On February 21, 1878, Maine governor Selden Connor approved and signed an act which would establish a training school for teachers in the Madawaska territory. This step meant that people in the region could be trained so they could teach at schools within the territory, and thus begin educating and “Americanizing” the people of the St. John Valley.
An amount of $1000 was set aside in the state treasury to establish and maintain what became commonly known as the Madawaska Training School. In the early years of the school’s history, the location for the training of teachers alternated between Fort Kent and Van Buren, and in 1884 the school serving the lower section of the territory moved from Van Buren to Grand Isle. Then in 1886, issues of overcrowding in the Fort Kent location were addressed for the first time. Each year enrollment numbers had increased, and by this time applicants had to be turned down for want of better accommodations. Vetal Cyr, the first principal of the Madawaska Training School, described the existing school house in the Fort Kent area as “small and cold,” and that “no changes or repairs” had been made to the school buildings. He summarized his position by stating that “at Fort Kent a new school house is much needed,” in hopes that the state would soon remedy the situation in the way of new buildings. It was shortly after these statements that the State Superintendent of Common Schools recommended that the school be permanently located in Fort Kent and that suitable accommodations be made for the school in the construction of facilities. The money was appropriated for building permanent facilities for the school in Fort Kent, and the school finally had a permanent location and facility by the 1888-1889 school year.
Throughout its years as the Madawaska Training School, the University of Maine at Fort Kent saw multiple expansions, curriculum additions, and a total of three principals. New dorms and classroom facilities were built, and changes were made to include a normal school curriculum in 1927, with the program being expanded in 1934 and again in 1948. The last principal to serve the school under its name of Madawaska Training School was Richard F. Crocker, who served the school from 1926 to 1955. It was under him that the training school saw the most change. The normal school curriculum was added under him, enrollment expanded significantly, a physical education program and several sports programs were added, as well as the construction of a new gymnasium.
Since becoming the University of Maine at Fort Kent in 1970, the school has continued to see changes, both physically and academically. It has come a long way from its humble beginnings, with the addition of several buildings in the last two decades. The expansion of Powell Hall at the turn of the century houses the Acadian Archives and office spaces for student services and faculty. Nadeau Hall provides a technology center and Nursing labs, and the newest addition, the Enrollment and Advancement Center, provides a space for prospective students and visitors to meet with Admissions and Advancement staff. It is also the new location for the president’s office.
Programs continue to change and adapt over the years to serve best the needs of current students and the trends of the economy. Originally established as a teaching school, UMFK continues to offer a Bachelor of Science in Education through a partnership with the University of Maine at Presque Isle. However, Nursing is now the pillar program of the institution, offering several degree tracks to students that include master of science in nursing degrees. In the summer of 2024, the university will also offer its first-ever doctorate degree program with the Doctor of Nursing Practice. Programs such as Applied Forest Management, Computer Systems Administration, Behavioral Science, Biology, Business Management, Environmental Studies, Conservation Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice, and Human Services are also available to students.
A university that is adaptable to the times, the University of Maine at Fort Kent has continued to evolve through the years. It continues to be greatly influenced by the rich history of the region it serves. Born of the need to educate the local culture, the University of Maine at Fort Kent continues to live up to its history of academic excellence. Though it now serves the global community, UMFK will always be a part of the rich cultural history of the St. John Valley.
* Historical information referenced from “UMFK: A Century of Progress” by Roger Grindle.