Pilot Community Profile: New Sweden

In New Sweden, the pilot team included representatives from the New Sweden School (K–8; participating students were in 7th and 8th grades), the New Sweden Historical Society, the Caribou Public Library, the Stockholm Historical Society, the Nylander Museum, and the Swedish Colony (a preservation organization).

New Sweden was an interesting pilot site for a variety of reasons. Located in Aroostook County in the northernmost part of Maine, a region of the state that is often under–represented in statewide education and cultural initiatives, the community has a distinct culture and history and represents a vast agricultural part of Maine that few people outside of the region know well. New Sweden was settled as a planned Swedish immigrant community in the 1870s to firmly establish a strong Maine presence in a lightly-populated region subject to ongoing border disputes with Canada.

To this day, the area has strong ties to its Swedish roots which are reflected in local names, language, cultural traditions, and religion. And while those cultural traditions give the area strength and a unique identity, the area is also firmly connected and subject to contemporary economic and social issues that face much of rural Maine. Simply put, there are few jobs to keep young people in the region.

The pilot team that came together was well-equipped to tell this story. The local point person, Ernie Easter, was a seventh and eighth grade Social Studies teacher who had long been interested in local history and was active and visible in the professional community of middle level educators in Maine. Ernie was joined by enthusiastic representatives from several important cultural organizations in the area, each of which had historical collections, deep knowledge of local history, and great enthusiasm for working with the students.

One of the first steps the local team took was to conduct an inventory of local historical resources—organizations, collections, buildings, people, etc.—and compile an initial, constantly-growing list of themes, topics, and events in the history of the Swedish community that students and members of the community might research and share on their Maine Memory website.

During the 2006-2007 school year, students in Easter's 7th/8th grade Maine Studies course undertook an in–depth study of the history of New Sweden. As a group, they visited several local historical organizations, met with local historians, and read available secondary readings. Those students, in a previous course, had conducted research into the history of their own families. With that foundation, the students each selected individual topics in the history of the Swedish community to explore and then created online exhibits related to their topics. Topics included: the history of Stockholm; a biography of Olaf Nylander, a prominent early resident; the story of Eureka Hall, an important community building that has played many roles; a study of nineteenth century mills in the town of Stockholm; and others. (Samples of their work can be seen using the links on this page.)

The students later embarked on a new series of research topics. Simultaneously, adult members of the planning group edited and revised a 2500 word narrative history of the Swedish community. That narrative was the cornerstone of the New Sweden website in Maine Memory, and served as the framework for many of the student online exhibits.