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AGRICULTURE ORGANIZES

Excerpts from late 1800s agricultural periodicals

These excerpts are courtesy of Richard Judd, University of Maine, Orono
  • Link to Richard Judd's bio

    Farmers Confront the Problem of Western Competition
    "Shall we abandon farming in Maine?"
    Our Agricola (Bangor, ME), November 2, 1876

    "True, our farmers cannot turn a furrow miles in length, as can the prairie farmer of the West; but shall they therefore not turn a shorter one? They can't raise corn in fields miles square; but shall they therefore not plant at seed time? They cannot grow oxen by the hundred; but shall they therefore not raise up two or three pairs of likely steers which may be turned at a profit, and have others coming on to succeed them?....The wisest course to try [is to] adapt one's self to the surroundings and conditions imposed by this diversity of difference between the West and East."

    Farmers Debate the Merits of Mixed Farming and Specialized Farming
    Maine Farmer, March 16, 1864:

    "The most successful farmers [were those] who suffered themselves to be the least excited by high prices, but who aimed to secure a good crop from the various sources of income, regarding it of more consequence to adapt their labor and capital to securing a crop of everything that makes up a farm account. [Those who do not] rush into new products [or] don't stop producing because price goes down, inevitably will come up again....There will always be a fair market for all he can raise. The army of consumers in this country has far succeeded that of producers....Let every available source of income be seized upon, and the many little rills of income flowing into the common channel, will produce results to gladden the heart of the industrious husbandman. Let the grain be sown as usual, corn and potatoes planted, hogs, calves and sheep raised, economy be practiced. Whether prices be high or low, is only of comparative importance to his welfare."

    J.M. Carpenter, "Report on Mixed Husbandry"
    "Thirteenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture," 1868 (Augusta: Owen & Nash, 1868)

    [Carpenter speaks of the mix of crops grown on Maine farms - the system "by which greatest possible variety of products are raised that may be required for the use of the farmer and his family" - as including hay and pasturage, apple orchards, fruits, horses, cattle sheep, swine, poultry, wheat, corn, barley, oats, potatoes, and other vegetables]:"Thus he will not be subject to the cost of transportation... [and will be able] to take advantage of short seasons for sowing and planting [with a] better prospect of good harvests than [he could] expect from production of one article [and be]... less subject to ups and downs by reason of fluctuating markets, as often occurs when the sale of one product has to be depended upon as a source of income.... The nation, state, community or farmer that comes the nearest to living within their own resources, will first become independent."

    Maine Farmer, June 8, 1882:

    "A jack at all trades and master of none makes but little. Yet that is what a great many farmers are, and nothing less. They do a little of forty different things, and have a little of as many products to sell, and mostly of inferior quality while of what is good in its kind he has too little to attract a cash buyer at a good price. [To profit he must specialize], and this he can do only by devoting himself to the production of a few things for sale, and then endeavoring with all his strength to produce as much as possible, of as high a quality as possible, and as cheaply as possible.... Choose what branch you will, or your circumstances demand, but, when chosen, push it 'for all it is worth.'"

    Maine Farmer, December 14, 1878 [A farmer advises others that specialized farming is risky]:

    "You have to thoroughly understand it, have a love for it, and be so situated in regard to location, market &c., as to take advantage of every point in its favor. The profits from special farming, though sometimes large, are frequently variable and often small, on account of the peculiarities of season, or the demand of the product.... [In the] system of mixed husbandry there is greater range for the energies and activities of the mind, and generally more chances of success and profit.... The best course for the farmers of Maine to pursue, will be found to be that which embraces attention to many things [such as wheat, corn, apples, potatoes, farm stock, dairy, poultry hogs]. Our farmers who have pursued a mixed course of husbandry are undoubtedly more independent than those who have spent every effort in one line."

    Maine Farmer, December 27, 1866 [On the dis-economies of mixed farming]:

    "It should be the study of the farmer to ascertain what produce brings the highest price relatively to the cost of production. By what means the cost of production is to be reduced in order to increase the net profit. The result of his investigations on the first subject will be the abandonment of those crops and that system which, in a given situation, are not profitable, and bestowing his attention upon those only which pay the best....Finally, agriculture, to be remunerative, needs science and skill as well as labor."

