From one of its first settlers, Samuel Foxcroft, to the Shaker community, New Gloucester has had its share of history.
What it hasn’t had, until now, is a place to put all the remnants and reminders that have accumulated over the last 200-plus years.
On Jan. 26, residents at a special town meeting approved unanimously a 75-year lease, at the cost of $1 a year, to the New Gloucester Historical Society for a plot of land behind the town hall. There, in the place of a decaying stable, the Society will erect a 30-by-40-foot barn to house all its artifacts, from old school desks and ox yokes to the horse-drawn hearse, which turns 100 years old this year.
The artifacts large and small are now scattered all over town, kept for safe keeping in private homes. It can be difficult to keep track of all the items, and they are sometimes lost, said Society member Stephen Chandler.
“Things kind of get confusing sometimes. Things have a way of disappearing and we want them to have a safe place. We’d like to bring all these things together and give them a good home,” said Chandler. The “History Barn” would be a closed to the public, but could be open for special events, school groups or town celebrations, he said.
The town does provide a vault at the town hall for the society’s paper artifacts, but it is just not big enough for the other items, said Chandler. “Even the desks won’t fit in there,” he said.
Room won’t be an issue if the group can raise the approximately $80,000 needed to complete the History Barn. They’ve already raised $55,000, including a “substantial” anonymous donation, Chandler said. The rest, as they say, will be history.
New Gloucester history, that is.
To commemorate the Society’s 75th anniversary this year, and to help raise money for the History Barn, the organization will release 75 ceramic plates featuring a replica of the block house. Built by settlers in 1753, it was one of the first structures in New Gloucester.
The society also has water wick coasters featuring six New Gloucester landmarks – the town hall, meeting hall, public library, Masonic Hall, Pineland Farms Conference Center and the Shaker Meeting House.
“We tried to get every part of town,” said Jean Libby, who is organizing the fundraising for the History Barn project. There will also be reproduced note cards and postcards available for sale, she said. While the products may be available at some local businesses, people interested in buying any of the items can call Libby at 926-4538 or Nancy Wilcox at 926-4213. If all goes to plan, the society will open the History Barn in September at the same time the group is celebrating its 75th anniversary.
Also marking that occasion will be the release of the New Gloucester edition of the “Images of America” series. Produced by Society member Tom Blake, the book, like others in the line, will be replete with photos and stories of local history. Blake will be available for a book signing at the opening of the History Barn, Libby said.
The barn itself, which is planned for the spot next to the fire station, will look a lot like the old stable, and as the other town buildings it will be painted “New Gloucester yellow,” said Chandler.
“It will be similar in design to the buildings already in the area,” he said.
That way, said Libby, it will fit in both style and substance with everything around it.
“That’s a pretty special thing, to have all of the New Gloucester artifacts on the campus with the library and everything,” she said.