The local paper mill defined lives here for decades,
but today the community is reshaping downtown

October 1, 2014 was a dark day for Bucksport, which for 80 years embraced life as a mill town – until it wasn’t. Verso Paper Corp., Bucksport’s largest employer and taxpayer, announced it would close in two months and eliminate more than 500 jobs.

Residents in this town of 5,000 had long lived in the shadow of the mill and a declining industry. And while the news was bleak, it offered an opportunity for renewal in this picturesque community at the head of Penobscot Bay.

Maine Community Foundation, John T. Gorman Foundation, and Bangor Savings Bank later deployed $75,000 to nonprofits that provided food and heating fuel assistance for displaced millworkers in northern and eastern Maine.

Townsfolk took action from there. In just four years, the community has rebounded. Volunteer energy has launched community events that have raised Bucksport’s profile in the arts world. More than a dozen new businesses have opened downtown, leaving just one vacant storefront. And in late February, a Maine company announced it would purchase most of the former mill site and create a salmon farm with an expected payroll of 200 workers.

The mill’s closure was “like a shock to the system of the community,” says Brook Minner, director of the nonprofit Main Street Bucksport. “All of a sudden anything seemed possible and they did feel an urgency to create positive change.” Minner says locals had watched other former mill towns struggle. “That was not going to be the way things went here.”

Instead, Bucksport embraced what has since drawn people who had dreams of moving back home or fell in love with Vacationland: location. It’s on the water and close to Bangor, Ellsworth, and the Blue Hill Peninsula. Belfast and Rockland, both once dependent on industry, are nearby models for how change, cultural arts, and local food invigorate coastal communities.

In the past three years, grants from the Maine Community Foundation have supported the new International Maritime Film Festival, Bucksport Arts Festival, and “Wednesday on Main,” a series of weekly outdoor performances. A number of grants have come from the community foundation’s Hancock County Fund.

Additional MaineCF grants have bolstered Main Street Bucksport’s downtown revitalization and helped residents envision their future through a town planning process. Heart & Soul, led by Nancy Minott, has brought residents together for community conversations about who they are and what they want Bucksport to be.

Preserving Bucksport’s unique character is important to many – Minner included. “It’s a river town, it has a certain degree of grit – in a good way.”

That determination and optimism has sustained Bucksport since 1792, right down to the longtime town slogan that welcomes visitors: “Rich in heritage, looking to the future.” 

COMMUNITY FOUNDATION GRANTS TO BUCKSPORT SINCE  2015:

  • Apogee Arts, for a series of outdoor performances
  • Buck Memorial Library, for building restoration
  • Bucksport Area Cultural Arts Society, for a summer music performance series
  • Bucksport Community Concerns, Inc., for food production and food security in Hancock County
  • Bucksport Historical Society, to repair the 1874 railroad depot building
  • Main Street Bucksport, to build capacity, support the Bucksport Arts Festival, and expand the International Maritime Film Festival
  • Northeast Historic Film, for the inaugural International Maritime Film Festival
  • Town of Bucksport, to establish “Wednesday on Main” outdoor performances and support the Heart & Soul community planning process.

Photo, above right: John Paul LaLonde, MaineCF Hancock County Fund Committee member, and Nancy Minott, Bucksport Heart & Soul coordinator, with a window full of ideas from community members. Volunteers have spent 10,000 hours gathering input about the town’s values and what residents envision for its future. Photos: Thalassa Raasch/MaineCF