    Samuel L. Boardman, "Some Thoughts on Rural Economy,"
    Maine Farmer, April 2, 1870:

    "Some farmers are content with small farms and moderate gains - they form no inconsiderable portion of the agricultural community, and are almost invariably independent, and prudent, careful managers....[They] must study the adaptability of the farm for certain crops and the contiguity to a market:...apples or grass, stock for beef or milk, work with oxen or horses,...hoed or grain crops....

    Maine Farmer, December 2, 1871 [On the virtues of "diversified" or mixed farming]:

    "There are some departments of agriculture which are carried on as a specialty in certain locations [and]...make large returns....Yet we have always advocated as the safest and best plan for Maine farmers, generally, to pursue a mixed or diversified course.....Raise their own vegetables, corn, wheat, potatoes, and to keep all kinds of stock..., as thereby they will be less likely to loss from the failure of a single crop; and if one grows what articles he uses, he will not be subject to the fluctuations of the market, and possibly have to pay dear for certain articles wanted when compelled to take low figures for what one has to sell."

    Maine Farmer, November 23, 1872:

    "I do believe that our agricultural condition cannot be improved generally, as long as we follow a mixed system of farm husbandry. We must operate with specialties - follow those branches of husbandry or farming which circumstances show is best adapted to our position and condition...., throwing aside the old plan of doing a little of everything or many things, and doing nothing well, and taking up some one branch and pushing it on to success....We spread ourselves out too thin....We exhaust our strength evidently for the purpose of seeing how far we can spread....[We] breed stock a little, grow grain to some extent, cultivate potatoes, raise apples, feed hogs, grow vegetables, sow wheat, make butter, raise sheep and wool, keep hens, breed trotting horses, and in fact, now-a-days every farmer dabbles a little in all these branches and more, and the result is what: -- He is hardly successful in [any]....What would we think of a man who attempted to be a lawyer, doctor and minister, all in one...."

    Maine Farmer, November 4, 1876:

    "In short, a general system of mixed husbandry, pertaining to the stock raising as well as the grain growing departments of the farm, has, for the generality of Maine farmers, been the safest course. And generally the same plan will remain the safest for years to come.... Have any of our readers ever known farmers who have stuck to steers, and sheep, and cows, and hogs, and wheat, and grass, who have failed? We have not. Have they not been independent, contented, free from debt, and positive, social and moral forces in their community? Verily yea. This having been the record of the past, why not rely upon and extent it over the future, somewhat?"

    Maine Farmer, November 4, 1876:

    "The day for traditional farming has past. Having a little patch of corn here, and a few potatoes there; gathering a few tons of hay upon a surface broad enough to produce ten times as much; milking cows that do not pay for what they eat; raising colts and cattle that are out of fashion... all these are what call up the inquiry, "'What shall we do with Maine?'"

    Maine Farmer, December 2, 1876:

    "If he is on a tolerably good farm and is practicing what is known as 'mixed husbandry' - a few cows, a few sheep, a pair of oxen, a horse, an orchard, a patch of corn, wheat, potatoes, &c., and is industrious and prudent, nothing in the future is surer than that he will not only get a living, but will be surrounded with the comforts and needed luxuries of life."

    Maine Farmer, December 2, 1876:

    "The old opinion, that the farmer should produce everything that he consumes, has been exploded; and he finds that he must adopt the free trade system of producing such crops as yield him the most profit, which his circumstances best fit him to produce; and by the sale of which crops supply his remaining wants."

    Maine Farmer, December 4, 1884 [In this reflective article, a farmer muses about why he will stick with mixed husbandry, even though it seems less remunerative.]:

    "There comes to the farmer no grand and sudden fortune; but neither does there come to him those swift and complete financial wrecks which seem sooner or later to overtake nearly every individual who embarks on his fortunes...in these deceptive and uncertain kinds of business.... The farmers' fortune is built up little by little...It seems sometimes, perhaps, as if the moderate returns from agricultural opportunities were too small; but after all, considering their security, there are no investments that in the end yield so well.... The farmer alone seems to have security. His gains are small, but they are sure. The vicissitudes of the seasons and fluctuations of the markets, prosperous times, speculative periods and periods of depression may come and go, they can only exert a temporary influence in increasing or diminishing immediate profits; but...these things never attack nor destroy the capital which he has invested in his land and its equipment."

