After delighting and educating thousands of Mainers for the past 46 years, the historic complex known as 19th Century Willowbrook Village in Newfield will close for good Oct. 10.

But much of its 5,000-piece collection – displayed in some 20 buildings on a rural, 7-acre site – will continue to be accessible to future generations. A large portion of Willowbrook’s collection is being donated to Curran Homestead, a living-history farm and museum in Orrington, near Bangor.

Curran Homestead’s board is hoping to use the donation to expand its property over the next three to five years, transforming it into a hands-on history village comparable to Willowbrook, treasurer Irv Marsters said Wednesday. Curran Homestead currently has eight buildings on 75 acres and has been open to the public for 25 years.

When Willowbrook’s management began publicly announcing the closing in late summer, citing a lack of money, it issued a news release that said the collection would be offered to several Maine groups, including Curran Homestead, Boothbay Railway Village and Skyline Farm in North Yarmouth. But Wednesday, Willowbrook director Robert Schmick said in a written statement that “the bulk of the collection,” including Willowbrook’s 1894 Armitage-Herschell carousel, would be donated to Curran Homestead.

Besides the rare carousel, with horses that quickly gallop forward instead of bobbing up and down, the collection includes a stagecoach, carriages and sleighs, farm equipment, antique printing equipment, and all manner of 19th century clothing and furnishings.

Unlike most museums, Willowbrook feels like a small town circa 1880 to visitors. People can stroll the dirt streets and walk into the home of the town doctor, the printing office, the school, the general store or the barber shop and feel utterly transported.


“It’s such a loss for Maine, because there is so much there … so many pieces of history and life in the late 1800s,” said Kathy DiPhilippo, executive director of the South Portland Historical Society and curator of the Cushing’s Point Museum. “You could walk in the print shop and smell the ink. You could sit in the barber chair. It’s a very unusual place.”

Willowbrook began with the passion of one man, Don King, who lived in Massachusetts but loved hunting in Maine and was an avid collector of antiques. In 1965, he bought 7 acres in Newfield for building a vacation home. The property had a house, store, barn and mill.

King soon became enamored of the history of his property and began buying up others, as well as old buildings he moved to the property. He opened the historic complex to visitors in 1970 and created a not-for-profit group to run it in 1980. Willowbrook has drawn more than 430,000 visitors over the years.

After a stock market slump around 2008 severely depleted King’s endowment, the museum has struggled to generate enough revenue, including grants and admissions, to keep the place going. In 2011, Willowbrook officials went public with a plea for donations and paid members, saying they might have to close in 2012 if goals weren’t met.

In his statement Wednesday on the futures of Willowbrook and Curran Homestead, Schmick wrote that Willowbrook has “faced austerity budgets” since 2008 and that among board members “there was a realization that a closing was inevitable unless patronage on the scale of King’s contribution” could be found. Admission to Willowbrook is $15, and $8 for children.

Marsters, the treasurer, said Wednesday that the Curran Homestead board was notified by the Willowbrook board last February of the pending closing, and Curran submitted a formal request for some of Willowbrook’s collection. But as talks between the two groups continued, the idea of donating most of Willowbrook’s collection to Curran Homestead became the focus. Other parts of the collection will be given to the Maine State Museum in Augusta, the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk and several others.


Marsters said Schmick had worked for Curran Homestead in the past as a consultant, and that the Curran board is planning to hire him as director of an expanded Curran Homestead. The Orrington property will be renamed Curran Homestead Village at Fields Pond, and the Willowbrook property in Newfield will be known as Curran Homestead Village at Newfield beginning in January. Marsters said the Newfield property and buildings will be used for special events and for school tours during the next year. School tours have been a big part of Willowbrook’s business over the past several years.

Marsters said that some buildings may be moved from Willowbrook to Curran Homestead, but he’s not sure which or how many. Curran Homestead will run the Willowbrook property and oversee the “phasing out” of the history village there, which may include leasing buildings and land, or selling them.

In his written statement about the futures of Willowbrook and Curran Homestead, Schmick wrote that the homestead’s location would be better for attracting visitors because it’s near Interstate 95 and on the way to Acadia National Park. Willowbrook is in a rural, out-of-the-way portion of western York County. It’s on the New Hampshire border and more than an hour’s drive from Portland and I-95.

“One of the major challenges (for Willowbrook) was probably being far from Greater Portland, away from population centers,” said DiPhilippo, noting that a museum’s location also can affect the kind of funding it gets from local businesses. “So that area, with all the visitors, is probably an opportunity for them.”

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