Penobscot Marine Museum
Backstory and Context
Maine’s oldest marine museum, the Penobscot Marine Museum, first opened in 1936. It was founded by a group of descendants of some of Searsport’s sea captains. At the time, the museum’s collection was displayed in the Old Town Hall. It didn’t take long for the original museum to outgrow its first home. The constantly-expanding collection forced the museum to relocate to its current site on Church Street. Now, the collection is stored within thirteen buildings on the property. Eight of these structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum grounds are set up like a small maritime village consisting of several buildings, including the First Congregational Church, the Old Town Hall, and a couple of historic houses and barns. The buildings date from the early nineteenth century (1810-1845). The church was erected in 1830. It was the gathering place for many of Searsport’s sea captains, shipbuilders, and their families. The historic building is also beautifully decorated inside: the interior is adorned with stamped tinwork, magnificent stained-glass windows, and hard-carved benches. An incredibly stunning pipe organ is a masterpiece that has played for hundreds of visitors over the years. The church is still active and open to the public on a limited schedule.
There is an art gallery featuring a collection of maritime paintings. Ship models are also on display in the galleries. In addition to spectacular artifacts, the museum features several exhibits that offer a hands-on experience for younger visitors. Children can climb on the “yard in the yard” which is a model of a ship’s mast installed outside or amuse themselves in the educational peapod play area.
Families can also enjoy the ship captain’s house, scrimshaw (intricately carved whalebone), and an exhibit of 19th century Chinese and Japanese pottery, paintings and textiles. An assortment of historic Maine boats is on display as well as a fisheries exhibit. The Stephen Phillips Memorial Library is home to a thorough assortment of research materials, including a collection of maritime photography and genealogical resources. The library is open by appointment only. The museum also hosts several family-friendly events and educational programming throughout the season.
The museum’s website holds a considerable database of online collections of records and images. Guests considering a visit (or just wanting to learn more) can go to the museum’s website (https://penobscotmarinemuseum.org) to click through the pictures and videos telling the stories of the sea captains of early Searsport.