Friday, June 4, 2010

Corners and Hills Reflect Rich Eliot History

By Betsy Caron
Staff Columnist
In honor of the town’s 200th birthday, the Eliot Historical Society is challenging its residents to locate the 18 new handmade signs put up to recognize historic and significant locations throughout the town. The signs are part of Eliot’s weeklong bicentennial celebration, which will be held Aug. 7 to 14.
“The actual 200th was in March, but the actual week of celebration will be the same as it was 100 years ago,” said historical society treasurer Julie Johnson.
The signs were put up on May 23. Residents familiar with the town may be able to locate places like Farmer’s Corner, where inventor Moses Gerrish Farmer once lived, or Rosemary Hill, representing Rosemary Cottage.
Each sign was hand carved and painted by members of the historical society. Fran Hartford, a retired carpenter and 30-year industrial arts teacher at Marshwood High School, carved the wood over the course of two weeks beginning in March.
Johnson painted the background and blue lettering on all signs representing the hills and corners, putting about six hours of work into each one. Polly McDonough designed and painted the new town hall sign, taking around 60 hours.
“The picture on the left is a Garrison, and it dated back to 1679. It’s called a Hammond Garrison,” McDonough said of the house she painted on the town hall sign. “On the right is a picture of the Nightingale, which is a ship built in Eliot in 1851. There were shipbuilding companies here.”
McDonough said she wanted to paint images representative of Eliot’s past. “The Nightingale is kind of a symbol of Eliot,” she said. “It’s fairly well known. For the Hammond Garrison, I wanted to pick something that went way back before Eliot was an incorporated town.”
The historical society did a similar project in 1985 for Eliot’s 175th celebration, but the older signs have since deteriorated.
“There was one still standing when we put them up on Sunday morning down on Welch’s corner,” Johnson said. “All you could really make out was the ‘w,’ and if you didn’t know what it said you would not know what it was.”
Other events planned for the celebration week include a parade, open houses and displays, fireworks and a bicentennial ball, where many guests plan to appear in period costumes.
“A ball is a time for a lot of people to come together,” McDonough said. “There’s food and music, dancing, and so it’s fun.”
The ball, which is being held at the Regatta at Eliot Commons on Aug. 7, will also offer a more modern twist with a DJ and square dancing.
A complete calendar of events will become available online as the celebration draws closer. Until then, the Eliot Historical Society hopes the community will take a drive around town to find and discover the new signs and Eliot’s rich history.
Photo caption: Left to right: Fran Hartford, Polly McDonough, (President) Dennis Lentz, (Treasurer) Julie Johnson and Paul Johnson. (Betsy Caron photo)

Traveling Through Time to Raise Awareness of Counting House Museum

A group of third grade students at Central School has been working on a service-learning project with the Old Berwick Historical Society to build an awareness of the Counting House Museum as a family destination to learn about the history of the town. Katherine Bousquet’s class began working on this project earlier this spring.
“Service learning is unique,” said Bousquet. “Children enter an actual partnership with someone in the community to solve an existing problem. Thus, service! At the same time, the work the students do must be related to the curriculum and the goals for learning!”
Students met with historical society volunteers and learned that while the museum receives many visitors each year, the number of families with children was fewer than what the museum had hoped. The students worked together to come up with ideas and plans for how they might reach families in the community and spark an interest in visiting the Counting House.
“They’re so creative,” said historical society president Wendy Pirsig of the children’s ideas. “And the students have really dedicated themselves to this valuable project of getting the word out about the museum as a community resource.”
The decision to host a booth at South Berwick’s second annual Kids’ Day on June 5 in was made by the students in an effort to raise community awareness. After numerous trips to the Counting House, research online and in books, visits to other local historic sites such as the Hamilton House and the Sarah Orne Jewett House and the annual Hike Through History at Central School, the children used their knowledge to develop fun and educational activities for a booth at Kids’ Day.
There will be a range of activities from learning about and making a toy that a child in the 1800’s would have played with, to hand-sewing their own initial. Visitors can enjoy a skit of what it was like to be a mill worker in the 1800’s and learn a dance from the time period. There will even by an “I Spy at the Counting House” book where they find, identify and discover information about objects from the past.
In the words of Erica Bergendahl, “Being at the museum, I felt like I was back in history.”
In addition to the activities, there will be a brochure pertaining to the museum written for kids by kids.
“We want families to visit the museum,” said Jake Doyle, another pupil. “It is not like an ordinary museum, it is all about our town.”
Through this project, the students were able to become actively engaged in their town, as well as learn the value of community involvement.
“Many people donated their time and talents to making this project a success,” said Bousquet. “It was the volunteers from the Counting House, Kids’ Day, the parents of the students and the support of teachers at Central that have enabled the students to learn so much and to accomplish their goal.”
Fiona Scharff said, “This service learning project shows me that if we all work together we can do amazing things.”
The students hope that by seeing how fun and interesting history can be at their booth, kids and their families will take a trip to visit the museum this summer.
The Counting House Museum is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. from June through October. Admission is free.
Photo caption: Katherine Bousquet and her students visited the Counting House Museum recently. They have developed skits, brochures and a booth at Kids Day to raise awareness of the museum as a family destination. (Courtesy photo)

