ORONO – Staff members from the Maine Folklife Center at the University of Maine took their Save Our History paper mills research project into the schools on Sept. 26 to introduce Brewer Middle School pupils to the historic preservation of a defunct Brewer paper mill.
Pupils in Brewer Middle School teacher Richard Kimball’s seventh-grade class soon will begin their own research, touring the recently closed Eastern Fine paper mill. They will make video recordings and photograph the inside and outside of the mill, draw floor plans and draft news releases to recruit former millworkers willing to share their stories about life in the mill.
“It’s basically a seventh-grade version of what we do here at the Folklife Center,” said Amy Stevens, a UMaine graduate student in history and Brewer native who works with the Folklife Center.
Stevens and Folklife Center associate director Pauleena MacDougall, along with some of the former workers from the Eastern Fine paper mill, met with pupils at the school on Somerset Street.
In January, MacDougall and Stevens began collecting millworkers’ memories about life in the paper mills, some of which have closed in the last decade. They have documented the stories and articles from mill publications dating back as far as 1880 on DVD and on the Folklife Center Web site, www.umaine.
The center has recorded stories from men and women who worked at Eastern Fine in Brewer and Georgia-Pacific in Old Town, and is seeking more current or former paper mill employees from the Lincoln, Millinocket and Bucksport areas.
Since its inception, the project has received grants from the Maine Humanities Council, the UM Women in the Curriculum program, and more recently – for the state of Maine, according to MacDougall – an unprecedented $10,000 grant from the History Channel’s Save Our History grant initiative.
“Papermaking was maybe the main industry besides fishing in Maine throughout the 20th century,” MacDougall said. “It’s important for us to do this work now, while the workers are still around and before they go into other industries or pass on.”
MacDougall said the purpose of taking the paper mill research into the schools is to help students understand the importance and methods of historic preservation. “That’s why it is called Save Our History,” she added.
MacDougall and Stevens recently met with about a dozen Brewer-area women who worked at the Eastern Fine mill and participated in the oral history collection. The women had a chance to see the Web site presentation, which remains under development as more information is collected.
MacDougall said she hopes to learn the names of other men and women who would be willing to be interviewed about their mill experiences.
“This is part of a larger project studying the history of papermaking in Maine,” she said. “We’ve interviewed 39 people so far.”
The Brewer pupils will contribute their research to a Web site of their own – a project that can be continued as the youths move into the eighth grade, Stevens said.
The experiential nature of the research will introduce pupils to the work being done at the Folklife Center.
UMaine history graduate student Tonalea Chapman is assisting with the project. More information about the oral history and research into former paper mill employees’ experiences can be obtained by visiting the Web site or call the center at 581-1891.