On Feb. 5, outgoing Appleton Historical Society President Phelps Brown passed the wooden gavel to incoming president Fred Bucklin during the society's annual meeting. The event was held at the Mildred Stevens Williams Memorial Library, which also serves as the site of the Historical Society's collection of archives and antiquities.

Brown had served as the society's president since 2009. A self-described "superficial dabbler" in local history, many of his fellow members credited Phelps, who has since moved to Belfast, with infusing new energy in the group and focusing fundraising efforts on restoring the Appleton Union Meeting House, which dates back to 1848. Bucklin was voted unanimously into his post, along with Peter Conant and Mary Kate Moody named as the society's vice presidents.

Before the election ceremony took place, some 15 members of the Appleton Historical Society, as well as family and friends, gathered for a pot luck supper, where they shared stories about local happenings over a communal meal. Attendees varied in age from young children to 85-year-old Nancy Brown, whose birthday happened to fall on that evening. Brown, who has served on the society since its inception in the 1970s, was presented with a birthday cake as well as honored with a lifetime membership to the Appleton Historical Society.

Over the course of the meal, historian Donovan Bowley, who serves as the group's correspondence secretary, explained that the society was initially formed in 1974 to preserve the Appleton Union Meeting House, which once served as a Baptist church. Over four decades later, work is still being performed to maintain it: most recently, while trying to remove paint from the structure's steeple, a carpenter realized that the entire portion was badly rotted and in need of replacement. Much of the fundraising efforts conducted by the society will go to aid these repairs.

"This is not Camden, and it's tough to raise money," said Phelps Brown. Bowley explained that the trees used to build the meeting house, which has now been added to the Historic Registry, were milled steps from where they sat.

Incoming Vice President Peter Conant said that before he was drawn to the Historical Society, he was drawn to Appleton on a visit from his former home in Massachusetts.

"After driving in so much traffic, I had the urge to 'turn left.' When I got to Appleton, I felt as though I could do that, and explore this area, escaping the city. Of course, now that is changed, and there is an increasing amount of traffic, but I love it here. I can take a walk and see a stone wall along a field and appreciate its beauty, but [other society members] can see that same view and imagine the people who worked those fields and lived there," said Conant.

"Many of our members have ties to Massachusetts, as families in the 1800s went back and forth because it served as the economic engine that allowed small towns to sustain themselves," said Bowley, adding that there was even an "Appleton Association" of town leaders who would meet annually in Boston during the early 1900s.

The display at the Appleton Historical Society features a variety of photographs, mementos and literature from the town's inception, including photographs of Appleton's Civil War soldiers, the first map of the town, an Appleton High School basketball jersey and a complete 100-volume bound set of Civil War Correspondence. Bowley said that historical memorabilia comes in at a rate of such frequency that it is often difficult to keep up with, with only two members performing archival work.

"Sometimes you have to go see the world before anywhere feels like home. When I arrived in Appleton, it felt as if I had come home, and I wanted to find out as much as I could about this place," said Elisabeth Goodridge, who serves as one of the society's treasurers.

Prior to the vote by members for new officials, Goodridge read a list of members who had paid their yearly dues and were eligible to participate in the election. The spirit of camaraderie in the room was highlighted when, realizing they had forgotten to renew their membership and had placed what cash they had into the evening fundraising raffle, other members happily loaned them the nominal $5 fee so that they could participate in the vote.

"Never before have I had something wrapped up so nicely for me to come into," said Bucklin, speaking for the first time as president. He presented Brown with a variety of gifts and thanked him for all that he had accomplished for the society. Bucklin also thanked Brown for organizing a stellar roster of speakers who will give upcoming talks at the group's monthly meetings, including local architects and historians.

"I have a degree in history, but I can't even come close to your knowledge, and it's a tremendous asset to have you," said Bucklin to Bowley. "I'd like to know why people came to Appleton and what it was that drew them to this community. Some of us have connections that go way back, some of us have come here more recently, but these ties are what make us stronger."

The evening ended with a slide show presentation by longtime resident Donald Burke of historical photos he compiled of Appleton's vistas and homes — many of which have changed or no longer stand. With the click of each slide, Burke asked the audience to participate in a lively guessing game, testing their knowledge of their town, the face of which has changed dramatically over the years.

"Do you know where this is?" asked Burke as each photo flashed onto the screen, eliciting shouts from the audience:

"West Appleton Road?" "Across from the lavender farm?" "Up on the hill here?" "No, it's that house that burned down!" "That's right, I remember working on that house. When it burned down you could hear ammunition firing off on the attic!"

The Appleton Historical Society is located within the Mildred Stevens Williams Memorial Library at 2916 Sennebec Rd. and meets each month. Information on membership and events and be found at Appleton.Maine.Gov