You may know that Brant & Cochran is a member of the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association (MCMA). You might say – those guys aren’t mechanics. They just make axes. You are no doubt correct. But crafting axes and collaborating with the Maine maker community gets us up the steps and into the Mechanics Hall on Congress Street in downtown Portland.
The MCMA not only has a fascinating history; it is enjoying a renaissance as the maker economy (of which B&C is a part) continues to expand and mature. And it has a cool logo and motto!
The MCMA was formed in 1815 to promote and support the skilled trades. Its members were master craftsmen and entrepreneurs – referred to in the early 19th century as “mechanics.” Members included sailmakers, carpenters, masons, jewelers, shipbuilders, and blacksmiths among others. The membership list is a fascinating look at the many different types of and industries that were practiced in Maine in the last 200 years
Why did these flinty, independent craftsmen band together to form the MCMA? They wanted to build an educational cooperative: A place where they could learn more about their craft and train their apprentices. To do this they needed a library. In 1820 the same year Maine gained statehood, the MCMA founded its library making it the eighth oldest private membership library in the United States. It is still open today to all members.
Construction of Mechanics Hall was completed in 1859.
Located at 519 Congress Street in downtown Portland, the hall has served many different uses over the years:
- 1861 saw it become a billet for Maine troops headed to fight in the Civil War
- In 1866 after the Great Fire of Portland it served as the city’s municipal offices
- Member C.P. Kimball used the ballroom to show off his patented velocipede in 1869 and give riding lessons to prospective buyers.
- 1875 sees the establishment of the Free Drawing School to teach mechanical and architectural drawing. The program continues into the 1980’s.
- The main ballroom is renovated in 1890 for Melvin Gilbert to teach dance classes.
- 1973 sees the Hall listed on the Register of National Historic Landmarks.
One of the more interesting projects undertaken by MCMA members was the making of silk trade banners in 1841 to be used in the Association’s triennial October festivals. Each trade came up with their own unique 3’ x 3 ½’ banner featuring a motto.
We are partial to the blacksmith’s banner
The shoemakers obviously had a sense of humor
Lost over the years seventeen of the banners were found in a closet at Mechanics Hall in 1983. The MCMA sold these banners to the Maine Historical Society for preservation where they are stored today.
There has been a surge of interest in the MCMA as the maker movement gathers steam. Here’s MCMA’s Communication Coordinator Karolyn Greenstreet’s insight:
“In the past few years, on the Eve of its 200th anniversary, the organization has revitalized its mission of helping Maine's Makers (once called the "mechanics"). MCMA has expanded the definition of a mechanic to include all artistic pursuits and anyone that creates anything in the realm of computer and internet science among many other trades. Membership has increased, especially amongst those of a younger generation of entrepreneurs. Fine craftsmen, artists, artisans, dancers, actors, tech professionals, beer makers, civic hackers, writers, historians, and other creative professionals or hobbyists, all gather at the Hall to support and learn from one another.”
Programming at the Hall has also increased and diversified. There are book clubs, dance lessons, civic “hack” sessions, concerts, First Friday events, presentations by members on their businesses (B&C did one of these in September), and travel lectures. Keep up to date on goings on at the Hall on its Face Book Page.
The MCMA, Mechanics Hall and its members are a unique resource available to all Mainers seeking advice, encouragement, and support in building Maine’s maker community. We would urge those of you makers out there to get involved with the MCMA.
And remember to always follow the Association’s motto: