Bob Dodd, left, president of the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society, and board member Jim Rowe are working on a Fort Williams museum at their new location in a historic building at the park. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

From a library basement to a corner of the town police department, the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society has been on the lookout for a place to truly call home since its inception in 1979. Now at its new location at Fort Williams Park, the group is ready to expand with a new museum.

With renovation efforts underway at the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters building, including repurposing materials from the original Thomas Memorial Library such as shelves and countertops, board members are now planning on how to use the historic building and setting up a museum is on their list.

The Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society has big plans for their new space in the Bachelor’s Officers’ Quarters building at Fort Williams. Contributed / Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society

“We wanted to establish something that would have a permanent presence here,” Bob Dodd, the society’s president, said in an interview with The Forecaster at the new location last week. “The concept of a museum just focusing on Fort Williams as a military base grew pretty quickly.”

They also plan to provide a history of the town in general.

“It would be the history of Cape Elizabeth, going back to colonial times up to the point where Cape Elizabeth split from South Portland, and the history going forward from that point,” Dodd said.

In its former location at the police department on Ocean House Road, the historical society had enough space for storage but not much more.


“The security was good because it was the police department,” joked Jim Rowe, a member of the society’s board. “We really didn’t have enough room to display a lot of stuff we have so, in some respects, we were little more than an attic.”

The Bachelor’s Officers’ Quarters building is to the right in this image taken before World War I. Contributed / Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society

Dodd and Rowe believe hosting a museum at the Bachelor’s Officers’ Quarters building creates a natural and strong tie to the past. Constructed in 1909, the quarters housed unmarried officers who were stationed at Fort Williams from World War I through the end of World War II, and it is one of the few structures left standing from the original fort.

They also hope the new location will spread more awareness of the historical society’s existence.

“I think the community kind of lost sight that they had a historical society because we were really so invisible in the public safety building,” Dodd said. “We would open up to the public on Thursday mornings. Some people would come in, but I think we lost a lot in the way of visibility. Here, I don’t think we’re going to have any problem with visibility.”

A scale model of Fort Williams, made by Bob Dodd and his son, will be featured in the museum. At the bottom right of the model, the Bachelor’s Officers’ Quarters is the third house from the right. Contributed / Bob Dodd

Rowe is excited by the idea of hosting school field trips where Cape Elizabeth students can walk through their town’s history rather than simply being told about it.

“One of my big things was reaching out to the schools and making sure the kids have a sense of place and time where they fit in with Cape Elizabeth history,” Rowe said. “You can go into a classroom and tell the kids that, but I think when they come into a place that is built around history, they’ll get a real appreciation for where they are and what their past has been.”


Part of the fort’s history Rowe hopes to provide is about its namesake, Seth Williams of Augusta. Williams was a graduate of West Point who went on to become an administrator there under commanding officer Robert E. Lee. While Lee sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War, Williams served as a Union officer under General Ulysses S. Grant. He played a big role in one of the most famous events in United States history.

Soldiers operating a cannon at Fort Williams in 1901. Contributed / Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society

“The war’s closing and Grant’s army is chasing Lee’s army, and it’s pretty clear the end of the war was near,” Rowe said. “So, Grant chose Seth Williams to deliver messages to General Lee under a white flag, and among those messages was where the surrender would take place and what the terms of surrender would be. So, little Seth Williams from Maine was pretty important.”

The historical society has its sights set beyond Fort Williams as well. In the future, they hope to transfer the town history center portion of the project to a more central location, preferably near the town center, Rowe said. For now, however, the historical society is excited and eager to get to work.

“There’s a huge amount to do but it’s going to be, I think, a lot of fun,” Dodd said. “We all feel like we’re building a legacy here that’s going to last for generations.”

The historical society hopes to have the museum open to the public by July.

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