Camden Amphitheatre and Public Library chosen to be national historic landmarks
Camden — Camden Amphitheatre and Public Library are among 13 new national historic landmarks approved March 10 by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Director of the National Park Service Jonathan B. Jarvis.
According to Mike Litterst, a public affairs specialist with the National Park Service Office of Communications, the amphitheatre was a rare public project of 20th century American landscape architect Fletcher Steele.
"We all know and love the amphitheatre," said Director of Camden Harbor Park and Camden Amphitheatre Dave Jackson. "It's also a work of art and I'm really glad to see it get recognition for that quality."
Litterst described the list of national historical landmarks as "the best of the best of historic sites in the United States," and added the amphitheatre — one of Steele's "classic works" — had been selected for its variety of features combining the science and art of landscape architecture.
The Camden Public Library and Amphitheatre join a list of approximately 2,500 other sites of historical significance in the U.S.
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-ME, and Angus King, I-ME, lauded the announcement in a joint statement released March 11.
"The Camden library is a treasure of the Maine coast and is a testament to the pride and determination of the residents of Camden," the statement read. "The centerpiece of the grounds of the library is the beautiful, outdoor garden amphitheatre. The Camden Amphitheatre retains its historic integrity, setting, original materials and the quality of original workmanship and design.
"It continues to serve its historic purposes, as a public entertainment space, park, and garden for visitors and residents of the town of Camden."
An eight-year journey
Jackson said the process to add the library and amphitheatre to the list of national historic landmarks began in 2005. The more he learned about the amphitheatre, Jackson said, the more historical significance he found to be associated with the site.
According to Jackson, the library and amphitheatre were previously listed as contributing resources to the High Street Historic District, but said he "thought the amphitheatre merited more recognition for that."
Jackson began an initiative to help upgrade the amphitheatre to its own listing on the national historic register.
Jackson received a grant from the Northeast Regional Park Service to conduct research and gather documentation on previously unrecognized historical sites, and used the funds to hire historic landscape specialist Lucinda Brockway of Kennebunk. Brockaway wrote the library and amphitheatre's original nomination paper, which was submitted to the Maine Preservation Commission in 2005.
Following some editing, the nomination paper traveled through several offices of the National Park Service, where landscape historians worked on the document for several years. Eventually the paper made its way to historian Linda Flint McClelland, who Jackson said conducted an "enormous amount" of research on Steele's travels in Europe and the impact on his design philosophy.
Jackson said the nomination doubled in size during the review and re-editing process, which he said was a "significant value but it took a long time."
Following a presentation to Camden Public Library Executive Director Nikki Maounis, Jackson appeared before the National Historic Landmarks selection committee in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 8, 2012. The proposal was approved and sent on to the National Parks Advisory Board, Jackson said, and then to the Secretary of the Interior.
It was then, Jackson said, Camden Public Library and Amphitheatre's potential nomination to the list of National Historic Landmarks became "dicey."
Jackson worried that if the nomination was not dealt with before Salazar's planned March 2013 retirement, it would be several more years before additional progress was made. Rep. Chellie Pingree was asked to "put in a good word" for the project, Jackson said, and a similar request was relayed to Rep. Chris Rector.
"[And] all of a sudden everything broke loose yesterday," Jackson said, adding that the protracted time frame for the nomination was a "wonderful learning experience."
“We are thrilled to be recognized in this way,” said Camden Library Director Nikki Maounis, who thanked Jackson for his efforts, in a press release. “This national designation recognizes Camden’s historical contribution to American arts and culture.
"The national landmark designation will be invaluable to the library in our ongoing efforts to maintain and preserve this beautiful space for future generations. The designation puts the library on the map, quite literally. And that’s a good thing for public libraries everywhere as well as for the Town of Camden."
"It took a lot of patience," Jackson said. "I'm so impressed with the care that goes into choosing these landmarks...so it makes it all the more valuable, worth waiting for."
About Camden Public Library and Amphitheatre
According to the library website, Harbor Park and the Amphitheatre were a gift to the library in 1931 from Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist.
Constructed in 1928, Camden Public Library sits at the highest point on Main Street. Architects Parker Morse Hooper and Charles Greely Loring chose to position the building close to the street, under the shade of existing elms and maples – a more direct relationship with its surrounding built environment rather than its larger landscape scenery, the website states.
Camden Herald reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 236-8511 ext. 304 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.