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Society documents what's changed, what hasn't, in Cape Elizabeth

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Society documents what's changed, what hasn't, in Cape Elizabeth

CAPE ELIZABETH — The town's history is captured in a new, updated edition of "Cape Elizabeth: Past to Present," a book first published by the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society in 1991.

The second edition, released in December, features new photos, revised passages and an overview of the town's developments in the past 20-plus years.

"We thought it was time for people to see what's happened since the last edition," said Dorothy Higgins, vice president of the preservation society, which began work on the project more than two years ago. "We want the newest residents of Cape to understand both the past and the present."

The book begins with visitors and settlers in the early 17th century, followed by Indian raids across Falmouth (today's greater Portland), and the establishment of a Cape Elizabeth parish in 1765. It highlights the town's varied architecture, its history as a bedroom community dating back to the late 1800s, and its designation as a vacation spot as early as 1825, when its first summer hotel was built.

Later chapters explore the history of education, farming, business, churches and cemeteries, the shoreline, and Fort Williams Park. A section on recreation features historical photos of theater-goers, Little League teams and restaurant menus.

Jane Beckwith and Ellen Van Fleet served as project coordinators, researching and writing the new material and heading a team of preservation society contributors.

"Ellen Van Fleet is the mover and shaker of the group," Beckwith said of her colleague, who founded the Cape Courier newspaper in 1988. "She has both talent and experience."

The new edition, which is on sale at Thomas Memorial Library and the Local Buzz coffee shop, dedicates more space to Cape Elizabeth's artists in a chapter called "The Landscape that Inspires."

"The old book put in some authors and painters at the very last minute," Beckwith said. "But we really have a lot of artists of various kinds in town, music as well as the graphic arts. So I'm glad we've extended that, though it's still not adequate, considering how many artists are drawn to this place."

Other new content explores the findings of a 2006 archaeological dig on Spurwink Farm that unearthed a late 17th-century domicile, the construction of recent neighborhoods and condominiums, and updates to the schools, including the installation of an artificial turf field at the high school in 2007.

Ultimately, though, "Cape Elizabeth: Past to Present" shows there isn't all that much that has changed over the past few decades – and, in some instances, the past few centuries.

"It's still a residence for people who work elsewhere," Beckwith said. "Portland, primarily, but not necessarily. And a lot of people still consider it a recreational destination. The beacons are popular. Fort Williams Park. People come in the summer, particularly, to enjoy the shore."

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.