THORNDIKE — We began the cleaning in winter of 2015, a small group of volunteers in love with local history. The goal: To restore the three buildings of the Farwell compound in Thorndike Village. Every building was filled with stuff — books to boilers to bedframes — some original to the old General Store and grain mill, some stored by subsequent owners.

We formed a nonprofit organization, which we called The Farwell Project, knowing we’d never have the personal funds for a project of this scope, we would have to rely on grants and donations to make it happen. We became the fourth owners of the 1872 agricultural hub, and most of the place was in remarkably good condition.

Humphreys Homeopathic Specifics, developed in 1854 by Frederick Humphreys, an early expert in homeopathy. Courtesy of Lisa Agostini

A rep from the National Register of Historic Places, on a January day when it was -20 degrees F, asked me, “Do you realize what you have here?” I nodded. “That’s exactly what I hoped you would say.” She went on to explain that Farwell’s is probably the last grain mill of its vintage in New England to still contain all its working parts.

Many dumpsters and much muscle later, we still sift contents to choose items for the Storytelling Museum, opening in May. Farwell’s sold everything. On our first view of the store shelves, the baby powder sat beside the DDT. Sardines beside hair curlers, arsenic, paint thinner, bedpans.

Benches around the wood stove provided spots where the old fellows chewed the fat, often inviting local political candidates to bring a soap box. Gambling in any form was prohibited, including checkers. Smoking was not.

The museum will be a sampling of those original products, including local news and stories from afar. The DDT has been disposed of in a responsible manner. There is now a checkerboard in the Reading Room.

Sporty tennis shoes, circa 1920, worn by women for lawn tennis. Probably a mid-calf skirt was more traditional than the jeans and socks of the student model. Courtesy of Lisa Agostini

That building, Farwell Brothers store, was severely tilting by the time we took it on. Road runoff and an underground spring had undermined the cellar; casual advice was to tear it down. We took a more optimistic approach — a 2019 federal grant enabled us to jack the building to have a new foundation built.

The adjacent grain mill is now mostly insulated; the cupola sports a new metal roof. We’ve been given the former Harvest Moon Grange, which abuts Farwell’s; we’ll open it this summer as a used furniture store, offering donated items from the community. Our museum store opened in July 2021, and we host after-school groups several days a week in our Reading Room (to be an adjunct to the new Unity Public Library).

We’ll have a preseason sale in the museum store and Garden Variety, both sides of the tracks, April 8 and 9. We open both stores and the museum for the season May 13; thereafter weekends until Christmas. B&MLRR brings people to our door with scheduled excursions.

We urge storytellers to come out of the woodwork and reserve a slot on Saturday or Sunday mornings at the museum. Tall tales, short tales, true accounts all welcome; family fare encouraged. Contact us by email at thorndikemillmaine@gmail.com; check our website, ThorndikeMill.org for upcoming events and some history.

Our effort is to keep the small town from becoming extinct, not allow sprawl to swallow us up. We have treasures in our local architecture, natural habitat and human spirit! Included here are photos of just a few of the interesting items found at Farwell’s so far.

Diana Prizio is executive director of The Farwell Project.

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