Somesville brought alive through oral history project

The Selectmen’s Building, which also has served as a post office and cobbler’s shop in years past, stands beside the Thaddeus Somes Bridge. The tiny, white clapboard building, geranium-decked bridge and lily pond is among the most photographed coastal images in Maine. PHOTO BY RACHEL TAYLOR

Somesville, the oldest village on Mount Desert Island and one of the most picturesque hamlets in Maine, has a history that reaches back centuries. You can hear how this coastal community has changed or stayed the same from those who call it home.

At the Mount Desert Island Historical Society, located just off Main Street (Route 102) in the heart of Somesville, visitors can step into the circa-1780 Selectmen’s Building perched beside the flower-decked Thaddeus Somes Bridge. Inside the green-shuttered, white clapboard, which also served at one time as a school, post office and cobbler’s shop; can select from six videos featuring interview with local residents ages 11 to 80.

Called “Somesville: A Sense of Place,” the folks interviewed shares stories about their hometown and what “A Sense of Place” means to them.

“There’s been an interest for a long time in collecting oral histories of people who can remember when the island was a different place and can speak to the very specific details that made the communities here unique,” said project curator Eloise Schultz.

A sense of place is different for everyone.

“It is not really something quantifiable,” Schultz said. “And it’s not really something you can artificially create.”

Robert Fernald grew up in Somesville. In one of the videos, he and his wife Jean describe how much the village has changed in the time they’ve lived there. For instance, their phone used to be on a “party line” shared with others.

“I picked the phone up one night to use it, and there was a girl on there that was running away from home,” Jean recalled. She told Robert that they should call the girl’s parents, and he told her that they shouldn’t get involved.

“Things have changed so,” Robert said. “I used to know everyone that lived on the main street.”

In 1950, couples dance at the Wayback Ball at the Neighborhood House in Northeast Harbor.

Susan Allen also grew up in Somesville. After leaving as a young adult, she never thought she’d return, but now is raising her children in the same place.

When she goes by Somes Pond, she remembers swimming to She’s taken back to days of swimming out to a particular big rock.

“I used to hook a dry bag with my book in it to my dog’s collar, and we’d swim out there,” she related with a smile.

In addition to her dog, Allen had a pet goat named Rex.

“I used to walk him on leash to Higgins Store, and we would get a bag of penny candy,” she said. “We would come home, and I would eat the candy, and he would eat the bag.”

Somesville residents Robert and Jean Fernald talk about the Mount Desert village as they have known it — its character and people — in a video that’s part of the project “Somesville: A Sense of Place” on view in the Selectmen’s Building.

To launch the project, the society put out a call for local residents to share their stories of life in Somesville. For few afternoons, a crew videotaped people and their recollections in the building overlooking an ancient mill pond and Somes Harbor.

“We found so many treasures,” said Shultz, a College of the Atlantic graduate. “One hopes that by keeping those stories alive, the personality of the town isn’t lost.”

The young human ecologist values the connections she formed through the project and would like viewers to take away a similar sentiment.

“I think that’s just good practice of anyone who’s a visitor anywhere, is to learn a little bit about the place that’s welcoming you in,” she said.

“Now whenever I go to a small town in Maine, I know there are Fernalds out there, and it makes me want to discover what stories are there and talk to people, and I think that’s the best thing a historical society can do.”

At its Somesville location (2 Oak Hill Road), the society also has a museum and gardens where native flowers are grown. In addition, visitors can tour the yellow clapboard Sound School House at 373 Sound Drive. For more info, call 276-9323 and visit