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Yarmouth Historical Society opens new History Center

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Yarmouth Historical Society opens new History Center

YARMOUTH — It's a modern building for Yarmouth's past. And, it's better than a third-floor attic.

The Yarmouth Historical Society is introducing its new "History Center" at 10 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 26, at 118 East Elm St.

The new building, made possible by a year-long fundraising campaign and a grant from the Maine Humanities Council, moves the town's collected history out from the crowded third floor of the Merrill Memorial Library and into the spacious and remodeled former Yarmouth Water District building across from Royal River Park.

"This is the best possible location to have a history center," Historical Society Director Michael Chaney said, adding that where the building stands was the center of industry at the beginning of the 20th Century.

The building includes a new exhibit area, gift shop, a community event and presentation room, new office space and an archive room.

"It's night and day," Program Director Amy Aldredge siad. "People can find us now. We don't feel like we're locked up in the third floor anymore."

The new building will be open to the public beginning Friday, but the main event won't be until Saturday when the society will celebrate its redesigned exhibit, "A River Runs Through it," chronicling the region's industrial history.

The new center guides visitors through the town's past, separating the history into five phases and sections. Each section has its own artifacts and wall-sized panels.

Yarmouth was originally known as North Yarmouth and geographically covered a much larger area that included neighboring towns like Freeport, Harpswell and Cumberland.

It was a busy, working-class mill and shipbuilding town, filled mostly with laborers, although wealthier ship captains and merchants also called the town home, Aldregde said.

Photos of the town's past now fill the center, which focuses on the ash-spewing paper mill and shipyards that anchored the town's economy. Workers, often covered with soot, pose with classic hard-labored faces outside the mills. Other photographs include pictures of the old trolley system and of craftsmen building historic schooners.

Below the pictures, cases filled with shipbuilding tools, historic books and writings by former residents, and miscellaneous household items give visitors a look at how the residents lived.

The building also maintains the town's architectural history, with windows that stick out the top of the building, like floor-less dormers, resembling those of the mill that once stood in its place.

The Saturday grand opening begins with children's activities followed by opening remarks from the society's staff and board members at noon. At 4 p.m., artist Elizabeth Newman, owner of Yarmouth Frame and Gallery, whose paintings hang in the center's Stonewall Gallery, will talk about what inspires her work.

"It's fun to see it come to life," Aldredge said. "It's going to be enlightening for the community. I don't think most people have any idea about the rich history in Yarmouth. That's where we'll come in."

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow Will on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.