A new exhibit at the Fifth Maine Museum on Peaks Island celebrates the 1970s, which was a crucial period of growth and change on the island. Contributed

PORTLAND — The 1970s were watershed years for Peaks Island, when an influx of new families joined longtime residents to revitalize the community.

It was during that decade that many of the most vital community-based organizations still operating today were created, from a branch library to a health center and a vibrant arts organization.

Island life in the 1970s is now being celebrated with an exhibit at the Fifth Maine Museum on Seashore Avenue.

The new exhibit, entitled “Peaks Island in the 1970s: Building a Community,” features previously unseen pieces from the museum’s collection, as well as photographs and objects borrowed from community members who lived on the island during this seminal period.

Curator Holly Hurd-Forsyth said the exhibit goes beyond nostalgia.

“The 1970s was a time of action on Peaks Island,” she said.

Susan Hanley, a museum spokeswoman, said this week that Hurd-Forsyth first came up with the idea for the exhibit after coming across a photo of a local bike race.

“She loved the image and it made her wonder what the island was like when the photo was taken. That led her to the idea of putting together an exhibit about that time period,” Hanley said.

Peaks Island residents revisited fashions from the 1970s during a recent costume contest at the Fifth Maine Museum. From left are Shawn Agren, Michelle Santiego, Jeremy Sherman, the contest winner, and Lauren Webster. Contributed

“In the 1940s and ’50s,” she said, “some Portland residents referred to Peaks Island as Welfare Island, and considered the island a dead-end, dismal place to live. But in the 1970s, new businesses and organizations sprung up and injected new growth and opportunity into the community. Not long after, the island became a highly desirable place to live.”

Hanley said some of the exhibit’s highlights include independent publications from the era that documented some of the issues facing the island, including numerous strikes and other disruptions of the Casco Bay Lines ferry service.

Among the key island organizations featured are the Fifth Maine Museum itself, which is an important cultural and tourist destination, along with the Peaks Island Children’s Workshop, which began as a babysitting cooperative, and the Casco Bay Art Association.

Hanley said so far, island residents have “really enjoyed the exhibit.” One section functions almost like a community scrapbook, with a wide variety of photos from the time period being showcased. “Islanders have enjoyed finding themselves or their loved ones in these images,” she said.

Another section of the exhibit, Hanley said, features island shops and businesses, “sparking stories and memories about those places.”

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Fifth Maine Museum will host a panel discussion Sept. 25 that will feature longtime residents who will answer questions about life on Peaks Island a half-century ago.

The official exhibit poster features a bicycle race. Contributed

Hanley said organizers hope visitors to the exhibit will be “impressed by the spirit of the islanders, who worked together to build the community that they wanted to live in.”

“The way that the people on Peaks Island affected positive change in their community should inspire anyone who is hoping to do the same thing today,” she said.

Hanley said everyone who’s seen the exhibit “comments on how much they enjoy the 1970s aesthetic.”

“A trip to Peaks Island isn’t complete without a visit to the Fifth Maine Museum,” she added.

“The main hall is stunningly beautiful, (featuring) one of the most incredible views on the island, and there is so much interesting stuff to learn about Peaks Island and the Civil War soldiers who built the building.”

 

 

 


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