History of the Bass Harbor Country Store Museum
The country store was built sometime before 1880 and for many years was owned and operated by Perry W. Richardson, commonly known as “P.W.” The store was known as the P. W. Richardson store. A room on the south side was added later and used as a grain shed. In the 1920s a bank was operated in a small room built onto the north side of the building. The floor and walls in the main room are original. The shelving was added later. In other rooms, where repairs required replacement of original material, original materials were duplicated as closely as possible. The country store was renovated in 1965 and, more recently, in 2002. The main floor has been kept basically unchanged and is the main display area. The side entrance, disability access and bathroom were added in 2002. Upstairs are the Tremont Historical Society office, a work area for restoration and cataloging ,and a research room that is open to the public by appointment.
P.W. Richardson was born in 1840 to Moses and Priscilla (Richards) Richardson and was a grandson of Thomas Richardson one of the first white settlers in Bass Harbor. P.W. initially taught school in Tremont and surrounding towns, then became a seafarer and then a lighthouse keeper before opening the store in 1879. He added a wholesale fish business a few years later. Mr. Richardson was active in many community positions and played a lead role in building the Tremont Congregational Church at the head of the harbor. In the 1916 edition of Who’s Who in New England1 he was listed as a merchant, engaged in mercantile trade since 1879; mem. P.W. Richardson & Son, wholesale fish and retail grocers; pres. Tremont Savings bank, McKinley Fish and Freezer Co. Odd Fellow.
In the 19th century the village store was often the bank, post office, community telephone and community center. People would gather to get their mail, purchase supplies and share the latest town gossip. For many years the store served not only the village of Bass Harbor, then known as McKinley, but also the nearby islands off the south coast of Mount Desert Island: Gott, Black, Placentia, perhaps Frenchboro and Swans Islands and probably many sailing vessels and coasters that “put into” Bass Harbor.
Since P.W. Richardson’s time, the store has been owned by the Stinson Canning Company, the Machiasport Canning Company, Bill Thurston, Charlie Rich, Henry Wass, the Town of Tremont and the Chamber of Commerce. The Country Store Museum was started in 1964 when the Tremont Chamber of Commerce purchased the building from the Stinson Canning Company. George Sebolt, then president of the William Underwood Company, which owned and operated the sardine factory in the large brick building across the road, loaned his collection of authentic 19th century country store equipment and furnishings. Maine State Governor John Reed, Sebolt and other dignitaries spoke at the opening ceremony using the roof of the factory’s garage across the street as a speaking platform. Then Town Manager Henry LeClair and Stanley Reed were instrumental in getting the Museum started and it was operated initially through the Town office, later by the Chamber of Commerce and was deeded to the Historical Society in 1990.
When the William Underwood Company left Bass Harbor in the late 1960s, Mr. Sebolt’s collection was returned to him. The present collection was begun by John Nelson, who was president of the Chamber of Commerce. He searched the state for country store furnishings to replace the Sebolt collection. To this collection was added a collection of local artifacts from the Mount Mansell Historical Society, begun by Lawrence S. Robinson, Thomas Searle, Ralph Stanley and Millard Herrick in Southwest Harbor. According to Stanley Reed, their collection was donated when it outgrew Mr. Herrick’s garage. Since then many more items have been donated by members of families or descendents of families who lived in Tremont and Southwest Harbor.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the museum was kept open in the summer by leasing the main room on the ground floor to various people as a gift shop or by Historical Society volunteers who sold items to help pay for their time. In both cases, it was run as an old fashioned shop with candies, crafts and gifts, much of these similar to what would have been found in a 19th century store. Artifacts include antiques, Tremont/SWH family memorabilia, woodworking and nautical tools, kitchen utensils, antique clothing, boat models, a spinning wheel, large antique coffee grinder and Dr. Willis Watson’s medical kit from the early 1900s.
Materials in the research room include a library of a few genealogies and historic documents and photos related to the history of Tremont, Southwest Harbor and surrounding islands, documents about town history, a nearly complete collection of Tremont annual reports, old maps and a computerized comprehensive genealogical database on many area families in Family Treemaker
(donated by Ralph Stanley).
By Muriel Trask Davisson, who acknowledges previous articles by Laurie Schreiber and W. Stanley Reed.1Who's who in New England, Volume 2. A Biographical dictionary of leading living men and women in the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. 1st edition 1909, 2nd edition 1916. Edited by Albert Nelson Marquis. Chicago: A.N. Marquis & Company, Publishers