New Stuff

FMI: “The Underground Railroad in Maine” with Mark Alan Leslie

The community room was packed to the gills Thursday night, with upwards of 150 people attending author and journalist Mark Alan Leslie’s informative talk on the Underground Railroad in Biddeford and Maine in general.

McArthur was really happy to be able to give Mr. Leslie some documentation on the activity in Biddeford and Saco during these years, though so much more work needs to be done to document this topic and African-American history in southern Maine.

For what its worth, here are answers to a couple local questions that cropped up during his talk :

  • Q. When did the (pro-slavery) Maine Democrat newspaper break up?
  • A. Prior to 1880, as far as I can tell, perhaps closer to 1870? Just as Mr. Leslie conjectured.
  • Q. Was Biddeford’s Negro Island named for Underground Railroad activities?
  • A. NO. We have documents that show Negro Island was called that as early as 1795. We still don’t know why or how it got the name, though.
  • Q. Were there any safe houses in Biddeford-Saco?
  • A. We don’t know! No family histories, oral histories or documentation of UR activities have been passed to the library! If you know of any stories of this, please let us know!!

The over-flowing crowd was obviously hungry to learn more about this important topic in U.S. history…so here are some links for those who were unable to attend the talk, or who wish to educate themselves further about the shameful (and as we learned, still existent!) institution of slavery in the United States.

Biddeford’s Second Congregational (aka “White Church”), Crescent Street, 1909.

The Portland Maine Freedom Trail “Dedicated to the countless thousands of men and women who fled the bonds of slavery but were recaptured or died at the hands of their pursuers before they reached the safe embrace of the Underground Railroad. They are not forgotten.”

Mark Alan Leslie Missed the talk? Look to find the Maine author and journalist in one of his other Maine speaking engagements in 2019.

Slavery in the United States Wish to learn more, and not just about the Underground Railroad? PBS’ excellent “Africans in America” has history, links, interviews and access to video as well. Underground Railroad: the William Still Story, is also incredible, though it doesn’t take place in Maine.

Fort Fairfield, Maine A wonderful narrative about this town’s role as the last stop before Canada on the Maine route, and more current celebrations there.

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Neat finds and fun stories

Wild and crazy Halloween librarians, 1960’s style.

1388

“McArthur Library staff shown wearing Halloween hats to please the young patrons of the Junior Department.” (Biddeford Daily Journal – November 1, 1963 – P.1)

Staff (L-R): Pauline Arbour, June Rumery, Annette Danis, Amy Albert. Children: Edgar Devoid, Annette Devoid, Stanley Karlin, Jeanne Gobeil, Denise Gobeil, Jo-Anne Bouthot.

Image 1388, McArthur Library Collections.

 HAVE A SAFE AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

New Stuff

The *other* John Stevens

Pavilion (3rd Congregational) Church…aka McArthur Library!

Our building was designed by John Stevens (1824-1881), an incredibly popular church archicect of the mid-19th century from Boston, Massachusetts. Often there is some confusion though, as people probably look at his name and assume we mean John Calvin Stevens, the mega-famous (so most famous?) Maine architect.

But no, although John Calvin Stevens (1855-1940) takes the credit for Biddeford’s beautiful City Building, it was that other John Stevens (and you could rightly say the first John Stevens) who designed the beautiful 1863 building that would become home to Biddeford’s public library in 1902 – the McArthur Public Library that we all know and love.  

It is said that Stevens was so popular that he designed over 100 churches in New England, and it could be true…though I’ll let someone else do the tally on that. (Road trip!)

South Church, Andover, MA (courtesy of findagrave.com)

You’ll notice, many of his buildings look eerily similar…so in your travels, be on the lookout for other Stevens buildings – you won’t be able to miss them!

For more information about our John Stevens (1824-1881), see the Wikipedia article (with photos!) or come by the library and thumb through the book The steeples of old New England : how the Yankees reached for heaven / by Kirk Shivell.

Ponderings, Resources

Where have all the Francos gone?

I wanted to call attention to the following article, because it so beautifully articulates much of my own experience and I suppose that of many others as well. I excerpt the first paragraph to draw you in, and it will – I promise. Then click on the link to read the rest at the wonderful site where it lives. Be sure to read on at the end, the numerous comments are just as instructive.
~Renée

Play cast in production of "Tonkourou", Biddeford, 1910.
Play cast in production of “Tonkourou”, Biddeford, 1910.


From the Blog French North America: Québécois(e), Franco-American, Acadian, and more
by David Vermette

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Why Are Franco-Americans So Invisible?

“Why are we so invisible?” I’ve heard this question wherever Franco-Americans gather, be it through my social media contacts, at conferences, or at my occasional speaking engagements. The history of Franco-Americans is all but left out of the historical accounts on both sides of the border. It couldn’t be more missing among the history of U.S. ethnic groups. And it is largely unknown in Québec.”

READ ON HERE….

Events, New Stuff

Glimpsing Granite in Biddeford

Biddeford had a thriving granite industry through the early 20th century (the many quarries that remain are evidence of this – they don’t call it Granite Street for nothing!)

