It was only when they were on the move that Americans could feel anchored in their memories.
- The Armies of the Night, by Norman Mailer
After spending 25 years in Columbia County, and delving into her history for the past five or six, it occurs to me that I have more historical information about my new address than I ever did about my old home town of Milo, Maine, or her larger entity, Piscataquis County.
Though county government is stronger in the South than it is in New England, I do remember a few reasons to drive the 11 miles to Dover-Foxcroft, our county seat. The county courthouse was there, though my only memory of that building is the day my father testified at a trial, and I was allowed to go along to witness the witness.
Otherwise, except for band concerts and basketball games with our perennial rivals at DF-High, the most important reason for a teen-ager to go there was to get a drivers license, which I did one icy, January day - hand signals, stick-shift, stopping on a hill without rolling backwards, and all.
Today, as I stand in awe at the beauty of Columbia Countys new Justice Center, I havent the foggiest memory of what my old county courthouse looked like, but Ill never forget every nook and cranny of the building that served as the center of life for our little community, the town hall.
As I compare Columbia Countys 60,000 square feet of new floor space to a Maine building no larger than our Appling Courthouse, its impossible to imagine as many reasons to make the short trip to Ronald Reagan Drive today, as it once was to enter the old, wooden doors of the Milo Town Hall.
All the town offices were there: clerk, tax assessor, selectmen (Northern counterpart to Southern commissioners), school superintendent and fire chief, who may have had the most convenient office of all. With the hall built on a slope, the chief could walk downstairs to the fire trucks in the basement. These offices were in a ring around a large, multi-purpose, banquet/meeting room on the first floor.
My first banquets in that room began in the third grade, when all students in elementary and grammar (middle) school walked the quarter-mile to the Town Hall for lunch every day. Brown-bagging became a popular option, especially on days we had pea soup.
But much more happened in the big auditorium/gymnasium upstairs than in all the first floor facilities combined. With movable chairs for varied seating, a stage at one end, basketball markings on the floor, and balconies and bleachers all around, we had band concerts, school plays, traveling shows, town meetings, evangelistic crusades, gym classes, graduations, proms and basketball games and practice all in that one room. Speaking of basketball games, our town may have been considered backwoods, but not our basketball team. In the four years I attended Milo High, our school won the Eastern Maine title three years in a row, and one year claimed the state prize.
Surely, the boxy, white clapboard building is gone by now, and modern facilities grace the town, right? Not exactly. Whereas the population of Columbia County has increased nearly five-fold in 50 years, little Milo still claims about the same 2,000-2,500 population as it had then.
When I attend my 50th high school reunion next July, well have the alumni banquet in the new (20 years ago) high school cafeteria instead of the old town hall. Still, the following notice was included in the advance letter about the event: A Welcome Coffee and Registration will be held at the Milo Town Hall Dining Room on Saturday morning.
Also included: The Town Hall project is moving along nicely most of the painting is done, and new lighting and stage curtains installed. I feel a tug at my heartstrings. Yes, Ill scrape up enough money to buy a new chair or two for the big room, and perhaps add a little to the sound system fund. That is, if airline prices dont go up and I can still afford to buy my ticket.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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