NEWFIELD — Michael Carey has sold roller rinks and oceanfront campgrounds, but listing an entire 19th century village is an entirely new experience.

“I’ve never seen anything like this come on the market before,” said Carey, a broker for Tap Realty Solutions and Tranzon.

The pastoral village, on the market for $895,000, has long been known locally as Willowbrook, a former living history museum nestled in the western York County foothills that showcased life in Maine around the turn of the 20th century. After years of declining attendance, the museum’s collection of artifacts and some small buildings are moving to Orrington while larger buildings and the grounds are up for sale.

The historic property and the 19th century buildings survived the massive 1947 fire that destroyed much of Newfield. Carey said people from as far away as Florida and Texas have inquired about buying the property and using it for residential or commercial purposes.

Often, that interest comes with a touch of nostalgia.

“Many people tell me it was part of their family history for decades,” Carey said.

The village on Elm Street in Newfield includes a mill pond, the 1813 Durgin homestead with a barn that housed a country store and dance hall, the 1856 Trafton homestead with an attached ice cream parlor, and the Newfield Post Office building. For 50 years, many of the buildings housed museum displays and interactive exhibits that showed what life was like in 19th century rural Maine.

Some smaller buildings that dot the property – a letterpress shop, schoolhouse and blacksmith shop – will soon be moved 189 miles to Orrington, where they will become part of the Curran Homestead Village at Fields Pond. The whimsical 1895 Armitage Herschell carousel, a favorite of visitors to the village, will also be moved and sit at the center of the expanded museum in Orrington, near Brewer.

After Willowbrook closed in 2016, the bulk of the collection, including some of the smaller structures and the carousel, were gifted to Curran Homestead Village, which took over operations in Newfield, with the intention that the collections would be combined.

The 19th Century Curran Village in Newfield, formerly known as Willowbook Museum Village, is up for sale for $895,000. Much of the collection is being moved to a new location in Orrington. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Continuing the nearly 50-year tradition, the Curran Village Homestead at Newfield for the past three years hosted a variety of events, including ice harvests on the pond, maple sugaring, a summer history camp and blacksmithing classes. Most of the visitors were children who visited on field trips from schools in southern Maine and New Hampshire.

In April, Curran’s board announced the Willowbrook collection would be moved to Orrington and the Newfield property put on the market. The last event, an ice harvest, was held in Newfield in February.

The rural setting of the village, one of its most attractive features, is also one of the factors that makes drawing new visitors tough. Newfield sits on the New Hampshire border in western York County, an hourlong drive from Portland.

“Here we’re off the beaten path and it was hard to attract people,” said Robert Schmick, the executive director of Curran Homestead Village.

Schmick said that while some people may see the move as sad, it does give the museum the opportunity to preserve the collection in Maine, share it with more people and honor the Willowbrook legacy.

The Willowbrook museum was created by Don King, who grew up in Connecticut and made his fortune running a company that made industrial greases and lubricants. He came to Maine to hunt and became enamored with Newfield, where he bought the Durgin house and barns in the mid-1960s to use as a hunting lodge.

Robert Schmick, the museum director of the 19th century Curran Village in Newfield, pauses in the letterpress print shop at the museum on Wednesday. Schmick is in the process of packing up items from the museum’s collection to bring to a location in Orrington. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

King amassed a collection of old tools, gadgets, antique cars and buildings at Willowbrook, which he opened to the public in 1970. The private Victorian-themed museum attracted thousands of visitors each year – the peak was 18,000 in the mid-1970s – but by the next decade was struggling to generate revenue.

King and his wife left an endowment that was used to offset revenue shortfalls, but the recession of 2008 and the stock market plunge severely depleted the endowment. After 46 years in operation, the board decided in 2016 to close Willowbrook and gift the collection to other Maine museums.

Three generation of schoolchildren went on field trips to Willowbrook, which continued when Curran Homestead Village took over the property. In 2019, about 2,300 children visited the museum, down from as many as 3,200 in recent years. Schmick said school visits to the Orrington village will include many of the interactive displays from Willowbrook.

Last week, Schmick helped workers from Tancrede Building Movers in Lewiston disassemble a barn to truck to Orrington. Guy Pilote, owner of the moving company, is doing the work pro bono.

“That made it realistic we could move the buildings,” Schmick said. “It was just a pipe dream before he came forward.”

The buildings and most of the collection will be moved to the 75-acre property in Orrington by August. Schmick said some of the Victorian-era collection from the Durgin homestead may be auctioned because it does not fit into the time period the museum focuses on.

Volunteers have been working in Orrington to prepare for the arrival of the new buildings and expansion of many of the displays, including a working kitchen, letterpress shop and a large collection of Model T’s and carriages.

In Newfield, Schmick has been packing up the collection, but much of it remains in place as prospective buyers tour the property. In the Durgin house, the dining room table is set for a Victorian-era dinner. Across the street in the Trafton house, built by country Dr. Isaac Trafton, an early microscope and other medical equipment are displayed in the office.

“I can’t dismiss that people came and enjoyed this place and are sad to see it leave York County,” Schmick said as he walked through the village. “But the collection is being preserved in the state of Maine. It will be a Maine heritage resource.”

In the octagonal carousel building, Schmick walked among the colorful horses sitting in pairs on the floor waiting for their move north. It’s the first time it has been disassembled since 1922.

The most common question Schmick and Carey get about Willowbrook is if the carousel is for sale.

The answer? Not even a chance.

“If you saw kids riding this, you would understand why it’s not for sale,” Schmick said.


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