ELLSWORTH — Woodlawn plans to break ground this spring on a new education and event center on its historic Surry Road property, thanks to a donation from the former owner and publisher of The Ellsworth American.
Alan Baker’s $500,000 donation to the Campaign for Woodlawn was recently announced by the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, which oversees Woodlawn. The gift — the largest the campaign has received from the local community — brings the total raised so far to $6.5 million. That’s roughly 80 percent of the way to the goal line for the $8.2-million project.
“Mr. Baker’s gift demonstrates his confidence in our project,” said board President Terry Carlisle, “and as such, the board has recently voted to break ground in the spring of 2019 so we can complete the building in time to celebrate Maine’s bicentennial in 2020.”
Carlisle is general manager of The American and worked with Baker for many years before his retirement in September.
Baker, 89, was owner and publisher of the newspaper for 27 years and oversaw the launch of its sister paper, the Mount Desert Islander, in 2001. The Orrington resident retired after selling the papers to Maine media entrepreneur Reade Brower.
Baker said he made the first portion of his gift — $100,000 — five years ago to help launch the Woodlawn campaign and gave an additional $400,000 this fall to help see the project through.
“What I really wanted to do was kick that project into action,” Baker explained.
The second installment of his gift was half the cash proceeds from the sale of the newspapers.
“The folks of Hancock County, and particularly of Ellsworth, have been extraordinarily kind to me and to the newspapers and this is my way to say ‘thanks,’” Baker said.
He has long admired the trustees’ work at Woodlawn and over the years even discussed the group taking ownership of the newspapers.
“I’m glad to be able to do it, that’s all,” he said of his donation.
“We are very appreciative of Mr. Baker’s gift,” said Woodlawn Executive Director Joshua Campbell Torrance. “He joins the entire Board of Trustees, private foundations, local businesses and community members who have contributed to this exciting project.”
A private foundation anonymously awarded a $4-million challenge grant for the project so Baker’s donation will be matched from those funds. The campaign will establish a multipurpose facility on the footprint of the 180-acre historic estate’s original carriage barn. The existing barn, which was remodeled and reduced in size in 1940 and is now in disrepair, will be disassembled. The new facility will be built with as many salvaged materials as possible. It will provide year-round space for events and exhibits.
Plans for the building include an open-concept, timber-framed, 2,665-square-foot “community gathering and educational programming space,” which can hold up to 178 people at a seated event. There also will be a 1,114-square-foot exhibition gallery as well as a kitchen, work spaces and a lobby with ticket counter, gift shop and exhibit space.
The new facility will allow for the continued growth of the Woodlawn School Programs, which has brought over 5,000 students to Woodlawn, free of charge.
Woodlawn, known to many locals as the Black House, was the home of three generations of the Col. John Black family. The stately brick mansion, built between 1824 and 1827, contains its original furnishings and family archives. Woodlawn opened as a historic house and public park in 1929.
“It is great to have so many people excited about this project, and like Mr. Baker, committed to its success,” Torrance said.
To learn more about the Campaign for Woodlawn or to make a gift, visit woodlawnmuseum.org.