Butch Tracy holds some of the Mercer records he is working to preserve and digitize. Tracy has led efforts to maintain items belonging to the Mercer Historical Society. Taylor Abbott/Morning Sentinel

MERCER — A move is afoot to better preserve the records and artifacts that tell the history of Mercer.

The Mercer Historical Society’s long-term goal is to collect thorough records on the town’s earliest families, according to Butch Tracy, who is working to preserve and digitize the town’s records.

“We have great hopes to improve and expand our displays to house our growing collection of artifacts,” he said.

One of the recent additions is a violin dating to 1891 that was made by a Mercer resident known at the time for his craftsmanship.

The historical society was founded in 1980 and is housed at 79 Main St., in a building built around 1850 that served as a coat shop for several decades before it became the Shaw Library and Town Hall in 1923.

The building was turned over to the society in 2000. Tracy said the membership has generally remained small, with about 20 people.

He said he has a lifelong interest in preserving the history of the town, which was incorporated in 1804.

Last spring he began a reassessment of the society’s collections and documents. He and other members said they want to improve the society building, reorganize and catalog documents, pursue grants and fundraising opportunities and work on membership and publications.

“Before COVID-19, I had started taking stuff down to be digitized at the Maine State Library,” Tracy said. “(The COVID-19 pandemic) put a damper on the efforts. I’ve been doing a lot of work (at the society). We’ve had a lot of stuff that was here, there and everywhere.”

The society’s collection includes old school records, photographs and other items once housed at the now-closed Sandy River Grange.

The Mercer Historical Society has collected items that once filled the now-closed Sandy River Grange. The society’s members hope to reserve space for a Grange display. Taylor Abbott/Morning Sentinel

Mercer was at its peak in the 1840s, Tracy said, when it was “flourishing agriculture and mill production.” The town was once active with mills, churches, stores and other businesses. Few buildings from that time still stand.

“The town gradually declined after the Civil War, at a low in the 1950s,” he said. “There has been a slow-but-steady increase in population since then.”

The society is working to capture much of that history by adding to its holdings, including the prized violin that was obtained last month.

The instrument was acquired by Mercer resident Dan Charles, who bought it about 15 years ago when he stumbled upon an eBay listing for a violin made by Henry Harris, a longtime town resident in the mid- and late 1800s.

Harris was born in Winthrop in 1832, spent much of his life in Mercer and died in 1913. He was a farmer and cobbler, but became known as one of the finest violin makers in Maine.

Charles said the violin he bought years ago arrived to him in good condition, complete with documentation to verify its origin.

In recent months, Charles decided to look into selling the violin. Members of the historical society were interested in buying and preserving it, but could not afford the $500 asking price.

After some discussions, the society’s members decided to come up with the money, and contacted Charles to make arrangements to buy the violin.

The following week, Charles received a telephone call from a person who wanted to buy the violin and give it to the society.

“I came back to the historical society the next week and said that no deal was made because someone wanted to buy the violin to give to them,” Charles said.

The violin was delivered soon afterward and is being kept at another location to ensure it is in a temperature-controlled setting during winter.

As Tracy and other members work toward organizing the society’s collection, they are planning for the future and how to incorporate the newly acquired violin into their programming. The group is planning to host a concert in the summer at which a musician is to play the instrument.

“This violin represents the lost talents of Mercer’s former glory and accomplishments,” Tracy said.


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