Wells Voters Face Decision on Lighted Electronic Sign Regulation

By Jim Kanak
Staff Columnist
For the second time in recent months, Wells’ voters face a ballot question rife with controversy. Question 18 on the June 8 ballot asks voters to weigh in on proposed amendments to the town code relative to the definition and permissibility of the lighted electronic signs that a half dozen businesses on Route 1 currently display.
Those in favor of the amendment (a ‘yes’ vote on Question 18) argue that the amendment is needed to regulate the size, brightness, frequency of message changing, and area of town where the signs can be permitted. Opponents of the amendment (a ‘no’ vote) argue that the signs in question are not permitted under the existing code and should not have been allowed, and that the amendment, in fact, would legitimize the signs in town code.
“The signs have been allowed and they aren’t going away,” said Town Planner Mike Huston. “The Code Office believes they are permitted and the Board of Selectmen has said they won’t go to court to eliminate (those that have been permitted).”
Former selectwoman Joan Mooney urges that the amendment be defeated. “How did (the signs) get approved in the first place if they weren’t in the ordinance?” she said. “A lot of us feel that we’re starting to look like Saugus (Mass.). We want to stop it now. They shouldn’t have issued the first one. I would rather that we revert to the current ordinance.”
The proposed amendment creates a definition in Chapter 145 of the town code for an “Electronic Message Center” that “either in whole or in part may be changed by means of electronic programming.” The amendment would also establish standards for such signs, including placing limits on their brightness, frequency of changing the message (not more than once every ten minutes), size (40 square feet with no side longer than ten feet), distance from the road (a minimum of 25 feet), area of town where they are permitted (the general business district only, primarily the Route 1 corridor), and limits them to one per lot.
Wells resident Linda Dumey, another opponent of the change, said the signs violate the town’s Comprehensive Plan guidelines. “They’re in opposition to the Comp Plan,” she said. “Things are supposed to be in a traditional Maine style. Changeable signs aren’t allowed. If there are six signs now and another one in the pipeline, there’s nothing we can do. It’s a horrifying prospect unless you like the Las Vegas or tacky beach town look.”
Currently, the town code permits internally illuminated signs, including neon signs, and prohibits animated signs. Selectman Jim Spiller says the distinction between the two has been lost on those who argue the signs are not now permitted by the code. “People have to understand that the statement that this type of sign has never been allowed is wrong,” he said. “We have always allowed illuminated signs. These aren’t animated signs. They automatically change. There’s a clear differentiation. That’s where people are misguided. We told (Mike’s Clam Shack) “no’ when he included animation (on his sign), so he stopped doing it.”
The town code currently includes a definition for “changeable copy sign “ as any sign that may be manually changed, but not automatically. Mooney argues that these are the only type of changeable signs permitted.
In regards to the prohibited animated signs, such signs are defined as those that “display movement or the optical illusion of movement of any part of its structure, design, or pictorial segment, including the movement of any illumination or the flashing or varying of light intensity, or the automatic changing of all or any part of the sign’s facing.”
Spiller’s comment aside, whether electronic signs are captured under the last part of that definition has remained part of the debate.
Both Spiller and Huston insist that the proposed amendment is the only way to truly regulate the location and control proliferation of the signs.
“If you don’t like these signs, pass this and limit the annoyance factor,” said Huston. “If the vote is ’no,’ we already know businesses on Route 9 and others will come in for these. And currently, the maximum sized sign allowed in the GBD is 150 square feet.”
Spiller said, “People should realize how important it is to pass this.”
Dumey offered a different analysis. “The proposed amendment doesn’t offer any protection at all,” she said. “We could end up with 200 more of these. If we permit them, we’ll be giving our blessing to them.”