Yarmouth History Center
118 East Elm St., Yarmouth
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Permanent exhibit gallery with sections on Settlement Patterns, Royal River and the Mills, Shipbuilding and the Twentieth Century.
Maine Maritime Museum
243 Washington St., Bath
Open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Changing exhibits, artifacts, interactive areas, historic shipyard on the Kennebec River, and a full-size representation of Wyoming, the largest sailing vessel ever built.
26 Mt. Desert St., Bar Harbor
Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May through October; seasonal hours during winter
Changing exhibits of history and culture of the Wabanaki people.
Portland Museum of Art
7 Congress St., Portland
Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Columbus Day
Permanent collection includes masters such as Homer, Wyeth, Degas, Monet, Picasso. Changing exhibits of American and European art.
Portland Fire Museum
157 Spring St., Portland
Open at 6 p.m. each first Friday for Portland’s First Friday Art Walk
Collection of fire fighting equipment, photos, badges, flags and records maintained and updated by the 111-year-old Portland Veteran Firemen’s Association.
138 Congress St., Portland
Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 24 through October 13
Guided tours of the 1807 structure with spectacular views of the harbor. It is the only known remaining U.S. maritime signal tower.
The Umbrella Cover Museum
62-B Island Ave., Peaks Island
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 5 p.m., summer
Nancy 3. Hoffman’s collection of 730 umbrella covers, including the patterned, the whimsical, the colored and the plain for all umbrella sizes.
United Sports Antique and Vintage Snowmobile Museum
2247 Auburn Road, Turner
Snowmobile enthusiast Paul Bernier’s personal collection of more than 60 snowmobiles includes such rarities as Ski Cat, Sno-Pony, Ski Whiz and the Whip-It, the only snowmobile ever manufactured in Maine.
The Telephone Museum
166 Winkumpaugh Road, Ellsworth
Displays include working equipment to demonstrate the social and technical significance of the telephone from 1876 to present day.
International Cryptozoology Museum
11 Avon St., Portland
Open Wednesday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Souvenirs and one-of-a-kind artifacts collected by director Loren Coleman and others, including items connected to the exploration of “Bigfoot.”
There’s the International Cryptozoology Museum in downtown Portland, with its Bigfoot sculpture and Yeti hair samples. On Peaks Island, the Umbrella Cover Museum displays 730 umbrella covers, the sleeves that umbrellas are packaged in. Mount Desert has the Maine Granite Industry Historical Society. Jonesport has the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum. In Turner, there’s the United Sports Antique and Vintage Snowmobile Museum.
If the people in charge of Maine license plate design ever want to retire “Vacationland,” they might want to replace it with “Museumland.”
They could do it with a clear conscience, armed with the knowledge that Maine has the second-most museums in the country per capita, according to new data from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. The agency released a national museum estimate in May listing more than 35,000 museums nationwide.
Vermont ranks No. 1 with 47.88 museums per 100,000 people and Florida is last with only 6.57. Maine has 41.86 museums per 100,000 people. Larger Northeastern states, such as Massachusetts and New York, aren’t as museum-rich as Maine, with 16.33 and 12.33 museums per 100,000 residents, respectively.
Maine seems to be something of a museum mecca for two reasons. First, it’s hard to find even the tiniest Maine hamlet that doesn’t have its own historical society or historic markers dotting the landscape. Second, the state attracts creative types (read “slightly crazy”) who are so passionate about a particular thing that they decide to start their own museum dedicated to it. That’s why Maine has museums focused on umbrella covers, snowmobiles and Bigfoot-type creatures.
Of the 556 Maine entities on the institute’s list, 373 of them are classified as historical societies, historic preservation groups or history museums. That’s 67 percent, and the figure is likely higher because some historical museums are listed under other categories or aren’t listed at all. Nationally, about 55 percent of museums on the institute’s list come under the history heading.
“There are so many of these groups dedicated to preserving our heritage, and often they are volunteers, doing the work from their homes,” said Erin Bishop, director of Maine Archives and Museums, a professional association for museums and other collecting institutions in the state.
Then there are the personal museums.
About 25 percent of all the museums in Maine, according to the federal institute, are “uncategorized” or “general.” So they are not specifically focused on art, science, history, kids or the usual things museums focus on. These are quirky places dedicated to unusual passions or hobbies.
Take snowmobile enthusiast Paul Bernier’s personal collection of more than 60 snowmobiles, which he puts on public view for free at the United Sports Antique and Vintage Snowmobile Museum in Turner.
