The Harpswell Historical Society and the Merriconeag Grange had collected 20 oral histories and received a $2,000 grant from the Maine Bicentennial Commission to create an exhibit to celebrate the state’s 200th birthday in 2020.

When programming was canceled because of the pandemic, the people of Harpswell knew just what to do with the stories and funding: publish a book.

“It was everybody’s idea pretty much all at once,” said Lili Ott, co-author of “Glimpses of Harpswell Past and Present: Stories Celebrating Maine’s Bicentennial.”

As proof that many hands make lighter work, 42 contributors wrote, edited and published a 308-page compendium of all things Harpswell. Just over a year later, this fishing town of less than 5,000 people hosted a well-attended book launch July 11, with half the first print run of 500 copies sold before the sun set.

“It’s a lovely book,” said Helen Wild, whose husband Paul contributed two poems. “It’s one of those books that you can just pick up and read little bits.”

Sam W. Alexander, a Bicentennial Committee member whose family has been in Harpswell almost 300 years, wrote a chapter on fraternal organizations. Landscape architect Deane Van Dusen wrote a chapter on architecture. Becky Gallery, who volunteers with the Harpswell Garden Club, Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, Harpswell Invasive Plant Partnership and Elijah Kellogg Church, contributed a chapter on volunteerism.

Dick Moseley turned in a chapter on the history of business, which he summed up at the book launch with businesslike brevity: “Working in the woods, farming, fishing, food and lodging.”

And, of course, there are those personal narratives.

Ed Johnson, 93, tells the story about the day he was wounded in combat in Korea in 1952 and how he received his Purple Heart 60 years later. At the Grange last Sunday, Johnson visited with friends, family and neighbors in his Korea Veteran hat. His daughter Laurie Smith bought five copies of the book: one for each of Johnson’s grandchildren.

“We’ve all been born here,” Smith said. “We go back five generations here. As each generation dies, we lose stories, so to have them recorded like this is a real treasure. I want them to have a piece of that history.”

Copies are available for $18.20 at Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick, Pammy’s Ice Cream on Harpswell Neck, Holbrook’s Store in Cundy’s Harbor, Island Candy Company on Orr’s Island and at the Harpswell Historical Society on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m.

“Every cent of it benefits the town of Harpswell, with proceeds split between the historical society and the Grange,” Ott said. “The response has been quite positive with very robust sales, so we are already talking about a second printing.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]


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