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Maine

Maine has one of the prettiest and most popular Lithuanian locations in the USA: the Lithuanian convent and park in Kennebunk resort. Moreover, there is some historic pre-WW1 Lithuanian heritage in the Rumford/Lewiston area further north, as well as a Lithuanian sculpture park up north.

A chapel for those died for Lithuanian freedom glowing in the night at the Kennebunk Lithuanian park

A chapel for those died for Lithuanian freedom glowing in the night at Kennebunk Lithuanian park

Kennebunk Lithuanian Franciscan convent

The calm town of Kennebunk attracted the attention of Lithuanian Franciscans who fled the Soviet Genocide, arriving there in 1947. They acquired a 1908 Tudor-style manor originally built for industrialist A. Rogers (architects Green and Wicks) for their convent. With Lithuania occupied, the convent served as Lithuanian Franciscans' global hub. In 1953, the Kennebunk Franciscans attached a nice chapel to the manor. Its pretty expressionist stained-glass windows and metal decor elements were created by a famous Lithuanian church interior designer V. K. Jonynas. The windows are especially Lithuanian, as both the inscriptions and the depicted scenes are related to Lithuania (the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, St. Casimir, the coat of arms of Vilnius, etc.).

Lithuanian monastery palace

Lithuanian monastery palace

Convent chapel stained-glass windows with St. Casimir and the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius (famous for its Virgin Mary painting)

Convent chapel stained-glass windows with St. Casimir and the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius (famous for its Virgin Mary painting)

The former manor grounds were effectively turned into a Lithuanian park (19 ha) which now attracts many American tourists as well. In addition to calm walking paths with nice river views, it has an impressive Stations of the cross chapel for those who died for Lithuanian freedom by another Lithuanian-American star-architect Jonas Mulokas. The monument is a good example of his attempts to create a new architectural style that would be both modern and Lithuanian. The materials are thus modern, however, the design evokes village belfries of the Lithuania Mulokas lost. The sculptures of the chapel are by Vytautas Kašuba, a famous Lithuanian-American sculptor.

The close up of the Jonas Mulokas's chapel, with a  dedication to those who died for Lithuanian freedom visible in the center

Jonas Mulokas chapel from a closer location. Under the cross the inscription says 'In memory of those who died for freedom of Lithuania'

The park is teeming with more Lithuanian artworks: a wooden Lithuanian chapel-post that came from EXPO 1939 New York Lithuanian pavilion (this is a unique form of Lithuanian folk art), a sculpture by V. K. Jonynas from the EXPO 1964 Vatican pavilion that depicts Triple church: triumphant (in paradise), fighting (on Earth), and suffering (in hell). The common Lithuanian interpretation is, however, that the "suffering church" was a depiction of the situation in Soviet-atheist-occupied Lithuania at the time, when many churches and all the monasteries were closed, and the religious people persecuted (often killed, exiled or imprisoned) - the fact which led to the relocation of Lithuanian Franciscans to America in the first place.

Triple church by V. K. Jonynas

Triple church by V. K. Jonynas

Another large artwork by Jonas Mulokas is his Lourdes (a manmade cave with a Virgin Mary statue, 1953), crowned by a Lithuanian mini-chapel. The wall of the chapel includes a prayer inscription asking the Virgin to defend the Fatherland. Lithuanian coat of arms is also depicted. Undoubtedly, the "Fatherland" in this case is Lithuania rather than the USA, as back in the 1950s, many Lithuanian Soviet-Genocide-refugees still believed that Lithuania could be liberated and they could "return soon", and that their stay in the USA would be temporary (unfortunately, Soviets proved to overstay their expectations and only a few did actually return after the "belated" 1990 independence). The Lourdes used to serve as an altar for an outside mass; however, the mosquitos drove the believers away and now the mass is held in the convent chapel.

