The Edgecomb Historical Society has sprung back from the brink of dissolving and taken up detailed plans for the future, beginning with a deep dive into its collections. A major donation allowed the society to hire a professional archivist, begin conversations about shaping its physical archive, and continue the search for a permanent home.
The society was formally incorporated in 1999 and aims to preserve, record, and interpret the history of Edgecomb. It came close to disbanding in 2021 due to a lack of membership, funding, and a central location during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When a founding member recently left a sizeable gift in her estate, the society used the funds to revive its efforts, according to trustee Dave Boucher.
Archivist Kari Smith, of Boothbay, began work this summer sorting papers, books, photographs, tapes, and record books in the town hall loft. The collection there takes up about 40 cubic feet in archival boxes, where she has recently transferred materials from packing boxes, shopping bags, and suitcases. The rest, including early 19th-century blacksmithing tools and farm implements from notable resident Moses Davis, fills in a member’s one-car garage.
“She’s already got us improving our mindset as far as how to go forward, and you do have to go forward. You can’t just sit still,” Boucher said. “History does pass, but it’s also happening every day.”
He noted strong connections to the area’s history still visible in Edgecomb today, such as families who have lived in town since the 1700s and some parcels of land still shaped in the pattern of original land grants, which extended from the center of the peninsula to the Damariscotta and Sheepscot rivers.
Most of the existing physical archives span from the 1820s to the 1970s. Among the oldest is an 1820s logbook from John Dodge. Family scrapbooks, ledgers from Edgecomb’s former schools, history publications, and even a wooden stereographic picture projector span the decades.
Time periods are grouped with various donations and events, such as items from the town’s bicentennial in 1974 including commemorative teacups and a handmade quilt raffled off at that celebration and recently returned to the society from its eventual home in Ohio.
Boucher has also found digital additions in photographs and records from other collections, including Maine state archives, those in Boston from when the state was part of Massachusetts, and even the New York Public Library.
The society plans to make selections of its own paper collection available digitally in the near future.
“Virtually everybody today is digitized, and they’ve been searching most of their information online, and we have good information to share,” Boucher said.
Volunteer training sessions planned for this winter will teach others how to work in the archives and catalog donations themselves, continuing the trajectory Smith began.
She is also developing guidelines for future volunteers and infrastructure for the society’s sustainable future, including policies, forms, and legal guidelines.
“There’s a bunch of momentum and real excitement about this,” Smith said.
Smith has over 20 years of experience in archives, largely at universities, and the Edgecomb project is her first time considering the history of a town. She said the experience has been “fantastic” and a great partnership. Boucher agreed, and said members have seen developments in how they approach the society’s work.
Formalizing the archives also requires answering questions about what is important for the historical society to preserve and how, conversations that are ongoing for members.
While that progresses, the society’s wish list for new donations includes letters, journals, family histories, old photographs of journals, videos on any format, and postcards directly related to the town of Edgecomb.
“My thing is always, if we don’t collect today, there will be nothing for tomorrow, and history is as close as yesterday,” Smith said.
She hopes recent history will be added to the town’s collection as well, finding methods for acquiring and curating content like digital photos and event videos.
Stories of local memories would also be a valuable addition to the collection, they said, and the group hopes to host an event with national storytelling nonprofit StoryCorps next year.
Boucher said the society is also considering creating placards for historic homes tracing the title history to sell as a fundraiser.
Boucher and Smith agreed that finding a home for the collection that could be open to the public is a critical next step. A donated structure or free will five- or 10-year lease opportunity would be welcomed, according to Boucher.
“The idea of donating this type of town collection, family histories, is to be able to have other people learn from them and enjoy them, quite frankly,” Smith said. “So to do that, you need a place they can come to see the stuff, a place that’s going to survive.”
The group is always open to more volunteer involvement, too, Boucher said.
Alongside this work, the historical society is involved in planning for the town’s year of 250th anniversary celebrations in 2024, which kick off at the Edgecomb Eddy School’s Charlie Brown tree event this December.