An Orrington legislator has proposed a bill to provide $500,000 in state money or services over four years to be used to help expand and preserve two outdoor history museum sites, the Curran Homestead in Orrington and the former 19th Century Willowbrook Museum Village in Newfield.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Richard Campbell, would provide the money or services as matching funds, meaning the jointly run museums would have to raise $500,000 over four years to be eligible. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday in Augusta before the Legislature’s Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.
A southern Maine landmark for generations of families, Willowbrook closed as a seasonal attraction in October after 46 years and was acquired by Curran Homestead. Both privately owned properties, about three hours from each other, are now being run jointly under the names 19th Century Curran Homestead Village at Fields Pond and 19th Century Curran Homestead Village at Newfield. The former Willowbrook site, a recreation of a 19th-century Maine village with five buildings on the National Register of Historic places, is now slated to be open only for school tours, craft or historic trades lessons and special occasions.
If approved, Campbell’s bill would provide the Curran Homestead Village sites $125,000 a year in state funds or services, such as construction and road repair. Campbell hopes much of the $125,000 could come in the form of services, such as the state’s National Guard units helping to build roads. He said the money and services would help repair buildings and roads at both sites. The Fields Pond site, on land in both Orrington and Holden, has eight buildings and is being expanded into more of a village setting, similar to Willowbrook. Willowbrook has more than 20 buildings, including homes, stores, a historic carousel, blacksmith shop and a replica one-room schoolhouse. Both places have large collections of farm tools and everyday items from 19th-century life.
“We’d like to see (Fields Pond) become more of a village, to help educate people about the way life was, about the early technologies that built this state,” said Campbell. “Both of these places are important to the state.”
The former Willowbrook announced it would close the bulk of its operation last year because of mounting costs and declining visits. The place had attracted as many as 18,000 visitors a year, but was down to about 6,000 a year recently. It had been open from spring into fall, or about 190 days a year.
As 19th Century Curran Homestead Village at Newfield, the outdoor museum will host regular school field trips as it has in the past. There are already about 1,300 schoolchildren scheduled to tour the village in May and June, said Robert Schmick, director of both museum sites. It will also be open for special events, such as a maple syrup festival March 25, and for various classes, such as blacksmithing.
For a list of events at the Newfield and Orrington/Holden sites, go to the museum website: curranhomestead.org. From time to time, artifacts like tools or farm equipment will be shared, so that visitors to each site have fresh things to see, Schmick said.
Schmick said plans for work to repair buildings and roads the Newfield site and to expand the Orrington site will continue and funds will be raised even if the bill doesn’t pass, but “at a slower pace.”
He has sent a message to fans of both museums, via Facebook, asking them to either attend the hearing Monday or send along their written thoughts about why each site is important to them.
For more information on the bill and the hearing, go to legislature.maine.gov and type in 750 in the “LD#” field.
Ray Routhier can be contacted at 210-1183 or at: