MHS Receives $500,000 Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to Support Offsite Collections Management Center

Maine Historical Society (MHS) has been awarded a $500,000 Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). NEH funds will enable MHS to install compact storage and consolidate collections storage from across four buildings at the offsite collections management center on Riverside Street that MHS recently developed with Portland Public Library. The facility provides climate-controlled storage that ensures the long-term preservation of critical museum and library collections and space to care for, process, and digitize collections.

Maine Historical Society’s mission is to preserve and share Maine’s story. MHS was founded in 1822 and has been collecting, preserving, and promoting research and scholarship in Maine history ever since. MHS includes the Brown Research Library, MHS Museum, Wadsworth-Longfellow House, and Maine Memory Network, its nationally recognized digital platform which empowers communities across Maine to share their collections, stories, and perspectives.

MHS collections provides the most comprehensive resource for the study of Maine and New England history in the state. Library and archival collections include unrivaled book, architectural, map, newspaper, print, and photographic collections; manuscript holdings from the 16th to the 21st centuries, and important rarities, including a copy of the Dunlap broadside of the Declaration of Independence. The museum collection includes approximately 20,000 artifacts ranging from prehistoric material to textiles, costumes, furniture, paintings, tools, industrial equipment, and decorative arts.

MHS’s largest artifact is the Wadsworth-Longfellow House (1785-6), a National Historic Landmark and boyhood home of 19th century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. These collections, searchable via MHS’s online library and museum catalogs and with many items accessible on the Maine Memory Network, support research, scholarship, exhibitions, publications, education and public programs, and loans to other institutions.

Development of the collections management center is a critical step in MHS’s strategic effort to improve its facilities, Congress Street campus, and capacity as MHS approaches its Bicentennial in 2022 and prepares to serve Maine in its third century. Since taking occupancy in 2015, MHS has moved approximately 25% of museum and 10% of library collections to the facility—including material that was stored in overcrowded or environmentally poor conditions or space better suited to other activities. It has also enabled MHS to acquire and process large, historically-significant collections, including the Bangor Theological Seminary archive.

NEH Infrastructure and Capacity Building grants leverage federal funds to incentivize private investment in the nation’s cultural institutions. The grant to MHS was one of 30 totaling $13.9 million awarded in this cycle.

MHS seeks to encourage and support a vibrant future for Maine by providing historical context, access to information and resources, building knowledge, fostering dialog, and bringing together wide-ranging Maine perspectives and voices.

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES: Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Maine Historical Society preserves and shares Maine’s story to enrich life in contemporary Maine. 489 CONGRESS STREET, PORTLAND, MAINE 04101 | (207) 774-1822 |MAINEHISTORY.ORG.

MHS Awarded $50,000 Grant from Leon Levy Foundation for Architecture and Landscape Architecture Initiative and Website

Maine Historical Society (MHS) is excited to announce that it has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Leon Levy Foundation (New York City) to launch a major initiative that will care for and provide extensive public access to its signature architecture and landscape architecture collections.

The initiative will support the acquisition and processing of the professional archives of renowned Maine landscape architect Patrick Chassé and the development of a new online portal on the Maine Memory Network dedicated to celebrating Maine’s architecture and landscape design heritage. The initial phase of this work is also being supported by a legacy gift of the Maine Olmsted Alliance for Parks & Landscapes, now part of MHS.

Shelby White, founding trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation, said, “We are delighted that the Leon Levy Foundation can help conserve and make digitally available the Maine Historical Society’s exemplary collection of the state’s unique landscape and architectural heritage.”

Chassé, a Caribou native, has helped define a landscape architecture aesthetic that is quintessentially Maine—creating gardens and landscapes that blend with, complement, and subtly enhance Maine’s natural environment. His permanent archive at MHS will document all aspects of his career, including commissions in Maine, across the country, and beyond, collaboration with clients including major institutions across the country, work on some of Maine’s most iconic gardens and landscapes, and his stewardship of Maine’s landscape architecture heritage.

The Leon Levy Foundation grant will also support the first phase of development of a major new portal on the Maine Memory Network, MHS’s nationally-recognized digital platform. The portal will introduce the public to Maine’s built environment and provide a vast reference resource for architects, landscape architects, garden designers, property owners, restoration contractors, and the general public, including 7,500 architecture commission records and hundreds of landscape design survey records created by the Maine Olmsted Alliance. It will include interpretive guides prepared by Earle Shettleworth, Jr. and Patrick Chassé, and sample images for each commission. The database will be expandable and enable other institutions and private individuals to add Maine-related records and information from their collections.

House sketch, Cushing’s Island, ca. 1883, by John Calvin Stevens. Collections MHS / MMN # 6030.

MHS collections include architectural and landscape design commissions dating from 1850 through the present with strong holdings from Bangor, Lewiston, and Greater Portland. Highlights include the work of John Calvin Stevens, Frederick Tompson, John Thomas, the Coombs Firm (Harriman), Eaton Tarbell, Wadsworth-Boston, Beal DePeter and Ward, Quentin Armstrong, LC Andrew, and Gridley Barrows. This grant supports a broad initiative to expand access to and use of these collections and process recent acquisitions—including the archives of Francis Zelz, Bisson & Bisson, and Peter Munro.

MHS is seeking additional sponsorship and funding to develop and expand this initiative. For further information, contact info@mainehistory.org or call 207-774-1822.

Statement on the Killing of George Floyd

By Steve Bromage, MHS Executive Director

Maine Historical Society is deeply disturbed by this tragic moment in our history. We are horrified and fed up by George Floyd’s death, and those of countless other people of color. How can this happen again and again and again?

History will play a critical role in instituting the transformative social change that is required.

Together, we need:

  • to understand how we got to this moment—our shared history and the roles we each play in this story.
  • to be fearless in confronting the past—and to recognize how it shapes where we are today.
  • to start by truly acknowledging the problem—hundreds of years of institutionalized racism, ongoing economic inequality, and an embarrassingly broken political culture.

The materials that Maine Historical Society and historical organizations throughout Maine collect, preserve, and share will be an invaluable resource during this time.

Our collections reveal that Maine is part of the story that created structures of inequality. Maine, and the land that Maine Historical Society occupies, was the first region in North America where a permanent European settlement was founded. Since that time, the foundations of white privilege have created a system built on colonialism, racism, and a slave economy that helped fuel Maine’s hallmark industries like shipbuilding, trade, and manufacturing.

Our collections also show Mainers’ resilience, leadership, and ability to change the world.

Together, we have to unpack the underlying issues, to develop a plan that will lead to transformative change, and to take the first next steps.

We pledge MHS as a partner in helping lead this process, and to providing information, context, and perspective as our community confronts these issues.