The following is the narrative from a Maine Humanities Council planning grant that The Dance Hall received, written by Cathy Wolff, that captures the essence of this project. Here we will share new discoveries as we make progress on this compelling and exciting journey!
Stories from The Grange and Kittery’s Foreside
For much of the last century, the Grange was central to the life of many small Maine towns. Kittery was no exception. Its Grange Hall was the site of lectures, meetings, civic projects, celebrations, and dances. Although the chapter dissolved late in the century (as happened with many subordinate Granges), the building still stands, home of The Dance Hall, a non-profit center for performing arts. “There’s rarely a week someone doesn’t stop me or come in the building to recall what it was like when they were young and coming to the Grange for dances and other events,” says Drika Overton, Dance Hall founder and director.
They remember not only the Grange, but what Kittery was like. Some even recall stories of their grandparents’ Kittery lives.
They especially remember Kittery’s downtown, the Foreside, home not only to the Grange/Dance Hall, but to the town’s high school, public library, town hall, Back Channel, town dock, Naval Yard, Masonic Temple, and two of the three bridges to Portsmouth.
The Foreside is now the fastest changing area of Kittery, with an influx of artists, young families, art venues, restaurants, and specialty food shops. While the changes are exciting, there’s a risk — as there always is with rapid change — of forgetting the past; forgetting the roots and memories that shaped Kittery’s character.
A Community Effort
Stories from The Grange and Kittery’s Foreside (working project title) evolved from Dance Hall Director Overton’s desire to capture, preserve, and share those stories.
She convened a meeting of interested residents, including former Yard workers, Kittery museum curators, and professional heritage conservators, journalists, and photographers. The enthusiasm was there for gathering oral histories that could serve as the foundation of a range of multi-media projects. There was also a willingness among people to donate their expertise.
Plans call for the project to actively involve the Kittery Historical and Naval Society, students from Kittery’s high school (Traip Academy), the Rice Public Library, and, of course The Dance Hall.
The first and most urgent need is to gather on audio and/or videotape the stories.
Many valuable sources are at an age when memories (and lives) begin to fade. From these stories, and based on resource availability, the exact direction and scope of the project would be determined.
At the very least, the videotapes would be shared with Kittery residents and visitors. However, the planning committee has much broader vision. The project also would:
• research and secure photos and written records to illustrate and expand the narrative;
• produce a professionally-edited video based on the interviews and research;
• create a public exhibit of people and artifacts; develop a multi-media, community performance highlighting history in drama, dance, music, narration, etc. note the sites of historically significant buildings in the area and produce a scan-linked walking tour, and;
• create a dynamic website where project interviews, photos and events would be posted, and people not formally interviewed would be invited to share their memories.
The interviews will be recorded and/or videotaped to allow the greatest flexibility of presentation. While some interviews may need to be done remotely, it is anticipated most would be conducted in a designated space of The Dance Hall, where memories may most easily be provoked and where quality-control can be most easily assured.
Some of the interviews may be done along the lines of NPR’s Story Corps, conducted by individuals who know the source well.
The Goal: More than Subs and Shopping Malls
Tell someone from Boston or Portland that you’re from Kittery and they note the outlet malls of Route 1, or an uncle who worked at the Yard.
The subs and malls are part of Kittery. But there’s more. People with strong Kittery roots know this; many newcomers do not. The goal of this project is to bring alive, through people’s stories, the Kittery of the last century.