Friday, June 5, 2009

Vanishing History

By Chip Schrader
Book Reviewer Editor

Author Steven Burr’s Lost York County features photographs of old homes that bring back names from long ago, and a time in Maine’s history that is quietly fading into modernity. Covering every town in the county, these select buildings represent architectural trends that range from the mid seventeenth century to the twentieth century. While the book provides memories to long time residents, it also gives the newcomer a sense of the origins of this historic vacationland.
The Lady Pepperell House, the Sarah Orne Jewett house and historical landmarks such as Kittery’s Rice Public Library and the Kennebunk Free Library are not to be found in this book. Lost York County is more of an obituary for buildings that have vanished due to urban renewal and tragic fires. It is also a tribute to remaining structures that have little resemblance to their original form after falling into the hands of renovators who had their own ideas.
For anybody familiar with local lore, Lost York County is just as much of a who’s who as it is about what was here. Names like Booth Tarkington, Horace Mitchell, the surnames of Wentworth and Cutts are as old as the incorporations of these towns (or older) and are present throughout. Burr provides the reader with brief histories of these families to round out the significance of the building.
While the Lady Pepperell House is not included, the book has a vintage photo of the Sparhawk House that was built by the same Pepperells. Presently, the house exists with handpicked pieces preservationists reconstructed at the Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, N.H. Burr doesn’t miss a beat to point out the fact that very little of the original structure remains, and that its complete preservation was never intended.
The Hotel section and summer business chapters follow with the Mousam House in Coastal Kennebunk where ex-President James Monroe dined in1817, but was destroyed in 1979. Burr even indicates the responsible party.
It was also mentioned that Kennebunk once featured over eight hotels along its beaches. The Narragansett has survived after being converted into condominiums, the Eagle Rock Hotel was torn down to the first floor and converted to a house, and others were demolished completely.
While there are some biting side notes, they are subtle and factual. Like a skilled pool player using English to sink a shot, Burr uses his spin sparingly and with a matter of fact tone that is unnoticeable to those not looking for it. His writing is clear, and does not devolve into digressions that beat his points into the readers’ minds, they are just there for the taking.
Photo caption: Cover of Lost York County by Steven Burr. (Courtesy photo)

Noble High School Revisits the
Roaring 20s with Gatsby Party

By Devin Beliveau
Staff Columnist

There has never been a high school gym full of better-dressed teenagers. Last Thursday, Janice Eldridge’s 10th grade U.S. History classes, and Joshua Gould’s 10th grade English classes at Noble High School created an evening inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel: The Great Gatsby. From the 1920s styles to the music to the dancing, it was an impressive sight to watch a bygone era come alive.
“Sophomores here at Noble High School read The Great Gatsby in English, and we study the 20s in Social Studies, so we decided it would be a good way to combine both of them in a fun way,” said Eldridge, one of the night’s organizers.
Slick looking black suits were the order of the day for the boys, with the classic “flapper” look the popular attire for the girls. Ties, fedoras and suspenders added to the overall classiness of an event that is now in its fourth year.
1920s jazz and swing music was provided by the 20-piece Noble High School Jazz Band. As the upbeat music blared, students showed off their swing dancing moves, as well as the recently learned “Charleston” 1920s dancing style. “When the right music comes on for the Charleston I can definitely do it,” claimed 10th grader Noelle LaCroix. “I learned (how to swing dance) from the Gatsby party last year, so I helped teach everybody this year.” Girls were being lifted, spun, twirled and tossed, with varying degrees of success.
A lounge with 12 tables was set up in front of the dance floor, allowing for a nice seat from which to watch the dancing. Students could also create 1920s-era jewelry at a table set up for beading. A grand buffet offered a wide array of “20s-era food,” all homemade by the students and set-up potluck style. “We have some movies from the 20s, some Charlie Chaplin that we’ll play later,” added Eldridge. Several parents and teachers lined the perimeter of the gym to take in the lively spectacle.
An exchange teacher added a new element to the annual event. “Ms. Sun is from China, and the game Mahjong became really popular in the 20s, so she brought an actual Mahjong game and is teaching the kids how to play,” Eldridge said.
The best part of the evening “was just hanging out with friends from around school,” according to 10th grader Dana Woodworth.
This 1920s celebration was originally scheduled to take place at the Hurd Manor in North Berwick, which had been offered up by owner Ben Gumm. Uncooperative weather, however, made organizers decide to move it into the Noble High School gym.
Whether they actually finished reading the entirety of The Great Gatsby novel or not, this unique high school project ensured that these students will never forget the high-flying lifestyle of the Roaring 20s.
Photo caption: Noble High School students dressed the part at the school’s Great Gatsby Party (Yuhong Sun photo)

Memorial Day Weekend Gets Summer
Season Off to a Good Start

By Jim Kanak
Staff Columnist

The summer season appeared to get off to a good start for area businesses over the long Memorial Day weekend. Although the weather was less than excellent, state officials and businesses said that the weekend attracted a good number of visitors.
“People started arriving on (Tuesday, May 19) and it was a very solid weekend,” said Kathy Goodwin of the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce. “Several (resort) properties were full and the restaurants and gift shops did well. There were quite a few weddings in the area, which also gave us a boost. Those tend to be two to three day events now.”
According to Dan Paradee of the Maine Turnpike Authority, traffic at the York Tolls surpassed last year’s levels, reversing a string of months in which volume at the booth was down. “For the whole of the weekend, traffic at the toll was up 1.1 percent over last year,” Paradee said. “Overall Turnpike traffic was down 1.7 percent over last year. The interesting thing is that on a monthly basis traffic has been down three to four percent each month from last year and the York toll has been down as well, sometimes by a larger amount. The silver lining is that we saw that trend reverse. It was a pretty healthy weekend from a tourism perspective.”
Goodwin’s colleagues at the Ogunquit, Wells, and Kennebunk-Kennebunkport chambers reported varying degrees of optimism. Eleanor Vadenais of Wells said the season was already off to a good start and Memorial Day added to that. “The consensus I’m hearing is that it was a good weekend,” she said. “It was also a good weekend the prior one, the Victoria Day holiday in Canada. Some people said they were even busier then.”
Karen Arel of Ogunquit said businesses there were optimistic for a good summer. “People are holding their optimism for the rest of the summer and were optimistic about the (Memorial Day) weekend,” Arel said. “There were a lot of people around. I heard some (resorts) were running between 85 and 90 percent and others were at 100. It was also nice that the trolley was running. That helped.”
Karen Duddy of Kennebunk-Kennebunkport said she noted a lot of visitors and that it appeared they were careful with their spending.
“I would say we had a significant number of visitors,” she said. “It seemed that they were making smaller purchases, not quite as much on the higher ticket items. Today, everybody is frugal in every aspect of their life. It figures they’ll watch their dollars while on vacation.”
The key to the summer is good weather and the availability of attractions in the area that draw visitors, the chamber officials said.
“If good weather holds that’s all we can ask,” Vadenais said.
Arel and Duddy stressed the area’s diverse attractions. “There are lots of choices here on what to do and that attracts people,” said Arel. “The more positive you are, the better off you’ll be. People are saying they’re looking forward to the summer.”
Duddy agreed. “I believe people will come this summer,” she said. “People need a break (in their lives) so they’ll come and take that break. We’re lucky. We’re only 90 miles from Boston. It’s not far away and is an easy trip for those people. Over Memorial Day, you did see New Hampshire and Massachusetts (license) plates and even some from New York. People were up.”