Monthly Archives: April 2014

Westport Island: A Place that Inspires

Natural tranquility helps to inspire an education entrepreneur

Stires farm on Westport Island
Anne Stires began her life on Westport Island in 1976. Her formative years were spent in the woods and marshes of her parents’ expansive property on Post Office Road — where trees, birds and other wild creatures were their closest neighbors. She grew up connected to the land — in a home heated with wood, holding a kitchen table that often included food from the family garden. Family life included harvesting firewood and vegetables, as well as restoring a house steeped in Island history.

Anne moved off the Island in 5th grade. Ironically, it was while she was in 6th grade at the Banks School in Manhattan’s Upper West Side that she was struck with what would become her “truth.” Anne’s teacher brought their classroom outside one day to walk the streets of Manhattan and absorb the world about them. With their eyes and senses primed, they returned to the classroom to write poetry. Anne absorbed more than the sights of Manhattan that day, she absorbed a way of thinking and learning beyond “the desk” that meshed outdoor and social experience, or “place”, with learning.

Anne Stires engaging with studentsToday, she brings her academic training together with her love of life and the natural world at a school she founded, the Juniper Hill School, in Alna. There, along with like-minded colleagues, she shares her enthusiasm for learning through the lens of place. The Juniper Hill School’s “place” is her grandmother’s 1761 farm in Alna bordering the Sheepscot River. This farm has served as a consistent refuge and “garden of adventure” throughout Anne’s life. Now, it is where her students begin their immersion in the adventure of learning by studying the natural and human environments around them. The school serves Pre-K to Grade 4 students and their families.

As an example of the school’s integrated, “place-based” approach: if this school was on Westport Island — older students might look at the history of transportation on Westport over time. Investigating its historical evolution would require speaking turn of the century steamboat at lower landing, Westport Islandwith Westport Islanders whose roots are here. And, tackling the subject as a whole might take them to look at the role of personal boats, the development of mass transportation from steamboats to cars, the ferry landings, the development of roads and bridges — as well as how the demands on this infrastructure changed over time. It would be a Social Studies integrated project where the children read, write, and do studies — perhaps even art studies like photographic essays. Development of concepts and skills is brought to life with sensory immersion. The outdoors and community are “classroom ground zero”.

Westport Island osprey in the nestAnne has a bachelor’s degree in biology and English from Hamilton College in New York and a Masters degree in education from Antioch University New England. An affinity for nature and environmental education always brought her back to Maine. While pursuing her education, she worked at local marine and environmental stewardship programs: the Darling Marine Center, Chewonki Foundation and Tanglewood Learning Center. As a teacher, she taught at Sheepscot Valley Children’s House in Wiscasset and Boothbay Region Elementary School before starting her ideal, hands-on learning “place”: Juniper Hill.

Juniper Hill School is a private school that serves students aged 3-9 in central and Mid-Coast Maine. Students may attend as private pay, or as a “school of choice” in communities like Westport Island and Alna that allow families a tuition-paid choice. To learn more about the school, on-Island resources include Director Anne Stires; Literacy Specialist Susan Stires; and Board Member, Susie Stedman.

photo of Anne Stires and photos of students at the school courtesy of Juniper Hill School

A Venerable Westport Island Building

Looking back on a one-time Island store

Westport post office pictured on right side of Main Road (early 1900's)In the post-Civil War years, the building pictured on the right at the corner of Main and Post Office Roads was owned by Civil War Veteran, William McKinney. Around 1870, he opened a store in the building where he sold such things as candy, food staples, tobacco, sewing and school supplies, fish lines and patent medicines. When McKinney became the Postmaster in 1889, his store also became the post office. It dispensed stamps and postal supplies until the Island’s post office was discontinued in 1907 — two years after rural free delivery service started.

Although McKinney died in 1904, according to Cora Tarbox’s 2011 Westport Island History, someone else in the family may have operated the store until 1930. The building was then vacant until 1949 when Herbert Cromwell, Sr. purchased it. A year later, Herb Cromwell moved the building to his home property at 638 Main Road.

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Herbert Cromwell’s Grocery Store operated as the largest store on the Island until the first supermarkets in Bath took hold in the early 1960’s. At Herb’s store, residents could get all the basics — and fill up their cars with gas. His daughter, Virginia, also operated a small snack bar next door to the main store until the late 1950’s when the snack bar building was moved north on the Main Road. (There for almost 20 years it was part of Edwin and Jenny Cromwell’s Bayside Oaks Snack Bar and Picnic Area overlooking Montsweag Bay.)

old post office/store on left with lower roofed addition on right that serves as food pantry todayToday, the old post office, aka Herb Cromwell’s store, waits for its next life. The building has been vacant and used only for storage. It is familiar to Island residents because the addition on the right side currently serves as the Westport Island food pantry. If wishes come true, the newest residents in the old Cromwell house may add another chapter to the store’s history.

Credits to: “Westport Island Maine 1605-1972” by Cora J. Tarbox (2011) and the history and photographs provided by Calvin Cromwell