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Maine's Salty Past Lives on in its Many Museums

Many of Maine’s summer visitors are heading to the shore this month, to gaze at boats and docks and, of course, lobstermen heading out to sea. At the same time, Maine’s maritime museums are hosting a variety of marine-related exhibits designed to lure visitors and residents alike to their doors. From the sophisticated to the old-fashioned, these museums reflect the centuries-long links between coastal communities and the Gulf of Maine.

Part of "Getting our Bearings."

The Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport kicks off the summer with a new permanent exhibit in its Main Street Gallery. The collection of objects, photographs, and primary source documents explores how Maine’s maritime communities built America’s merchant fleet, constructed pre-Civil War America, engaged in global trade, and served as homeports as well as homesteads. Exhibit visitors will learn how the sea has influenced and continues to influence daily life in the communities on and around Penobscot Bay. “Getting Our Bearings” is sponsored by Hamilton Marine and funded by the Maine Bicentennial Commission and Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust. 

The Sail Power and Steam Museum in Rockland offers visitors a large array of items reflecting global maritime history as well as Rockland’s past. The Museum was created by Camden captain Jim Sharp and his wife, drawing on their wide-ranging collection of significant maritime artifacts. The Museum features a fine collection of vessels, some in the water, and others to be housed in a new 4,000-square-foot boat building, complete with a steeple which will hold a fully functioning Foucault Pendulum, under construction now.

A nautical ropes collection at the Sail Steam and Power Museum

The Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum in Port Clyde includes the lighthouse, the 1880’s keeper’s house, a summer kitchen, late-19th-century barn and the original oil house. Within the keeper’s house is a small but rich collection that focuses on the lighthouse’s history and that of the historic industries of the St. George peninsula such as granite quarrying and shipbuilding. There is also a research room where visitors can study photographs and documents related to the area’s history.

If you are interested in a truly personal collection, then make your way to Jonesport to visit the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum. Jonesport once was home to as many as 15 sardine canneries, from small family-operated businesses to large corporations such as the William Underwood Company. Slowly those canneries and the industry they supported faded, with the last facility in Prospect Harbor closing in 2010.

Herring fishing equipment at the Sardine Museum

To preserve that part of the past, Ronnie and Mary Peabody, a Jonesport couple, started collecting sardine memorabilia. Eventually they raised enough money to construct a small building next to their home to display their collections, opening the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum in 2008. Exhibits include hundreds of photographs, original sardine cans, labels, packaging, crates, and letterheads as well as original fishing, processing, and canning equipment. Among the displays is a mounted collection of cutting scissors belonging to local women who worked in the various canneries, each pair etched with the individual woman’s name.

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