- Police Beat
- The Forecaster
SOUTH PORTLAND — As the South Portland Historical Society prepares for the April 27 opening of “Riding the Rails: A History of Trains and Trolleys,” Executive Director Kathryn DiPhilippo reflected on the value of being open seven days a week, free and open to the public.
“It’s hard work, but we love our community,” DiPhilippo said. “Everybody doesn’t work a 9-5 job and we understand that. We have over 40 volunteers in the museum alone, and that makes it possible for us to charge no admission fee.”
The new exhibit at Cushing’s Point House at Bug Light Park is inspired by a resident who worked for the railroads and donated many items, including artifacts and photographs.
Like the railroad exhibit, most of the exhibits DiPhilippo curates focus on South Portland residents and local life.
“Our special exhibits, like this upcoming one on the history of railroads, draws attention to a national topic while narrowing the focus on South Portland,” she said. “We want everyone to understand the historical significance of our area, and one of the best ways to do that is to be an open resource for people, regardless of economic background or time availability.”
Leslie Barteaux, a member of the society board and a volunteer in the gift shop, said the benefits of free admission and longer visiting hours reflect the importance of educating the community and shows the hard work volunteers put in.
“Being a part of the community is huge, and this is an organization that keeps its volunteers,” Barteaux said. “(DiPhilippo) is always so welcoming, both to people who are interested in volunteering and the people visiting this location. Volunteering gets you out amongst your neighbors.”
DiPhilippo said the historical society is thriving, with the support of more than 300 businesses and organizations. As one of the largest such societies in Maine in terms of membership, DiPhilippo said the city is bustling with active people and volunteers who keep the organization alive and well.
“We’re very aware of the fact we get people from all over the world, and we have a lot of people from South Portland that want to come see the exhibit, but we’re next to (Portland Breakwater) lighthouse,” she said. “So we need to be able to have something here that will appeal to anyone. We want to talk about American history but from a local, community perspective.”
The vision for the museum, DiPhilippo said, is to eventually build a larger building adjacent to the current one. She said while the museum is free and open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. every day, some people may not take the time to stop because of how small the place actually is.
“Buses come down here all the time, but go right by us. We cannot fit 50 people in the building. We also can’t do any programs here. I can’t over-publicize events, because if we get more than a dozen people, we’re maxed out,” DiPhilippo said. “We have to have a lot of lectures at the community center instead and there’s a huge disconnect there because people don’t get to see our museum.”
She said the board went to the City Council and received unanimous support for expansion, but a federal deed restriction keeps the process from moving forward. She said there is no sense of when the restriction may be lifted, but when that day comes, the society will be ready.
“I’m hopeful to getting this resolved. We have people ready to start the fundraising, but we can’t go out and raise money for land we haven’t been granted,” she said. “We always hope to be a resource for the community, to keep a big helpful team of volunteers and be open and free to the public. We’re here to educate, and we’re here to learn from our community, too.”
The South Portland Historical Society will open its new exhibit, “Riding the Rails: A History of Trains and Trolleys,” on April 27. The organization also hopes to obtain additional land suitable for a larger building.