We love exploring America’s back roads and small towns and finding overlooked gems that the tourist brochures never cover. In a series of weekly blog posts we will be sharing some of America’s lesser-known small town museums, historic sites, and oddball attractions, on a state-by-state basis. We don’t have room to cover each and every attraction in every state, but hope to give you some ideas for places to see in your travels.
Alna: The Alna Center School House Museum, circa 1795, is the second oldest one-room schoolhouse in Maine.
Augusta: Built in 1754, Old Fort Western is America’s oldest surviving wooden fort. The fort has been a British outpost, a trading post, and is now a museum of frontier life in New England.
Bangor: The Cole Land Transportation Museum includes an impressive display of snow removal equipment, ten fire trucks ranging from a 1910 hand tub to a 1948 Ahrens Fox, antique farm equipment, vintage motorcycles, railroad cars, a 1925 camper trailer, antique trucks and World War II era military vehicles.
Bar Harbor: At the Mount Desert Oceanarium’s Bar Harbor facility, visitors can tour the Maine Lobster Museum, take a marsh tour, and explore a lobster hatchery.
Bar Harbor: Maine’s Native American people are celebrated at the Abbe Museum, which displays over 50,000 objects representing 10,000 years of Native American culture and history in Maine.
Bath: The Maine Maritime Museum chronicles the state’s rich nautical heritage at a restored shipyard where wooden schooners were built between 1894 and 1920.
Boothbay: Boothbay Railway Village is a re-created old time village containing historical exhibits, including the circa 1870 Thorndike and circa 1911 Freeport railroad stations.
Brunswick: The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum displays artifacts and equipment from the Arctic explorations of Robert E. Peary and Donald B. MacMillan.
Edgecomb: Fort Edgecomb State Historic Site preserves old Fort Edgecomb, built in 1808 and attacked by the British during the War of 1812.
Ellsworth: Birdsacre, the Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary, includes the home of ornithologist and author Cordelia Stanwood, with displays of period furniture and a large collection of mounted birds.
Fort Kent: Maine’s first historic site, Fort Kent State Historic Site, preserves the old fort built in 1840 to protect Maine’s boundaries during the “Bloodless Aroostook War” with England.
Freeport: No trip to Freeport is complete without a stop at the famous L.L. Bean flagship store, which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, offering all sorts of things you never knew you needed.
Kennebunk: The Seashore Trolley Museum displays exhibits on early day transportation and offers streetcar rides.
Kingfield: The Stanley Museum houses the inventions of the Stanley twins, who counted the airbrush and Stanley Steamer steam powered car among their many inventions. The museum’s displays include examples of Stanley steam cars from 1905, 1910, and 1916.
Kittery: Fort McClary, built in 1720, was used periodically as a military post through 1942. Today visitors can explore the old fort and get a feel for life in a frontier outpost.
Kittery: The Kittery Historical and Naval Museum tells the history of the Kittery area and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Newfield: Willowbrook is a living history 19th century country village museum of more than 35 historic buildings and thousands of artifacts.
Owls Head: The Owls Head Transportation Museum houses one of the nation’s most outstanding collections of antique planes, automobiles, wagons, motorcycles and bicycles, all in working condition.
Phippsburg: Built in 1861, Fort Popham is a semicircular granite fort that saw service from the Civil War through World War I.
Portland: The Museum of African Art & Culture displays over 1,500 pieces of African tribal art, including elaborately carved wooden masks dating back to 1600, figurines, textiles, 1,000 year old bronze items, ivory flutes, and clay vessels up to 2,000 years old.
Portland: Built in 1807, the 86-foot tall Portland Observatory tower on Munjoy Hill is America’s last remaining maritime signal tower. A telescope at the top allowed monitors to see thirty miles out to sea and identify inbound ships. Signal flags were used to alert ship owners that their ship was coming in. Today the tower is open for tours, and offers visitors a dramatic view of the harbor.
Portland: The Portland Fire Museum honors the long history of fire fighting in Portland with displays that include an 1848 Crockett hand tub & reel, an 1857 Jeffords hand pumper, an 1867 Button hand pumper, a 1938 McCann pumper Engine 12, equipment from the 1909 Portland fire alarm office, badges, slide poles, photos, and other fire department artifacts.
Portland: As a child, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lived in the first brick house built in Portland. Today the home, at 485 Congress Street, is a museum with family furnishings and mementos.
Portland: Maine’s greatest athletes are honored at the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in Portland.
Portland: The Portland Harbor Museum is located on the grounds of historic Fort Preble, overlooking Casco Bay. Exhibits on 19th century wooden shipbuilding includes sections of the Portland built clipper ship Snow Squall. Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse is next door to the gallery.
Prospect Center: Fort Knox, built over a 25 year period between 1844 and 1869, was Maine’s largest fort and the first one built of granite. Visitors can tour the old fort and explore its many rooms.
Rockland: The Maine Lighthouse Museum is the home of the largest collection of lighthouse lenses, and displays one of the best collections of lighthouse artifacts and Coast Guard memorabilia in the United States.
Seal Cove: The Seal Cove Auto Museum displays over 130 antique cars and motorcycles.
Searsport: Housed in eight historic buildings, the Penobscot Marine Museum exhibits marine paintings, photographs, art, and artifacts relating to Maine’s nautical heritage.
South Portland: Fort Preble was built in 1808 and has been a military fort, a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, and a Navy training base. Today visitors can tour the old fort, located in Portland Harbor.
Thorndike: Bryant’s Stove Museum is the largest antique stove showroom east of the Mississippi River, with hundreds of gorgeous, meticulously restored antique wood burning stoves from the 1750s to the 1850s.
Waterville: The Redington Museum & Apothecary, circa 1814, is a 19th century apothecary and displays Civil War items, Indian relics, china, and silverware.
Wells: The Wells Auto Museum displays a large collection of antique cars, from Stanley Steamers to Stutz Bearcats, along with antique motorcycles and other memorabilia.
Yarmouth: You can see Eartha, the world’s largest rotating globe, at mapmaker DeLorme’s headquarters in Yarmouth.
York: Old York is a living history museum that includes the 1754 Jefferd’s Tavern; the Old Goal (jail) that housed prisoners from 1719-1860; the 1742 Emerson-Wilcox house; John Hancock Wharf and Warehouse; the 1867 George Marshall Store; an 18th century schoolhouse; the elegant 18th century Elizabeth Perkins house, and an 1850s farm worker’s house.
Congratulations Debra Larson, winner of our drawing for an audiobook of Chesapeake 1880 by my friend Ken Rossignol. We had 98 entries this time around. Stay tuned, a new contest starts soon!
Thought For The Day – Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, damn you’re good.