New Exhibition Open!

June 27, 2014

HOME: The Longfellow House and the Emergence of Portland opened last night to a crowd of MHS members and friends, all eager to see the much-anticipated new show that explores the evolution of the Longfellow House and our beloved city.

This exhibition uses the House as a prism to explore how Portland has grown and changed over more than 230 years. When Peleg Wadsworth built the House on Back Street in 1785, it was on the rural outskirts of Portland. By the early 1800s, the House was at the center of a bustling, modern New England city. Since then, Portland has boomed, burned, boomed again, busted, and reemerged as a vibrant, forward-looking city. Through it all, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House has been a constant, and witness to the life of an emerging community.

Here are some images from the opening, taken by MHS Creative Manager Dani Fazio:

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Learn how you can participate in the display “Your Home, Past & Present” here.


Walking Tours Start Today!

Participants on a 2012 Historic Portland Walking Tour check out the statue of John Ford.
Participants on a 2012 Historic Portland Walking Tour check out the statue of John Ford.

Maine Historical Society’s Historic Portland Walking Tours program enters its second season as of today. It has been refocused to vividly depict events and scenery from Portland’s past. Areas discussed include Congress Street, Monument Square, Post Office Park, Exchange Street, Fore Street, Boothby Square and Commercial Street.

Tours begin at 1:30 pm daily from June 17th to September 30th. This is a guided, weather-permitting tour limited to approximately 12 people. Tickets are $10 and include admission to MHS’s new museum exhibit (opening June 28) This Rebellion: Maine and the Civil War. For a combo Walking Tour/Longfellow House Tour, tickets are $15.

For questions please call the Museum Store: (207) 774-1822.

The Heart of Portland on Foot

Portland’s “Old Port” is perhaps one of the most popular destinations in southern Maine. Known for its exceptional restaurants, shops, lodging, waterfront, and general aesthetics, the area draws tourists and natives alike to sample its wares. But those who drive downtown to pop into a storefront or dining establishment and then drive back out may miss the rich and diverse history and architecture that has evolved over the past 300 years. The best way to appreciate that is by hoofing it, with a guide.

Docent John Serrage (seated) shows tour-goers a granite disk that features the names, dates, and descriptions of important city residents of the past.

Greater Portland Landmarks has long known that, which is why they’ve offered tours of the area in years past. This summer, however, they’ve passed the baton to Maine Historical Society. Beginning next week, MHS offers Old Port Walking Tours Thursday through Saturday throughout the summer. The 90-minute tours leave MHS headquarters on Congress Street at 10:30 AM and 1:00 PM and cost $10 per person. They are recommended for children age 12 and up. (Longfellow Walking Tours, a staple for some time now, are also available–on Mondays and Wednesdays at 11AM.)

An example of three architectural styles on Fore Street: Colonial Revival, Colonial, and Greek Revival (l to r).

The tours are led by experienced and knowledgeable docents–most of whom led them previously for Greater Portland Landmarks–and highlight the city’s colonial maritime heritage and wide varieties of architecture including Victorian, Greek Revival, Colonial, Colonial Revival, Second French Empire, and Bauhaus, among others.

A number of other topics make their way into the tour depending upon the specific interests and research of the docents. Some of these include:

Outside Brian Boru

Immigrant history. Did you know, for example, that the large parking lot just south of the Brian Boru pub used to be the heart of a significant Irish neighborhood?

Industries. Cod, wood, and ice were all shipped out of Portland beginning long before the American Revolution.

The Hub Furniture Co. building was built after the 1866 fire and has only had two tenants; the original tenant was the Curtis Chewing Gum Co.

The great fire of 1866. Given that two-thirds of the city was burned to the ground, the fire had a monumental impact on development in the latter half of the 19th century.

The area’s revitalization that began in the 1970s. Can you name the three landmark restaurants that helped turn the area around during this decade? (The Old Port Tavern on Moulton Street, and the Gaslight and F. Parker Reidy’s on Exchange Street.)

Famous city residents. In addition to Longfellow, one of Portland’s most beloved sons was film director John Ford (born John Martin Feeney). He won four Oscars for directing, a record that stands today. (Be sure to check out our Ford film series this summer!)

The group stops at the John Ford statue.
The iconic Bull Feeney’s

Social history. Fore Street once housed a Seamen’s Chapel, the Seamen’s Club (now Bull Feeney’s, named for Ford, who was known as “Bull” in high school), and–legend has it–a house of ill repute, all within a few steps of one another. Vice and repentance, conveniently aligned.

These tidbits barely scratch the surface of what you’ll learn on an Old Port Walking Tour. So grab your sunscreen, don a hat, and join us sometime this summer to discover the history behind one of Maine’s most historic downtowns.

Love Portland History? Become a Docent!

A tour gathers in front of the Longfellow House.

Do you like historic settings, and learning the finer details about them? Do you like to share your knowledge with others? Are you good with people? Can you see yourself leading tours of the Longfellow House at MHS, or volunteering at another local history site?

If so, you may be interested in the Portland History Docent program (PHD, for short), a collaboration between eight Portland museums. It’s an incredible way to get involved, learn about Portland history, and become part of a great community.

In addition to lectures on Portland and Maine history by experts like State Historian Earle Shettleworth and museum personnel, you’ll get an in-depth, behind-the-scenes tour at each participating museum and historic site in the program, and training on many aspects of visitor services. During the program’s final week, you get to choose the site(s) where you most want to volunteer.

The 12-week training program for new docents will be held Thursday mornings from February 9 through May 3. It’s totally free–though it does requires a commitment to serving at least one site for a year. Sound good? Learn more!

State Historian to Contribute to Portland String Quartet’s “All American” Program

We here at Maine Historical Society think a lot of our State Historian, Earle Shettleworth. (Our Lecture Hall happens to be named after him!) So we are always interested to hear about the new and different ways he’s sharing the history of Maine with the public.

Composer John Knowles Paine

On Sunday, October 30, Mr. Shettleworth will lead a discussion of Portland’s history in the 19th century as part of Portland String Quartet’s “All American” program, which includes the world premiere of “String Quartet in D Major, Op.5” (1855), written by composer John Knowles Paine at the tender age of 16.

At that time, the young Paine lived in Portland (he was born here) and was studying with Hermann Kotzschmar. (Kotzschmar is featured in a Maine Memory Network exhibit, as is the city’s famous Kotzschmar organ itself.)

The “All American” concert and discussion takes place at 2PM at Woodfords Congregational Church.