The Raymond Casco Historical Society Museum on Route 302 in Casco is a treasure, hidden in plain sight. Though the bright red building is hard to miss with its extensive mural of the Raymond steamboat dropping off passengers to be picked up by the Casco stagecoach it doesn’t always inspire people to stop and check it out. But it should.
Inside the large building a wide range of historical artifacts details the history of the two towns, which began as one community called Raymondtown, according to RCHS president Frank McDermott. The town hall for Raymondtown sat in the same place as Raymond’s current town hall on Route 85. The long drive from Casco to visit the town hall prompted the split into two towns, McDermott said. With the common history, it only makes sense to have a common museum, he added.
The RCHS is a 45-year old organization, started by Ernest Wright, who was active in the society until his death. A collection of books by Wright is for sale at the museum. These books include two volumes that showcase historical pictures and modern photos of the same location side by side, a collection of old historical society newsletters and more.
The purpose of the society is to preserve the history of Raymond and Casco, McDermott said. One of the challenges is the movement of people, he added. “Casco still has some old families, but Raymond doesn’t. The old families have gone by the wayside,” he said. When families haven’t been in the towns for several generations, history doesn’t mean as much to them, he said.
The society makes a point of presenting a complete history of the area, starting with native people. “We don’t start with the history of the whites showing up here. We try to emphasize we were not the first people,” McDermott said. “It’s not just what’s gone on here since the late 1600s. It’s the real history of the area.”
The work is not easy, McDermott added. There are only about 10 active, working members in the RCHS, and there is a lot to do. In addition to the museum, the society operates the Friends Schoolhouse in Casco Village. They have just begun discussions with the town to move the schoolhouse to the museum site, to consolidate activities. But until that happens, volunteers are split between the two. They have just enough people to keep the museum open for a couple of hours three days per week, with two volunteers present each day. “The people who do it do it for the love of it, and it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve learned a lot along the way,” said McDermott, who along with his wife is a charter member of the society.
The museum collection is spread between two buildings – the main museum and the old barn from the Watkins farm. Displays are unique and varied, including photographs of the Wilson Spring House, an early competitor of Poland Spring, an exhibit on Princess Goldenrod, a local Native American entrepreneur in the 1950s, Casco High School memorabilia, and much more. The barn houses some of the larger items, including soda fountain and advertising memorabilia, collections of tools and farm equipment. And out back a surprise awaits visitors in a third building, the classic antique automobile barn. Skip Watkins, who donated the land and built the museum for the society, and leases them the historic barn, houses his vast collection of restored classic cars here, which the historical society can show to visitors.
The RCHS is funded in part by the towns of Casco and Raymond, with each community contributing $1,800 per year to the society. Other funding comes by way of donations and special events. Museum admission is by donation, rather than a set admission price.
In early August, the museum will host its annual Antiques & Collectible Appraisal event. On Wednesday, August 10th at 5 p.m, people can bring their antiques and collectibles to the museum. For $5 per item, they will receive an appraisal by Harry Hepburn III, a licensed and bonded appraiser and auctioneer who has been dealing in antiques since 1971. McDermott said Hepburn has a sterling reputation in the area, and puts on a good show.
“There are treasures that come through, there’s no doubt about that” said McDermott, remembering a painting on wood that had potential to be worth thousands. “It’s been very successful. We draw a good crowd, and we are hoping to have another good crowd this year,” he said.