Maine Seacoast Mission plans to digitize vast archive

MOUNT DESERT — An entire corner of Terri Rodick’s office at the new Maine Seacoast Mission headquarters on Old Firehouse Lane is packed with boxes and binders. And in those boxes and binders are thousands and thousands of photos and documents chronicling everything that happened at the Mission since its inception in 1905.

Astonishingly, the pile in Rodick’s office represents only a fraction of the Mission’s archive that once commanded a much larger space at its former headquarters on West Street in Bar Harbor.

“Coming from that giant mansion, we had the whole third floor where we had saved every financial record, every record of anything that ever happened since 1905. And of course, that’s not realistic,” said Rodick, the Mission’s events and marketing coordinator. “So, when we moved, we had to make some hard choices about what to take and what to leave behind. What to donate and what to dispose of.”

Rodick estimates they held onto about 30 percent of the original collection, things that were directly related to Maine Seacoast Mission and its work. But that’s still hundreds of thousands of photos and letters spanning over a century. And Rodick has been tasked with digitizing all of them.

“It’s very helpful to know our past to market our future,” said Rodick, offering an explanation as to how the fate of these old files came to rest in her hands. Not that she needed much of an excuse to take on this project in the first place.

“I think they realized I have a little flair for it, and certainly I’m very passionate and interested in keeping the Mission archives,” she said. “I see their value. So, they’ve let me just start; Sometimes I call it ‘playing’ with the archives because it feels like that. When you look at these pictures you just get lost in time.”

Some of Rodick’s favorite items are letters from people in need, requesting aid or thanking the Mission for providing it, because of what it says about how people viewed the Mission even back then.

“These people reached out and trusted the Mission to ask for help and not be ostracized because of it,” Rodick said. “I think that says a lot about the Mission and the way it goes about handling things in times of need.”

Rodick says that while the times may be different the need has remained, if not increased.

“I mean, we’ve given people cows. Sheep and cows,” she said. “We certainly aren’t buying cows for people anymore, but we do have a food pantry and provide food services, so that hasn’t changed.”

There are also plenty of light-hearted stories to be told from the items that were saved. There are old joke books and books of limericks and riddles. There are beautifully illustrated children’s books and a record from 1946 that Rodick had burned onto a CD. They even have a dental chair from 1912 when the Mission used to offer dental care to island residents aboard their boat, the Sunbeam.

It’s stories and items like these that Rodick and the rest of the team at Maine Seacoast Mission hope to be able to share with the world by organizing all these pieces of the past and making them available to the public however they can.

“We will digitize our existing archive and create a traveling exhibition,” said Marketing Director Kierie Piccininni, when asked about long-term plans for the collection. “We would love to work with a museum or two that may be interested in the archive.”

They are also planning to stop at individual islands once archives from that location have been fully digitized. The first stop will be Matinicus, where the team hopes that locals can shed some light on people and places in photos lest they be lost to time.

The process may take some time as Rodick and her high-quality photo scanner work their way through the piles and piles of archival material. But it’s a labor of love for her and one that she won’t be giving up on any time soon.

“To me, it’s priceless,” Rodick said. “Because it tells the story of the Mission, whether in 1938 or 2022; It’s so similar, the needs are still so real. And you can’t just leave it in boxes. You just can’t. As we all get older, we appreciate the history a little bit more.”

Zachary Lanning

News reporter Zach Lanning covers news and features in the Ellsworth area. He comes to Ellsworth by way of New Jersey, which he hopes you don’t hold against him. Email him at [email protected].

Zachary Lanning

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