“It’s just been a love, something I’ve always dreamed of,” said Bernier, 58, who began collecting snowmobiles in large numbers when he owned an Arctic Cat dealership. “I bought my first Arctic Cat in high school, and I’ve been buying ever since. I probably have about 150 (snowmobiles) but I only put 60 or 70 of the best and rarest in the museum.”
WHY COUNT MUSEUMS?
The Institute of Museum and Library Services, which is the primary source for federal funding for museums and libraries, says the list released in May is an estimate of all museums in the country and was compiled as part of the group’s mission to help improve museum services and raise awareness of museums.
The last time the agency compiled an estimate of museums was in the 1990s. The total was 17,500, compared to more than 35,000 on the list today, according to the agency.
The list was compiled using a variety of sources, including tax records. A quick check of the Maine list shows several museums that don’t seem to exist, with no physical address or Internet presence. Some museums are listed twice. The Telephone Museum in Ellsworth, for instance, is listed under that name and the organizational name, The New England Museum of Telephony.
Giuliana Bullard, a spokeswoman for the institute, said staff members are “continuing” to improve the accuracy of the listings. An updated list will be issued in December, with biannual updates to follow.
Not everything on the list is what people normally think of as a museum. Zoos, aquariums, planetariums and nature centers are also included, though in Maine they make up a small portion of the total museum number. And not all have a physical place of business, even though they do the work of a museum. Many local historical groups don’t have a public space, for instance.
Bishop, of Maine Archives and Museums, said compiling a list of the state’s history keepers and cultural preservationists can be vitally important. In Maine, where so many historical societies and small museums are run by just a few individuals, there is always the danger of papers, artifacts or entire collections being lost when new people take over. Or when no one takes over.
That’s why Maine Archives and Museums is compiling its own list, which Bishop said will include “all collecting institutions” in Maine, including archives. That number will likely be over 1,000, she said. Even when using the same criteria for museums as the federal institute does, Bishop said she has identified approximately 668 museums, historical societies and historic sites in the state.
Another reason why it’s good to know where your state ranks in terms of museums is the potential for bragging rights. It’s one more way to promote your state.
“There’s such marketing potential in this, being able to say your state ranks so highly (in museums per capita),” said Nathan Doerr, president of the Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums. Wyoming was third on the federal institute’s list, with 32.44 museums per 100,000 people. “In Wyoming tourism is a big industry.”
As it is in Maine.
‘A PERSONAL CABINET OF CURIOSITY’
Just ask Loren Coleman, founder and chief collector at the International Cryptozoology Museum in downtown Portland. The museum, featuring 10,000 artifacts helping to illustrate the study of unknown animals, draws visitors and attention from all over the world. This year the museum was No. 7 on Time magazine’s “10 Weird Museums of the World” list.
“We had a couple from Madrid, Spain, on their honeymoon,” said Coleman, 67, who has been involved in cryptozoology since he was a teenager. “I think these kind of museums give tourism a boost. They come out of a personal cabinet of curiosity, starting out as someone’s personal collection. Then they become too big for the barn or shed and become formalized as a museum.”
In Coleman’s case, his “personal cabinet of curiosity” includes things connected to the exploration of Bigfoot and other hard-to-explain creatures, in the hopes of discovering new species of animals. His museum includes casts of footprints from various searches, as well as a dart gun used to try to stun a Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest.
For Nancy 3. Hoffman of Peaks Island, the curiosity began when she realized she had a few stray umbrella covers lying around. Umbrella covers are the sleeves that come on new umbrellas, and they usually get discarded. Who among us has put an umbrella back in its sleeve?
What Hoffman decided to do was collect them and display them in her museum. She has more than 730 covers in her collection. She hopes they remind people about the power of finding “wonder and beauty in the simplest of things.”
The quirky, personal museums in Maine aren’t all that different from the historical ones. Both strive to preserve ideas or pieces of culture, both are often powered by passionate people, and both help to define the state’s character.
In Yarmouth, a small-town historical society founded more than 50 years ago has grown to where its collection is housed in the nearly 2-year-old Yarmouth History Center.
The center houses exhibits that help people uncover little-known chapters in town history, like the years it had a massive pulp-for-paper mill.
“We’ve had a lot of community support to make all this happen,” said Amy Aldredge, interim director of the Yarmouth Historical Society. “People in Maine are very proud of their history.”
And now they can be proud of their state’s abundance of museums, too.