Our Little Towns

Picture 2228Picture 2226If you are passing through the more rural parts of Maine, it is very likely that you will drive through some of the old villages that once supported its thriving communities. The old buildings are still there…the town halls, the Grange, the mills, and the old country stores. Some are still in use, some are being restored, all of these old buildings remind us of days gone by. My old friend, Elmin, would often tell me some of the stories and the history of when these little ‘in town’ communities were bustling with activity. I would sit listening as he spoke of bringing his grain to the mill to have it processed or about their weekly visits to the general store for supplies. Many of the old time stores held ‘accounts’ or ‘store credit’. In other words, they would record the items you bought in a ledger and you’d settle up with them at the end of the month. A general store back then might carry all the things you’d need for stocking your kitchen pantry, but also have on hand some twenty-penny nails or a shearing pin for your hay baler. At the town’s center there would be a post office, perhaps a bakery, a butcher shop, a blacksmith, and most likely a cobbler. These businesses were often the center of the community, a place to socialize and where most would travel for their week’s trading. One can imagine a giant wood burning stove fixated in the middle of every general store where you could count on seeing a small gathering of folks warming themselves and catching up on events, news, and local gossip.
So many of these little towns are less active now. The buildings are often in need of great repair and the people who remember them being of use are no longer with us. Too bad, really. Now people travel 15 miles (or much further) outside of their own community to purchase what they need, and some would consider these ‘outskirt’ towns to be their community. It’s where they do most of their socializing, their buying, and to attend events. I’m an advocate for staying close to home. Our trips to ‘town’ are infrequent. We are lucky to not need much in the way of food ( so much grown and preserved here), and the people we connect with, for the most part, are our neighbors. We feel a real fondness towards these little villages that remind us of simpler days, of a time when your needs really were met by your very own town and community. For me, I don’t love driving or even being in the car for extended periods of time. We usually plan an outing so that we are minimizing our time behind the wheel. A trip into the town that’s 15 miles away may only happen once every two weeks, and even then I groan at the thought of leaving home ( my neck of the woods) to brave the big city, which by the way is not a big city at all, just a slightly larger town with a few more amenities. In my mind and heart, I dream of us all breathing life back into these little village centers. I imagine what it would be like if we could recreate those shops and mills and useful places. I would be more than happy to trade and purchase wears within a downtown made up of neighbors and friends. I think this camaraderie of trade and truly local economy makes sense. And don’t these grand old buildings, these icons that harbored such purpose back in the day, warrant some TLC, some special attention, some revitalization? I think they do.
Well, while wandering a bit not far from my comfort….our great but humble town of Montville, I took some pictures of the village of Palermo. Branch Mills, to be exact. Years ago, Montville folks would have no doubt harnessed their horses and hooked onto their wagons to do some business in the little neighboring town of Palermo. Here are just a few photos…..Picture 2230Picture 2234Picture 2237

13 comments on “Our Little Towns

  1. Ah, the feel of real community. It’s probably a dream in this time of box stores, but I will dream right along with you. To go to town, visit with your neighbors, buy only what you need – nice. Now, everyone is staring down at a smartphone and you certainly get the message that they do not want to exchange any pleasantries with a stranger. Different time. I like yours better. 🙂

    • Yes, I think I’m just built for this version of exchange…you too, I bet. I grew up in a community where everyone was acquainted, you were connected to the people around you…either by relation or by circumstance, and most of what we needed was bought within the town limits. That wasn’t that long ago!! These old buildings, especially when abandoned, give me a heart ache. Here in Montville, the old grange is still active, our town meetings are still held in the old town house ( with wood burning stove), and we continue to connect with our neighbors. I think I am becoming quite the old Badger….not straying far from my hollowed out tree, being glad to stay put. Oh my. Best to you, Judy and to all your good thoughts….

