NORWAY — Dozens of people from Norway to Windham and beyond participated
Saturday in the first annual Mellie Dunham Snowshoe and Fiddle Festival.

The event was highlighted by snowshoe competitions at the Roberts Farm Preserve in the morning and an afternoon of fiddling and contradancing at the Grange Hall with the Don Roy Trio, including Roy, Pam Weeks and Bill Olson.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Lona (Noble) Bedard, granddaughter of Mellie Dunham, clapping to the beat of the fiddle music. Bedard sat in the Grange Hall where her grandfather played his fiddle hundreds of times a century ago.

“We’re off to a good start,” said Ben Tucker of the event that organizers hope will become an annual celebration of one of Norway’s most famous residents. Mellie Dunham, who died in 1931 at the age of 78, was a master snowshoe maker and a nationally known fiddler who was selected by Henry Ford to promote traditional fiddle and dance music across the country in the 1920s.

Local historian David Sanderson provided the highlights of Dunham’s life, including his work as a snowshoe maker who outfitted Rear Admiral Robert Peary’s expedition to the North Pole in 1908-09.

“We are the people here in Norway who created key components to make all that exploration possible,” said Sanderson as he pointed to a large set of old wooden snowshoes on the wall that were designed by Peary and Dunham. The Peary expedition was believed to be the first to the geographical North Pole.

The festival included a public supper of corn chowder, corn bread, chili and gingerbread put on by the Norway Heywood Club and contradancing on the hardwood floors of the 19th-century Grange Hall.

Lee Dassler of the Western Foothills Land Trust said she was excited about the great turnout. Dassler was called the “unsung hero” by Tucker for single-handedly organizing the festival and for her work with the Western Maine Trust Fund to secure and develop the Robert Farm Preserve.

Earlier in the day, Dassler, wearing antique wooden snowshoes and a woolen hat, had supervised the morning events at the Roberts Farm Preserve where many turned out to participate in snowshoe competitions. Winners were awarded scarves made by Dassler.

“I haven’t fallen yet,” said Brian March of Windham who was trying out snowshoes for the first time.

March said he borrowed the snowshoes from the Windham Town Hall, which has many snowshoes available for loan. A postal worker, March said he left his second job to be able to do things like bring his family to the snowshoe and fiddle festival.

“The time with my family far outweighs the money,” said March, who was surrounded by his wife Kathleen and their children Lydia, Owen, Ethan and Virginia, most of whom participated in the competition.

Tucker said organizers hope the event will be the winter equivalent of the popular longtime summer arts festival in Norway, which draws thousands of people each July.

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