    A Reformer's Plea: Cultivate Less and Grow More
    "Rev. John Todd's Address," Maine Farmer, December 4, 1835 [Farm reformers or "improvers" advocated intensive, rather than extensive farming - that is, using more scientific methods like crop rotation, fertilizers, and careful weeding to produce more crops on less acreage]:

    "There is one trait in the character of New England people peculiar to them. It is the ardent, unquenchable love of money. Money, the Yankee must and will have. On that he fixes his eye with a gaze ever burning and eager. Sometimes you will find him chasing the whale, trapping the beaver, on the [log] raft on the St. Lawrence, on the peddler's cart among the mountains, watching the machinery which every moment turns out a button, or a roll of cloth....This leads him to inventions and patents, and I regret to say it, sometimes to a species of dishonesty which is well known by the name of wooden nutmeg selling....The Yankee miserly!... What he really wants is to be 'independent'; [he has]... an inborn, unquenchable, irrepressible desire to be independent.... It is to gratify this love of independence that they rake the ocean and the earth for money....[And to this end, they] covet too much land.... Almost all our farms are probably from four to ten times too large. A farmer never feels that he has got land enough. He adds field to field, does not half subdue or manure what he has got, and still wants more..... By proper management, I am satisfied, every acre of land which is fit to raise corn upon, can be made to yield one hundred bushels to the acre. Is it not better to put the manure and care and labor upon it, and raise the one hundred bushels, than to spread the same over four acres, and thus drive away three of your sons to the west?"

    Farmers Explain the Rigors of Producing for a Market
    Maine Farmer, July 10, 1869 [Growing corn for the Burnham & Merrill Plant near West Scarborough forces farmers to apply science to agriculture]:

    "The demands of this establishment have induced farmers in the town - some of it is hauled to the factory from a distance of six miles - to grow largely of this crop, and as the price depends upon the season it is ready for canning, extra efforts are made to get it forward early and to raise as large a crop to the acre as possible, for the larger the crop the more money is obtained."

    Maine Farmer, December 23, 1871: [Commenting on the cheese "factories" that recently appeared in the Sandy River region, the article notes Maine's disadvantages in this line of endeavor: its farms are typically small; they pursue of policy of mixed, rather than specialized dairy farming; the country is hilly, making it difficult to get milk to a factory; oxen are typically used for farm work instead of horses, making the work slower. But the article encourages farmers to persist and innovate.]:

    "We do not see why a given area comprising many small farms, cannot support as many cows as the same area embracing a few large ones; after the system once gets under way,...farmers [will] run off their other stock for the purpose of keeping more of the former class....Mixed farming is generally pursued, it is true; but mixed farming has generally been pursued in all the regions now supporting large dairy factories, previous to the establishment of those factories....Our farmers can very speedily change their system of farm management if they become convinced of the success and profitable nature of keeping cows as a specialty for cheese factories."

    Maine Farmer, February 17, 1872 [Again expressing the moral ambiguities of the transition to market farming]:

    "With this increase of wealth [from market farming] has come increased luxuries in living. Our ancestors were clothed in homespun - there were no silk dresses, no carpets, no gold watches, no pianos. The jewsharp and the fiddle furnished the only music, and not one man in a thousand ever went fifty miles from home. Now the mechanics and farmers have carpets and pianos, and in many cases farmers' wives are not satisfied without spending a few weeks at Saratoga [a popular resort spa] or New York, and even Rome and Paris are possible with some. And farmers enjoy these luxuries at a much less expense of bodily labor than were possible before the days of railroads [and market farming]."

    A Farmer Pleads for an End to Out-Migration
    H.W. Collingwood, "Saving a Farm," Maine Board of Agriculture, Agriculture of Maine: Forty-fourth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture for the Year 1900 (Augusta: Kennebec Journal, Print l90l), p. 73 [Imagine these words delivered as a talk to a farmers' club, which it probably was.]:

    "Save a farm for your country. Don't let the woods claim it again. Don't let the wilderness grab it, but stand by that farm and save it, and fight for it. Save a farm, the noblest work a man can do. Save it for your family and country!....Soil is never worn out.... [There] is not a piece of ground on the face of the earth that is 'worn out.'"

