Lifestyle Taking time for history

Taking time for history

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In the recreational Saco River area, stately Bridgton, aristocratic Kennebunkport and in dozens of other southern Maine communities, historical societies are hosting their signature summer events.

Some are special exhibits, some are fundraisers, some are membership drives, and all are designed to showcase history and appeal to a range of ages – especially baby boomers.

At the Kennebunkport Historical Society, baby boomers make it happen.

“That’s pretty much all I see,” said Kirsten Camp, executive administrator. “Most of my volunteers are baby boomers and about 70 percent of the people I see are baby boomers. Most of our board members are between 50 and 60.”

Camp said that the historical society gains members as people enter their retirement years, and loses them when they approach 80. That, of course, equals boomers.

“That is my market, the baby boomers,” she said.

Camp was planning some of those summer events when she received a surprise telephone call on July 7. A representative of the George H.W. Bush family was calling, from the family estate on Walker’s Point. Two days later, Camp returned to the historical society with an extra-special collection for summertime viewing.

“I just returned from Walker’s Point,” an excited Camp said. “They just gave me George Bush’s birthday presents, and the jump suit he used on June 12, for display this summer.”

The jump suit Camp referred to is the one President Bush wore when he skydived on his 90th birthday.

“It’s very significant,” Camp said. “When the family leaves Kennebunkport at the end of the summer, all this will go with them, to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, at College Station (Texas).”

In addition to the jump suit, the First Families Museum at the Kennebunkport Historical Society will have Bush’s birthday presents on display. They include a painting commissioned by Russian President Vladimir Putin and painted by a Russian artist, depicting Bush when he served in the Navy. There is an urn from the King of Morocco, a book of presidents given by President Clinton, a baseball signed by the late great Boston Red Sox star Ted Williams, a life chest and a flag that once hung over the Capitol.

The historical society will offer the Bush birthday collection for public viewing from Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

“It’s an incredible collection,” Camp said. “I actually got to sit down with George Bush (Tuesday). It’s been a real whirlwind.”

For $10 (children under 12 are free), the public can view an 1853 Greek Revival home, the Nott Home, and view exhibitions covering two centuries of Kennebunkport history, from sea captains to presidents. This home’s architecture reflects the lives of Charles and Celia Perkins, whose fortunes were connected to the thriving shipbuilding era of Kennebunkport, making the town one of the wealthiest in New England. Original furnishings and French wallpaper reflect the luxurious living of the family.

Guided tours present stories and artifacts from sea captains and shipbuilders to rusticators to President Bush, first lady Barbara Bush and their family.

“When President Bush was in office, baby boomers were in their 30s and 40s,” Camp said. “He was their president.”

Among its other summer offerings, the Kennebunkport Historical Society will feature a Family Fun Day on July 26, at its 125 North St. location. The membership drive will be free of charge, and include demonstrations, children’s games, antique cars and a blacksmith shop.

A few miles north, the Saco Museum, at 371 Main St. in Saco, features “At Home in the Victorian Era,” until Nov. 9.

Tara Raiselis, museum director, said that the Victorian-era display is taken from its extensive archives.

“A good bit of that archives is taken from the period of 1840-1910, which just happens to be the Victorian era,” Raiselis said.

The rooms in the exhibit provide a sense of middle-class life in the 19th century, Raiselis said.

“It was the beginning of the consumer culture,” she said. “There were catalogs and ladies’ magazines. What we’re really trying to show more of is the middle strata. It’s most of what people could relate to.”

Raiselis said that she, executive director Leslie Rounds and education and program manager Zoe Thomas began planning the Victorian exhibit late last summer. They spent two weeks moving heavy beds, furniture, paintings and other artifacts to the main floor of the museum.

“We hope there’s a sense of connection for people,” Raiselis said. “Fads change, but despite the time we spend on electronic devices, we’re really not that much different. It’s the whole notion of keeping up with the Joneses.”

The Saco Museum has existed since 1866, but has been at its third location since 1927. Noted architect John Calvin Stevens built the Colonial Revival home.

“We are a regional history and cultural museum in the Saco River area,” Raiselis said. Most of the Saco Museum displays, entitled “Making History in the Saco River Valley,” are on the main floor. There is a small natural history exhibit in the basement, and on the second floor there is an exhibit featuring girls who worked in 19th-century mills.

Drive through Bridgton, and you’ll see great examples of unspoiled Colonial homes. The Bridgton Historical Society’s Gibbs Avenue Museum and Blynn Davis Memorial Archive, located at 3 Gibbs Ave., offer a brochure on those homes, entitled “The Shining Jewels.”

“We do have some really lovely homes,” said Margaret Reimer, president of the Bridgton Historical Society Board of Trustees. “The civic buildings, the beautiful churches and even the hospital. Bridgton escaped urban renewal.”

The Bridgton Historical Society’s main event might take place at a stately home, but it will be frolicking in nature. On Aug. 2, it offers its fourth annual Bluegrass Festival, at Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch farm built in 1979 by William Peabody, son of one of the town’s first settlers.

From 3-7 p.m., people can enjoy featured band Jerks of Grass, as well as Mountain Emergency and Back Porch Bluegrass. Tickets are $15, and children under 12 are free.

The historical society also will offer tours of Narramissic and, of course, concessions.

“We have a wonderful intern who is happy to take people on a tour of the house,” Reimer said.

Larry Grard is a staff writer at Current Publishing.


A CLOSER LOOK

For more information on the Kennebunkport Historical Society, see www.kporthistory.org. For information in the Saco Museum, see www.sacomuseum.org. For information on the Bridgton Historical Society, see www.bridgtonhistory.org. For a full list of historical societies in Maine, see www.maine.gov/portal/facts_history/historicalsoc.html.


Kirsten Camp, business manager of the Kennebunkport Historical Society, shows the jumpsuit former President George H.W. Bush wore on his June 8 parachute jump, which was part of his 90th birthday celebration. Bush jumped in tandem with Mike Elliott, a retired member of the Army’s Golden Knights. A number of gifts made to former President George H.W. Bush are on display at the First Families Museum, which is located in Kennebunkport. Items include personal letters and autographed copies on books along with other mementos. The Bridgton Historical Society will host a bluegrass festival on Aug. 2, at Narramissic, the historic farm in South Bridgton. Zoe Thomas, left, education and program manager of the Saco Museum, and Tara Raiselis, museum director, stand in the museum’s Victorian dining room vignette. The dining room is part of “At Home in the Victorian Era,” which the museum will feature until Nov. 9. 

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