The Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore has received a $40,000 gift from General Mills through its foundation. The funds will be used to conserve up to 32 historical oil portraits of the Washburn family.

The 19th-century portraits are one of the most valuable educational collections at the Norlands, which uses the paintings to share the Washburn family’s accomplishments after living in poverty on a hardscrabble farm in rural Maine, according to a news release from the center.

“We are thrilled to have such generous support from General Mills. Our historic ties to the company go back to its founding, with Cadwallader Colden Washburn and the Washburn-Crosby Flouring Mills. These portraits are at risk, and treatment will enable us to continue using them as a resource for illustrating the family’s struggles and achievements with our visitors,” said Norlands Director Sheri Leahan, according to the release.

Among the 11 children born to Israel and Martha Washburn of Livermore were two owners of flour mills, two state governors, four congressmen, one U.S. senator, two foreign ministers, a secretary of state, president of the Soo Railroad, a major general, a banker, an inventor and three noted authors. Three of their sons served in congress at the same time representing three different states. No other American family has produced an equivalent level of political and business leadership in a single generation than that of the Washburns from Livermore, according to the release.

“A long-term goal is to create a catalog and traveling exhibit to showcase the family’s contributions to American history and sense of the values and character strengths which led to their remarkable leadership and success. The portraits help us to understand 19th-century Maine and the nation’s heritage,” said Leahan, according to the release.

In addition to being excellent examples of late 19th-century American portraiture painted by professional painters of the time such as George Peter Alexander Healy, the paintings are still housed in their original, elaborate gilded frames. The frames themselves are a testament to the success and significance of the Washburn family and also will be restored along with the portraits over the next 12 months.

The connection to General Mills in Minneapolis runs deep and is directly linked to the Washburns — one in particular — who grew up on a rocky little farm in Livermore. In 1866, at the age of 48, Cadwallader Colden Washburn built a mill at St. Anthony’s Falls in Minneapolis and hired his younger brother, William Drew, to manage it. After losing the mill to an explosion from flour dust in 1878, he not only rebuilt a larger mill, but adopted new technology available at the time, such as ventilation, to make mills safer. He also partnered with John Crosby, from Bangor, to form the Washburn-Crosby Company.

In 1880, Washburn-Crosby entered several brands of their flour in a contest at the Miller’s International Exhibition in Cincinnati, Ohio, and won the bronze, silver and gold medal prizes. The brand that won the gold was renamed “Gold Medal Flour” and is still an industry leader today. In addition to being an entrepreneur, Cadwallader Colden Washburn served as a Congressman in Wisconsin, Major General during the Civil War, and as Governor of Wisconsin. He died in 1882 at the age of 64. General Mills was created in 1928 when Washburn-Crosby president John Ford Bell merged Washburn-Crosby with 28 other mills, according to the release.

“Because General Mills’ rich history is so closely tied to the Washburn family, we are very pleased to have the opportunity to support this important restoration project at the Norlands. We are excited to see the difference it will make for the organization and its priceless collection,” said Mary Jane Melendez, executive director of the General Mills Foundation, according to the release.

For more information, to stay updated or to support the project, visit norlands.org or follow the Washburn-Norlands Living History Center’s Facebook page.

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