Just over one year ago, Presque Isle Historical Society was reeling from the theft of an entire bed of antique peonies at its small, two-story Victorian era house museum on Third Street.  However, from this sad act came some wonderful things.

Estey House

Lowe’s donated $500 towards the garden, the Peony Society of Maine donated three antique peonies, and the Historical Society began to make plans for the fate of the garden at the 1875 Vera Estey House Museum.

The garden at the house holds a lot of history.  Typically, communities do not know much about women from their past.  In days of old, women were not permitted to vote or own property.  So unless the women kept written diaries which survived the ravages of time or they were so unusual that people took notice, we often do not know their stories.  Vera Estey was, however, one of those unusual ladies from our past.

She raised and sold flowers, primarily lilies and tulips, to the Boston Fresh Flower Market.  The garden was once full of row after row of hundreds if not thousands of flowers, truly making it an amazing experience of color and aroma.

Kim Smith, Secretary/Treasurer of Presque Isle Historical Society says, “Vera never married, which was a very negative social stigma in her day.  The reason behind that is a most unusual story in and of itself and we encourage residents to join us for one of our tours to learn that story!  The other reason she was so unusual is that she owned her own business.  She raised and sold flowers, primarily lilies and tulips, to the Boston Fresh Flower Market.  The garden was once full of row after row of hundreds if not thousands of flowers, truly making it an amazing experience of color and aroma.”


 

Townsquare Media

Although the Society does not plan to restore the garden to its original floral state, there are big plans in store that will impact the entire community, residents and visitors alike.  The Master Plan for the garden is to transform the north lawn into a destination garden where people go to read a book, enjoy a picnic lunch, commune with nature, or even hold a garden wedding.  The Plan includes a Victorian Gazebo, an arbor at the entrance to the back lawn from the public parking lot on Second Street, circular benches around the Maple trees, and remodeling the berm against the north side of the house into a two-tiered flower bed.

At present, the City of Presque Isle does not have any public art.  It is hoped that this garden, once renovated, would become a venue for public art.  Public art is an important asset to any community as it has evolved into an essential element for social engagement and a catalyst for community and economic development.  Our community currently has a strong and vibrant downtown revitalization effort underway.  Developing a venue for public art such as this garden would be a means to bring people together through a physical location, to engage people in new and unexpected ways in the places they actually live, and to provide a means of provoking thought is a tool used more and more by those working to revitalize downtowns, draw new business and residents, and beautify streets and neighborhoods.

Memorable public art combined with green spaces strengthens communities and attracts people to downtowns, enriches and enlivens neighborhoods, enhances our experiences, and informs us – especially in this setting – about our history.


 

The City is struggling with outmigration of a specific segment of its workforce, that of its young families.  Public art has been proven to elevate interest in the environment and place and thus encourages investment by long-time and new residents alike.  It is also felt that the completion of this project will add to the momentum of the Downtown Revitalization Committee.

Numerous studies have been done that show the benefits of green space and how it impacts the lives of residents.  Green space provides a place to meditate and gather; provides a sense of social space; fosters a connection between community residents and the natural environment allowing for a more livable city; provides a venue for public art; draws people outside and fosters social contact; strengthens social bonds; promotes safe neighborhoods; increases self-esteem and decreases vandalism; improves the immune function; reduces stress; improves mental health; and lowers blood pressure.

The health benefits of a planned green space are of special significance in our community.  The Eastern Maine Health Care Systems Community Needs Assessment indicates that one of the barriers to the health of our seniors is social isolation.  Presque Isle has a much higher percentage of seniors (16.2%) as compared to the state (15 .9%) and the nation (14.5%).  Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Aroostook County with 40.7% of adults reporting high blood pressure.

The City of Presque Isle is also suffering from economic stress.  Trees and well-landscaped grounds are considered second only to education as perceived by residents in terms of value of the municipal services offered.  This garden will hopefully impact resident satisfaction.


 

Over the summer, the Society made huge strides with the garden project.  The front fence was repaired and scrub brush was removed along the north property line.  A local Boy Scout working towards his Eagle Scout designation, Garrett Morneault, took on much of the preliminary preparation work.  He and his team painted the back shed, shored up the outdoor potting shed by installing a new floor, assembled the back arbor, and installed a 160 foot privacy fence along the north property line.   Last summer, another Eagle Scout candidate, James Churchill, also assisted in some of the preliminary work by painting the exterior of the attached shed and cleaning out and organizing the interior of that shed.

This project will also involve leveling the yard with loam and spreading grass seed, adding white lights along the front fence and on the trunk of the apple tree, landscaping in front of the new privacy fence, pouring two concrete pads - one for the gazebo and one as a staging area in front of the evergreen tree for possible garden weddings, purchasing an urn and pedestal as well as a few smaller pieces of art for the garden, and creating a brick pathway through the garden.

The Society is hoping that the community will embrace the concept of the public garden in numerous ways.  In addition to eventually opening the garden to those who wish to read and picnic and for garden weddings, the Society is looking for individuals and families who wish to sponsor a bench or piece of public art in honor or memory of a loved one.

Presque Isle Historical Society’s mission is to study, preserve and promote the history, culture, heritage and physical artifacts of Presque Isle for present and future generations.  For more information on this project or the Society’s many programs and tours, call 762-1151, e-mail: pihistoricalsociety@hotmail.com, or visit their website at www.pihistory.org.