Imagine what can be accomplished when a person finds their life’s passion early and pursues it relentlessly – with intelligence, humility and good humor – for more than 60 years. That’s the story of Maine Historical Society’s 2023 Maine History Maker award recipient, Earle G. Shettleworth Jr.

“He’s a rockstar historian with a vast following,” said Maine Historical Society Executive Director Steve Bromage, who narrated a tribute video. “He has helped preserve thousands of buildings, saved tens of thousands of historical items, accumulated vast knowledge and mentored countless people who carry forward his knowledge and spirit. And he has helped communities across the state take pride in their part in the Maine story.”

Business and nonprofit leaders, preservationists, art collectors, architects and heads of historical societies from throughout the state gathered May 16 at University of Southern Maine to honor Shettleworth, 75. A cocktail reception was followed by tributes – both spoken and musical – and a video about Shettleworth’s life and legacy.

“This is the event of the century,” said Holly Hurd, executive director of Tate House Museum. “Earle Shettleworth has been an important figure for many cultural institutions from all over the state of Maine for so many years.”

The video included a lighthearted look at Shettleworth’s childhood obsession with history as early as 4 years old. By age 7, he was a collector of antiques. His first published work was “A History of the Heseltine School,” written when he was 11 and his neighborhood school was about to be demolished to make way for a new one. As a seventh grader, he was featured in an article in the Portland Evening Express about the eclectic little history museum in his bedroom on Percy Street in Portland.

By 13, Shettleworth found his life’s calling. It was 1961, and seeing Portland’s grand Union Station being demolished just a year after passenger service ended, he felt there was a need for an organization that would protect Greater Portland’s historical landmarks.


Merle Nelson of Cumberland said, “His spirit, his knowledge and his energy galvanized elderly women with connections to make it happen.”

Shettlework did survey work for what would become Greater Portland Landmarks before it was founded in 1964. By the time he graduated from Deering High School in 1966, he had delivered 100 lectures on Portland architecture. He earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Colby College and a master’s degree in architectural history from Boston University and spent two years at the helm of Maine Historical Society.

Then, for four decades, he was director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. During that time, the commission nominated nearly 1,600 Maine properties for the National Register of Historic Places.

“Earle’s life’s work has coincided with the 75-year time window when Maine’s history and record may have been most at risk,” Bromage said. “A time when much of Maine, seeking to modernize, might have simply bulldozed or torn down thousands of buildings that now remain and which are central to Maine’s sense of place.”

Shettleworth retired from the Preservation Commission in 2015 but continues to give 40 or more lectures annually as Maine State Historian, a position to which he was appointed in 2004 by then-Gov. John Baldacci.

Former first lady Karen Baldacci, who now serves as Maine Library Commissioner, said, “While our nation has celebrated historians the likes of Ken Burns, Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, our state has Earle Shettleworth, an amazing scholar of Maine history and architecture.”

Shettleworth’s more than two dozen books on Maine history, architecture and art include “A Century of Portland Artists, 1820-1920,” published by Maine Historical Society last year. Copies of this book were distributed to event guests in padded manilla envelopes, the likes of which Shettleworth uses to send items of interest to historians across the state as the whim strikes him, sometimes several times a day.

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

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