Old Cumberland photos sought for history project

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CUMBERLAND — Thomas Bennett led a tour through Cumberland’s history during Monday’s Town Council meeting, with a pictorial presentation of the people and places of yesteryear.

The Prince Memorial Library director said his presentation was an outgrowth of the Maine Community Heritage Project. Locally, this endeavor involves a partnership between the library and Greely Middle School in Cumberland, Skyline Farm in North Yarmouth, and the Cumberland and North Yarmouth historical societies.

The project will culminate June 9 at Skyline Farm with a community celebration and the unveiling of a website that celebrates the histories of both towns.

Much of Bennett’s presentation focused on Cumberland Center. The original settlement of the town – which until 1821 was part of North Yarmouth – was on the Foreside. When the land was cleared, the population expanded up to Cumberland Center, which was settled around 1791.

“About 150 individuals wanted a second church,” Bennett said. “The original church for North Yarmouth would have been the church under the ledge on Route 88, and the people in the Cumberland Center area complained about traveling 11 miles back and forth to church, so they got their own church in 1794.”

While the focal point of Cumberland Center was its congregational church, Greely Institute, founded in the late 1860s and now part of Greely High School, was also a key landmark. The area was populated with stores like shoe and blacksmith shops, as well as agricultural operations.

An 1870 photo shows a racetrack behind Greely Institute, evidence of the Cumberland County Fair’s original location. When the property owner decided to plant an apple orchard, the fair was moved in 1874 to Blanchard Road.

One particularly captivating photo of a group of octogenarian residents was taken during the church’s 150th anniversary celebration in 1943. Surnames of people in the photo – Sturdivant, Wilson, Sweetser and Greely – still resonate in Cumberland.

“You also need to think about what these people have been through at this point,” Bennett said, noting that they were probably born before or during the Civil War and saw the town population drop from 1,713 in 1860 to two-thirds that number in 1920, before a later population spurt. By the time of the photo they had also witnessed the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II.

Bennett encourages people with old photos to bring them to the library. He can be reached there at 829-2215.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.