Magical History Tour Offers Mainers A Rare Chance to See Sites Up Close

May 13, 2018

The Maine Historical Society sent several hundred people on a scavenger hunt across Portland Saturday. What they found were glimpses of historic sites rarely seen and a chance to see them up close.

Credit Irwin Gratz / Maine Public

They included the opportunity to stand in the cab of a just-restored steam locomotive on the eve of its first run on tracks of the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum. Ticket holders got to stand in the Great Hall of the United States Custom House, a building that has been mostly off-limits to the public since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Folks could also walk into the vault where gold and silver, import tariffs paid by ships captains, were stored. Unused and largely forgotten, a Boston and Maine Railroad Tunnel had been fenced off for safety reasons. But a portion of the fencing was rolled back so those on the tour could stroll through, admire the stonework of it's roof, and walk alongside the rusted section of track that is silent evidence of what once was.

Other stops included a Coast Guard cutter and Hub Furniture, where pieces stand on the original wood floors of what was a chewing gum factory. The ceiling above was discolored by the former glue production.

The Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse is changing into senior housing. Visitors on the tour could view the chapel, lined with stained glass imagery and see the new one-bedroom apartments. In the hallways, though, was still evidence of the lifestyles of the Sisters: doors that show there were once four separate apartments where there will soon be just one.

Part of the vault that was once home to gold and silver used to pay customs duties
Credit Irwin Gratz / Maine Public

At the Historical Society's headquarters was real-life buried treasure: gold and silver coins dating to the 1600's. There was the Neal Dow house, a clock tower to climb at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, and the federal era Alumni Hall at the University of New England.

Off Portland's Riverside Street there was a chance to see D.L. Geary brewing, which led Maine and New England into the craft brewing era in the 1980's. Tour goers could begin their visit by tasting a special brew for the occasion and end it by purchasing a bottle of it to take home