The soon-to-open Westport Island History Center offered townspeople a sneak peek at the space Sunday, Sept. 13.
The history center is in the Wright House, at Wright Landing on the Back River. It will host a grand opening Oct. 25, with its first exhibit on past pandemics and the current COVID-19 pandemic.
For decades, the town’s collection of historical items has been stored in a small room at the historic town hall. After over a year of work by the Friends of Westport Island History, the Westport Island History Committee, and the Wright Landing Committee, a group of volunteers recently moved the collection to the Wright House.
The more than 70 guests enjoyed donated snacks and music from Barbara Cray. Several crafters offered goods for sale, including Bailey Bartlett, Anne Cole-Fairfield, Joelle Leavitt Webber, Reggie Lee, Nancy Shaul, and Pam Shockley.
Most of the activities were outdoors, with face masks required and social distancing required to the extent possible.
Mary Ellen Barnes, chair of Friends of Westport Island History, and member Jeff Tarbox led the tours.
Over the past year, much work has been done to convert the house into the history center. The flooring has been replaced, the walls painted, and heat pumps installed to provide humidity and temperature control needed to protect historical documents.
The building is being made handicapped-accessible, with a ramp planned for an entrance on the back deck and the bathroom remodeled for wheelchair accessibility. Much of the work is being done with volunteer labor and donated materials.
Wright Landing itself has historical value to the town. For about 100 years, a ferry brought passengers from the site to Wiscasset and back until the construction of a causeway in 1950.
The town bought the property in 2004 to provide public access to the water for both commercial activities, like digging and fishing, and recreational activities.
The house, previously owned by the late Adrien and Mary Wright, will provide space to both display the town’s historical collection and allow visitors to conduct genealogical research.
Tarbox, in an email after the event, mentioned many of the people who contributed to the transformation of the house.
The Westport Island Board of Selectmen agreed to allow the use of the house and provided town funds for repairs; Wright Landing Committee Chair Richard DeVries painted walls and replaced flooring, subflooring, and windows; Al Andrews, Richard Coventry, John Henry, and Ken Parsons donated labor; the Westport Island Horticulture Committee maintains the grounds; members of the Westport Volunteer Fire Department trimmed pine trees at the site; Westport Island Helping Hands, which operates the Althea F. Cromwell Food Pantry in the basement of the Wright House, helped with access and tools; Chris Malliet donated building inspection services; Earl Grant donated a refrigerator; Joe Ruzycki donated display cases and a Westport Island sign; E. Davies Allan and the Davenport Fund paid for heat pumps; the Westport Island Community Association and Richard and Mary Coventry paid for new windows; the Coventrys provided shelving, door locks, and other items; Gaye Wagner wrote a grant to fund the first exhibit; and Dennis Dunbar and Jean Wilhelmsen-Exter worked on historical displays.