May 26, 2019

Groups herald founding of heritage center Calais-area residents give quilt, ship replica for grand opening

CALAIS – Local people do make a difference.

That was the message Thursday as staff at the Downeast Heritage Center accepted a quilt and small wooden ship from two local groups in time for the center’s grand opening later this month.

The $6.6 million heritage center was built on the shores of the St. Croix River and is expected to draw attention to the 1604 settlement of St. Croix Island, and showcase the natural wonders and historical and cultural history of Washington County.

Executive Director Marc Edwards met with two groups Thursday: the St. Croix International Quilters’ Guild and the Calais Free Library.

The international quilters presented Edwards with a quilt that depicts the voyage of the French settlers who landed on St. Croix Island nearly 400 years ago.

The idea for a heritage quilt began last year with club member Ellen Madden. Madden has since died, but fellow quilters completed the work.

“It kind of makes your buttons want to pop,” quilter Sandra Hill said as the quilt was displayed.

Carla Price of St. Andrews designed the quilt. “The guild worked on it as a group putting the blocks and applique together,” Price said. It took them nearly a year to complete.

Trustees from the library presented Edwards with a small wooden ship that is believed to be a replica of the sailing vessel that explorers Pierre Dugua Sieur de Mons and Samuel de Champlain used.

The ship has been at the library for the past 50 years, but who built it is a mystery. “It was downstairs in the library and not too many people got to see it, so at the request of Marc we have given them a permanent loan of this ship,” trustee chairman Pam Bridges said.

Edwards said the National Park Service, which has worked closely with the center’s staff, gave its approval. “They looked at pictures and said it was a good, authentic replica of the ship Champlain would have sailed up here in 1604,” he said.

The center is nearly finished and the administrative staff and workers are installing the exhibits. A grand opening is planned for May 22.

“We are very appreciative and very happy that community organizations are coming together and taking part in the heritage center,” Edwards said.

The center is located between Hog Alley and the St. Croix River. Its tall glass entry connects the former Calais Press building with a new building that invites the curious to explore beyond the glass doors.

A sign now beckons tourists to the island located on the St. Croix River off the village of Red Beach, just south of the city. The National Park Service, which oversees the island, last year built a trail on the mainland portion that includes life-size statues of the French explorers who sailed the St. Croix River to the island, where they built North America’s first French settlement. Also included as part of the park exhibits are life-size statues of the Passamaquoddy Indians who helped the French.

More than 90,000 tourists a year are expected to visit the center and the park.

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