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Remembering Mellie Dunham: Snowshoe Maker and Fiddler

Mellie Dunham, Norway, ca. 1925
Mellie Dunham, Norway, ca. 1925

Item Contributed by
Norway Historical Society

Text by Ann Siekman, Charles Longley and Susan Denison

Images from Norway Historical Society and Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Alanson Mellen "Mellie" Dunham, a snowshoe maker and a fiddler, was a self-made, hardworking, dedicated, talented and creative individual who gained national recognition.

Mellie Dunham home, Crockett Ridge, Norway, ca. 1925
Mellie Dunham home, Crockett Ridge, Norway, ca. 1925

Item Contributed by
Norway Historical Society

He was born on July 29, 1853, on Crockett Ridge just west of the village of Norway, overlooking Lake Pennesseewassee.

Dunham's father had settled there and built the farm where Mellie spent the rest of his life. He grew up hunting and fishing with a love of the outdoors.

Early on he had the instincts of a tinkerer and craftsman. By age 12 he had traded for the frames of an old-fashioned pair of snowshoes and filled them with rawhide. At age 13 he bought a fiddle that was in pieces, repaired it, and started fiddling.

In the fall of 1875, Dunham married Emma Richardson, a local woman who joined him on the farm, sharing his love of music and the outdoors. In those days small Maine farms were self-sufficient places.

Mellie Dunham and grandchildren, Norway, ca. 1919
Mellie Dunham and grandchildren, Norway, ca. 1919

Item Contributed by
Norway Historical Society
Emma Richardson Dunham, Norway, ca. 1895
Emma Richardson Dunham, Norway, ca. 1895

Item Contributed by
Norway Historical Society

The Dunhams lived with practical independence, growing their own food and providing for their own needs with the fundamental dignity of plain country people.

About this same time Mellie started making snowshoes for sale and also began fiddling for dances, a popular form of entertainment in rural communities.

The Dunham's only child, Ethna Pearl, was born in 1878. She married Nathan Noble in 1897 and died in 1918 after the birth of her ninth child.

Nate and the children, who ranged in age from birth to 19 years, lived next door to Mellie and Emma, who was known as "Gram," on Crockett Ridge. The grandparents played a major role in raising the younger children.

Mellie Dunham died on September 27, 1931; Gram Dunham's death followed two years later on October 31, 1933.

Ann Siekman and Susan Denison are on the Norway Historical Society Collections Committee. Charles Longley is Curator of Norway Historical Society