Sarah Farmer was born in 1847 in Dover, NH, but it was in 1881 when she and her family moved to Eliot. Sarah was then in her thirties and one of her first projects in Eliot was the revival of the Eliot Library Association. Working in conjunction with Francis Keefe, Dr. J. M. L. Willis, Wallace Dixon, and three members of the Bartlett family (Lizzie, Abbie, and Edward Bartlett), Sarah helped to form a library society in October of 1887. This group, along with many other members, continued for twenty years until the William Fogg Public Library was built and dedicated in 1907. We are delighted to have the original notes that Sarah took for the very first meeting on October 18, 1887, and we have these copied and framed so that you can examine them for yourselves. In addition, we have the original Eliot Library Association register which shows the borrowing history recorded by this group. The collection itself was comprised of books donated by the members and purchased by the group. Eventually, when the William Fogg Public Library was opened, the Eliot Library Association generously donated all its books to the new library.
Working in conjunction with Francis Keefe, Sarah organized fund-raisers in the form of summer fetes and arranged for a collection of books to be donated by John Greenleaf Whittier, a family friend. The first fete was held in the summer of 1888 and we have a beautiful reproduction of the original invitation which was framed and donated to the library in 2004 by Keith, Toni, and Norman Searles.
This invitation reads, “The Ladies of the Eliot Library Association hope it will meet the pleasure of yourself and friends to attend the MIDSUMMER FETE in aid of the Public Library of Eliot, Maine, August 14-15 from 10:30 a.m. to 9 o’clock p.m. Address at 3 o’clock on opening day by Rev. Edward Everett Hale, D.D. Music – Bazaar – Cafe – and Foreign Costumes.” The invitation was drawn by Arthur W. Dow, of Ipswich, Massachusetts (1857-1922), a well-known painter of the Arts and Crafts movement. Dow’s influence on other artists came from his thirty years of teaching at Pratt Institute, Teachers College Columbia University, The Art Students League, and the Ipswich Summer School of Art (his own school in Ipswich). Like most followers of the Arts and Crafts movement, he advocated principles of pure design and promoted the creation of handmade rather than machine made objects. The invitation is a work of art (a line drawing of a hayfield in Rye, NH) and the unique wording on the invitation comes from another era.
We also want to point out our portrait of Sarah Jane Farmer painted in 1891 by Frank Hector Tompkins (1847-1922). His date of birth is somewhat in question, because most references to him list his year of birth as 1847, but thanks to Roseanne Adams at Green Acre, we have a Xerox copy of a newspaper article announcing his death. It says he was born in 1857, but that could have been an error. Tompkins studied in New York and Cincinnati and was a regular exhibitor at the National Academy of Design, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and other East coast museums. Legend has it that Sarah was not pleased with the original portrait and had the artist revise the area that included her face. She is pictured with her dog Barry, and almost every school child in Eliot knows the name of Sarah Farmer’s dog!
Francis Keefe: Mr. Keefe was one of the founding members of the Eliot Library Association in 1887. Born on November 19, 1855 in Peabody, Massachusetts, as the second but only surviving son of the washerwoman in the Moses Gerrish Farmer household, he was partly raised in the Farmer home. His mother, Margaret Keefe, was born in Ireland, came to the United States and married here. Francis helped Mr. Farmer with his experiments, beginning in Newport, Rhode Island in 1872 and he moved with them to Eliot in 1881. He became a businessman, and with Sarah Farmer helped found Green Acre and its hotel. Mr. Keefe and Sarah Farmer were engaged, but neither ever married. Mr. Keefe lived in Bittersweet, the Farmer family house, for most of his life. Keefe served on the staff of Governor John Hill on the Executive Council and was Hill’s personal messenger. He also served for a time as Superintendent of Public Buildings.
He died about a year before Sarah and left everything in his will to her and Green Acre. They are both buried in the cemetery near Bittersweet. Keefe served on the staff of Governor John Hill on the Executive Council and was Hill’s personal messenger. He also served for a time as Superintendent of Public Buildings.
The portrait of Mr. Keefe is also by Frank Hector Tompkins, painted in 1892. The frame is gilt and on the back of the painting a label reads: William Allerton, Pictures and Frames, Fine Gold Work. Oil paintings and engraved mats, panels, and plush work. No. 173 Columbus Avenue, Boston, Mass.