SKOWHEGAN — Heritage preservation assessors found some really cool stuff during a recent study of the Skowhegan History House Museum & Research Center.

Among the finds was a local document signed by John Hancock, who also signed the Declaration of Independence with a flourish and was the first governor of Massachusetts after the American Revolution. Maine was still a part of Massachusetts when the document was signed in the 1790s.

Also impressing researchers were pieces from Skowhegan native Lt. Alexander Crawford Jr., which included a Civil War rifled musket with Remington cartridges, swords, his uniform, a mess kit, playing cards and Grand Army of the Republic personal war sketches. Crawford grew up on a farm in town and married a girl from New Sharon when he returned home from the war.

The assessment of History House was conducted this week for the Heritage Preservation Office of the National Park Service and its 2012 Conservation Assessment Program. The program identifies needs and successes of the nation’s cultural heritage in select locations.

History House President Melvin Burnham said Skowhegan is one of only 97 sites in the United States to be selected for the program. Heritage Preservation provided a grant to conduct the assessment.

How did Skowhegan stack up against other historical museums in Maine?

“It’s one of the standouts,” conservator Ron Harvey of Lincolnville said. “The advantage of this competitive grant is that it brings in two specialists to make recommendations; they really need to have an assessment for immediate, short-term and long-term recommendations.”

Museum curator Lee Granville said the Skowhegan collection was considered for the program because of the rarity of the documents and artifacts on display there.

“What made us unique was that we had such a huge inventory of local documents and artifacts — maybe more than any other town in Maine,” Granville said. “We have early documentation from when the town was first settled; we have many of the early records that go back into the 1700s. We have records of town meetings, issues that were discussed, people who were elected to office and things that are not available anywhere else. This is very rare for a historical society to have these original primary documents.”

Granville added that Louise Coburn, for whom the original house was built around 1840, was wealthy and was able to get contributions of artifacts from the very earliest families of Canaan and Skowhegan.

Team member John Leeke of Portland, a historic building specialist, agreed that the Skowhegan History House is a special place.

“The commitment that the current board and past boards and volunteers have toward this building and museum is exceptional,” Leeke said. “It shows in the condition of the building. It has been well cared for over the last three to four decades.”

Leeke said the team, including volunteer Steve Jackson of Sangerville, will analyze the data collected on windows, structure, air flow, moisture, light and the effects on museum contents and return to the museum board with a list of recommendations. The board can then make recommended repairs and changes and use the report to generate grants for future preservation.

Granville said he has looked forward to the assessment for a long time.

“I’ve reached the level of my own capabilities as far as protection of the collection and I really need (Harvey’s) advice as to how we’re going to proceed in the future; not just what’s happening today or next week,” Granville said. “I feel it’s going to be very useful to us here in managing the museum in the future. There will be policy changes that can be used by the next generation.”

Recommendations for the future include continued vigilance in maintaining the building and ensuring that volunteers are educated and sufficiently trained to care for the valuable contents, Harvey said.

So was there anything the preservation team was looking for in Skowhegan that they didn’t find?

Yes, Harvey said. And that was a good thing.

“Historical societies have everything under the sun and what I didn’t find are things that shouldn’t have been here,” he said. “There wasn’t the piles of ephemera, the newspapers that are old but don’t really relate to Skowhegan. I was surprised by the overall quality of the collections; surprised in a really wonderful way.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

 


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