN# 19387
Teresa Colt and her father-in-law, Harris D. Colt, with an unidentified friend at the Parmachenee Club on Parmachenee Lake, ca. 1940. MMN# 19387

The Parmachenee Club was formed in 1890 by a group of (mostly) New York City lawyers. The members obtained a lease of 120,000 acres of land, from the Old Aziscohos Dam above Wilson’s Mills to the Canadian border. They hunted and fished within these acres, and built a camp, called “Camp in the Meadows,” along the Magalloway River in Oxford County, where they lodged. Maine Guides assisted the members on their hunting and fishing expeditions.

The Parmachenee Club, a private hunting-fishing club on Treat's Island at Parmachenee Lake is seen from a distance across the lake. MMN# 19389
The Parmachenee Club, a private hunting-fishing club on Treat’s Island at Parmachenee Lake is seen from a distance across the lake, ca. 1940 . MMN# 19389

In 1910, the Berlin Mills Company and the International Paper Company built a dam in the leased territory to move cut lumber. Club members were able to penetrate further into the woods due to the new dam, but it also placed the Camp in the Meadows under twelve feet of water. The Parmachenee Club was re-established on Treat’s Island on Parmachenee Lake.

Some of the buildings of the Parmachenee Club, a private hunting-fishing club at Camp Caribou on Treat's Island, Parmachenee Lake, in about 1940. The club was founded in 1890 on the Meadows of the Magalloway River and moved to the island when a paper company dam flooded the first location. MMN# 19385
Some of the buildings of the Parmachenee Club, a private hunting-fishing club at Camp Caribou on Treat’s Island, Parmachenee Lake, in about 1940. MMN# 19385

The membership, which included women, loved the woods and the streams. Their ideal was sportsmanship, and their goal the preservation of the woods and the wildlife within it. Henry P. Wells, a member, invented a lure called the “Parmachenee Belle,” named after the club. Harris D. Colt was the oldest member. He fished there for 41 consecutive seasons.

Teresa Colt with an unidentified friend at the Parmachenee Club on Parmachenee Lake. She was married to Harris D. Colt Jr., son of longtime Parmachenee Club member Harris D. Colt of New York City. MMN #19382
Teresa Colt with an unidentified friend at the Parmachenee Club on Parmachenee Lake. MMN# 19382

It wasn’t easy to get to the camps – you had to travel by train, steamboat, canoe, and on foot, along rails, rivers, and roads. But it was worth it. The season started as soon as the ice melted in the spring and went through October 1st, “but as always, the Club will be open as early and as long as the members desire it.”

Harris D. Colt wrote to his grandson Harris S. Colt, “The first time I visited the club was in 1896. With your grandmother Colt we spent two or three weeks there in the month of September.”

Harris S. Colt, grandson of longtime Parmachenee Club member Harris D. Colt, at the private hunting-fishing camp on Caribou Island on Parmachenee Lake. MMN# 19386
Harris S. Colt with fish, in about 1940. MMN# 19386

The club disbanded in the 1960s. Many sporting camps still exist today and may be visited. Although they’re still not easy to reach, it’s not the arduous journey of 100 years ago.

For more information, search “Parmachenee” or items 19381-19387 and 19389 on the Maine Memory Network.

Harris D. Colt, a New York City lawyer, on the steps of a cabin at the Parmachenee Club on Caribou Island on Parmachenee Lake. MMN# 19383
Harris D. Colt, a New York City lawyer, on the steps of a cabin at the Parmachenee Club on Caribou Island on Parmachenee Lake. MMN# 19383
Teresa Colt (Mrs. Harris D. Colt Jr.) and friends relax at the Parmachenee Club on Camp Caribou on Treat's Island on Parmachenee Lake, ca. 1940. MMN# 19384
Teresa Colt (Mrs. Harris D. Colt Jr.) and friends relax at the Parmachenee Club on Camp Caribou on Treat’s Island on Parmachenee Lake, ca. 1940. MMN# 19384

Potty Talk: Fragile Objects Found in a Privy

By Dani Fazio, MHS Creative Manager

Walking through the Maine Historical Society exhibition, Home: The Longfellow House and the Emergence of Portland, I am surrounded by beautiful objects that have been carefully preserved by MHS for centuries, each telling stories of how the Wadsworth-Longfellow House remained an anchor amidst the city’s unfolding drama. As I near the far end of the museum, I spot something out of place: a display of objects that do not seem to have been carefully preserved—there are cracked pieces of china, a mug with a hole in it, fragments of glass, mismatched buttons, a pipe that appears quite filthy, and an indiscernible object that I learn from the label is part of a man’s shoe.

