By Jelane A. Kennedy
Weather in the Northeast has been all over the place it feels like this summer. June was unusually wet and July has been humid for long stretches. August has been up and down with cool days and hot humidity all tied together. Packing to camp this year has been remembering that just because it’s hot today doesn’t mean it won’t be cold a few days later and vise versa! So with this in mind we headed to Maine.
We had several days of hot humid weather followed by rainy weather. We decided to stay put on this trip and to explore more of the local area around Old Orchard Beach. We camped in Saco at our favorite KOA with Trolley service to the beach. This gave us access to Old Orchard Beach and to the general area south of Portland.
When the sun is out and the weather is great it is not hard to find things to do but once it started to rain this can be another story. We decided we could do the easy thing and go find a movie or we could see what else might be around that would be out of the weather. This led us to looking at some local area resources and we discover an article about a little museum in Old Orchard Beach. Over the years we have passed by this spot and not even noticed the sign with our eyes squarely set on looking at the ocean.
So we set out for the Harmon Museum located two blocks from the ocean. The museum was run by the historical society and was a bungalow with a front porch view that travels straight down the Main Street out over the Pier and into the ocean. As we walked in the main front door into the foyer area docents greeted us and immediately offered a private tour of the first floor. The second floor in recent years has been developed for office space but even when the house was a residence it was undeveloped space set a side for the future.
I had never been to a museum before where my tour started right at the front door. It was a lovely surprise! I believe the purpose was to help orient us as a visitor but for us we enjoyed both seeing the Museum and hearing the local stories our docent shared. I’m not sure we would have stayed as long or learned as much if we had just browsed on our own. It was a nice touch.
To understand the house we needed to first learn about the original owner and her home. Josephine Staples Goss built the house, while she was in her eighties. She lived in the house 12 years before passing on at 97. She was married twice and out lived both husbands, and appears to have had three daughters that did not live to adulthood. Josephine’s house was built on the parcel of land that was part of her father’s original homestead. Her father was one of the founding fathers of Old Orchard Beach. She was one of the last people to shake President Lincolns hand at a reception at the White House before his assassination. Her father and another man Mr. Seavey created the view of the ocean seen from the front porch of the house. The double-wide street down to the Pier was created by their rivalry thus creating the spectacular view to the beach. The museum is named after the final owner of the house W. Warren Harmon, in his will he donated the house to the Town and Historical Society as long as the Society remained active.
The museum has a great display that visitor can learn more about the pier and the creation of the town. Mr. Staples was one of the first innkeepers in Old Orchard Beach. This year’s exhibits included information on churches in the area, cemeteries and history of fires in the area. There is also a display about the visit of Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis, history of inn keeping in the area and history of resort souvenirs. The exhibits are created by the volunteers and provide a wonderful sense of Old Orchard Beach and the pride the residents take in their area. Our docent also shared stories with us about her family and their popcorn wagon business. We encourage her to develop and exhibit about the history of pop corning selling at Old Orchard Beach. Our time with her listening to the stories and getting a sense of the village added to the whole experience.
On our second over cast day we headed to Scarborough Marsh for a morning canoe ride. I knew if we waited for the sun to come out, we would scorch in the wide-open marsh. So when the next morning appeared overcast, I jumped on the idea of visiting the Audubon Center to take a guided canoe tour. We shortly discovered upon arrival that we had beaten the crowd. As a matter a fact what we thought might be a crowded tour ended up being a private jaunt.
Our tour began with a short dry land lecture about the birds we might see and how to distinguish them. The naturalist had models to show us and he pointed out various features in each bird. We then moved to the water. With only the three of us, Eileen, our guide and myself, we set off in one canoe. Our guide took the stern, Eileen took the middle seat and I took the bow. We spent the rest of the time trolling the waters looking for birds and learning about the marsh habitat. Our guide was an enthusiastic amateur birder, disguised as a college graduate with a degree in finance. His true passion was birds and you couldn’t help but be taken in by his sheer joy!
The amazing thing about traveling are the little gems tucked into each landscape waiting for us to discover the lives and passions of ordinary people.