Melissa Rockwood

“Attention must be paid.” — from “Death of a Salesman,” by Arthur Miller

After several hours of reviewing recent news stories about the Norlands, this quotation came to mind. It perfectly captures the urgency of the situation faced by the Washburn Norlands Foundation.

As stewards of the historical Washburn Family property and legacy in Livermore, the board of trustees posted to the website late last year that $3 million would need to be raised by March 2023 to sustain the foundation. I determined that this was the volunteer experience I’d been searching for — to compel readers to understand the need to rally to this cause.

I was introduced to the Norlands and Billie Gammon in the summer of 1975. I had recently graduated from Livermore Falls High School and would attend Boston University that September. Through a local student employment program, I was hired to work full-time as a “Jill of all trades” at Norlands.

Billie trained me to give public tours, schooling me in the Washburns’ remarkable history. The majority of time, however, was devoted to genuine farm- and housework under the supervision of Clint Brooks, a recent University of Maine graduate. Billie, a true force of nature, recruited volunteers to create a unique experience for visitors to this out-of-the-way place, making Norlands the destination for K-12 field trips for schools in Western and Central Maine.

Israel and Martha Washburn raised seven sons and three daughters on the homestead. It was a much more modest property than today’s grand structures, including a meeting house, 17-room mansion, library, barn and schoolhouse, most of which were built after the siblings had moved on to adult lives and families of their own.


And it is precisely the Washburns’ lifetime achievements that demand our attention and renewed commitment.

Norlands and the history it embodies represent a singular point of pride that a community can rally around. More than 15 years ago, supporters rebuilt the barn and farmer’s cottage after they were destroyed by fire. Financial circumstances require a different kind of response; to be sure, donations are greatly appreciated, but more importantly, innovation, imagination and creative volunteers will be the combination that sustains Norlands for future generations.

I spoke recently with Pete Kelsey, a Washburn descendent whose father, Kerck Kelsey, researched and wrote about his Washburn ancestors. Peter described a project that he and his colleagues completed several years ago that created a 3-D “digital twin” of the Norlands property. He doesn’t know what became of the data, but in our brief conversation, we tossed around ideas like virtual reality and video games that could be built on the foundation of the digital twin.

Norlands’ website and social media platforms present an opportunity for computer technology students in search of a capstone project with a worthy beneficiary. The library archives are a treasure trove for scholars interested in the history of Livermore and the Civil War era. The idea of knitting weekends and quilting bees at Norlands sound very inviting to me.

The possibilities are endless with volunteer energy, creativity and well-defined revenue streams — yes, we need to remember the common cause here is to preserve Norlands, and it will take money.

There is no shortage of inspiration to be found within the story of this amazing family that successfully translated hard work into success and prosperity.


Another saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” comes to mind. In our post-pandemic times, we are experiencing fear and trepidation for what may lie ahead in the “new normal.” The Washburns overcame their fears, some to venture far away from the home that they knew and loved, and others to stay closer to home.

Pride of place is entwined in our sense of identity. Undoubtedly, when asked where they were from, the Washburns proudly professed: “I am from Livermore, Maine.”

I appeal to readers — those who have called Livermore their home for generations and those new to the area — to consider adopting Norlands as a point of local pride.

Tell the story of this family and place because attention must be paid.

Melissa Rockwood, a member of the Livermore Falls High School Class of 1975, enjoyed three amazing summers (1975-1977) working at Norlands. She makes her home in Ellsworth, and has many fond memories of growing up in Livermore Falls. After 25 years in various roles at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, she retired in 2022.

Comments are not available on this story.