Down East 2013 ©
Camps have a funny way of collecting stuff. Patched-up canoes, fishing rods with half the guides missing, rusty hand tools from when people still used hand tools to work the woods — nothing seems to get tossed from the seasonal cabins that dot the Maine woods. And thank heavens for that, since these artifacts form the essence of Maine’s outdoor heritage. This summer, visitors to the Rangeley area will be able to take in all this sporting history in one gorgeous setting at the new Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum in Oquossoc, the birthplace of the state’s sporting culture.
These days, the intersection of Routes 4 and 17 is quiet, with a convenience store, restaurant, and volunteer fire station marking the crossing. But 150 years ago this crossroads was bustling with activity, as “sports” disembarked the Rumford Falls and Rangeley Lakes narrow gauge train and met the guides who would take them to such legendary fishing and hunting spots as the Richardson Lakes and the Kennebago and Magalloway rivers. So it was fitting that in 2000, when Don Palmer, president of the Rangeley Lakes Region Historical Society, set out to find a spot where the historical society could build a shrine to Maine’s sporting heritage, he stopped in Oquossoc. “We had looked in Rangeley, but there we were competing with commercial interests on Main Street,” says Palmer, pointing out that the historical society already maintains a storefront in downtown Rangeley. “But Oquossoc was the real center of the sporting area, with the train coming right into the spot where the museum is now. It’s fitting that we’d be there.”
Once he had settled on a site for the new museum, which would be owned by the historical society and filled with a combination of his own artifacts and others collected by society members, Palmer set about raising the one million dollars necessary for the project. “We had the tacit support of the historical society board of directors, but we were a typical rural community historical society, and to think of something this large was a stretch,” he says. Over the course of five years, Palmer took in everything from hundred-dollar donations to a single hundred-thousand-dollar contribution, allowing him to create the museum without going into debt and sticking with his mission to keep the museum self-sufficient. Some 90 percent of the money came from local residents, Palmer says. In 2008 local builder Colby Frost broke ground on the 3,500-square-foot building, which was modeled after a taxidermy shop at nearby Haines Landing, and in mid-August 2010, the museum’s volunteer docents greeted their first guests.
Although it was open for just three weeks last year, Palmer says the new museum hosted a whopping three thousand visitors. They came to walk through Leeman Wilcox’s circa-1890 log camp that was reassembled inside the museum, to run their hands along the gunnels of a 1920 double-ended Rangeley guide boat made for the Upper Dam, to listen to podcasts about legendary fly-tiers like Carrie Stevens, “Fly Rod” Crosby, and Herb Welch. Wandering the museum’s bright pine floors they discovered surprises like the exact, somewhat messy desk where Dick Frost (coincidentally, the builder’s father) tied his famous Blue Smelt streamer. And who can overlook the mounted trout head of White Nose Pete, his jaws a mass of flies stolen from anglers
over the years (doesn’t every sporting museum need a fish tale)?
Perhaps most intriguing, though, are the more subtle exhibits, such as the boom chain hanging on the wall with just a small note explaining how loggers used it in the river drives of yesteryear. During a recent visit, one elderly local was observed remarking that he had a similar device hanging in his barn just up the road, and perhaps Palmer would like to have it. “That’s what it’s all about,” Palmer says. “People around here are anxious to find a place that will take care of their items, and to make it possible for the public to enjoy them.”
If You Go
The Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum, at the intersection of Routes 4 and 17 in Oquossoc, is open Fridays and Saturdays from Memorial Day through June, Tuesdays through Sundays in July and August, and Fridays and Saturdays from September through Columbus Day. Admission is $5, free for children under 12. 207-864-5647. www.rangeleyoutdoormuseum.org