  2. It would be wonderful to bring back the old Maine small towns. We feel very fortunate to be living in Union, which is still alive and kicking. We have most of what we need–and a strong neighborhood–right here. Although, unlike you, I enjoy an occasional trip to the coast towns for a little variety. Still, home is best and I am becoming more Badger-like all the time!

    • Yes,I know Union and it is wonderful to have the little market…pretty well stocked, too and the little cafe. Montville does not have a ‘village’, we have always traveled across the divide to Liberty. Just a mile or so, they have a little village area…although we could use some shops for necessities and a place to gather. The old building that houses Liberty Graphics ( great old building) is open from March til January, with good coffee and some snacks….it is often the local stop for a cup of tea/coffee and some catch up with locals. I do love thinking about those days when all these little towns flourished in their own way….ahh. Happy day to you and thanks for the thoughtful insight!

  3. Oh, I so agree. My little town of Warren used to boast a Hotel, pharmacy, general store, and haberdashery in the early 20th century (in addition to the grange, library, etc). When the trolley to Camden came to the area, those businesses began to fade away…and it has only gotten worse over time. I’ve been delighted, though, to see the General Store return to Washington–stop by if you haven’t seen it yet. And it looks like the one in Lincolnville Center (not Beach) might be in the process of being restored. The pendulum always swings back and I look forward to it! 🙂

    • Naomi, yes, I have been to the Washington General store…love it! And have heard that Lincolnville may be trying to reenact theirs as well. As we become more disconnected in the world, I truly feel this closeness to our roots, to our place of being, is crucial. Community is formed and strengthened and preserved by knowing our neighbors , I’m happy to live in a small community where this is important and vital. Yes, this Badger looks forward to the pendulum swinging back as well!

  4. We have some familiarity with small towns. My mother and Judy’s father both come from very small towns in South Dakota – Armour and Menno, respectively. None of my relatives are left out there but half of Menno is related to Judy one way or another. Every five years they have a family reunion, but each year people are more dispersed. The way things work these days makes it hard to keep these small towns together.

  5. What you describe is also true of the small towns in upstate New York–there used to be mills and lumbering and mining and there were lots of towns along the rivers. Now those spots still have some inhabitants but almost nothing in the way of businesses to provide needed goods and a sense of community. I’m very nostalgic, too, about the lost sense of community–maybe the pendulum will swing back eventually . . . ?

  6. If Knox ever had a “center”…. we must have long missed it. I wish it had it’s own post office at least…. located in a small general store with a big wood stove in the middle would be a bonus. :)))) I love “local history” almost as much as winter. :))))))

  7. In a past life I lived in a time and place as you mentioned as it always makes me feel nostalgic when I hear of that era. I wonder with so much delivered to our doors and technology keeping people withing their own walls if there is hope of ever returning to this simplicity, in another way, shape, or form perhaps. People who have strong community spirit are very blessed indeed. Your photos tell a wonderful story.

    • I’ll send over some info about some friends who are trying to revitalize a community and its old buildings. I have also been involved in this project some. I think that when I see these old community buildings falling to they wayside, I feel grief. I know at one time they were more than just a collection of useful places…they helped to keep people close. here in Montville, we have a very close and strong community, but we lack a ‘village’. Only ( still) just slightly under 1000 people here in our town. Liberty, has the village, where Montville folks went to shop…still do. I think these little gathering places are essential for maintaining the essence of small communities. Always a pleasure to chat with you…even if it is by way of this the technical highway!

      • I would find that info interesting alright. It’s not the same, but I feel a similar pain when seeing the old homes becoming run down here on the island. A different kind of history behind their old doors. In the last couple of years there has been a resurgence in refurbishing them, though I still feel a pang of sadness when they become all modernized. Certainly better than it falling to the ground though.

        Maine is very fortunate to still have some quaint communities, I think they exist here in Ireland also, but I’ve yet to explore much beyond Galway!

        I feel the same about our chats, and having met you, I can nearly hear the words from your mouth.

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