Kennebunk Lithuanian Lourdes

Kennebunk Lithuanian Lourdes

It is possible to spend a night within the Franciscan park as the Franciscan Guest House operates here. It has 65 rooms and is the most Lithuanian hotel in the USA. Numerous Lithuanians work there, there are many Lithuanian inscriptions and adverts. The guests may read English descriptions of all the artwork in the park. The guest house is located less than a mile from both the beach and the Kennebunkport resort center, making it a pleasant hike. The Lithuanian park itself includes nice walking paths with river views, non-Lithuanian artworks too (e.g. the native saint Kateri Tekakwitha sculpture). The complex has three other buildings with Lithuanian-seaside-related names - "Baltija" (named after the Baltic Sea), "Palanga" (named after the Lithuania's top resort) and "Kretinga" (named after a nearby town with a heavy Lithuanian Franciscan history). Each of them is used by the guest house.

A river view from a walking path within the Kennebunk Lithuanian park

A river view from a walking path within the Kennebunk Lithuanian park

Kretinga building in the monastery grounds

Kretinga building in the monastery grounds

The main Guest House building itself was constructed in 1959 as a Lithuanian gymnasium (high school) and it has replaced the manor stables. However, the gymnasium closed down in 1969 as there were few Lithuanians in the region. This meant that the students had to move in on a boarding-school-basis from Chicago, Boston, New York, and elsewhere, which proved unpopular. After all, the monks themselves would likely have not chosen Kennebunk for their convent if not the negative attitudes of the local bishops towards the Lithuanian "refugee monks" in the more Lithuanian areas of the USA. Still, the situation may came out to be better, as Kennebunk is a very calm place popular among tourists, far from the urban areas and the associated negativities (high crime, ghettos, etc.) which have "consumed" numerous other Lithuanian sites in America, which were abandoned after the "white flight" had emptied their districts.

Kennebunk Lithuanian guest house guests are greeted in Lithuanian language as well

Kennebunk Lithuanian guest house guests are greeted in Lithuanian language as well

The entire Lithuanian complex of Kennebunk has been funded by Lithuanian-Americans whose surnames now are inscribed on many of its objects. Today, however, the area attracts non-Lithuanian Americans as well, perhaps the most so among the Lithuanian-American sites of New England. It is even described in the "Lonely Planet" books. G. W. Bush Sr. is said to have visited the site regularly as he had a house in Kennebunkport. In fact, when Lithuania campaigned for the restoration of its independence in 1990, the Lithuanian Franciscans organized a march from the convent to the Bush's house (he was president back then), asking for his support.

The plaque of the sponsors of the Kennebunk Lithuanian Lourdes

The plaque of the sponsors of the Kennebunk Lithuanian Lourdes

After Lithuania became independent (1990) and opened up, the Lithuanian activities in Kennebunk declined somewhat as the Lithuanian Franciscans have moved their hub back to Lithuania. Parts of the Lithuanian religious activities have folded earlier, e.g. minor seminary in the 1960s and the recollections house in the 1970s. However, the Lithuanian atmosphere remained, the Lithuanian monuments were restored in 2004. At its apex, some 30 Lithuanian Franciscans lived in the convent . At the beginning of the convent (and now) merely four. The Guesthouse is taken care of by secular people since 2001.

V.K. Jonynas artowk in the monastery chapel

V.K. Jonynas artowk in the monastery chapel

Lithuanian sites of Maine countryside

Maine towns of Rumford and Lewiston are the only ones in the state which had significant prie-WW2 Lithuanian communities.

In Rumford, the Lithuanian history is reminded by the LPK Lithuanian cemetery. The entrance lists its opening date as 1920 whereas a nearby grave of the cemetery founder Viskantas (Wiskont) lists it as 1923. In any case, the first significant wave of burials came in the 1950s and just a single grave has Lithuanian inscriptions as by that time many Lithuanian-Americans of Rumford area preferred English. Still, Lithuanian surnames (either original, Anglicized or Polonized) are abound. „LPK“ in cemetery name likely means „Lietuvių piliečių klubas“ (Lithuanian citizens club) that used to operate in the town. The cemetery is a part of a larger cemetery complex by the road. The cemetery was owned by a Lithuanian association until 1998, at which point it was ceded to the municipal cemetery.