Celebrate and learn about this heritage with John Anderson of Rockland, in a program about the fascinating life of his grandfather, Capt. Anders Anderson, an immigrant and schooner captain who hauled granite for 30+ years in Maine. You won’t want to miss this glimpse into Maine’s historic granite industry!

Events, New Stuff, Resources

Extry! Extry! New Biddeford history book hits the shelves!

A Brief History of Biddeford by Emma R. BouthilletteThe highly anticipated new local history book “A Brief History of Biddeford” by Emma R. Bouthillette has finally been released, to wide acclaim and appreciation. Ms. Bouthillette is a life-long Biddeford resident and graduate of Biddeford High School and the University of New England. She has great journalistic chops and has written for newspapers and magazines around Maine; her experience really shines through in this wonderfully readable book.

Last night McArthur Library celebrated her book release with a packed house of enthusiastic well-wishers and history buffs, so much so that we sold out of our copies! We will DEFINITELY have a large number to circulate…but there are a couple of local places where you can pick up this fabulous volume – especially if you want to give a copy to your favorite Biddeford Dad or Grad!!!

If you’re local ~ PLEEEEEEEEEEEASE BUY LOCAL!!! If you’re not…we are sorry you are away from Maine, we hope you can come see us soon, and in the meantime we give you option 3. 🙂

Enjoy!!

  1. ELEMENTS!! Go across the street to Biddy’s beloved taproom/café, get something delicious (what else is there at Elements, I mean, really…), snag your copy of the book, relax and enjoy!

  2. Nonesuch Books at Biddeford Crossing!! For those of you on the road, out and about, shopping at the shops…stop in and see the lovely Nonesuch folks and – like me – linger over which little chocolate morsel you are going to indulge in. Because you always have to get a piece of chocolate at Nonesuch. It’s the law.

  3. The Internet! For all of our Away friends, you CAN still revel in the Biddy too…the book is available through all the usual suspects, so we’re just going to give you the publisher (Arcadia Publishing-History Press) and you can go from there.

 

Events, New Stuff

President Monroe was here!

If you’ve been in the library lately, you may have noticed the cool new “James Monroe was here” sticker on the front door. So what’s it all about?

Two hundred years ago this month, James Monroe, fifth President of the United States, embarked upon an epic tour of the northern states. From May 31 to November 29 of 1817, the President visited 14 states and districts (including the district of Maine, which was not yet separated from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts).

The bicentennial of this journey is being commemorated by James Monroe’s Highland, the home of the President and his family from 1799-1826 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The museum and historic estate is a part of the College of William and Mary, which is also Monroe’s alma mater.

Highland’s historians tell us that Monroe’s tour was undertaken for two reasons:

Inspection of Military Defenses –
Having served as President Madison’s Secretary of State during the War of 1812 – and simultaneously for several months as Secretary of War – Monroe was keenly aware of the vulnerability of the country’s coastal fortifications. By reviving George Washington’s precedent of national tours, Monroe showed his hands-on management style, as well as cultured public support for strengthening military defenses.

National Unity –
Monroe’s decision to first inspect military defenses in the northern states was intentional. New England was largely Federalist, while Monroe’s political party was Democratic-Republican. The recent Hartford Convention (December 1814-January 1815) had made it plain that Federalists in the region were unhappy with the War of 1812 and even considered secession for New England. Monroe was also sensitive to the fact the northern states had not initially embraced another member of the Virginia Dynasty in the election of 1816.

~James Monroe’s Highland, 1817 Tour of the Northern States  – “Interpretation Points: Significance of James Monroe’s 1817 Tour of the Northern States”

Biddeford was an important stop for Monroe, as it was the home of the Honorable George Thacher, then a Judge in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

Biddeford’s historic Thacher Hotel, which opened in 1847 as Biddeford House, was renamed in 1898 to honor the important Revolutionary-era citizen.

The library has a great brief exhibit on Judge Thacher, along with images, up in our Movers and Shakers of Biddeford area on the Biddeford History and Heritage Project on Maine Historical Society’s Maine Memory Network. You can also access a detailed record of his public service in the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-2005, which was produced by the U.S. Congress.

Born in Massachusetts proper, educated at Harvard College, George Thacher was only the second lawyer to come to Biddeford to practice – after James Sullivan (later governor of Massachusetts). Judge Thacher was well known in the highest political circles, having represented the area in both the Continental Congress as well as the first U.S. Congress in 1789, a post he held until 1801. President Monroe’s northern-most stop on the trip was Portland, Maine, but he stopped in Biddeford on the way up and again on the way back, one of only 2 towns in Maine with multiple planned visits in his itinerary.

So why should we care, other than the interest factor of a sitting U.S. President intentionally coming to town? President Monroe is incredibly important to this area because it was his signing of the Missouri Compromise that led to Maine finally becoming independent of Massachusetts in 1820 – the bicentennial of which we will celebrate in just a couple of years.

Note: Several other Maine organizations are also participating in this very cool commemoration, including: Fort McClary, our friends and neighbors at the Saco Museum, the Scarborough Historical Society, and the Maine Historical Society…be sure to stay tuned for interesting programming from our colleagues along the Post Road!!