One of Rockland’s many hidden treasures is the valuable collection of lighthouse lenses and artifacts on display at the Shore Village Museum.
For more than 25 years, the display (which now includes what may be the world’s largest collection of Fresnel lenses) has been located in an area of low visibility a few blocks from the center of town.
This fall the collection is scheduled to move to a more visible location at One Park Drive (the former Courier Publications building) in Rockland. Plans are to unveil it again in the new Maine Lighthouse Museum when it opens on the Rockland waterfront, possibly next summer.
The decision to relocate the collection was made after the city of Rockland announced its intention to sell the building where the Shore Village Museum has been located. Without a new site, the collection could have been dispersed.
Once the city began moving forward with plans to sell the building, it enlisted the help of several groups to find a new home for the collection. Island Institute president Philip Conkling, who chairs the board of trustees for the new Maine Lighthouse Museum, called the effort “a unique collaboration of government, business, and non-profit organizations,” adding that “Maine needs a place where the history of magnificent service to mariners, artists, and the public can be preserved and displayed.”
The executive director of the Rockland-Thomaston Chamber of Commerce, Bob Hastings, who is also the managing director of the new museum, said the waterfront location is the perfect spot for the museum because “it’s the first place coming up Route One where you can see the glory of the Atlantic.” Hastings added that the location is also a good one because two working lighthouses can be seen from there during the day and three at night.
The Gateway Center will serve as home to the Maine Lighthouse Museum as well as the Rockland- Thomaston Chamber of Commerce, a gift shop, an exhibit hall, a Maine lobster festival office and year-round conference rooms. The name “Gateway Center” was chosen because of its location on Penobscot Bay, sometimes termed the “gateway to the Atlantic.”
Hastings notes that other patrons, including the Farnsworth Art Museum and the Owls Head Transportation Museum, will have the ability to display items in the new location, too.
“The museum will tell a story from the time visitors walk in the door, and the story line will follow throughout the whole museum,” said Hastings. “It will tell the story of Rockland and Knox County.”
Hastings added that the possibility of shuttle service linking the Gateway Center with the Farnsworth, the Owls Head Transportation Museum and the Penobscot Marine Museum is being examined. He also believes that the new museum will benefit businesses in the area.
Another feature of the museum, already planned, is a 725-square-foot observation deck on the east side of the building that could accommodate 80 to 100 people.
The new museum will be located on the first floor of the One Park Drive building, above the Rockland Police Department. The location will provide “a secure atmosphere on the landing as well as protect the invaluable museum collections on the floor,” Hastings said.
“It’s fantastic that we have such a nationally significant collection of lighthouse lenses and artifacts in our town,” said Laura Zylstra, who is serving as campaign director for the new lighthouse museum.
“Now we have the opportunity to move the collection into a much more visible location and move it out under its own name. That will enable it to make an even more significant contribution to both Maine’s and the national maritime heritage and history.”
In addition to the large collection of Fresnel lighthouse lenses they plan to transport to the new museum, Zylstra said, the board would like to acquire new lenses. Their hope is that once the new museum is open and publicized, individuals who have single pieces or smaller collections may want to loan or donate those items to be displayed at the museum. The current collection includes a second order Fresnel lens and several third, fourth, and fifth order lenses. A very rare sixth order lens is also a part of the collection. Each of these is made from cut lead crystal. No two lenses are identical.
According to Zylstra, more funds are still needed to complete renovations to the Park Drive Building, which was made available through an arrangement with MBNA, and also to cover the cost of moving and displaying the collection. Fundraising efforts are underway. Signed and numbered prints of Jamie Wyeth’s painting “Light-house Iris,” which were donated to benefit the new museum, are still available through Archipelago at the Island Institute, the Farnsworth Art Museum, the Rockland-Thomaston Chamber of Commerce and the Samoset Resort. Each print measures 26.5 by 33 inches and sells for $1,500 unframed.
A public awareness event was held on board the U.S. Coast Guard tall ship EAGLE, which visited Rockland’s Lobster Festival last month.
Zylstra explained that the EAGLE was chosen as the site for the event because the Coast Guard has played an important part in establishing the collection – and a ship seemed to be an appropriate setting for discussing the project because of its connection to lighthouses.
“That’s exactly the kind of ship that lighthouses have helped to protect and guide for generations,” Zylstra said. The Maine Lighthouse Museum can be contacted at 1 Park Drive, PO Box F, Rockland, ME 04841, or telephoned at (207) 594-3301.