The founding of Founder’s Day

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PARIS – While the Founder’s Day taking place this weekend is only in its 29th annual year, the initial celebration is nearing its 100th anniversary.

Ann McDonald, docent of the Hamlin Memorial Library and Museum, recently discovered a newspaper article from the Lewiston Evening Journal detailing the events of the first Founder’s Day, which took place in 1907.

“It was very different from the way we celebrate Founder’s Day now,” McDonald said.

Founder’s Day honors Dr. Augustus C. Hamlin, who was the nephew of Hannibal Hamlin, Paris Hill resident and vice president to Abraham Lincoln. Augustus served as a medical officer for the Union during the Civil War, and later owned the Mount Mica tourmaline mine.

Hamlin purchased the former county jail and deeded it to the Ladies of Paris Hill Library Association in 1901. The building eventually became known as the Hamlin Memorial Library and Museum, though it still bears the thick granite walls and barred windows from its tenure as a penitentiary.

The original Founder’s Day took place on Aug. 28, 1907, on Hamlin’s birthday. Hamlin died in 1905, and the holiday was intended to pay tribute to his life.

The event would have taken place on the same common on Paris Hill, with the same buildings present as exist now. But instead of antique cars and antique sales, the Founder’s Day of 1907 was a rather somber affair, composed chiefly of speeches honoring Hamlin’s gift to the town.

“The education of the average boy of today is gleaned as much from reading as from actual schooling,” professor Edwin A. Daniels of New York is reported to have said. “Thought is the currency of the intellectual world and libraries properly used make thinking men.”

Loren B. Merrill, superintendent of the Mount Mica mine, was reportedly “informal and largely reminiscent” during his speech.

Merrill remembered Hamlin as an entertainer, an eager and skilled miner, and “a great man for good things to eat.”

A “Miss Ware of Auburndale, Mass.” presented a poem in honor of Hamlin entitled “Birthday Wishes.”

“Nor to the worthy Doctor / May we tell them – sadly we say-,” Ware said, “But to each other thoughtfully / On this memorial day.”

Two reverends from Massachusetts also spoke in honor of Hamlin.

“The difficulty in modern times is not to get books read, but to get them rightly used,” said Rev. Charles G. Ames of Boston. “The object of reading is not to read for the book’s sake but to get something from the book which we can adapt to our needs.”

“The world would be better if we didn’t keep so much that we read to ourselves,” said Rev. C.A. Knickerbocker of Arlington, Mass. “We should keep our ideas fresh by use.”

The article states that the event was opened by an orchestra and closed by the singing of Auld Lang Syne.

McDonald said she discovered the article while looking through the museum’s archives. She said that while she was aware of the first Founder’s Day, she did not know details of the event. “I’m not sure how long they continued to have Founder’s Day,” she said.

Indeed, Saturday’s festivities mark only the 29th official anniversary of the event. According to McDonald, Founder’s Day went on for some years before stopping. She guesses that the people who took part in the event got older, passed away, or moved out of the area, leading to the demise of the event.

The museum’s records show that the organization continued to have an annual Founder’s Day meeting. In August 1977, Richard Gross of the Lewiston Public Library spoke at the museum. McDonald says this might have been the last of the “old style” Founder’s Day celebrations. The next year, the event was revived. In 1979, the museum records show the first formations of the modern festivities: a fundraising event, featuring museum tours and a display of Bob Bahre’s antique cars, was scheduled for Aug. 23.

Sometime in the intervening years, Founder’s Day was moved to its current time, taking place on the third Saturday of every July. The features from 1979 have carried through to 2007, though the event will also feature a craft and antique fair, wagon tours of the village, and live entertainment.

The breaking of Founder’s Day from Hamlin’s birthday may have caused some disassociation with the original purpose of the event. McDonald said most people who attend the event probably don’t know who it’s named for.

However, the (technically) centennial year might change that. McDonald says humorist and author John McDonald might utilize the 1907 article during his performance at Founder’s Day.

“He might read something from Loren Merrill’s talk of 100 years ago just to tie in the old and the new,” she said.

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