RICHMOND — As children swam on crocodile floats in the river, raced across lobster traps, devoured giant bowls of french fries and road zip lines down the street, Richmond’s annual town-wide summer celebration made it clear that it is far from what journalist William H. Williamson once called “the ghost of prosperity past.” 

“Towns like Richmond are essentially sad towns,” Williamson wrote in the Maine Sunday Telegram in 1969. “They represent what was once considered best in American life. But it’s an era that is gone forever and no future booms or boomlets will ever bring it back.”

Ron Emmons, who was born and raised in Richmond and has lived in town with his wife, Martha, for more than 50 years, remembers the town of his youth as anything but sad, a far cry from what Williamson said was typified by “decay.” 

“I remember all the elm trees that lined the street,” he said Saturday, after unclipping from a zip line during the annual Richmond Days celebration. “Everybody knew everyone, it was very tight-knit,” he said. 

In the last several years, both Emmonses agreed that they have seen big changes, “all for the better,” showcased best by Richmond Days, Martha Emmons said, with everyone getting together, having fun and celebrating community. There are more businesses than ever, with places moving into the old mills, and since the Clean Water Act passed, they have the “most beautiful waterfront.” 

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Ron Emmons said. 

Kim Desjardin grew up in Richmond and as she watched her grandson play in the water Saturday afternoon, she noted how far even just the downtown waterfront has come over the years, with a beautiful park, complete with a gazebo where live bands were playing for Richmond Days. 

When she was younger, “nobody came here,” she said. Now, “Main Street alone has so many businesses … it’s come a long way,” she said of the town. “It’s a very well-knit community. Everyone looks out for each other.”

Richmond Days is the perfect celebration of that fact, she and her son Darrin Desjardin said, with activities for kids and adults alike. 

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, Richmond Days kicked off Friday with a “Jungle Adventure” theme. All weekend long visitors enjoyed themed games, rides, and contests, a parade, a barbecue, pontoon boat rides, tours of Swan Island and an outdoor screening of the movie “Jumanji” on Friday night, and a fireworks show Saturday night. 

The Saltwater Hillbilly and the Maine Marimba Ensemble played live music and the Daniel Lamoreau Memorial Benefit Corn Hole Tournament lasted well into the afternoon Saturday. The weekend wraps up with the Swan Island 5K and 10K runs on Sunday, with ferries starting at 8 a.m. 

The first Richmond Days was spurred by Williamson’s article, the Kennebec Journal reported last week, with early programs lambasting the “completely condemnatory” and “scurrilous” article which “raised our cumulative anger and our heartbeats quickened with rage. Someone with spirit and vision suggested that something should be done and proposed the formation of an historical society of some sort to portray the good points of our town,” according to early event programs. 

The newly-formed Richmond Historical and Cultural Society created Richmond Days, which at the time consisted of a concert, an art exhibit and craft display, according to the Kennebec Journal. 

Since Williamson’s article resurfaced after 50 years, many in town are quick to come to Richmond’s defense yet again. 

“We’re so much more active,” said Kristina Lane, who grew up in Richmond and moved back four years ago. She lauded the town’s parks and recreation department, sports teams and playgrounds for young families like hers. Lane was married during Richmond Days last year and said she was glad to be back. “It’s about being part of the community and getting active with our neighbors,” she said. 

 

Hannah LaClaire

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