Eleanor Richardson

Eleanor Motley Richardson




Maine Authors Publishing



My Biography as a Writer

As a young adult, I found myself very involved with the First Parish Church in Concord, MA, Unitarian Universalist. As well as playing the organ and choir directing, I found a day job as administrative assistant to the minister there. As Concord’s 350th Anniversary approached, members of the church decided to publish a history of that congregation, and I volunteered to write the chapter on “Music in the Meetinghouse.” Research was tremendous fun, and my chapter was well-reviewed.

Two years later my husband Peter encouraged me to revisit a paper written in 1963 when I was 16. That winter, my mother took me from Massachusetts to Vinalhaven, ME, where we had summered for generations, to search out survivors of Hurricane Island’s granite-quarrying village. I interviewed a woman who had lived on Hurricane when it was up and running. She died two years later, and I realized I had rescued some very important memories.

When I decided to turn it into a book, I tracked down another woman whose father had been caretaker on Hurricane after the granite company left. She and her nine brothers and sisters had the run of a ghost town. The resulting book, Hurricane Island: The Town that Disappeared, was completed in 1988. I wrote it for sailing families like mine, for anyone who had spent time on Hurricane Island, and for people who were just plain interested in the history of a ghost town.

Three years later I resigned from my job at a local newspaper to interview families for North Haven Summers, a history of the summer community on the island of North Haven, ME. I rowed from house to house with a copy stand on the stern seat of my rowboat, and photographed pictures from family albums. And I asked people for stories they told sitting on high porches over quiet coves, where they sip glasses of bourbon in those long summer twilights.

My grandmother told me how her parents had been among the first to arrive, and to build a summer cottage on the Vinalhaven shore. Later I interviewed my parents, and 90 other families, gathering familiar stories, and some that were new to me. Because it was written from the heart, I consider this my best work.

The same year North Haven Summers first came out, 1992, Peter accepted a call to a new ministry in Andover, MA, and like many minister’s partners I was cast adrift, with no work credentials locally. But the second year we were there, the local Historical Society approached me to write a 350th Anniversary history of Andover! A committee had outlined the chapter titles, but none of them had time or the patience to write it. They hired me to write for a year, and they took charge of selling the book: Andover—A Century of Change 1896-1996.

After that it was a long time before I wrote another book. Years of organ-playing and organ building intervened. Peter and I retired to Rockland, Maine, in 2002. In walks up and down our new street, I noticed the resemblance of all the houses on Mechanic Street to ours. Having gotten involved with the Rockland Historical Society, I began to research the houses one by one. The treasure hunt was on. As the neighbors realized I was serious, they began to step forward with family trees, stories, and wonderful old photographs. Although I was writing this book mainly for my neighbors, I called it Mechanic Street: Uncovering the History of a Maine Neighborhood, because the resources and puzzles in such research are universal.

I printed hardcover for families who wanted an archival quality record, and paperback so they could buy copies for their children. I have about 900 names in the index! Nearly everyone in Rockland has a family connection on Mechanic Street, or knows someone there. There is a great deal of genealogical information on local families in the book.

I’d like to think I’m done with writing books, but there is that shoebox of 19th century family journals upstairs, opening an amazing window on daily life in our own neighborhood 150 years ago, plus a lot of really old family papers. So a joint project with Peter is not out of the question…

Eleanor Motley Richardson
June 2010

Books by Eleanor Richardson

North Haven Summers

North Haven Summers


Mechanic Street

Mechanic Street