Thelma Simpson admires the plaque celebrating U.S.S. Maine
by Lawrence Furbish
By Lawrence Furbish, Sanford Springvale Historical Society Board Member
The Sanford-Springvale Historical Society held its 2023 annual meeting at the Museum on Thursday, September 14. Society President Harland Eastman welcomed members and guests in his usual relaxed and lighthearted way.
A highlight of the evening was the unveiling of a plaque celebrating the battleship U.S.S. Maine and honoring the Simpson family who funded the plaque’s restoration.
There’s an interesting background story regarding this unusual historical item. Before the creation of the Museum, the Sanford Historical Committee was a formal committee of the Town of Sanford. We were housed in the Town Hall Annex and charged with collecting and preserving items related to the town’s history. One day Paul Auger and I (both committee members) were exploring the upper reaches of our storage area and, noticing something on a high shelf that looked unusual, I pointed and asked Paul, “What is that?” He said, “I have no idea.” Taking it down we discovered it was a metal plaque commemorating the 1898 sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor, which was the precipitating event for the Spanish American War. Paul did some historical research, finding out that a number of these plaques were made from metal recovered from the battleship itself. He was never able to confirm how we received this one, but surmises it was through two-time Representative to Congress, Louis Goodall, a son of Thomas Goodall. The plaque was not in very good shape and eventually the Simpsons offered to pay for its restoration and framing. It now resides on the wall in our museum.
The evening also marked the opening of two new exhibits: one honoring firefighters and covering the history of the fire departments in Sanford and Springvale and the other celebrating the 150th birthday of our museum building.
Fire alarm security system pedestal
By Lawrence Furbish
The firefighting exhibit has a number of interesting photos and items, but the key is the Gamewell Fire Alarm system that was operational in Sanford for many years beginning around the turn of the century. The security pedestal pictured above was actually purchased by the members of North Parish Church. Their church had burned down and they were concerned about a recurrence, so they bought it and located it in front of the church. When it, and the other fire alarm boxes located around town were pulled, they set off a bell in the fire station that would ring a numerical code indicating the location of the box. Thus, the firemen would know where to go to deal with the fire. In addition, the system would print out on a tape the numerical code. In the case of the North Parish alarm, the code was 213. A visitor to the Museum can pull the alarm, hear the bell, and see the tape printing a record of the number.
In 1873, a new Town Hall for Sanford opened in Springvale, where it served as the town offices for 35 years, closing in 1908 when the new Town Hall in Sanford was finished. After that, it served in a number of capacities including: briefly as the town’s high school; as a community theater and meeting place; as a performance space for theatricals and movies; as a venue for
boxing matches and, for many years, as a site for youth basketball. In 2005, the Town decided to rid itself off the financial responsibilities for the building. Because the Historical Committee was a part of town government, it could not be transferred, so a separate non-profit entity was created – the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society. After successful fundraising, the Town transferred its title to the new Historical Society. The building was renovated and became the Sanford-Springvale Historical Museum. The new exhibit celebrates the 150-year anniversary of the building, highlighting many activities and events occurring there over the years.
Lawrence Furbish spoke about the Sweat Morin Homestead and the efforts currently underway to restore the house and barn to turn them into a historic site open to the public. This activity is supported by the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society which is currently leasing the property from the Mousam Way Land Trust. To learn more about this project, visit the Sanford Springvale News website and under categories, click on “History.”
Finally, three current Directors of the Historical Society, Harland Eastman, Paul Auger, and Thom Gagne were nominated and elected for new three-year terms.
The Museum is open Fridays from 10 am to 4 pm and Saturdays from 10 am to 1 pm.