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Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf

Since its beginnings in 1876, in a one-room school house with four students in Portland, Maine, MECDHH/GBSD has grown, evolved and expanded its comprehensive programs and its continuum of services to Maine's Deaf and hard of hearing children, from birth through grade 12, and their families.

MECDHH/GBSD remains committed in its mission to educate, support, respect and empower children and families in providing and attaining excellence in programs and services.

In its commitment for excellence, MECDHH/GBSD recognizes that it is a cooperative effort of students, adults, staff, families, professionals, service providers, agencies and the community to provide positive opportunities and maintain high standards of service. Our goal is to ensure that individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing can achieve and succeed in gaining a better understanding of themselves, their peers and the world around them, and that hearing individuals gain a better understanding of the Deaf and Deaf culture.

History of Mackworth Island

The 100-acre island is a half-mile off Falmouth and at the mouth of the Presumpscot River was once the summer paradise of the Indians who lived along the river. They would come down the river in their canoes with their sachem, Skitterygussett, to spend warm months on the island.The island is named for the first white gentleman to be given a grant to it, Arthur Mackworth. He had come from England in 1630 with Richard Vines, Sir Ferdenando Gorges’ agent, Robert Snakey and Samuel and Jane Andrews. At first he lived on the mainland point nearest the island, called Menikoe by the Indians and later to be known as Mackworth’s Point. In 1634 he received the island as part of his grant on the northeast side of the Presumpscot River’s mouth. He built a home on the island and move there calling the island Newton, after his home in England.

After his wife died and his friend, Samuel Andrews, Arthur Mackworth married the widow, Jane Andrews, in 1637. The Presumpscot River was like a broad highway between Sebago Lake and Casco Bay. As a result, the Indians passed his home regularly on their way to the trading post at Richmond Island. Mackworth came to know which of the Indians were friendly toward the white man. He and his wife, Jane, had 2 sons and 4 daughters. He spent his life raising his children, being a public official, trading with the friendly Indians, curing fish, raising corn and grinding it on the same large rock the Indians used and which still remains on the island.

In 1657 his deathbed request was that his wife, “using her wisdom,” dispose of his “whole estate” equally, as near as might be, between her former husband’s children and the children between them, and in case any shortness was on either side, it should always be on his children’s side. Thus even at death he showed what a gentleman he had always been. His widow complied with his request and as each child married, she settled land on them. After her husband’s death, Mrs. Mackworth moved to Boston and she transferred ownership of the island to her son-in-law, Abraham Adam.

By the time Arthur Mackworth died, civilization was driving the Indians further back into the woods and away from their fishing grounds. The Indians started attacking the settlers and killing many of them. Some fled to the mainland, others to more remote islands further out in the bay. Later when the French started helping the Indians with their attacks, the settlers were forced to abandon their homes and crops and once more the land reverted back to the wild animals and the Indians.

In 1703 the Mackworth granddaughter sold the island and from then on it had a succession of owners such as: Jedediah Preble (owner of Cushing and Richmond Islands), James Deering and James Rennie. Rennie was a ventriloquist and a practical joker. He claimed he had magical powers passed on to him from his father which enabled him to tame the wildest and most vicious horse. Because of these powers he came to be known as “The Whisperer.” He left his two-story house on Mackworth Island and sailed for Jamaica. He was never heard of again. The island was sold at a bankruptcy sale to Theodore Mussey of Standish. The island’s name was changed to Mussey’s Island and finally back to Mackworth again.

During the Civil War, the island became Camp Berry in honor of a Major-General Hiram G. Berry, who was killed at Chancellorville. The recruits shaped up by cutting down the timber to build barracks and for heating purposes.

In 1884, Lemuel Cushing bought the island from the Union Bank of Brunswick and his widow sold it in 1885 to the Hon. James Phinney Baxter of Portland. It them became a summer home for a large family during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Mr. Baxter had a bridge built in 1914 from the island to the mainland. Leather boots were put on the family’s horses when they were brought over in the summer time so that their shoes would not cause damage to the wooden planks. That same year pipes were laid across the island and under the bay to carry Sebago Lake water to Great Diamond Island. Previously springs and windmills had supplied water to the island.

The island became the scene of many parties and social events with some guests arriving by boat and steamer. A horse drawn carriage was sent to the pier to bring the guests to the front door of the mansion through a row of pine trees planted by a son, Percival P. Baxter. What a beautiful sight it must have been to see the Baxter horses running through the pastures with the sea breezes blowing through their manes and the family’s Irish Setter dogs bounding through the fields and woods!

Percival P. Baxter became Governor of Maine in 1921 and in that year also succeeded his father in ownership of the island. In 1921 he started planting 100,000 spruce and pine trees to replace those cut down by the Civil War recruits. The island was also declared a bird sanctuary by legislative act.

In 1953 former Governor Percival P. Baxter presented the island to the State of Maine to be used as a site for the State School for the Deaf. He also donated $475,000 for building costs and $200,000 for construction of a causeway to replace the wooden bridge. The Ninety Sixth legislature appropriated $400,000 to complete construction costs. One stipulation was that the State of Maine maintain the island’s dog cemetery where 19 Irish Setters and 1 horse are buried in the manner in which it was maintained when the family was in residence

~Carlene W. Parker