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What are these orphan objects and what do they have to do with each other or with the Wadsworth-Longfellow House? I read up on the display in the panel that is titled “The Privy.” Wait, isn’t a privy an outhouse?

The Brown Library at MHS was renovated a few years ago, and the adjacent Longfellow Garden had to be dismantled to allow for the crews and machines to access the building project. In 2008, workers who were rebuilding the garden wall noticed objects in the soil—broken glass and ceramics at first. This prompted an archaeological investigation by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission of the space and, according to the exhibition panel, “determined the ceramics had been thrown into a privy that was once used by residents who lived next door at 47 Brown Street.” So, these objects I’m looking at were in a latrine?

Reading on, I am relieved to learn that when Portland established a sewer system the privy was no longer needed and filled with debris—precisely the objects I see before me. These items serve as a humble reminder of how the immigrant and working class residents of the Brown Street apartments and boarding houses experienced urban living in the mid-19th century.

I am also relieved to see that, despite the fragile condition these former castaways were found in, MHS has dedicated itself to carefully preserving the privy artifacts for centuries to come.

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Home: The Longfellow House & the Emergence of Portland is open daily from 10am – 5pm and has an online component on the Maine Memory Network.

New Exhibition Open!

June 27, 2014

HOME: The Longfellow House and the Emergence of Portland opened last night to a crowd of MHS members and friends, all eager to see the much-anticipated new show that explores the evolution of the Longfellow House and our beloved city.

This exhibition uses the House as a prism to explore how Portland has grown and changed over more than 230 years. When Peleg Wadsworth built the House on Back Street in 1785, it was on the rural outskirts of Portland. By the early 1800s, the House was at the center of a bustling, modern New England city. Since then, Portland has boomed, burned, boomed again, busted, and reemerged as a vibrant, forward-looking city. Through it all, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House has been a constant, and witness to the life of an emerging community.

Here are some images from the opening, taken by MHS Creative Manager Dani Fazio:

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Learn how you can participate in the display “Your Home, Past & Present” here.

Thomas Smith’s Bookplate – Where Art and History Merge

By Holly Hurd-Forsyth, Collections Manager & Registrar

Bookplate from Annaei Senecae Tum Rhetoris Tum Philosophi..., Geneva, 1620 (S.C. 843)
Bookplate from Annaei Senecae Tum Rhetoris Tum Philosophi…, Geneva, 1620 (S.C. 843)

MHS staff are continually reviewing and researching the collections and (re)discovering wonderful things.

A beautiful, very early, and very rare, printed bookplate pasted into the front of one of our Special Collections volumes recently drew attention.  It reads “Thomas Smith, Hunc Librum Vendicat. Anno. Dom MDCCVII” which translates to “Thomas Smith Claims This Book in the Year of Our Lord 1707.” The words are surrounded by a woodcut border of flowers, including roses and thistles. The boldness of the design combined with the early date, and the name “Thomas Smith” warranted further investigation.

As it turns out, this book belonged to Thomas Smith (1678-1742), a merchant in Boston and the father of Parson Thomas Smith (1702-1795) who was the first minister of the first church in Portland (then Falmouth). Parson Smith served as minister for 68 years, until he died in his early 90s. His journals were published in 1849, and provide a valuable window into early to mid-18th century Portland.

The bookplate itself is important. Sinclair Hamilton, the preeminent scholar of early American printing and book illustration proclaims it “…is probably the first ornamental American bookplate” and demonstrates the advancement of the art of woodcut printing in the American colonies.

The book (S.C. 843: Annaei Senecae Tum Rhetoris Tum Philosophi…, published in Geneva in 1620) was a gift of Florence Codman of New York City in 1958. 

For more information on bookplates, see this Maine Memory Network online exhibit, Bookplates Honor Annie Louise Cary, developed by the Cary Memorial Library in Wayne.

Bill’s Mythbusters: Portland Tunnels

Beginning in 1923 work began on a new intake and conduit system at Sebago Lake to convey water to the transmission mains, thereby increasing the amount of water available to Portland area residents.

The Portland tunnels myth is one of the most frequent inquiries we receive at the MHS Library, and cannot be easily answered.  Last month, we asked you to send us your stories of tunnels running beneath our beloved city streets to help us uncover the myth of the Portland tunnels once and for all! We received several myths from our readers and friends, who shared stories about alleged underground activity throughout the peninsula. Some of the stories were believable (such as passages used by shop owners whose buildings were across from one another on Congress St.) and others were fantastical (tunnels built “to the future”). Michelle Souliere, of Strange Maine, began researching the supposed tunnels in 2005, and gained great response to her October 26, 2005 blog post.

