Preserving a Remarkable Collection in Northeast Maine
An NEH grant enabled the Fort Fairfield Public Library to revive its impressive collection, which includes the vital records of many Maine communities and extensive resources for genealogical research. The cornerstone of the collection is a gift of over 2000 volumes—many of which are not available anywhere else in the state or region—given by Civil War veteran Colonel Franklin Drew upon his death in 1925. The grant funded a detailed preservation assessment that helped the library preserve these valuable resources and make them more accessible to the public.
“The NEH is a phenomenal institution. Getting a grant from them solidifies that this is definitely a collection that really needs to be preserved and lets people know about it, so that it’s not lost to history.”
–Jennifer Gaenzle, Librarian and Project Director
The library used the assessment to consolidate the collection and clarify policies and procedures for preservation and public use. Much of it had been stored in the basement. Now the entire collection can be accessed in the Jesse Drew Historical Room. The library also learned that several items were more valuable than previously recognized, including a U.S. Treasury Specimen Engraving Book commemorating the nation’s centennial.
The revival of the collection has helped the rural library attract new visitors as an emerging center for historical and genealogical research. Civil War reenactors are using resources like Colonel Drew’s field manual to recreate military maneuvers in painstaking detail. And Douglas Clark, who has authored two books on the Chinese judicial system, recently visited to research a forthcoming book on the life of Stirling Fessenden, a former resident of Fort Fairfield who went to China to practice law around the turn of the 20th century and went on to become Lord Mayor of Shanghai.
Project Director and Librarian Jennifer Gaenzle is now leveraging the assessment to acquire more funding to preserve the collection as well as the library itself, which she hopes to renovate. “This grant was the basic building block for everything I would like to see for this collection,” says Gaenzle. The preliminary evaluation of the building, a registered historic site, helped attract the interest of Maine Preservation, which conducted a more thorough examination to identify necessary renovations.