Society diary: York philanthropist’s travels inspire party-themed fundraiser


A Mexican-inspired fiesta may seem like an odd fundraiser for the Old York Historical Society, best known for its colonial-era one-room school, cemetery, tavern, and prison.

The inspiration for the Summer Fiesta on the River at Perkins House Museum came from the diary of York philanthropist Elizabeth Perkins, who loved to travel the world, throw parties and preserve history. In December 1943, when a trip to war-torn Europe was out of the question, Perkins visited Mexico, where strangers welcomed her for a day-long family picnic where tequila flowed freely.

Nearly eight decades later, Old York supporters toasted Perkins’ legacy on August 27 as the sun set over the York River near the Sewall Bridge. Guests enjoyed Mexican-inspired appetizers from WabiCafe, margaritas from Wiggly Bridge Distilling and music from the Seasmoke Trio. And they donated to the preservation efforts that Perkins set in motion.

“Elizabeth would have loved it,” said managing director Joel Lefever.

When Perkins died in 1952, she left her fortune and colonial-era home to what was then called the Society for the Preservation of Historical Landmarks in York County. Even then, the house was already a historical landmark – and not just because it was built in 1730 and was originally the home of smugglers and sea captains. Mary Perkins and her daughter Elizabeth bought it in 1898 as a summer residence and transformed it to evoke colonial New England. They held frequent parties and fundraisers, including a tea party for delegates from the Russian-Japanese peace treaty negotiated at Kittery in 1905.

“Elizabeth Perkins and her mother were instrumental in preserving the village,” said administrator Cheryl Farley. “And we celebrate them. “

Funding is an ongoing challenge for Old York, which maintains 16 buildings, two docks, Steedman Woods and some 70,000 objects and archives. Under this pressure, Perkins House was in such disrepair that it was closed to the public in 2015. Four years later, Old York sold the yellow brick administration building on York Street and invested the funds in renovating it. the Perkins House.

“This is our community gem,” said administrator Nancy Gustad. “There are two reasons people come to York: for the beaches and for the ambiance of these historic buildings.

After the restoration was completed, Old York hosted a lawn party in the summer of 2019. Then nothing like that happened in 2020. By the time outdoor gatherings were once again deemed safe, Lefever was inspired by Perkins’ journal entry titled “Mexican Pic-Nic, December 8, 1943. With visions of margaritas and tostadas and the like, Old York recruited sponsors for the event and sold tickets to 75 $ per person.

Volunteer Mary Harding, who was previously the Curator of the Art Gallery at the George C. Marshall Store in Old York, hosted a silent auction of handmade items.

“Over the past year and a half people have been helping to get things done,” Harding said. “We have some very creative people among us. And we have to keep the roofs, the painted buildings and the people employed. “

In total, the Fiesta grossed around $ 14,000 for Old York.

Old York offers tours Thursday through Sunday, through October.

Amy Paradysz is a Scarborough-based freelance writer and photographer. She can be reached at [email protected].

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