Keeper of Yarmouth's past finds fresh future

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YARMOUTH — Sometime next month, the town’s past will begin its journey to a future home.

Linda Grant, chairwoman of the Yarmouth Historical Society, said a date has not been scheduled for groundbreaking at the future museum site on East Elm Street, but she is eager for work to begin.

“I can’t be more thrilled we are doing this,” Grant said.

Now housed on the third floor of the Merrill Memorial Library, the historical society will be moving to a 4,600-square-foot building that was previously home to the Yarmouth Water District.

If all goes according to expectations, the renovation work at the Elm Street property will be done by Thanksgiving and the museum will be open next Jan. 1.

The new museum is across the street from Royal River Park, and presents a chance for the historical society to better display artifacts, photographs and documents from Yarmouth’s history and surrounding areas that were once part of town.

As the estimated $650,000 expansion project approaches, Executive Director Michael Chaney and Program Director Amy Thompson are considering the best ways to show five facets of local history.

“It is a chance to become a regional museum,” Chaney said.

The division of eras, beginning with Native American displays predating European settlement, helped earn a $10,000 grant from the Maine Humanities Council to establish the museum.

Shipbuilding, water-powered mills, the secession of Freeport, North Yarmouth and Cumberland into independent towns and changes in town in the 20th century are other exhibits visitors will experience, Thompson said.

The grant was matched with privately raised contributions, and Grant said the entire effort has been funded with more than $900,000 donated by local businesses and individuals.

“To our thrill, they have accepted the context,” she said. “But we did not overestimate what we could do.”

The goal is to raise a little more than $1 million to pay for renovations and endow future museum programs and operations. The new museum includes a classroom setting to teach students of all ages about local history.

Chaney said “a meaningful and well-used educational space” will serve the new museum well, but the opportunity to redesign displays and show items now in storage most excites him.

“It’s one thing to stick a tool in a display case, it’s another thing to put the context around it,” he said.

The new museum will provide temperature-controlled storage for documents and photographs, and space to display items like logs kept by sea captains, Chaney said. The new museum will also have wi-fi access, and Thompson is digitally storing taped oral histories and vintage photographs.

Thompson, who has been program director for three years, has been travelling to see how other museums show artifacts.

“I would like to see the exhibits be interactive and also develop something for those who want to delve deeper,” she said.

Thompson said even more recent historical knowledge has eluded some local residents.

“People who move here sometimes have no idea how industrial the town was,” she said.

The Yarmouth Historical Society has 400 members paying annual $25 individual or $50 family dues, Grant said. The society hosts speakers on a variety of subjects and estimates there were 3,700 museum and event visitors in 2010.

The new home will be a long-term one. A 60-year lease agreement approved by the Town Council last year charges the society $1 annually and has an additional 30-year option. The society will be responsible for heating and utilities at the building.

“The lease is ready to sign and I expect we will do so (this) week,” Town Manager Nat Tupper said in an email.

Grant said the trustees are ready to sign, too.

“I’ll get up at midnight to sign it,” she joked.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow David on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

This story was corrected March 30 to list a family membership in the Yarmouth Historical Society at $50.

Sidebar Elements

Linda Grant, left, chairwoman of the Yarmouth Historical Society, Program Director Amy Thompson and Executive Director Michael Chaney are among those looking forward to the construction of a new Yarmouth History Center to enhance the display of artifacts and provide better storage of the society’s collection.

The future home of the Yarmouth Historical Society on East Elm Street once housed the Yarmouth Water District. Groundbreaking for site renovations will be held next month, and it is hoped the new historical society museum will be open next Jan. 1.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.