    Farmers Discuss the Crisis of Rural Outmigration
    Maine Farmer, August 26, 1876:

    "Travel over the State in almost any or every direction, and you see deserted farms, forsaken mills, villages that have not grown during the past decade, and a population wanting that energy and vim which comes from the presence of a large proportion of young men" [Where have the young men gone, he asks? To the mines, farms, and ranches of the West, having been "somewhat infected with the idea that Maine is only good to emigrate from."]

    Amos N. Currier, "The Decline of Rural New England"
    Popular Science Monthly 38 (1891): 384-89 [An urbane writer comments on New England's abandoned farms, revealing the underlying racist fears that made the decline of rural New England - a bastion of Anglo-Saxon culture - a national concern]:

    "In every period of American history the influence of New England has been marked and out of proportion to its size and population. [In, for example, religion, moral and social reform, literature, scholarship, inventive genius, skilled industries, the pulpit, bar, bench, and legislative halls], New England has "always stood in the front rank and have contributed largely to the worthiest American achievements.... [But] the outlook for the future is very unsatisfactory....Fifty years ago every farm was cultivated by its owner.... There was a large body of landed proprietors, homogeneous in race, substantially on an equality socially, and alike interested in the present and future welfare of the community. [Now there has been a] great change... Land is passing into the hands of non-resident proprietors, by mortgage, by death of resident owners, by his removal to the village or manufacturing center, or his emigration to the West. [Farms are operated increasingly by] a body of renters [which is] as a class unreliable, unsuccessful, shifting, and shiftless... so such farms and appurtenances are in a state of chronic decline.... Fine old orchards, uncared for, are wasting away, a lilac or a few rose-bushes struggling for life in the grass show the site of the old garden... The real decline of the native stock is greater than the decrease in numbers would indicate, for there is a decided increase in the foreign element, which with all its virtues is not qualified to strengthen and perpetuate the old New England type of character and spirit..... Some of the historic towns founded by the Puritans are undergoing the same process of decline or change of population..... I am told by persons who have spent their lives in these rural towns that there is a decline in public spirit, and a visible growing away from the pure democracy characteristic of primitive New England.

    Hermann Keyserling, "Genius Loci: The Civilization of These United States"
    Atlantic Monthly 144 (September 1929): 304 [Keyserling sums up the outsider's impression of out-migration in Maine]:

    "New England's great and very original charm is, alas, that of a dying culture. There is little likelihood that it will survive even for a century."

    Maine Farmer, October 24, 1874 [A farmer notices that the "once prosperous, contented, and therefore happy communities" bypassed by railroads are losing population. This brings into question the nobility of farming as an occupation.]:

    "The young men toiled on the farm with their fathers, and their highest ambition was, when they should arrive at their majority, to have farms of their own....Many school districts in these interior towns, where, twenty-five or thirty years ago, there were fifty or sixty pupils, are now almost entirely broken up for lack of scholars.... Farms which require the labor of the young and vigorous to keep them in a condition of productiveness, are left to the sole care of the aged and decrepit, and consequently, not half cultivated, while the whole care of the household and dairy devolve to the aged wife and mother.... If this thing goes on in the future as it has in the last twenty-five years, the native yeomanry of New England will soon be among the things of the past, and a foreign population will become the tillers of all our country hill-side farms. [He goes on to consider remedies for the outmigration problem]:"Farmers' sons and daughters must not think of imitating the beaux and belles of the city in matters of dress, for the profits of the ordinary farmer will not admit of it, and financial embarrassment and hard times are sure to follow such indulgence. Let us hope that the social revolution, so much needed, will not be long delayed: A return to the simple habits of our forefathers, is not to be expected without a social revolution, and without this we cannot hope for great improvement."

