Aroostook County’s Acadian news: restoration, museum and the Library of Congress

A cultural gem, “the crown of Maine”, in Aroostook County, received recognition from the Library of Congress, in Washington D.C., with the announcement about a release of virtual links to the Maine Acadian archives. This release raised awareness about the special features available in “the County”, where the Acadian culture is preserved.

Musée culturel du Mont-Carmel

Musée culturel du Mont-Carmel is a beautiful museum and cultural feature in Lille, Maine. The photo was submitted to me by Don Cyr, director of the museum.

One special gem is located in the Aroostook County town of Lille Maine. A visitor driving Route One can’t miss seeing the beautiful Mount Carmel museum.  Actually, the name of the 501© 3 museum is “Association culturelle et historique du Mont-Carmel”. The former church, now a museum, is engaged in raising funds for cultural restoration, specifically to fix the sills that stabilize the building and to restore other lovely features. The sills must be replaced. This building is on the National Register of Historic Places because it is unique, beautiful, and serves to preserve the Acadian and French-Canadian culture in the Saint John Valley, in northern Maine. Joseph Cyr and Terry Helms are supporting a Go Fund Me page to raise the urgently needed money to repair and restore the extraordinary building in the Saint John Valley.  The former church was undergoing general maintenance when inspectors found that an 8 inch screw going into the sill covers wasn’t hitting solid wood. Upon inspection came the realization that they have to be replaced and money is needed to do it.  Additionally, money is also needed to clean, and re-paint the museum’s Angels and domes. Donations to this important project are fully tax deductable.

Musée culturel du Mont-Carmel

Musée culturel du Mont-Carmel is located on Maine Street, Route One, in Aroostook County, in Lille Maine. The photo was submitted to me by Don Cyr, director the museum. 

Check out the website https://www.nps.gov/maac/planyourvisit/montcarmel.htm

Acadian Village in Van Buren

Acadian Village in Van Buren, Maine is an outdoor museum, a series of buildings that can be entered and toured. This photo was posted on the Library of Congress Maine Acadian Collection.

Another gem located a short distance from the museum in Lille, is The Acadian Village, in Van Buren:  This is an outdoor museum consisting of relocated and restored buildings from Aroostook County and Acadian settlements and placed on a plot of land near the St. John River. Each building can be entered and toured. These buildings were moved to the Acadian Village to retain the cultural heritage of the Acadians who settled in the St. John Valley.

The settlement reflects and incorporates those traits inherent to the Acadians. These skills are fishing, lumbering, and ship building. A number of these dwellings are significant in terms of their distinct Maine Acadian construction such as nautical features of “ship knees,” used for supports in construction, which can be seen in the Morneault house and in the Acadian barn.

The buildings have been moved to the village or built on site. The site is owned and operated by Notre Héritage Vivant/Our Living Heritage. The Acadian Village is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Buildings included:

Notre Dame de L’Assumption Chapel – Our Lady of Assumption Chapel
A replica of an early eighteenth century log church. The belfry houses one of the oldest bells in the valley.

Blacksmith Shop
Reconstructed from an old shop and barn. The shop’s large double doors accommodated horses for shoeing.

The David St Amand School – The Hamlin Schoolhouse
The oldest schoolhouse in the community in use from the 1880s until 1952. It was formerly located in Hamlin, Maine.

The Country Store: Serving as the entrance to the village. The building also serves as a “Recognition Hall” honoring the people who were instrumental in preserving the village. Local arts and crafts are sold there.

The Rossignol Barn – The Acadian Barn: Constructed of small round wood squared off on one side of the roof with vertical barnboard walls. The barn was originally located in Hamlin, Maine.

Morneault House: Built between 1855-1857, this is the oldest house in the valley. The house has many examples of Acadian architecture which incorporates nautical features in its construction including “ship knees” used for supports. The walls are caulked with unburned lime and flax. The Morneault house served as a post office in the early 1900s. Its original location was in Grand Isle, Maine.

The Morneault House and the Levasseur‑Ouellette House (built in Cyr Plantation, Maine, 1859) are typical of homes built during the mid‑nineteenth century by financially successful Maine Acadians. In form they are characteristic of the Georgian massing style popular on both sides of the North Atlantic by the early 19th century. The walls of both these one‑and‑a‑half‑story dwellings are built of square‑hewn logs (pièce‑sur‑pièce) covered by clapboard siding.

The Roy House: A log structure moved to the Village from a location near Hamlin, Maine, is another example of 19th‑century Maine Acadian house construction. Its hewn log walls (pièce‑sur‑pièce) have been corner‑joined with trunnels in the stacked and pegged style. It is a form that has apparently never been documented in the field.

Additionally, The Acadian Village features several more homes, workers’ quarters, a shoe shop, barber shop, and railroad car house. Four modern buildings house temporary art exhibits, a gift shop, meeting hall, and chapel. Check the website https://acadianvillage.mainerec.com/

“Maine Acadian Cultural Survey Collection”, news from the Library of Congress, in Washington DC is a new online collection relating to Maine:  The Maine Acadian Cultural Survey was an eight-week study conducted in 1991, as a joint project of the American Folklife Center and the North Atlantic Regional Office of the National Park Service to research information to be used in planning an Acadian Cultural Center in Maine. Project personnel worked closely with the Archives Acadiennes, Maine Arts Commission, Maine Historic Preservation Commission, Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History, and the University of Maine at Fort Kent. In addition, fieldworkers had considerable contact with a large number of local historical societies and other cultural organizations based in the study area.

The collection consists of more than 5000 photographs, 3600 pages of print materials, field notes, manuscripts and catalogs, 40 hours of audio recordings, 50 pages of sketches, and an assortment of ephemeral material. These materials were used to compile a 199-page report, titled The Maine Acadian Cultural Survey, that was submitted to the National Park Service. The report contains the findings of the survey of Acadian culture in Maine as well as recommendations for the development of a Maine Acadian Cultural Center. The fieldwork includes documentation of vernacular architecture, music, dance, storytelling, material culture, and occupational culture in the Upper Saint John River Valley on the Maine and New Brunswick Canadian border. C. Ray Brassieur was the survey field coordinator and David A. Taylor was the survey project director. Other fieldworkers on the project included Howard W. Marshall, Lisa Ornstein, and David A. Whitman.

This online presentation includes the majority of the sound recordings and photographs in this collection. Selected manuscripts include the materials created by the fieldworkers, such as audio and photo logs, field notes, and final reports. The remainder of the collection is available in the Folklife Reading Room at the Library of Congress. Also, a finding aid to the entire collection is available online.

Even better than reading about Aroostook County’s Acadian culture, Maine citizens can take the opportunity to visit them. During this time while we are practicing the COVID-19 precautions, Aroostook County’s vast rural vistas allows for the natural ability to experience social distancing and will likely make visiting the cultural features more enjoyable than ever before.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.