Friday, May 18, 2018

Raymond-Casco Historical Society seeks museum visitors and new members by Elizabeth Richards

After the devastating loss of their one-room schoolhouse to arson last month, the Raymond-Casco Historical Society (RCHS) has formed a committee to explore what their next steps will be. President Frank McDermott said the committee was going to begin meeting immediately, with the hope of having recommendations for the full society (which may include rebuilding the schoolhouse) by their regular meeting on the second Monday in June.

The RCHS had been talking about moving the schoolhouse to the museum to be able to have it open more often, but they never got the chance. Losing the schoolhouse and its contents was a big disappointment, but McDermott said it may also energize the declining membership to make a commitment to do something.

If they do decide to rebuild, he said, he’d like to do it in a way that allows for community involvement, like a “barn-raising” event. Though the building isn’t a sophisticated design, because of the time period in which it was built, in 1849, it would have taken a fair amount of time to complete, McDermott said. said that he’d like to offer people a chance to take part in the construction using some of those older methods – taking down a tree, stripping it of bark, and creating boards – to give people a feeling of what it was actually like doing that sort of work in the 1800s.

Membership in the RCHS has been declining – and they aren’t alone, McDermott said. Historical societies across the country are facing similar challenges, impacted by the busy lives people lead and the changing times we live in. One factor, he said, is that towns don’t have as many “old” families – those that have lived in the town for multiple generations. There are a couple in Raymond, and a few more in Casco, McDermott said, but they’re falling by the wayside. “So, what happens is you get a community that has no connections to its past,” McDermott said.

The schoolhouse allowed people to better understand what a one-room schoolhouse was like. It also was an opportunity to give children a historical perspective, allowing them to experience what being in a one-room schoolhouse was like, as opposed to the modern schools of today, McDermott said.

“Preserving whatever we have is vitally important,” said McDermott. And that includes the society itself. RCHS was started by Ernest Knight, who put out a monthly newsletter and wrote many books on the history of Raymond and the surrounding area. The newsletter told the story of Raymond and Casco, with interesting tidbits on the town and the people who lived there. “It kept people enthused and we had a lot of members back then, but like everything else, it died off over time and no one seems to be willing to take their place,” said McDermott.

As it stands now, the RCHS has difficulty finding enough volunteers to keep the museum open two days per week in the summer. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, the museum is open Saturday and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. They used to also open on Wednesdays but are currently unable to find volunteers for those hours.
Even when the museum is open, it’s tricky to find business, McDermott said. “If we can get people to come in, they’re amazed at the things that we have there. It’s getting them to come through the door.”
One way they attract business is by exposing children to the museum as part of a class trip. They love the experience, McDermott said, and often return with siblings and parents.
The RCHS has not only the main museum building, but a barn full of exhibits as well. And landlord Skip Watkins also has an antique car barn on site that visitors can tour. There is no entrance fee.
The RCHS meets at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of each month, except August and December. In the summer, meetings are held at the museum on Route 302 just before the Naples line. Winter meetings are held at the Raymond Public Safety Building. New members are always welcome. Membership dues are $15 individual/$20 family per year.

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