Richard D’Abate, who helped transform the Maine Historical Society from an artifact-based organization to one where constituents enjoy unfettered digital access to Maine’s history, announced his retirement on Monday.

D’Abate, 65, will step down from his post in May 2012, enabling the organization ample time to find a successor.

“I will have been at it for 16 years by the time we get to the spring. We’ve accomplished a lot,” D’Abate said in a phone interview.

“We have a new phase that is going to take another five to 10 years to bring to fruition, and I didn’t think I had it left in me to do that. I thought we had reached a series of accomplishments, and it’s time for other people to take over and do the rest.”

As executive director, D’Abate led the Historical Society through a growth period. Under his leadership, the organization completed three capital campaigns, including the restoration of the Longfellow House and expansion of the Brown Research Library. During his term, the operating budget tripled and the endowment doubled.

The next phase of the organization’s master plan is the creation of a new museum. D’Abate has been involved in the early planning stages of that task, and wants to hand off the bulk of the work to his successor.

Programmatically, D’Abate’s biggest accomplishment involved the creation of the Maine Memory Network, a collaborative, online museum that is recognized as a national model. The Maine Memory Network has exposed people in all corners of the state to Maine history by making it participatory and accessible.

Earle G. Shettleworth Jr., director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, credited D’Abate with transforming the Maine Historical Society into a professional curatorial organization with statewide impact.

D’Abate plans to remain in the Portland area and “concentrate on a bunch of long-deferred creative and scholarly projects.”

A national search for a successor will be launched soon, said Katherine Pope, president of the society’s board of trustees.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be reached at 791-6457 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes