LIVERMORE — Ten students in a history class titled “Our Hands on History” have spent the past year taking a close look at the Civil War and the impact it had on people from all walks of life by studying the Washburn family. Their findings have been compiled and are now featured on the Maine Memory Network website.

Support for this project came from a Local and Legendary Grant awarded to Spruce Mountain High School and Norlands Living History Museum by the Maine Humanities Council, Maine Historical Society and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  

In addition to reading about the Civil War, students in the class spent much time scanning documents from the Norlands collection and then transcribing them. The finished work may be viewed by visiting

The students’ web exhibit looks at the various connections members of the Washburn family had to the Civil War. At a reception on Monday night, the students performed a skit based on some of the family’s correspondence. Those letters gave further insight into the role the Washburn family played during the Civil War.

Israel Washburn, Jr. was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1853-1861. He was Governor of Maine from 1961-63 and often wrote letters to his younger brother Elihu Washburne, who was a congressman from Illinois and a close friend of Abraham Lincoln.

Another brother, Samuel, was captain of the gunboat Galena. As such, he also played a part in the war. He often sent letters to his brothers and his thoughts give a different perspective.

Sister Caroline Washburn Holmes was married to a surgeon serving in the Union Army. He died while serving but relied on letters from home to escape from the realities of war.

After the skit history teacher Susan St. Pierre told the large crowd gathered in the church at the Norlands, “This was a journey I never could have believed possible.” She wasn’t sure who learned more – the students or the teachers involved.

History teacher Nathan Purrington helped create the narrative while English teacher Kym Bryant was invaluable for her technical support throughout the project.

St. Pierre also thanked Ann Weatherbee, dramatic coach at SMHS, for her assistance with the presentation and costumes.

Norlands’ director Sheri Leahan was acknowledged for her willingness to open her doors and welcome the students whenever additional information was needed. “She was wonderful to work with,” St. Pierre said.

After thanking others who had assisted in one way or another, St. Pierre noted her appreciation for the students in the class. “They put themselves out there. It was a wonderful experience,” she said.

Everyone involved with the project was then presented with a commemorative T-shirt. Purrington finished the evening by saying, “Thank you to the parents, grandparents and family who let us have this time with your students.”

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