SOUTH PORTLAND — In the last five years, members of the South Portland Historical Society and others have spent countless hours scanning and cataloging over 17,000 photographs, documents and other items in the organization’s archives.

But as the digitized collection grew, the only people who could see it were society members and perhaps visitors who came looking for something in particular at the group’s headquarters in the Cushing’s Point Museum near Bug Light Park.

Now, 6,500 of those items can be viewed online through the society’s webpage on the city’s website, and all 17,000 are expected to be posted for public perusal by the end of 2017, said Executive Director Kathy DiPhilippo.

“It’s giving the public unprecedented access to our archives,” DiPhilippo said. “It’s a huge achievement for any historical society.”

Debuted this month, the searchable “online museum” contains history that’s connected to people far beyond South Portland, which was part of Cape Elizabeth before becoming its own town in 1895, and was part of Portland, then known as Falmouth, before 1765.

On top of that, many Mainers and others have connections to South Portland because their grandfathers or grandmothers worked in the shipyards here during World War II or on the railroad at Rigby Yard.

The online project was made possible with support from the city and Kaplan University, which donated $1,000 to the effort.

The project started back in 2011, when the society purchased museum software with a grant from the Maine State Archives and began creating a searchable computer catalog of the organization’s vast collections.

The number of pieces in the society’s archives is unknown, DiPhilippo said, but volunteers such as Diane Rollins, Sharon Allen, and Bob Doan have spent countless hours on the project and continue to catalog items.

Several interns from the University of Southern Maine also worked on the project, along with part-time catalogers funded by the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust.

Started in 1952, the society has 500 dues-paying members, including individuals and businesses, and 60 volunteers, who also help to staff the museum, gift shop and various fundraising efforts.

Other Maine groups that have created online archives using PastPerfect museum software include the Maine Historical Society, Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine, Old Canada Road Historical Society, Owls Head Transportation Museum, Penobscot Marine Museum and the historical societies of Lovell and Mount Desert Island.

Many of the first images available through the South Portland Online Museum are photos of houses around the city.

“We felt that members of the public might initially want to search to see if a photo of their own home were available,” DiPhilippo said. “Even if someone’s own home is not there, they might be able to see how other homes along their street used to look.”

Other items available include photos and documents related to businesses, churches, schools, civic organizations and neighborhoods. There are aerial shots of the shipyards and Mill Creek Park, and programs from many grand openings and other events through the decades.

There are photos of the former A.J. Cash grocery store at what is today Cash Corner and a menu from the former Howard Johnson’s Restaurant on outer Main Street.

And there’s a mottled photo of a baseball team, made up of employees of the John P. Lovell Arms Co., a sporting goods company that made both hunting rifles and the famed Lovell Diamond bicycles at a factory in Ferry Village in the 1890s.

Every image is watermarked to protect the society’s copyrights, so unmarked copies and permission to publish must be requested, DiPhilippo said. A schedule of costs and rules for sharing is being developed.

To visit the online museum, go to www.sphistory.org and click on the tab for South Portland Online Museum, then click on the link for the database. Using the keyword search tab, enter any word or group of words to search for content.

 


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