Bath museum showcases Portland's 'ship-shaped history'

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BATH — Back in 1775, when George Washington decried the British bombardment of Portland early in the American Revolution, the city was actually part of a much larger Falmouth, and Maine a part of Massachusetts.

“An Outrage exceeding in Barbarity & Cruelty every hostile act practiced among civilized Nations,” Washington wrote to John Hancock, 14 years before becoming America’s first president. The quotation was pulled from history and put on display for the Maine Maritime Museum’s “Port of Portland: A Ship-Shaped History” exhibit.

The gallery – previously on display at the Portland Public Library, and up at the 243 Washington St. museum until May 13 – showcases Portland’s history from the perspective of the ships that have coasted off the city’s shores in past centuries.

Maine Maritime Museum took over the financially strapped Portland Harbor Museum in 2010, and absorbed its collections and membership.

Chris Hall, the museum’s curator of exhibits, said last week that Maine Maritime wanted a Portland-centric exhibit, and one about Maine coastal culture beyond the Mid-Coast area.

“It was a nice mixture of our original collection and also (Portland’s),” Hall said, noting also that “we’re trying our best to try to keep some kind of a maritime museum presence in the Portland area.”

Part of the Bath exhibit’s focus is the SS Portland, a steamer launched from Bath in 1889 that wrecked off Cape Cod in 1898, with 192 crew members and passengers aboard.

The museum also showcases an 18-piece silver service set from the USS Portland, presented to the Navy cruiser when it visited its namesake city in 1934.

The Navy loaned the silver collection to the city of Portland in 1957, and it recently transferred the set’s custodianship to the Maine Maritime Museum.

The collection further adds to the array of materials the museum can offer in exhibits like “Port of Portland.”

“It was a fun, vast iceberg of information that we barely touched the surface of,” Hall said.

Call the museum at 443-1316 or log onto mainemaritimemuseum.org for more information.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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This model of the SS Portland is among a variety of items displayed at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath as part of its exhibit “Port of Portland: A Ship-Shaped History.” Behind the model are newspaper accounts of the steamer’s sinking in 1898.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.