DIXFIELD — The Western Foothills History Project held its open house Wednesday night at Dirigo High School, showcasing nearly a year of work from historical society members, teachers, students and community members.

The project was headed up by Nick Waugh, technology specialist at Dirigo Elementary School, who originally wrote the grant for the project. According to Waugh, the purpose was to document the histories of Byron, Buckfield, Dixfield, Mexico, Peru and Rumford by archiving photographs, maps, letters and artifacts on the Internet.

“We wanted to create a sense of collegiality among the towns in the new RSU,” Waugh said Wednesday night. “We also wanted to make sure to preserve the identities of each town. A lot of times, when towns get all mushed together, as it’s been seen before, you get the sense that the towns really care about their identities. This project is a great way for towns to plant a flag on the Internet.”

RSU 10 Superintendent Tom Ward spoke to the audience before the open house, saying the project was “a much-needed shot in the arm to the historical societies in the region.”

Larissa Picard, community partnership coordinator with the Maine Historical Society, said, “When Nick first contacted me and said that he wanted to do a project as an RSU, with potentially a dozen towns participating, it was something that was pretty different to us. RSU 10 is the largest RSU, but we were very much interested in the project.

“This has proven to be a fabulous project, bringing together multiple towns, multiple communities, schools, libraries,” Picard said. “They’ve archived some amazing content.”

Among the schools participating in the project were Buckfield Junior-Senior High School, Dirigo High School in Dixfield and Holy Savior Catholic School in Rumford. Kurt Rowley, a history teacher at Dirigo High School, spoke to the audience Wednesday about his experience working on the project with the historical societies.

“Originally, I was running a class called ‘A River Valley Civilization’ where we compared the River Valley community to other communities around the world,” Rowley said. “Eventually, we got involved with this project, which allowed my students to do much more than learn dates and facts. They were able to learn skills.”

Rowley said his students were able to interact with historical society members and learn how to handle documents, how to photograph artifacts and how to exhibit their work for the world to see.

“What started as a course turned into a project, and what was once a project became a life experience,” he said. “When I say a ‘life experience,’ I don’t mean that it’s something we experienced in our lives. I mean that it was enough to pull together multiple generations around a common goal, which is the preservation of the endeavors of previous generations.”

Rumford Historical Society member Nghia Ha, who was also involved in setting up the Western Foothills History Project, told the audience, “If you have a story to tell, we will find a way to tell it.”

“We’re hoping for this project to keep going for years to come,” Ha added. “This is only the beginning.”

The material can be accessed by logging on to www.mainehistoricalsociety.org and following the link to The Maine Memory Network.

The Maine Memory Network, according to its website, is a “project sponsored by the Maine Historical Society that provides access to thousands of historical items belonging to more than 260 organizations across Maine.”

Waugh said he currently is working on a grant from the National Education Association that, if successful, would provide funds for an after-school program to continue with archiving artifacts.

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