The Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk stays open year-round and holds a few holiday-related events. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

In Maine, local history museums are often seasonal, perhaps reopening for Christmas events. Not Kennebunk’s Brick Store Museum. Yes, it’s gifting the community with holiday activities. But this cultural institution, which occupies several buildings at the north end of downtown, is open year-round.

Recently refurbished, with a new entrance along Main Street’s brick sidewalk, the museum has several galleries. Most are used for art shows and changing exhibits. Tapping the 70,000-some artifacts and archival materials stored on-site, the focus is on local history, art and culture, though Brick Store increasingly explores national events and cultural trends through a local lens.

Dress and kimono in florals display in the “Patterns” exhibit up through January. Photo courtesy of Brick Store Museum

Running through January and filling two galleries, “Patterns” is a fun, often whimsical exhibit that spotlights polka dots, paisley, stripes, houndstooth and so on. Wordsmiths will delight in learning that “gingham” evolved from “genggang,” a Malay term; “tartan” and “plaid” are often used synonymously but have their differences; and the Persian word “boteh” was supplanted by “paisley,” the Scottish town where shawls with the motif were made in the 1800s.

Along with a 19th-century shawl, wedding dress and dressing gown, the paisley grouping sports brightly colored bandannas one could buy at Wal-Mart. Other samples from “Patterns” include retro-cool ’60s children’s bathing suits (one screams candy cane, the other has horizontal green and white bands); a maroon silk, velvet and chiffon men’s bathrobe with wide herringbone and solid stripes; and photos of wallpapered local homes in the Victorian era.

A small exhibit that is up at least until year’s end celebrates Kennebunk American Legion Post #74’s centennial. Veterans Day poppy sale posters with original drawings from the 1950s adorn the walls, and there are touching displays about the first man from town killed in each World War.

Next year, Brick Store joins museums around the state on Maine’s bicentennial trail. Displays here (to be installed January through May) will have an added twist, as 2020 is also Kennebunk’s bicentennial. Art depicting local scenes will be part of the mix. Another exhibit will explore how residents were affected by the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, which sparked the gay rights movement.


Brick Store’s upstairs gallery has permanent exhibits on Kennebunk history. A circa 1900 Wabanaki birch bark canoe made in the town anchors the entry room where visitors learn about the Wabanaki and early colonial settlers, who lived together relatively peacefully until the 18th-century Indian wars. Don’t miss the glass case with wampum: shell beads patterned to relate Native American oral history.

Like other coastal Maine communities, the Kennebunk area was a prosperous center of shipbuilding and commerce in the 19th century. From the late 1840s to 1867, a Kennebunk River lock system kept upriver shipyards in the game as oceangoing vessels got bigger. As a large illustration helps explain, locks were activated on the full moon tide and pooled water so newly constructed ships could “ride the ‘wave’ ” to Kennebunkport.

Write-ups on the walls bring antiquities – 18thcentury portraits, a circa 1800 sideboard, a 1915 Leatheroid trunk manufactured in town – to life. For example, Eliza Bourne, whose portrait is beside that of her husband, John, built a bustling coverlet-making business with her daughters after the embargo of 1807 and War of 1812 hit his shipyard hard.

Ship owner William Lord built the museum’s 1820s namesake structure for his dry goods store. His great-granddaughter, Edith Cleaves Barry, opened the museum in 1936. Along with its linked Main Street buildings, Brick Store has one out back with a gallery that hosts shows by local artists from May through December. Textile and photography exhibits close out 2019’s lineup.

If you visit in winter, don’t be shy about hitting Brick Store’s backyard, which has a Victory Garden and a seasonal storybook display. This winter’s read is “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats.

Mary Ruoff is a freelance writer in Belfast and a contributor to Fodor’s “Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire” travel guide.

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