Brunswick’s Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum is across Maine Street from a statue of the famous Civil War general and former Maine governor anchoring the north end of the grass Upper Mall. It seems he’s returned to stand guard over the western edge of his alma mater, Bowdoin College, and greet visitors to the home where he and his family lived for decades.

But many are in for a surprise that doesn’t have anything to do with Chamberlain. The landmark attraction is part of the Pejepscot Historical Society’s trio of museums. About a five-minute walk from the Chamberlain Museum, the others occupy separate sides of a brick Italianate semi-detached duplex on Park Row, a stately street along the Lower Mall (not called the “green”).

Even with such a highly regarded “brother” museum, the 1862 Skolfield-Whittier House stands out, and not simply for the showy Victorian architecture inside and out. Three generations of the accomplished and prosperous family that built the dwelling lived here before the last descendant, Maine’s first female pediatrician, Dr. Alice A.S. Whittier, gifted the home to the society.

Used as a summer residence from the 1920s until 1990, furnishings, decor and personal items were essentially left as they had been. OK, there were upgrades like a 1948 refrigerator, yet old iceboxes remain. Alice’s spices and makeup are still in place. In the dining room, furniture, dishware and art pay homage to her Brunswick relatives—prosperous shipbuilders and ship captains. Her maternal grandfather, Alfred Skolfield, built the duplex with his brother.

“It’s a remarkable home because pretty much everything the family had . . . you name it, it was left,” said Larissa Vigue Picard, society executive director, of the “chockablock Victorian.”

The duplex’s other half houses the society’s offices and local history museum, with changing exhibits. One celebrating the 300th anniversary of Brunswick’s Town Commons, a large wooded acreage, is up until July 5. Running into December, an interactive exhibit, “After Apollo: How Technology Changed in the 1970s and Beyond,” beams light on early gaming consoles and “modern” kitchen gadgets. (This free museum is essentially year-round, while the others are seasonal and have paid admission. See box.)

At the Chamberlain home, restored to look as it did in the general’s day, devoted guides lead tours of eight rooms and an entry hall. Among the highlights: the general’s 1893 U.S. Army Medal of Honor for “distinguished gallantry” at Gettysburg (one of his 24 battles), where he led the famous bayonet charge down Little Roundtop. He is also well-known for ordering a still-controversial salute of defeated soldiers as they passed by during the formal surrender at Appomattox, for which Gen. Ulysses S. Grant chose Chamberlain to receive the Confederate weapons and colors.

In Chamberlain’s library, there are reproduction swords over the mantel and a reproduction flag hanging from the ceiling. Visitors are wowed by the tall black boots the general wore at Gettysburg. New panel displays in the “curvy room,” named by Chamberlain’s children for the wall shape, spotlight his badge collection and later years. In this phase of his life, writing and speaking about the war and supporting veterans was a major focus for this major general.

Chamberlain served four one-year terms as Maine’s governor (1867–1871) and then was president of Bowdoin until 1883. (He taught rhetoric and languages at the school and left its employ to fight.) The general represented his country at the Paris Exposition of 1878 and became “Surveyor of the Port of Portland” in 1900. When he died in 1914 at age 85, it was partly the result of a severe, lingering war wound: the museum has the bullet that pierced his hips at Petersburg.

Outside the general’s home, look up: red Maltese Crosses, the mark of Chamberlain’s 5th Corps, adorn the center chimney. In 1867, Chamberlain and his wife, Fanny, moved their two-story cape here from down the street. A few years later they raised it 11 feet to make way for a roomier first floor. Scan the façade and you can tell.

PEJEPSCOT HISTORICAL SOCIETY MUSEUMS: IF YOU GO

Where: Brunswick: Chamberlain Museum 226 Maine St., Skolfield-Whittier Museum 161 Park Row, Pejepscot Historical Society Museum & Research Center 159 Park Row

Website: pejepscothistorical.org

Phone: 725-6958 (Chamberlain museum), 729-6606 (historical society)

Admission: Chamberlain or Skolfield-Whittier museums: $12 adults; $10 age 65 and up, students and military (active duty and veterans); $6 ages 6–16, younger free; $30 family (2 adults, up to 3 kids). Combination tickets (good for a week for both museums!): $16 adults, $10 children, $55 family. Historical Society Museum: free. Note: Tickets are sold at society headquarters and the Chamberlain Museum; only the latter has a parking lot.

2019 Season and Hours, Chamberlain Museum: 10–4 Tues.–Sat and 1–4 Sun. May 24–Oct. 13 (open 10–4 Memorial Day); same hours but only open Fri.–Sun. Oct. 18–Veterans Day, Mon. Nov. 11 (open 10–4 on the holiday and free for active duty military, veterans and their families). Tours on the hour; last tour at 3 p.m. Note: The gift shop is usually open until 4 p.m. even if the last tour wraps a bit before.

2019 Season and Hours, Skolfield-Whittier: 10–4 Wed.–Sat. May 24–Oct. 12. Tours on the hour; last tour at 3 p.m.

2019 Season and Hours, Historical Society Museum: 10 a.m.–4 (closed over the noon hour) Tues.–Sat. May 24–Oct. 12; same hours Wed.­–Fri. rest of the year except January (closed).

Summer Events: “Maine’s Most Notable Soldier, Scholar, and Statesman” will be celebrated on Chamberlain Day, 8:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Sat. Aug. 10, with events like talks, tea “with” Mrs. Chamberlain and “An Evening of Civil War Songs.” Full day tickets are $45; individual event tickets start at $5; museum guided tours and graveside commemoration are free. Summer Walking Tours on Sundays cover new ground each week, from historic Summer Street in nearby Topsham to a farm tour to Brunswick’s Park Row and Mall to former shipbuilding sites. Tours are at 1:30 (unless otherwise noted) from June 9–Sept. 15 and last 1–1.5 hours. Preregistration required; $10 adults, $5 ages 6–16. Note: Tours are limited to 20 unless otherwise noted; check in 15 minutes before the start.

Mary Ruoff is a freelance writer in Belfast.

 

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