Percival Baxter. Walter Reid. Eleanor Burke?
You may recognize the benefactors of Reid and Baxter State Parks, but who is the mysterious Eleanor Burke? Her legacy is showcased as one of KELT's public preserves.
Eleanor Burke of Woolwich was an unassuming, yet visionary woman. Described as a person of tremendous kindness and grace with a non-judgmental nature and radiating smile, Eleanor and her husband, Commander Walter “Gig” Burke, retired to Woolwich in 1952. Gig served his country in World War II; Eleanor earned advanced degrees in art and education. During her unusual and successful career, Mrs. Burke traveled the country on behalf of Binney & Smith, introducing school children and their teachers to magic of Crayola Crayons.
Though she traveled widely, their home in Maine and the natural world that surrounded it may have brought her the greatest satisfaction. Attorney David Weiss remembers always finding her outside enjoying her land whenever he had a chance to visit with her on her Chopps Point Land. “She particularly enjoyed all the birds, plants and wildlife around her,” Weiss said.
Upon her death in 2002, she transferred her passion for the land that she and her husband had nurtured for more than 50 years on the shores of Merrymeeting Bay with an estate gift of enormous consequence. In her will, Mrs. Burke made explicit plans for the land to be given to the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, the buildings to be torn down and funds established to maintain the property in a natural, undeveloped state.
Today, you can share her love of this unique property with a visit to KELT’s 125-acre Merrymeeting Fields in Woolwich.
“Eleanor Burke demonstrates what one solitary individual can do to advance a cause. Leaving a legacy for a cause or idea is to empower it.”
-David Weiss, Estate Attorney
The land is primarily a mixed forest and includes a former farm field maintained by KELT for nesting birds and small mammals. It is a wonderful place for bird watching, walking and cross-country skiing. The preserve has extensive frontage on Merrymeeting Bay and Chops Creek, an area designated as critical habitat by the Maine Natural Areas Program.
To those who knew her, Mrs. Burke was described as always modest and generous in nature. In addition to her remarkable gift of the Merrymeeting Fields, she worked with Weiss to create Merrymeeting Bay Trust to promote the understanding, awareness and study of the natural environment surrounding Merrymeeting Bay and other undeveloped areas in the estuary. Mrs. Burke never told anyone her intentions; she just continued living her life simply.
Eleanor probably did not perceive herself as visionary or remarkable, but her actions to leave a lasting legacy places her among a distinguished peer group. Environmentalist David Brower said, “We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations.” Eleanor Burke understood this vision, loved Merrymeeting Bay and the water that flowed by her land. Eleanor Burke may not be a household name, but this special woman has made a lasting impact on the environment in our area.