LIVERMORE — The Washburn-Norlands Living History Center will hold its two most popular events this year, Maine Maple Sunday and Christmas at Norlands, thanks to donations from throughout Maine and beyond over the past three months.

Renee Bonin, president of the Washburn-Norlands Foundation, said over $140,000 has been given since announcing in December 2022 that the 445-acre living history museum was at risk if it didn’t get $3 million to maintain the property and programs.

“The support has been unbelievable, really,” she said. “Outstanding.”

The center tells the history of Israel Washburn and his wife, Martha, and their 10 children who lived on the property. Their sons were most prominently known for being senators, foreign ministers, a war general, authors and successful business owners.

The working farm also tells the history of the common person in Livermore and life in rural New England in the 1800s through costumed characters, tours and hands-on programs for all ages year-round.

Among its buildings are a five-bedroom mansion, a meetinghouse, a library, a schoolhouse, a farmer’s cottage and a barn.


The contributions so far are enough to pay for the Maine Maple Sunday breakfast from 9 a.m. to noon March 26 and Christmas at Norlands in December, Bonin said.

Sap buckets hang on a tree Friday at Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

She is hopeful that more events and programs will return this spring, along with finances to pay for building repairs, staffing, supplies and other needs.

“We have a small endowment, and we were losing on average about $50,000 a year,” she said. “If you do the math on that, we were going to run out. As a board, we have this fiduciary responsibility.

“So we put this stopgap in, and we made a plea to the community letting them know that we may have to seek alternate stewardship,” she said. “Maybe there’s somebody better out there that could manage and work this place. So the outpouring of support is what gave us pause.”

Some people wrote and offered to help write grants, other people donated lots of money, Washburn family members came from all corners,” she said. “Two Washburns now serve on our board, one in particular has helped tremendously in getting a congressionally directed spending application” filed. “I depended on one Washburn, who doesn’t live here, but he is in construction trades and he helped so much in getting these quotes (for repairs) that you have to get.”

The application was directed toward economic development, Bonin said.


“We do believe we can be that organization that brings people to the area,” she said. “We can be the destination for families, for schools, for weddings and bluegrass festivals, lectures and events of all kinds.”

The application listed estimates for necessary work in excess of $3 million. Included are repairs to the meetinghouse and the library.

The mansion and barn are not included in the application because money from real estate sales, timber harvesting and a few creative things should cover that work, Bonin said.

“We need to find other revenue sources, we can’t just keep depending on schools, donations and our grants,” she said. One  possible source is creating a wedding venue on the property at 290 Norlands Road.

Snow blankets the sprawling 445-acre Washburn-Norlands Living History Center Friday in Livermore. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The foundation has been working with Joel Gilbert, president of Jay-Livermore-Livermore Falls Chamber of Commerce, and has received a letter of support from Mark Chretien, chairman of the Livermore Select Board, Bonin said.

“Now that we think we can get ourselves through the summer and the fall, we need to go back to the buildings where these programs are housed,” she said. “And then we really need to build back our cadre of volunteers and staff, because that’s who runs this place. And we hope that they’re still on the periphery somewhere.”


Norlands may be open for tours this summer, Bonin said, and the foundation would like to bring back the Civil War reenactments that were held every other year.

Thirteen requests for school field trips have come in but the center may not be able to grant them this spring, she said.

A letter penned by Israel Washburn Jr. sits on a desk Friday at Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Depending on staffing availability, training sessions are planned for August to offer a full fall session of 10 weeks with tours available four days each week. Students will visit the schoolhouse to learn about classes in the 1800s, be told the story of the Washburn family and do some house and barn chores.

“There’s always wood to carry in!” she quipped.

Currently, there are no farm animals on the property because a caretaker is needed first, Bonin said.

There are pens for sheep and pigs in the barn built after fire destroyed the original in 2008. There are spaces for horses and oxen, too.

Washburn-Norlands property manager Emelia Robbins of Pond Side Farms next door will bring her animals to events until animals are brought back, Bonin said.

“We have a lot of people who love the Norlands,” foundation Treasurer Mary Castonguay said. “A lot of people didn’t realize we needed help. It was the right thing to do to let them know things weren’t fine, that we needed help.”

For more information, visit the To submit requests for programs email

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