Eclipse strengthens ties between Houlton and its namesake town in England

2 weeks ago

HOULTON, Maine – Phil and Judith Clucas live in Crick, a small English village between Rugby and Northampton in Britain’s Midlands. Their church is a short distance away in Houlton, England.

And on April 6, they will be arriving in Houlton, Maine to help serve lobster rolls and whoopie pies for the total solar eclipse festivities.

“Going back a bit, I love the idea that we are a little dot in the universe. Last year while staying with our grandchildren in California there was a partial eclipse and that fired me up,” Phil Clucas said via Zoom on Thursday. 

He looked and found that there was another eclipse tracking across the East Coast of America on the eighth of April.

“I saw it tracked right through Houlton and thought,’well it’s got to be,’” he said. “We’ve got to make the effort to watch the eclipse in Houlton, Maine.”

The Clucases will be among thousands of visitors expected to travel to the Houlton area to view the total solar eclipse.

The story between the two Houltons begins long before Phil and Judith. 

The connection begins in January 1927 when Houlton, Maine was part of the first transatlantic telephone call from the powerful radio station in Rugby, England to the transceiver station on Smyrna Street in Houlton. At the time, Houlton served as a relay station for long-wave transoceanic transmissions between New York and London.  

In 2016, Houlton Museum Curator Leigh Cummings was contacted by James Scott, a London attorney representing Urban & Civic, a developer, he said. Scott visited soon after.

“They were considering naming their new community located at the old radio station in Rugby after Houlton, Maine,” Cummings said. “Nancy Ketch and I showed him around.”

Following Scott’s return to England, he let Cummings know that they would name the new community Houlton. 

Rev. Steve Gold, the vicar of St. Gabriel’s church in Houlton, England, and his wife were the fourth family to move into the new community in 2018.  Houlton now has around 1,500 homes occupied and the population is somewhere between 3,000 to 4,000 people, Gold said.

“Houlton will eventually include 6,200 new homes, four schools, a range of community facilities and shops,” he said.  

Phil and Judith are active in St. Gabriel’s Church and that’s how their connection to Houlton, Maine began to grow.

“My role was just to connect them with the local Episcopal church in Houlton, Maine (Church of the Good Shepherd) for their visit, as we would love to create relationships between the two Houlton church communities and the wider communities,” Gold said. 

St. Gabriel’s opened in November 2018 and is a daughter church to St John the Baptist, Hillmorton, which dates back to 1240. Thomas and Alice Perkins, ancestors of Houlton, Maine residents, are buried underneath the church’s center aisle.

“We often get visitors to our church from all over the USA coming to find their ancestors,” Gold said.

As part of the Clucas’ Houlton visit, they will be meeting with about two dozen locals descended from their British ancestors, Cummings said. Following a reception on Sunday, April 7, Cummings will take Phil and Judith on a walking tour of the town. 

The Church of the Good Shepherd is preparing 1,600 authentic Maine dinners for eclipse visitors and Phil and Judith will be helping.

“We asked, ‘what can we do to help?’ And we got roped in to help with the lobster rolls,” Phil said laughing. 

Judith added that lobster is a big deal for them.

“You only ever get that when you are going to a really posh restaurant. It’s not an everyday, handy-to-get food,” she said. 

The Houlton, England community continues its historic connection to Maine and there is even a street named, “Maine Street,” Judith said.  A main road that runs next to the community, previously called Wadling Street and now named the A-5, runs north almost to Scotland, much like Houlton, Maine’s I-95.

The homes in Houlton, England are spread out on 1,200 acres and there are parks and walking trails and community gardens. The first school,  St. Gabriel’s Academy opened in 2018. St Gabriel’s is a primary school (for children between ages 4 to 11) and has around 380 pupils. In 2021, Houlton secondary school, located in the original 1920s radio station, opened (for children from 11 to18), and now has around 450 pupils.  

Cummings said the principals of the schools in the two Houltons have been communicating. 

“We would just seek to create new friendships through which we can bless the other community, and hopefully grow to know and appreciate each other,” Gold said. “There is much to be gained from learning from and cherishing our diversity, isn’t there.”

Phil and Judith said it’s a bit sad that it may be cloudy on eclipse day, but they are prepared for any weather. After their Houlton visit they are driving back to Boston and heading to California to see their daughters and grandchildren.