    H. Colburn, "On the Changes Made or Required in Farming"
    "Seventeenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture" (Augusta: Sprague, Owen & Nash, 1873), pp. 378-79 [The debate over out-migration can tell us a great deal about mid-nineteenth century farmers' values. This Kennebec County farmer seems to equate Maine's rural depopulation with the development of commercial agriculture.]:

    "Fifty years ago the young man ...when he went to his new farm, obtained a few sheep, and the wife had her spinning wheel. The sheep and the spinning wheel meant home-made clothing, and this they wore, and their children wore it, and when they grew to be young gentlemen and ladies they wore it, and thought it good enough for meeting, or a party, or any other place.... [This] required but little cash to run the affair... [since families] lived on the products of their farm, which were good enough for anybody. They had few of the luxuries of life, but they had all the needful comforts; and with their manner of living, [they] were robust and healthy. [Now] he gets his father or some friend to furnish him with money and clothes and then takes the next boat, or rather the next train...for California... One in a great many gets rich, but the exceptions are far more numerous. [In earlier times boys were] "not so exceedingly anxious to get rich suddenly.... But now, instead of looking to the sheep and the spinning wheel, if they want anything, it must be brought at the city store; cash must be paid, it must be of the finest texture, of the latest fashion, and bear the highest price.... But if we will be content with comfortable houses and furniture, plain clothing and equipage, and good, wholesome food, we can be as happy as anybody in the world."

    Samuel Wasson, "The Ideal Farmer"
    "Thirteenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture" (August: Owen & Nash, 1868), p. 57 [Wasson blames Maine's agricultural crisis on the farmer's reluctance to innovate and specialize]:

    "Example begets example in full fruition. The practice of the father is the ideal of the son. He plows around the same rock heap, and up to the same headland; one furrow beyond would be sacrilege. The manure heaps, the time-honored frontispiece of the view from his parlor, the well at the foot of the hill, evince a civilization which sighs o'er the days ane syne." [Farmers, he claims, "accumulate knowledge" only through "blunder and accident" - a practice of "muscle without mind."]

    Z. A. Gilbert, "Changes in Our Farming"
    "Eighteenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine Board of Agriculture" (Augusta: Sprague, Owen & Nash, 1873), p. 10 [An Androscoggin County farmer agrees with Samuel Wasson]:

    "We are to-day trudging along in the grooves of the Past - keeping the same stock, no more, no less - cultivating the same acres, and growing the same kind of products - crops growing less every year, and the owner of the land losing heart in the business.... Thus while the laws of production, demand, and supply which first shaped the system of farming have most thoroughly and radically changed, we are blindly at work trying to meet an entirely new order of things with an old order of efforts."

    Maine Farmer, May 14, 1885 [Some farmers saw the population crisis as a crisis of the family]:

    "We well remember the time when six children were regarded as a small number in a family; when every household contributed a large quota to swell the number of pupils in the district school; when the farmer didn't have to depend upon hired help, picked up here and there, but his own stalwart sons did the work on their farm and were contented to remain there. How changed!... Large families have gone out of fashion, and newly married people on the threshold of domestic duties, shrink from the care and responsibility of rearing children....More money is lavished upon one sickly representative of childhood aches and ills, than it used to take to bring up one of the old-fashioned kind of families.... Unoccupied school houses...moss upon the door sills [are the result of] the crime of incipient murder [of the family]... The artificial manner of life, exciting the nerves, has made a change in the physical organization of the parents, apparently causing a lessened reproductive power.... Late marriage -- the selfishness of young men who prefer not to sacrifice their liberty to the responsibility and expense of domestic life [is another culprit, he says, along with an increase in divorce and adultery].

    Maine Farmer, February 26, 1976 [Another farmer responds that the problem is one of soil conservation. He makes a moral statement: You can't get something for nothing on a farm. New England's pastures, he remarks, were once the richest lands in the country]:

    "Then many of these pastures were situated on hillsides, and their fertility was washed into the brooks and ravines....For generations [farmers] have been building animal carcasses, and for every full grown ox raised there is taken from the soil 130 pounds of phosphate of lime, and 150 pounds of nitrogen, together with potash and other elements of the animal structure....This growing of animals and sending them away has been the great source of deterioration to our pastures, and for 150 years the great drain has been going on."

