North Yarmouth Historical Society seeks new space

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NORTH YARMOUTH — The stewards of the town’s history have an eye on the future – in particular  a significantly larger space for storing and displaying North Yarmouth Historical Society archives.

The private NYHS has for several decades been housed at 463 Walnut Hill Road, sharing a building with the town’s Fire-Rescue Department and a Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office substation. Town Hall used to be there, too.

Katie Murphy and Dixie Hayes, two of the society’s small but dedicated crew of volunteers, had hoped for passage two months ago of town referendum Question 1. Had that question passed, it could have meant a new, larger space for the historical society, the women suggested, since the referendum in part advocated moving Town Hall to the now-closed North Yarmouth Memorial School.

But after the question failed in favor of competing Question 2 – which called partly for Town Hall to remain as it is – the society remains in search of a more appropriate home.

Murphy and Hayes led a tour through the society’s cramped quarters last month. As stated in its fiscal 2015 annual report, two filing cabinets, recent acquisitions, and supplies sit in the 40-square-foot entry way. A 32-square-foot space, formerly a cleaning closet, is home to the society’s computer and other files.

Farther into the society headquarters is the workroom, where volunteers undertake projects such as cataloging the items the organization has acquired, and updating a database of North Yarmouth’s older houses.

A huge effort to document the town’s history culminated with North Yarmoth’s tricentennial in 1980, Murphy said.

“We’ve had people within the organization work within the archives, and catalog, and do all kinds of stuff,” she said, “but that has fallen off a bit, and those of us who do work in the archives, and try to staff once a month, don’t really know the collections as well as those people back in 1980.”

And then there is a fireproof vault, installed in the 1980s and home to priceless books and records dating back four centuries, from when North Yarmouth included other neighboring towns from Yarmouth to Harpswell. Space issues have forced the society to store items that should be in the vault in attics above the work room, as well as in the fire-rescue building and the attics in the town office.

The work room and vault roughly measure less than 400 square feet. Ideally, Murphy would like a space five times bigger to finally bring together the many items spread out over different places, and more easily work with and display the materials. And to secure those relics properly.

Having more organized and spacious room would help members locate materials for their programs and presentations – as well as for the venerable North Yarmouth Gazette, which they publish a few times a year and mail to about 150 places.

NYHS isn’t the only party in need of more space.

“Our Fire-Rescue neighbors badly need NYHS’s space and we would gladly move out,” Murphy, the society’s president, wrote in the annual report, “but we have no place to go, and no ability to plan for relocation, expansion, and fundraising until residents decide on the future of our town center. When we know the town’s direction, we will know ours.”

“We could have been so happy to work with the town on that,” Murphy said last month’s interview. “That would have been an incredible thing for us.”

The society has been exploring usage of the Old Town House, an 1853 structure up Route 9 that was once North Yarmouth’s governmental hub. Talks about moving the building to the Village Center have yet to bear fruit.

“We still hope for that,” Murphy said. “For some people, that seems like anathema. ‘That’s always been there; how could you possibly think about moving it?’ But … we want more visibility for that structure.”

She would like the structure to be preserved in its rustic state, but suggested that it could be expanded.

“We have all kinds of ideas, but we respect the fact that the town is wrestling with this whole Town Center issue.”

With Town Hall also in need of more space, Murphy said, “this whole storage issue in this town is huge, and nobody gets it. Because typically you come to the Town Office, you stand at the corner, you renew your car, and you don’t see anything else.”

Hayes, an NYHS board member and former teacher, noted that many items in the archives would enrich her students’ education.

“What I really needed to do was bring the kids here, and get them excited about history, and their own history, for a lot of them,” she said. “Even if I could have brought them here, there is no work space to play things out, and let them really get their hands on what we have.”

Many of those items are housed in rows of gray boxes, which Murphy noted could be a bit boring and overwhelming to visitors. That’s another reason why a better cataloging system, or exhibition area, could help the organization.

In thinking of space, the society – which plans to launch a capital campaign in the coming years – also looks to future needs.

“We need space for everything we have,” Murphy said. “We also need space for what we know people want to give us. We know … once the (Yarmouth History Center was) able to expand their facilities, all of a sudden new stuff started coming to them. Because people said, ‘There’s a great place for it … and I know it’ll be safe and secure.'”

The society is open from 9 a.m.-noon the first Saturday of every month, or by appointment if necessary.

“We’re a small board, and we’re an organization trying to grow,” Murphy said. “And we welcome new people who have energy, and have ideas, and have resources as well.”

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

Katie Murphy, left, and Dixie Hayes, two volunteers with the North Yarmouth Historical Society, hope the organization can soon find a more suitable space to replace its cramped quarters. The society’s vault is packed with relics from the town’s four-century history.

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.