Town Hill Village Improvement Society Stealthily Works Behind The Scenes for the Village
TOWN HILL—Like stealth agents on a mission for good, the members of the Town Hill Village Improvement Society have been taking care of the village decade after decade to little fanfare or recognition and often with little help.
That can change this Saturday when the society hosts a baked bean supper, its big fundraiser for this year. The supper is a pay-what-you-want-to event and is meant not just to help raise funds for the organization’s projects, but also to help create community in that part of Bar Harbor.
President Perry Moore said,
“The mission of the VIS is to be caretakers of the community spaces in Town Hill. While this was originally mostly about the cemetery, in 1949 we took over the old schoolhouse and this became a meeting place for organizations based in Town Hill like the volunteer fire department. In 2007 the last congregation to use the church handed it over to the VIS because they didn’t have the time nor energy to take care of it. That building—like the cemetery and schoolhouse—is full of family memories of a lot of Town Hill residents and part of the collective community history.”
Custodians of memory and community, the organization has structural issues at the buildings. There’s a fire house, two cemeteries, a church, and a playground, and there are needs that its small, all-volunteer board have to deal with to take care of those community spaces.
Town Hill has been a bit more visible in the past. Fire Chief Matt Bartlett has just requested additional fire fighters via the budget, saying that they would be stationed in Somesville, working with Mount Desert in the hopes of decreasing response times to the area. Currently, coming from Somesville, Mount Desert Fire Department is the initial response to Town Hill calls just as Bar Harbor is the initial response to Otter Creek.
“During my involvement over the past decade, we have hosted Council delegate debates, public meetings on changes that affect Town Hill like making the intersection at the top of the hill safer or Comprehensive Plan meetings,” Moore said. “Back in the day, the council used to meet in Town Hill on occasion as a gesture that they wanted all Bar Harbor residents to feel they were being represented in town government.”
Those meetings haven’t happened in Town Hill for a while.
“The importance of the VIS is that it gives Town Hill residents a voice in what happens in Town Hill as an organized, collective voice,” Moore said.
This happened recently when a local mother organized an effort to collect pledges to put a fence up around the Town Hill playground, which was also funded by donations and not the town.
“When Emily Anne Pepper realized the need for that, all she had to do was reach out to us and within a few weeks we were able to get the ball rolling on making that possible. At the end of the day, her fundraising efforts are key to it happening, but without the VIS, this likely could have been a much longer and meandering path. This was for me, what the VIS does best: listen to our neighbors and help them see the change they think would be good for Town Hill,” Moore said.
THE BIG DECISION: WHAT TO COOK
Like any organization, the society needs some money to caretake its properties, which include that large, old former school house and the church, which has had basement flooding and other issues. To raise that money, they are having a fundraiser.
For years, the Village Improvement Society had a chili festival, but when Christopher Walsh, vice president, looked at what other nonprofits were doing this winter, he realized that there were a lot of chili festival fundraisers already happening.
“Everybody is out to get some support this winter,” he said of post COVID-19 fundraising efforts.
Walsh put out a call on Facebook’s group Bar Harbor Barter and Swap asking whether people would prefer a chili or chowder festival, figuring that because so many other nonprofits have food fundraising dinners during February, he needed to crowd source that information.
“How many chili festivals can you go to in the month of February? Somebody said bean supper and I brought it up the board,” he said.
The board approved.
“We’re going to do something different,” he said. Maybe something even a little bit old school.
There will be baked beans and hot dogs (Red Snappers), coleslaw, rolls and desert.
“I’ll have to get a few different varieties of pie. We have to invest quite a bit in this one,” he said because it’s been a while since the last event. Paper and plastic products only last for so long.
“The Society. We work behind the scenes. Our biggest fundraiser is this bean supper,” he said, and he hopes to get 100 people to attend.
THE BEAN SUPPER TRADITION, COMMUNITY, AND THE BAR HARBOR BUDGET
The Maine Folklife Center writes,
“In the logging camps, beans were served at every meal. The bean hole is a stone-lined pit in which a fire is built until a good bed of coals forms. A cast iron bean pot (holds about eleven pounds of dried beans) is lowered into the pit, covered over with dirt and allowed to cook, usually overnight. Several bean pits could keep beans cooking at all times.”
Baked bean suppers are a New England tradition. Beans would happen on Saturday nights, soaked the night before and then parboiled. Once the beans soften, the chef would pour in the sauce of molasses and brown sugar, brown mustard, maybe garlic, maybe salt pork, chopped onion, salt, pepper.
Sometimes the potted beans would go into a fire pit. They’d simmer and simmer and simmer.
And if it was a church supper, the community would filter in, one family after another, eating the bean hole beans, talking to their neighbors, creating connections and enhancing community.
Franks and beans were also a Saturday night home cooked tradition, too.
According to New England.com,
“Tread carefully when discussing baked beans with an old-school Mainer. Do not even suggest baking beans with other than State of Maine beans, made by the Kennebec Bean Company in North Vassalboro.
“Mainers prefer the bean-hole bean, cooked over hot coals in a hole in the ground (seriously). That’s the way the Penobscot people did it back in the day. Adding bear fat and maple syrup used to make for a sublime winter dish.
“Today churches hold bean-hole dinners as fund raisers and the Common Ground Fair has one going in August. Beans were ideal sources of protein for hungry lumberjacks, and every Maine lumber camp featured a bean hole.”
“Events like this bean supper are important as opportunities for people to gather, to build ‘community.’ Sure, we will chat about town politics and gossip. That is the engagement which makes people feel like they belong and are involved – part of a community. But we will also probably engage our neighbors about recent news on “Place Justice Initiative” started by the Legislature’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Tribal Populations in Maine. Where ‘Indian’ and ‘negro’ are names specifically mentioned for change, residents of Town Hill should have a chance to weigh in on that where we have Indian Point Road as a main road and Negro Point on Clark Cove,” Moore said.
Moore said, “While it is a fundraising event, we don’t expect to do much more than cover our costs. Our financial needs for keeping up the properties in Town Hill are not going to be met by bake sales and holiday events, we need solid participation by the town and to do our own “development” work of finding donors and income streams that support our mission. The bean supper really is mostly engaging folks and building community.”
The organization recently requested funds in the Bar Harbor Fiscal Year 2024 budget. The agency received $5,462 last budget and requested $8,110 for the upcoming budget year which begins in July. Currently that amount has not changed. The organization rents the old school building to the town for $1 to house a fire engine. The roof needs repair and there are other building issues as well as tree issues at the cemeteries.
During the Town Council’s first discussion, the request did not create discussion, but there was a mention of increasing the requests of the MDI Nursing Association and WIC as well as potentially funding the library’s request for an additional $119,320 in funding to give its employees salaries and benefits similar to town employees and the MDI YMCA’s request for $50,000 to help for operations.
“It seems the only time the council thinks of Town Hill is when they want a place to stick a bunch of seasonal employees: off of town water and sewer,” Moore said.
The next meeting of the society is Tuesday, February 24, at 6 P.M. at the hall. It is open to the public.
RESOURCES TO LEARN MORE
To contact us by email:
1328 State Highway 102
Bar Harbor, ME 04609
To make a donation please contact them here.
Its Facebook page is here.
BAKED BEANS RECIPE
Have a hankering for baked beans? This recipe is from New England.com.
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