From sea captains’ homes lining Kennebunk’s Summer Street, Kennebunkport’s lovely White Columns mansion and the antique farmhouses of Arundel, the region’s deep connection to the land and sea is evident everywhere you look.
The First Families Kennebunkport Museum, at White Columns in the heart of Kennebunkport, offers visitors a chance to tour an 1853 Greek Revival home and view exhibitions covering two centuries of local history, from sea captains to presidents. Guided tours present stories and artifacts from the lives of Charles and Celia Perkins, whose fortunes were connected to the thriving shipbuilding era of Kennebunkport. The museum also features sea captains and shipbuilders to rusticators to Kennebunkport’s most famous summer resident, late President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush and their family. There is also a Museum Store with a selection of maritime history collectibles, presidential memorabilia, and unique Kennebunkport treasures.
In the mid-1600s, Arundel’s first settlers kept close to the coastline both for easy access to the ocean and to escape from local Native Americans. The settlers finally abandoned the settlement in the late 1600s and did not return until around 1720 when relations with Native Americans improved.
The new settlement, named Arundel, grew along the Kennebunk River. After 1750, people began to settle west of what is now Route 1 and started farming the rest of Arundel. Around 1800, as the religious climate changed, small churches and meeting houses served to draw the local people together. Although those small churches have disappeared, several of the early farms and a few of the farmhouses still exist today.
When Arundel’s secession from Kennebunkport became official in 1916, it lost its direct connection with the coast and remained a rural town composed primarily of farms. Today, Arundel is one of the fastest-growing towns in the state, and is home to both industry and local businesses, while maintaining much of its rural character.
— Arundel Historical Society
In 1936, in the middle of the Great Depression, Edith Cleaves Barry opened the Brick Store Museum on Main Street in Kennebunk. This town was recognized nationally for its shipbuilding prowess in the 19th century, and by the early 20th century it turned into a nationwide tourist and artist mecca. Though the town preserved its small-town charm, it consistently spearheaded trends on a national level. Edith Barry inherited a brick general store building, built in 1825, from her uncle, William Barry, in the early 1930s, and knew immediately that she would open a museum dedicated to the story of this area. When the Brick Store Museum opened in 1936, it became one of only 10 museums in the entire country to open between the Great Depression and World War II. Edith Barry funded the museum with her own money and invested her time and hard work for the rest of her life. The Museum absorbed four other buildings on the block, all built between 1810 and 1860, to house its collection of over 70,000 artifacts relating to the culture of the Kennebunks. Today, the museum is open six days a week, offering exhibitions, tours, research and programs year-round. Admission is $7, $6 for seniors, $20 per family ($10 for Family Passes on weekends). For information, visit www.brickstoremuseum.org or call (207) 985-4802.
Check out the town’s 25 historical markers on this self-guided tour in Kennebunk. The start map is located outside Kennebunk Town Hall; printed maps are available at the Chamber. For details, visit themuseuminthestreets.com.
— Kennebunkport Historical Society