Milo, like so many small, rural Maine towns, was once a robust, economically thriving community.
Rewind back to the 1950s and even the late 1960s. The town of three rivers boasted three car dealerships, big churches, clothing, furniture and drug stores, many restaurants, movie theatre, regal homes, hardware and sporting goods stores, supermarkets, a hospital, a big, bustling railroad yard in neighboring Derby, and a spool mill that employed many.
A shadow of its former self with no mill and a somewhat anemic local economy, Milo is, nonetheless, still a town with a soul and a smaller population of concerned townspeople who remember the heydays and remain hopeful for the future.
Tom Harrigan, a relative newcomer to Milo, is one such person. Harrigan’s wife Nancy long had a Schoodic Lake connection. According to the 85-year-old retired electrical engineer, he and Nancy decided 12 years ago to leave Florida for good and settle in Milo. They never looked back.
They decided in their own way to donate some of their wealth wisely in a way that might plant a seed of recovery for hard-pressed Milo. On the town’s industrial development park west of town, the Harrigans have paid for and overseen, in conjunction with the local Kiwanis Club, a $4 million complex that comprises the Kiwanian Function Building, the Harrigan Learning Center and Museum, as well as the Milo Welcome Center.
I was astonished by the quality and elaborate presentations available to visitors of both the museum and the welcome center. This complex should be a resource for schools and anyone interested in the history of Milo and Brownville, two historic stepping-off points for the waters and woods of fabled Piscataquis County.
“I had the money … I saw the need … and my wife agreed,” Harrigan said.
He notes that Milo is one of, if not the poorest town in Maine, with one in five townspeople in poverty.
A Kiwanian himself, Harrigan explained to me the many public service undertakings performed by the Kiwanians at the complex. The list is long. Part of the funding is derived from modest fees paid by those who visit the museum. The annual Kiwanian auction on the site is also is a major fundraiser. From senior citizens lunches to summer lunches to children in need and outfitting children with clothing at Christmas time, no stone is left unturned by the Harrigans and their many Kiwanian volunteers.
Directly behind the Milo Welcome Center there is a picnic pavilion and a small, natural pond that is trout-stocked and open to young anglers.
An engineer by training and temperament, with both feet on the ground, Harrigan is no pie-in-the sky visionary. He knows the odds are formidable when it comes to revitalizing Maine’s forgotten backroad towns. But he is in there fighting for the town and putting his money and sweat where it counts. During the spring grand opening of the welcome center, Harrigan told those gathered that “this building is just the beginning,” that better things can only happen for Milo if other people become similarly involved and pull together.
Every once in a while, when the chips are down, sometimes the good intentions of one determined and clear-thinking individual can actually turn things around. Along with the Harrigans’ Kiwanian Complex, there are some other economic rays of sunshine peeking through the clouds in the Town of Three Rivers.
During the good times and even the bad times, Milo has always been a special place with a deep outdoor connection, especially to those who live and play there. Keep an eye on it. You may be surprised.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.