The Almost Isle Library turns a historic home into a writer’s paradise

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Writers have a new place to go for a cultural escape.

The Mark & ​​Emily Turner Library Board last year bought the Griffiths family property on Près Isle and turned it into an arts and cultural space where writers and artists immerse themselves in their craft. After three successful literary events this summer, the group is ready to expand its offerings to include writers’ retreats.

The cultural isolation imposed on people during the COVID-19 pandemic has left the people of Aroostook and beyond hungry for community, said library manager Sonja Eyler. She and the trustees want the Griffiths’ home to be a sanctuary where creative people can re-establish those connections in a peaceful Aroostook County atmosphere.

The Griffiths Family Cultural Center in Près Isle on August 4. The Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library Board has purchased the house and, in conjunction with the library, plans to make it an oasis for local and visiting writers and other cultural events. Credit: Paula Brewer/The Star-Herald

The Aroostook project was fueled in part by the cultural atmosphere of coastal Maine, where artists, writers and actors tend to congregate in their quests for inspiration.

“We are a people who crave for people to see our artists and our culture here,” Eyler said Thursday. “We’re rural and remote, and what we offer is very much like island living.”

In fact, the Almost Isle Cultural Center is inspired by Sol’s Cliff House in Bar Harbor, a similar vintage home that hosts writing retreats, according to trustee Lois Brewer.

The three events this summer were a tea tour in June, followed by a journaling workshop and a visit from a local author in July.

Southern Maine authors Laurie Apgar Chandler, the first woman to solo New England’s 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail, and Claire Ackroyd, a first-time landscaper and novelist, will visit in September.

Authors and artists who have visited the library have found friendly people and a quiet way of life.

“The idea just popped out of the conversation,” Brewer said. “We see this as a way for administrators to give back to the community. We hope it will grow and flourish.

The house includes a kitchen, a dining room, two living rooms and four bedrooms. The group plans to host writers or artists in residence in the future, and possibly overnight workshops.

Located next to the library, the house built in 1890 was purchased by Dr. Eugene Benjamin Griffiths in 1932. He and his wife, Kathryn, raised their sons, David and Steven, in the house, and in 1969 Steven and his wife, Lois, return there to raise their three children.

Steven Griffiths, a longtime educator, died in 2015, and Lois moved to Portland last year. Retired Judge David Griffiths and his wife, Roberta, of Près Isle said it was only fitting that the house would become an extension of the library the whole family loved and frequented.

The center will allow the library to grow beyond its current structure, providing writers with a place of respite to work and share their art. It will also put Almost Isle more firmly on the map of literary places to go, Eyler said.

“You will find tradition when you come here. You’ll feel like it’s your great-grandmother’s house,” she said. “I don’t think you can get that in too many places anymore.”

Lois Brewer of the Mark & ​​Emily Turner Library Board sits in the living room of the Griffiths Family Cultural Center on August 4. The trustees have purchased the house and are working with the library to turn it into a literary center on Près Isle. Credit: Paula Brewer/The Star-Herald

Trustees purchased furniture and decorated the house with artwork from the library’s collection, featuring many artists who live in the county or have ties to the area.

Outside there is a garden with flowers, shrubs and a small path through the nearby trees. The June tea event featured music and refreshments in the garden, which proved to be a hit among attendees.

“The word we heard the most was ‘comfortable,'” Shaw said. “It’s a special place. It’s one of the good things about being here.

The board purchased the home and covered all associated costs, without city or taxpayer money, Eyler said.

The events were funded by ticket sales, but the group is also looking for donations and can organize fundraisers. Later, they plan to offer sponsorships for various venues.

The group welcomes ideas and volunteers. They plan to join the First Friday Art Walk of Près Isle and collaborate with Neighborhood Books. They explore a vacation idea with Kim Smith of the Almost Isle Historical Society.

“We’re just getting started,” Eyler said. “We want [writers] to feel important and welcome, and not to forget the way home.

For more information or to volunteer, contact Brewer at [email protected] or Shaw at [email protected]

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