Gardiner's Gardeners came to be as an outcome from a Gardiner Main Street annual meeting. As I was facilitating a group discussion about community based activities, the conversation turned to the possible ways the downtown could be made more attractive. One thing led to another and when we reported out to the whole group, the suggestion was made to form a 'garden club'. An open meeting was scheduled and the group organized formally around the notion of community gardening. Our first effort was to assume the responsibility for all city gardens - the Waterfront, by the entrance signs, the two pocket parks McKay and Johnson Hall, the Wild Garden in the woods and a strange perennial garden next to the Bailey property. This garden would come to be known as the 'Steamboat Overlook'.
That first winter we brainstormed how we could create blooms on Water Street and came up with a plan for twenty four planter boxes that would be made locally. Joe Caputo, a local craftsman, offered to create them if we could give him a plan. Sawn from his accumulation of old utility poles, he produced the cedar stands and we went looking for trays that would fit. We found masonry trays at Home Depot that would fill the bill and then applied for a Robinson Trust grant for funding. The Trust did fund us generously, but suggested that rather than pay for the construction of the planters, we should offer them for sale with a commemorative plaque. And so we did. Surprise for us, all twenty four sold in a matter of weeks in memory of loved ones, relatives still living and businesses in Gardiner. We had traditional family dedications, including our favorite - the Clockodiles, also Gardiner Rotary, our local banks, one from our resident artist Robert Saunders with 'Having Said That' and even one paid for by a group of businesses dedicated to 'Albert and Elizabeth Conary' a well-loved elderly couple who walked miles to town each nice day.... When spring arrived, we all pitched in and planted a variety of annuals that thrived in the sun and rain. As the trays are relatively shallow, they needed watering each day of summer sun, but we found staunch allies in this work from the business owners themselves. Now, about half the planters are tended by the Gardeners, the remaining ones by people who own and operate businesses on the street.
Each year the planting design has changed, some years saw infestations of insects, one planter was attacked by a mystery person, or so we thought. Come to find out, deer were coming out of the wooded streamside at night and munching on our available plants. And, occasionally, someone sits in one. This led to the design and build of eight benches with donated mahogany-like lumber from Lapointe's. Working with the talented artists at SpinOff Studios, we had the benches done in no time and found people sitting on them all summer long.
The Gardeners also spray horticultural vinegar up and down Water Street all summer, killing annual weeds that normally grow quite tall. In addition, we mount 'attacks' on knotweed on many city properties, most particularly along the Cobbossee Stream bordering the Arcade lot. Brandishing our own machetes and other tools, we have managed to tame the streambank and open the water's edge for summer views. Coupled with the maintenance of the many city gardens, we let out a sigh of relief and satisfaction when Labor Day comes and the end of the growing season brings us some needed rest from the routine. When the ice goes out each year, we gather our energy once more and plan for new growth in our old river city!
-Robert Abbey, Streetscape Chairperson
Sasson Soffer was an Iraqi Arab of Jewish descent. Soffer left Iraq after World War II. In 1948 Soffer went into hiding, ultimately escaping to Iran, then to the United States via Israel. Soffer was enrolled at CUNY Brooklyn College from 1950-1954.
In 1956, Soffer was invited to visit Maine, he enjoyed his time in Maine and purchased a property in Somerville. The Somerville house turned out to have a leaning chimney and when Soffer went to steel fabricator T.W. Dick Co. in Gardiner, Maine to inquire about a metal brace, owner Ralph Dick suggested that since Soffer was an artist he should try to make the brace himself. Ralph Dick died in 1968 and Myrtle Willey took over the mill. It was at T.W. Dick Co., where Soffer was introduced to welding and steel fabrication. For over 30 years Soffer collaborated with T.W. Dick Co. in the production of his large scale sculptures. For Soffer, Myrtle Willey represented continuity and continued opportunity.
Created in 1983 for a show at UMA, the sculpture “Dilly Dally” was donated to the City of Gardiner in 2017 by the Sasson Soffer Foundation. The sculpture was created with two I-beams rolled in reverse curly-cues, on top of a tripod base. You can find this sculpture at Waterfront Park.
Our staff has changed. We have a new addition to our leadership team, Melissa Lindley who many of you will remember from several years ago. Melissa was our events manager until the family moved to sunny California. Now back in our hometown, Melissa, as an interim appointment, joins our hard working Melinda Hahn as part of our leadership team. When the warm weather truly returns, you'll find Main Street staff and board members on the street in support of our busy Water Street business owners.
Mike Gent & Cheryl Clark purchased the Milliken Block of downtown in 2017. Their vision for the 3rd floor was to spark creative efforts and community networking in Gardiner and the region. They have working artist studios and host community gathering events.
The name “Cattywampus” was found at the bottom of a bottle of wine. It means slightly off kilter.
Follow Cattywampus on Facebook to stay informed about the events hosted there.
On May 1st Gardiner Main Street and officials from the City of Gardiner celebrated three locations with ribbon cutting ceremonies. "The three new businesses are focused on community building and bringing people together. While each has a different product or service that they provide, the three share a commitment to engaging the community through their craft - sewing, art, and wellness. Gardiner is very fortunate to have Sew Fit, Sew & Sews, and Beautiful Dreamers join our vibrant downtown." said Mayor Hart
Aunt Mary Jo visited this past weekend. Hailing from north-central Missouri and now retired in Florida, it was her first trip to New England at all, let alone our little city on the Kennebec. She found Gardiner's downtown as idyllic as "those photos" she has seen of towns and villages in DownEast or Yankee Magazine over the years. I'll admit that any feedback sounds that more charming in a thick midwest accent, but her perspective is still refreshing. Mary Jo's visit was a good lesson in awareness: Gardiner is a pretty special place.
Have you explored the archives in the library with archivist Dawn Thistle? Gardiner has perpetually evolved (just look at the Gardiner Board of Trade 1896 publication, Picturesque Gardiner: It's Industries, Attractions, and Surroundings). The downtown has largely maintained the architectural and historical integrity of its 19th-century self. Places and structures remain the same, while ideas, economy, and culture advance. It's human-driven progress, and Gardiner, like most cities in the developed world, has never been able to stop it. We should hope it goes in one direction and for the better - so it goes with Gardiner Main Street.
Just as Gardiner workers of yesteryear honed their craft for the benefit of others - whether lumber, shoes, or steel - we, too, are contributing to an incremental piece of Gardiner's history from the 2nd floor of historic 149 Water Street. We're in the middle of some technology upgrades, and we're not bashful: our former website needed a facelift. Check back often as we continue to add information and resources for our downtown and community.
Gardiner's greatest asset has always been its people. When this community works together, anything is possible. Many thanks to our River Festival and Great Race volunteers - over 100 within one week! It's not often we have the opportunity to entertain an international audience; we swung big and hit it out of the park. Together, there is no doubt our little city is going to continue to be the place people love to live, work, and visit.
Cheers and Thanks,