SOUTH PORTLAND – The South Portland Historical Society plans to throw a grand opening party for its museum Sunday in conjunction with its Fourth of July celebration.

The festivities will begin at 11:30 a.m. at the society’s new location, Bug Light Park. Benjamin Franklin, played by the local history buff John Kierstead, will read the Declaration of Independence. A barbecue, crafts and games will follow.

An open house of the society’s new quarters, with its views of Bug Light and the Portland Observatory across the harbor, will be part of the event. Cushing’s Point House provides a permanent home for the society, with enough space for offices, a gift shop, exhibits and the entire collection.

“It’s beautiful. What a site!” said Pat Fucciani, a volunteer with the historical society.

The society most recently was housed in City Hall’s windowless basement, with a dehumidifier running constantly and items stored off the floor in case of flooding.

Cushing’s Point House was built as a home around 1900. It served as shipyard offices during World War II, and later as space for a law office and an apartment. Portland Pipe Line Corp. became the owner when it bought property in the area.

The building was moved about 600 feet down Madison Street last year. That option turned out to be far cheaper than the society’s initial plan of buying the building and keeping it on its original site.

It was easier to comply with current building codes at the new site. There is more space for parking. And there was no need to spend a lot of money on a handicapped-accessible elevator because, on the new site, the building is closer to the ground.

The city provided the land — previously an unused patch of dirt, weeds and asphalt — and Portland Pipe Line donated the building. The project ended up costing about $250,000, with donated labor and materials, said Kathryn DiPhilippo, the society’s director.

The building was moved on Valentine’s Day of 2009. The historical society did a “soft opening” last Fourth of July, as work continued on the building.

Two important pieces of South Portland history — shipbuilding and lighthouses — are the permanent themes of the largest exhibit area.

Visitors can see historic photographs and items like employees’ badges and a 1944 christening bottle for the Liberty Ship SS Thomas H. Sumner.

The current theme of the local history room is how automobiles changed neighborhoods. Cash Corner is now featured as the example; Knightville will be featured next year.

Another space displays Civil War artifacts that show South Portland’s role as the site of one of three military training camps in Maine at the time. New soldiers mustered in Ligonia, not far from what’s now the Sprague Energy tank farm.

In one nook of the museum, visitors are greeted by faces, including those from South Portland High School’s class of 1932. The students look serious, the boys dressed in three-piece suits and boutonnieres and the girls in white dresses holding fluffy bouquets.

A desk and a chair from the Willard School hold a brass bell that the principal would use to signal the end of recess when the electrical bell froze.

“We have a very interesting history here and we want to share it,” DiPhilippo said.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]