Walking the Trails of History

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This is the fifth installment in an ongoing series about the unique history of Good Will-Hinckley. To read the previous installments, click on one of the following links: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV.

On the first weekend of May, with the sun shining bright and temperatures well into sixties, dozens of people—families, friends and individuals alike—came out to enjoy the beautiful trails behind the Good-Will Hinckley property. Most did their best to practice proper physical distancing. Many wore masks. But what united everyone was a love of the outdoors—something we Mainers are lucky to have in abundance.

It’s a love that our founder, George Walter Hinckley, expressed his entire life—and not just because he loved a good walk in the woods. For Hinckley, a love of nature was essential to a well-rounded education. Even back then, more than 130 years ago, the students at Good Will-Hinckley were encouraged to explore the outdoors and to understand the unique habitats that make Maine so special. Often, it was part of their classwork.

While some of the property’s trails existed well before the advent of Good Will-Hinckley, it wasn’t until 1912—23 years after the organization’s founding—that these paths began to assume greater importance.

That year, the first of five monumental trail entrances was constructed on the edge of Memorial Grove, not far from the Good Will Cemetery. Those two granite pillars still stand today.

Around the same time, Ernest Thompson Seton, Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts of America, made a pair of contributions: a fireplace in the middle of a small natural amphitheater; and a large seat made of loose stone. The Seton Fireplace has been a beloved gathering spot for the Good Will community ever since.

Over the ensuing years, other monuments were established. In 1915, the Dartmouth Trail Entrance was built thanks to a generous donation by the school’s Outing Club.

Dartmouth Trail entrance: Good Will-Hinckley

Then, in 1920, came the property’s most iconic addition yet: Granite House. Conceived by Charles Hubbard, a well-known artist and a good friend of George Hinckley, the structure was designed to showcase the various types of granite found throughout Maine. In fact, the two traveled throughout the state to collect the materials, many of which still adorn the house today.

Granite House: Good Will-Hinckley

The following year, volunteers arranged a group of massive rocks to form the Roosevelt Monument, in honor of America’s 26th President—and famed conservationist—Theodore Roosevelt. The topmost stone was actually selected by Edith Roosevelt, Teddy’s Wife, from the couple’s Long Island Estate.

In 1923, George Hinckley’s son, Walter Palmer Hinckley, spearheaded an effort to move a massive boulder alongside Bowdoin Trail. A graduate of the eponymous Maine college, Hinckley named the rock Bowdoin Boulder.

Roosevelt Memorial: Good Wil-Hinckley

One of the property’s most unique structures is the Sunset Trail Monument. Erected in 1930, the shrine was built with stones gathered by Good Will-Hinckley students, from sites including Walden Pond, Lake George (in New York), and the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Sunset trail Entrance: Good Will-Hinckley

While time and weather have taken their toll, the monuments that line the trails of Good Will-Hinckley (including some not mentioned here) remain intact. Each offers a unique window into history: passages from famous authors; descriptions of local wildlife; century-old artifacts; and of course, lots of interesting rocks.

In “The Chronicles of Good Will Home: 1889-1989,” Lawrence Sturtevant had this to say about the intentions behind these monuments:

“[George Hinckley’s] view was that as the visitor and cottage boys and girls wandered through the Farm and its trails, they would come upon these monuments with their slate and bronze tablets and pause and contemplate their meaning. These people, in his view, would be capable of thinking about what they saw, and, from the exotic subjects and golden words, extract meaning.”

For our students at the Glenn Stratton Learning Center and the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, these totems are more than just interesting attractions along the trail; they’re part of the educational experience. As the weather warms, and with COVID making classroom learning all but impossible, they’ll be spending even more time exploring the miles of scenery—and decades of history—along these well-worn paths.

We invite you, the public, to come explore these trails and sites for yourselves. Not only is it a great way to get some fresh air and exercise; it’s a chance to immerse yourself in the amazing history of our state—and our country.

And if you happen to see some of our students gathered around these monuments, feel free to give them a shout-out. Tell them George Hinckley would be proud.