    Maine Farmer, November 4, 1876 [The crisis can be averted, another farmer opines, by old-time conservation - "a return to some of the old ways, or the taking of a few backward steps"]:

    "The fertile lands of the West and cheap transportation, have made many a Maine farmer shiftless, because if he could scrape together money enough by keeping a few hens, peddling a little, and getting out a few hoop-poles, to purchase flour for his family and corn for his cows, he has been contented to do so rather than exert himself to do anything towards growing these very crops....To get along without the labor of making a compost heap [or a muck-bed or filling an ash barrel] and attending to the home resources of fertilization, he has completed his shiftless course by selling hay with which to purchase some kind of concentrated or patented fertilizers, and thought he was farming after the most approved style!"

    Maine Farmer, September 8, 1881 [A farmer defends his neighbors against the charge of slovenly farming]:

    "Farms are not deserted on account of laziness; the American farmer as a rule is not lazy, but he is social and will seek the place where his desire for sociability can be gratified. [Materially, he is more independent and better off on the farm than in the city, but] it is the social starvation which drives him to the city and keeps him there, and has nothing to do with the nature of his work or its material reward.... Children, having spent a few terms at the academy, return to the farm with new ideas and desires; work at home seems a monotonous round of farm life. [Thus, the farmer concludes, Maine needs to make farm life and society more attractive]: "Plant trees and cultivate flowers; encourage social gatherings of the young; encourage picnics, concerts, lyceums and lectures; encourage the Grange; establish a brighter life, one that shall give some significance to labor."

    A Farmer Defends Maine against the Charge that Out-migration is a Sign of Social Decay
    Maine Farmer, July 8, 1897 [Responding to an article by Alvan F. Sanborn on Maine's abandoned countryside in the July 1897

    Atlantic Monthly. Sanborn argued that farm abandonment was a reflection of a stagnant intellectual and moral life. Mainers - and New Englanders in general - were "cold, unaggressive, and self-righteous." Citing examples of "men of thought and learning" occupying the rural pulpits and new meeting-houses being built through the Maine countryside, the farmer explains Sanborn's misapprehension]:

    "Doubtless he is one of those fellows who has come down here [from Boston] on some Sunday with his fishing line and rod, and not having success has gone home and declared our religious institutions a failure.... [Maine rural inhabitants are] not degenerating into semi-barbarism.... [They] are improving the home, church, Grange, school, public library, [and] neighborhood....[These institutions] afford ample opportunity for the enlargement of their vision. And these opportunities they improve with an avidity that would surprise the resident of the city."

    "Secretary's Report"
    Sixth Annual Report of the Secretary of the Maine State Board of Agriculture, 1861(Augusta: Stevens & Sayward, 1861), p. 33 [A farmer compares Maine farming "failures" to business failures in the city]:

    "It has been ascertained that about 95 percent. of those engaged in mercantile affairs in the city of Boston become bankrupt. How is it with the farmers of Maine? Large numbers of them have commenced farming with no other capital than their own physical powers, combined with energy and good sound common sense, and have succeeded in rearing and educating a family, and in securing a competency against a time of need."

    A Farmer Reflects on the "Good Old Days"
    Maine Farmer, June 4, 1885: [Hon. J.J. Perry, at an annual reunion of the Sons and Daughters of Oxford County meeting in Portland, speaks somewhat ambivalently of rural life in Oxford County in the early nineteenth century]:

    "The hardships of those days -- the great families of children - the narrow means -- even the neighborly lending and borrowing from the pork barrel - the footings knit of winter nights to buy the poor luxury now and then of groceries from the village, the rude, unfinished house round which the snow-blast howled, the green wood drawn from the night's snow drift and cut and split to make the morning fire on the open hearth, the coarse, plain, unvaried fare, the long, hard, poorly paying journeys to distant markets, the stress of debt, the tugging strain of each year to turn the woodland into tillage, and yet, running through all this toil and privation and hardship, an infinite cheer and humor.... If it was poverty it was not the poverty of dependence or charity or disparagement in any form, but poverty with independence and pride, living within such means as was its own, and finding enough even at that with which to build the church, and the academy [high-school], to keep the law, to have the school-master..., to vote honestly and intelligently,...to discuss affairs in town and State and country, and to fill out the full measure of the enlightened citizen of the republic."


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