WOODSTOCK – When this country’s last hand-cranked telephone hung up in 1983, it was the end of an era for such technology. But it put the village of Bryant Pond on the map because it was the last community to have such a phone system.

Now, 25 years later, anyone who passes through this picturesque village will soon know that the last of the hand-cranked phones were found right here thanks to sculptor Gil Whitman, the town of Woodstock, of which Bryant Pond is a part, and a group of community volunteers.

Whitman is planning to create a 14-foot-tall, black-steel replica of a hand-cranked phone that will be displayed on the town common, soon to be named Remembrance Park.

It’s not the largest sculpture he’s ever created – that honor belongs to a bronze sculpture he did for the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, at 20 feet tall.

But it will be impressive.

Whitman is a well-known metal sculptor who until recently owned a successful gallery on the coast. He figured it was time to come home to Bryant Pond a few years ago. He’s now 81 years old.

Although he was born in New Hampshire and grew up in Massachusetts, Whitman’s family roots go way back in Bryant Pond. His ancestors were among the first to settle the village, and his wife, Liz, is a native. He’s been visiting the town all his life.

In fact, he has strong ties to the Bryant Pond Telephone Co., too. His cousin, Elden Hathaway, and his wife, Barbara, were the last owners of the small hand-cranked phone company.

Town Manager Vern Maxfield said selectmen approved forming a committee last month to develop the common. Along with the phone replica will be a gazebo, park benches, and a new stone wall. In fact, the cap stones on the wall will help raise some of the money for the creation of the telephone sculpture, Whitman said.

Other funding will come from the buyers of the Bryant Pond Telephone Co., Oxford Networks, and donations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Master Gardener Program will assist with the landscaping of the new common and park. Maxfield said he is also applying to the Maine Department of Transportation for a highway enhancement grant to be used for the project.

Maxfield has his own ties to the hand-cranked telephone company.

“My wife’s uncle was the business manager,” he said.

He’s pleased with the plans for the phone replica and park.

“It’ll be a surprise for the 6,000 vehicles a day that drive past the common. That common has needed something for a long time. It will be a nice landmark,” he said.

Whitman has created metal sculptures and multimedia pieces combining painting and metal work that have been on exhibit across the country and the world, including several for the home of now-deceased philanthropist Betty Noyce. Some of his sculptures are displayed along his lawn, while many more are exhibited in his home.

He has just completed a 12-piece collection of bronze flowers that, when touched, provide audio descriptions for people who are visually impaired. His lawn is decorated with a large metal crocus and a small bunch of yucca plants.

Many of his creations reflect his education from the Essex Agricultural and Technology Institute in Danvers, Mass., where he specialized in flora culture and ornamental landscape design.

He will soon start on the telephone, not in his shop or forge, which he said are too small for such a large piece, but at a company in Gardiner from whom he will purchase the steel.

He expects a year will be needed for him to fashion the 14-foot phone replica and for the committee to raise money and have the stone wall, gazebo and park benches completed.


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