Then followed a most charming surprise. William mastered his timidity and began to sing. His voice was a little faint and frail like the family daguerreotypes, but … I had never heard 'Home Sweet Home' sung as touchingly… [t] he old mother joined him and they sang together … Mrs. Todd kept time visibly, and sometimes audibly, with her ample foot. ... It was…a great pleasure. –– Sarah Orne Jewett (1896)
They used to run from Indian Island to Lincoln Island…which is thirty miles, and be there by lunch, so we had to try it, too. We got there by supper, but we got there. This was the impetus for what some of you may know as the "Katahdin 100." –– Barry Dana (2004)
Grange #304 members, Alexander, ca. 1950
Item Contributed by
Alexander-Crawford Historical Society
Resourcefulness, tradition, and a consciousness of identity are hallmarks of community spirit. This notion of communal self resides in towns, neighborhoods, organizations, and institutions large and small. From Granges and church groups, to community festivals and town meetings, Maine throughout its history has exhibited an abundant sense of community and cultural opportunities.
Early Maine residents who lived in proximity to one another communicated face to face. They congregated in churches and taverns, met along streets and piers, and spoke to, or ignored, one another in person. Broadsides, newspapers, and other devices mediated and expanded communal spaces, but the legacy of community as shared time and place has persisted in Maine.
Small Town Habits
In many ways the story of Maine is in the history of its small towns, where people often come together over common economic and social interests as well as proximity to one another and distance from other communities. Traditional activities like barn-raisings and quilting bees brought people together as did churches, schools, and the more prosaic activities such as meeting over pie and lunch at the annual town meeting.
Barn raising, Littleton, ca. 1900
Item Contributed by
Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum
The notion of community, held especially dear by residents of small towns, is sometimes as much myth as reality as income, religion, age, and other differences often separate people in cities and towns of all sizes. Nevertheless, activities such as those already mentioned help to bring people together across the differences, even if temporarily.
Well aware of the transformative experience common delights can provide, Sarah Orne Jewett described a community picnic organized around a family reunion in The Country of the Pointed Firs:
To call it a picnic would make it seem trivial. The great tables were edged with pretty oak-leaf trimming, which the boys and girls made. We brought flowers from the fence-thickets of the great field; and out of the disorder of flowers and provisions suddenly appeared as orderly a scheme for the feast as the marshal had shaped for the procession… As I looked up and down the tables there was a good cheer, a grave soberness that shown with pleasure, a humble dignity of bearing… The feast was a noble feast.
The event included pastries creatively made and elegantly displayed, family anecdotes, appropriate speeches, and many affectionate reminiscences. Evoking more than just the simple pleasures of the past, Jewett crafted her narrative around country traditions that meant much to the participants themselves.
Old Home Week parade, Kennebunk, 1907
Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society
Town festivals or celebrations have long been popular ways to promote a sense of community and community identity. Some of these take the form of "Old Home Days," which often feature school reunions, old-fashioned games and events, and other activities.
The impetus often is an idealized past – memories of a simpler time or "friendlier" community – and hopes for the future. The organizers of Old Home Days in Harrison describe their mission: "to create a feeling of community spirit in the manner of a small New England village and work together to raise funds for various community projects."
The governor of neighboring New Hampshire in 1899 urged "old home day" celebrations, saying he was concerned about the decline of the small town. He wanted communities to set aside a time for residents, both past and present, to re-unite to keep the towns alive.
Some cities, towns and villages take a more topical approach to an annual activity that builds community spirit – and enhances revenues.
Festivals might celebrate crops – the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival, Rockland Lobster Festival, Yarmouth Clam Festival and Fort Fairfield Potato Blossom Festival, or dozens of strawberry festivals, for example.
Film: Potato Blossom Festival Parade
Item Contributed by
Northeast Historic Film
Ethnic festivals also are popular in many communities. La Kermesse, a festival celebrating Biddeford's Franco American community, for instance, is held every June. Lewiston-Auburn and Waterville also hold Franco-American festivals.
Greek Orthodox churches in Saco, Portland, and Lewiston hold annual Greek festivals. The Maine Highland Games each August brings the Scottish community together. Other ethnic festivals are held throughout the state as well.
Festivals also might celebrate seasonal events like end-of-summer or fall harvests at the Blue Hill Fair, Common Ground Fair, Freyburg Fair, among dozens of others; or events like snowfall with numerous winter carnivals or snofests.
And, of course, the Chester Greenwood Day celebration each December in Farmington honors the man who invented earmuffs. Then there is the charitable if truly weird Black Fly Breeders Association, a Machias organization that rhapsodizes the black fly on T-shirts and bumper stickers for good causes.
Not all communities are bounded geographically. Others revolve around work tasks or particular recreational activities. A number of waterfront communities hold annual Blessing of the Fleet ceremonies for fishing boats and other commercial craft. In the 19th century observances of lighting the candles (later the electric lights) in factories in the fall and blowing them out in the spring were celebrated with balls or other events.