Out & About Weekly

Penobscot Marine Museum: A perfect place to go on a rainy day or a sunny day

By Fran Gonzalez | Jul 04, 2019
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Penobscot Marine Museum is the oldest maritime museum in Maine and consists of eight exhibit buildings on a 3-acre campus. The Visitor Center, shown here, is located at 2 Church St., Searsport.

Have you ever wondered how goods got to market before the age of large cargo ships? Or what a 19th-century ship captain's house looks like and what treasures one might find adorning the walls within? Or even taken a peek inside a classic boat barn?

Curator and Collections Manager Cipperly Good says Penobscot Marine Museum in downtown Searsport is the place to go. Take a walk up Church Street and find yourself transported to an era of sea captains and nautical knots, in a micro-village within the town of Searsport.

According to Education Director Jeana Ganskop, "Most people don't realize how big we are."

The oldest maritime museum in Maine, Penobscot Marine Museum consists of eight exhibit buildings on three acres, complete with a classic New England town hall, the First Congregational Church, private residences, a research library and an art gallery. The village buildings range in date from 1810 to 1845.

Each building is brimming with tools, photographs, trinkets and paintings, and you can feel history come alive at every turn. The museum is even home to author E.B. White’s sailing dinghy, Faint Endeavor.

According to the museum website, the Stephen Phillips Memorial Library serves as the museum’s research center, providing access to books, manuscripts, photographs, nautical charts, maps, and boat plans. The library is open year-round by appointment (548-2529).

Good said, "The church is still active and we give tours a couple times a day. There you will see amazing examples of Tiffany-style stained glass art."

The 1815 Fowler-True-Ross House, or "the sea captain's house," as Good calls it, is chockful of Chinese and Japanese porcelain, paintings, textiles and furniture — souvenirs from the sea captain's travels, brought back from the Orient as gifts to family and friends.

Here's a fun fact: According to the museum plaque outside the sea captain's house, in 1815, Miles Fowler, a farmer and schooner captain, bought the land encompassing almost the entire museum campus and the house for $1,500.

The 1826 Captain Jeremiah Merithew House has articles pertaining to the Penobscot Expedition, a Revolutionary War battle that ended badly for Americans, according to Good. "It's been known as the worst naval disaster before Pearl Harbor," she said.

The paintings at the Merithew House comprise the "Working the Bay" exhibit, which shows natural resources extracted from Maine and sent around the world on Maine-built ships. According to the museum website, "Tall pines became masts for English ships and later, its forest resources became everything from clothespins to schooners, while stone from its quarries helped built New York and Washington, D.C."

The Old Town Hall, of 1845, will display Susan Tobey White's "Lobstering Women of Maine" exhibit for the 2019 season. The exhibit captures lobster women at work from around the coast of Maine. "Gone Fishing" is also on exhibit in the Old Town Hall, illustrating Maine’s fisheries and how they define and influence the state’s history, economy and culture.

Ganskop said there is always something new to discover and that with the summer painting exhibits, "we will be rethinking what we see every day."

The museum will have a variety of summer rotating display exhibits on Main Street with something for everyone to enjoy. "Where in the World" will display paintings of foreign ports from around the world to which sea captains have sailed. The "Weather or Knot?" exhibit will illustrate the Beaufort wind scale with paintings, from a beautiful day to a hurricane. The knot part of the exhibit will show interesting sails, rigging and paintings.

Good said, "Some people might see a quaint ship's portrait; we see a background that's full of visual records, of a time and place many have forgotten. Come dive deep into what these paintings tell us."

PMM offers hands-on discovery opportunities for kids, as well. "Yard in the Yard"  located on the lawn next to a larger-than-life pinhole camera, gives kids a chance to furl the sail on on a large-scale model of a ship’s mast, or walk around the capstan, listening to its rhythmic clanking as they pretend to raise the anchor.

Peapod is a play-and-learning area located in the Savage Education Center in the 1848 Josiah Dutch House. Children can dress up in 19th-century costumes and shop in a general store of the period, play with ship models, tie knots, or snuggle up with a stuffed animal and a book.

The museum is open seven days a week through Oct. 20. PMM’s Visitor Center is located at 2 Church St., Searsport. For information, visit penobscotmarinemuseum.org or call the Visitors Center at 548-0334.

As a Blue Star Museum, PMM offers free admission to active duty military families.

The Old Town Hall, built in 1845, was given to the Penobscot Marine Museum by the town of Searsport to display its initial collection. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The Captain Jeremiah Merithew House, built in 1826, has many marine paintings, scrimshaw, ship models, textiles, toys and Chinese and Japanese porcelain, as well as bronze “Fu” dogs that probably guarded the doors of a Chinese temple or palace. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The Fowler-True-Ross House, known as the sea captain's house, is complete with period furniture, paintings, fixtures and tin ceilings. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The music room in the sea captain's house with victrola and antique piano. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
The Old Vestry building, from 1841, will exhibit "Animal Tales" this upcoming season, with fun pictures from pets to wild animals. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
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