We thought if we started with the source for information about the city’s streets and utilities, Portland’s Department of Public Works GIS maps, we would get a quick and easy answer. We were proved wrong. A call to the Public Works Department informed us that the city’s archivist (and keeper of the GIS maps) has retired. In the interim, Michelle Sweeney at City Hall has assumed the task, and we connected with her. We e-mailed back and forth regarding an alleged subway system, hidden rooms, liquor passages and even the “tunnel to the future.” Sweeney confirmed the tunnel between the old Press Herald Building at 119 Exchange Street and its printing facility across Congress Street.

October 1966 Portland Press Herald article about their new tunnel

As we investigated tunnel myths, we opened a can of worms with yet another myth of an unfinished subway system. We heard from locals who went into the tunnels to see where the subway would have been. (I should point out that until I walk through a tunnel, I won’t believe or confirm it exists). Sweeney suggests that a 1904 city “Plan of Underground Structures” which shows the usual sewage and utility lines and vaults,  may be the genesis of the subway myth. Trolley tracks indicated on the surface may have been interpreted  by some as “underground structures” which they were not. There was never a subway in Portland. In the 1980s, Portland School of Art instructor Barbara Best drew up an elaborate set of blueprints for a mythical subway between the Mother of Victory and Longfellow Monuments which strengthened the legend.

While we would like to put a lid on this pandora’s box of tunnels, we can’t just yet. As mentioned in this blog, we are confirming one single tunnel at the old Portland Press Herald printing facility, and until I can walk through a tunnel myself, I won’t validate any of the claims made thus far. So, if you are a shop owner, or someone with secret building access, by all means invite me for a tour of your basements and tunnels. If you have blueprints or photos of substructures, feel free to swing by MHS and show us.

Unloading a cache of liquor from a ship in Portland during prohibition in 1920.

Can the utility passages be considered tunnels? I have to say not really, or at least in the way that our inquirers suggest, because the city installs these underground spaces for our sewers, power and gas lines, not for transporting booze from the wharfs into town during prohibition (or other non-utility activities). So, while you may see a vaulted door that seems perpetually locked in the basement of your building, it’s not necessarily a door to a tunnel that will reveal a bizarro Portland underground. A true tunnel would be one that was built with a purpose, such as to transport goods between buildings easily and with access to freight elevators. The Rines Family, who owned the Congress Building (State Theater) and the Eastland Park Hotel, reportedly had a tunnel for just those reasons. This is another tunnel that I’ve heard of and would like to believe existed (or exists) but until I walk through a tapestry of cobwebs and feel the cool, damp air that I imagine this sub-High street passage to have, I (as so many of us will) continue to spin yarns about tunnels in Portland.

-Bill Barry

William David Barry is an author, historian and MHS reference librarian. He can be reached at 

Kids in the Hall

There’s nothing like delighted children to kick up a room’s energy level a notch (or two). And so the MHS lecture hall was a happy, hopping place on the evening of April 27.

That was the night of our spring Local History Local Schools celebration. Roughly 140 students from two Portland elementary schools–4th and 5th graders from Hall School and 3rd graders from Ocean Avenue School–joined with teachers, parents, grandparents, and MHS staff to celebrate their great work based on our ZOOM IN: New Approaches to Maine History exhibit.

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Of course there are as many charming stories of the students’ projects–now on display in the hallway off our lecture hall through the first week in June–as there are students. But we’ll share just one as an example.

Much of the focus of the students’ work was on learning about primary and secondary sources and then interpreting their knowledge through projects. In one of the classes, students created their own primary sources through interviews conducted with family members. One young man chose to interview his artistic grandfather because, as the student wrote in his narrative included in the exhibit, “I wanted to know how he got interested in art, and what it was like in his childhood.”

Fittingly, the grandfather provided his grandson with a primary source from that childhood to include in the exhibit, something he’s kept all these years, and something that relates to the activity he so enjoys. His grandson explains in his narrative: “When he was going to high school, he was given a pencil every semester to use throughout the year. The pencils he got did not have an eraser so he had to use a handheld one instead.”

That pencil is lovingly featured in our student exhibit hallway right now, through early June. (And if you have eagle eyes — you can see a photo of it in the slideshow above, as well as the young man standing between his grandfather and grandmother.) Don’t miss it–or any of the other wonderful works on display. We guarantee you will be amazed.

Finally, an extra special thanks goes to all the teachers for their commitment and dedication to their students and this program. We certainly couldn’t do it without you!