Mexico Lithuanian cemetery

Mexico Lithuanian cemetery

Rumford also had the St. Rocco Hall that served as a Lithuanian club and was frequented by the workers coming from the factory. It closed down ~1960s and the white wooden building is now abandoned with no Lithuanian signs.

Former St. Rocco Lithuanian Hall of Rumford

Former St. Rocco Lithuanian Hall of Rumford

On the contrary, the Lithuanian Hall of Lewiston (St. Bartholomeus Society, SBS) still has a nice facade inscription about its original purpose. The building of 1914 now serves as a pawn store, however, the pre-WW2 interiors survive. The building has been inscribed into the list of heritage buildings of Lewiston.

St. Bartholomeus Society Hall of Lewiston sign

St. Bartholomeus Society Hall of Lewiston sign

St. Bartholomeus Lithuanian hall (middle building)

St. Bartholomeus Lithuanian hall (middle building)

Lithuanian sculpture park in Maine's northern end

Alexander town right next to Canada border has numerous Lithuanian sculptures, many of them built by the local Paegle family. One hub for them is the Alexander Art Trail, the entrance to which reads Lithuanian Heritage Trail. Here, Paegles hired numerous wood artists from Lithuania to create traditional Lithuanian sculptures. Most are Lithuanian in style with some also being Lithuanian in content: e.g. the legendary Lithuanian Iron Wolf or the depiction of a secret Lithuanian school at the time Lithuanian language was banned by the Russian Empire (this sculpture is named "Home School" to be more understandable for American audiences). The sculpture of two people at the end of the trail represent Paegles themselves.

Lithuanian Heritage trail sign

Lithuanian Heritage trail sign

Paegles also developed a private island in a nearby lake, which they officially renamed Baltic Island. This island also has a sculpture of a Lithuanian pagan goddess of forests Medeinė (a copy of a sculpture that stands in Vilnius), Lithuanian and Latvian flags and a bunker-like History Dome, where lots of images describe the story of Paegle family, while multiple time capsules includes the wishes and thoughts of the local people. While the Alexander Art Trail is freely accessible to any visitor, the Baltic Island is accessible only with owners' permission.

Medeinė sculpture in the Baltic Island

Medeinė sculpture in the Baltic Island

Roland Paegle was a Latvian sculptor while his wife Grazina is a Lithuanian. At the time of their marriage, both nations suffered a similar occupation by the Soviet Union, which their parents escaped by leaving for Western Europe and then the USA in the 1940s. Thus, the History Dome images tell a lot about Roland's and Grazina's activities in protesting against the Soviet occupation. Their biggest achievement was the lobbying effort that led to freeing a Lithuanian political prisoner Simas Kudirka, who was then allowed to leave for the USA.

While Paegles lived in New York, Alexander area became their retreat and a place for their artistic goals. The sculpture-building spree reached its apex after Lithuanian independence in 1990, when Paegles would visit Lithuania and Latvia regularly, bringing charity there. During these visits, they learned more about the Baltic wooden sculpture tradition and met numerous sculptors, whom they invited to create for their art park and island in Maine.

Banned Lithuanian home school during the Russian Imperial occupation (a sculpture in the Lithuanian Heritage Trail)

Banned Lithuanian home school during the Russian Imperial occupation (a sculpture in the Lithuanian Heritage Trail)

 


Map of Maine Lithuanian sites

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination - America" expedition:

Map of Maine Lithuanian sites

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Maine, USA 12 Comments

Map of Lithuanian heritage in New England

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in New England (Connectictut, Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire) and Quebec.

More info on Lithuanian heritage in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire,
Rhode Island, Quebec.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Quebec, Rhode Island 2 Comments