Although the collapse of the floor is a historical note of interest, it is not the only thing significant about the former Amos Abbott & Co. woolen mill office donated this week by Guilford of Maine to the Dexter Historical Society.
“It's one of the oldest and most historic buildings in the downtown,” Rick Whitney, museum curator of the Dexter Historical Society, said Thursday.
“Guilford of Maine is pleased to be able to donate this building to the Dexter Historical Society,” Mary Alyce Higgins, vice president of human resources for Interface Fabrics Group and Guilford of Maine, said Thursday. “The community will be able to visit and enjoy the building's history, and the historical society will be able to display more of their collection.”
The barn-red building located on Church Street next to the former Abbott Woolen Mill, property that was purchased several years ago by Guilford of Maine, was built in 1836 on the site of the present Town Hall, according to Whitney. It was used for town functions and as classrooms until the floors collapsed during a town meeting in 1856. Although no one was seriously injured in the mishap, town officials decided to rid themselves of the building and sold it to the Abbott Woolen Mill.
Whitney said woolen mill officials dismantled the building into three sections and moved them to the present location, which was the site of the first gristmill in this Penobscot County town. There, after the building was reassembled and renovated, it served as the office for the mill complex until 1975. After that, the building was used for storage and then became vacant.
Even before Whitney became museum curator, he had his eye on the building.
“I looked at the building 20 years ago thinking it would be ideal as a museum,” Whitney said. But it wasn't until five years ago that Whitney sent a couple of registered letters to Guilford of Maine about the historical society's interest in the building. When he made a follow-up call in August, he was invited to discuss the matter with industry officials.
Armed with a plan for the building, Whitney made a presentation to industry officials. He later learned that Guilford of Maine liked the proposal and was willing to deed the building and the land surrounding it, valued by the town at $52,000, to the historical society.
“We had a good plan in mind for the building, and that, I think, was the selling point,” he said. “It was a well-thought-out proposal.”
That proposal calls for the first floor on Church Street to house a gift shop, museum store, an information center, a conference and meeting room, a museum prep area and a library-genealogy research room. There also will be two restrooms in the 80-foot-by-32-foot building.
Whitney said the second floor that is on a level with Grove Street would feature the sports hall of fame for Dexter residents. This room will be called the Hatch Gallery in memory of Prudy and Lloyd Hatch, whose family and friends donated funds to the museum for that purpose. In addition, there will be a room to honor veterans, another devoted to the woolen mill industries and the Bert Call gallery.
To fund the building repairs, which are estimated at $30,000, the historical society hopes to find donors who will sponsor a specific room. In exchange, the society will name a room after the company, industry or individual who provided the funds for the renovation of a particular room.
In addition to the room repairs, a new heating system must be installed, the roof must be repaired and a lot of cleaning and painting must be done, according to the museum curator. It is hoped these projects can be done this year, he said. Members also would like to remove the asphalt tiles in the front room and refinish the wood floor that lies underneath.
The fact that the building is located on a major thoroughfare will provide exposure for the historical society, according to Whitney.
“This will fit in beautifully with what we need to do,” he explained. Plans are to have the building open year round by next summer. Visitors then will be advised that the society has another museum downtown and a restored schoolhouse that are open to the public.
The gift shop, which will be open to certain vendors, should help make the museum self-sustaining, Whitney said. “There are a lot of possibilities here; it puts us on a new level,” he said.
But first and foremost in Whitney's mind is the preservation of the building. “We'll just take it one room at a time,” he said.
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