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Salmon Brook Historical Society opens in Washburn for the summer, plans fundraisers

WASHBURN, Maine –– The Salmon Brook Historical Society in Washburn has officially opened the doors of the Wilder House and Aroostook County Agricultural Museum for the summer and plans to showcase the unique history of the region to the community during both private tours and public events. 

The Wilder House was built in 1852 by Benjamin Wilder, who was a farmer and the first postmaster of the village of Salmon Brook Falls, which was later incorporated as the town of Washburn in 1861. His adopted son and only child, William Henry, inherited the property in 1903 and kept it until he moved away from the area around 1916. William Jardine became the owner, though his family never lived inside the home, and in 1985 the Salmon Brook Historical Society purchased the property.

Eleven-year-old Jack Tate of Washburn presents an old wagon wheel he found in Mill Pond to Salmon Brook Historical Society volunteer Larry Hallowell in May. The historical society has continually reached out to Washburn’s youngest community members through tours of the Wilder House and Aroostook County Agricultural Museum. (Courtesy of Salmon Brook Historical Society)

Although the original Wilder barn burned to the ground in 1938 and was replaced with  a two-car garage, the historical society raised funds to build a new barn in 1989. The barn now houses the Aroostook County Agricultural Museum and includes donated and restored carriages and sleds, potato harvest equipment and tools, and even an 1870 tool chest that once belonged to Basil Fox, one of the society’s founding members.

Today, the society has preserved the Wilder House as a historical landmark and kept the rooms full with community donations of mid-1800s items such as a washing machine, oven, cabinets, clothing, children’s toys and nursery decorations. The organization also displays yearbook photographs from Washburn District High School and World War II-era uniforms and memorabilia.

Rita Kingsbury, one of 12 volunteers with the Salmon Brook Historical Society, enjoys giving tours to families, individuals and school groups and said that for many in the community, walking through the Wilder House and Agricultural Museum brings back old memories and family stories.

“People often come through here and say that their grandmother or mother told them stories about using the first washing machines and working during potato harvest,” Kingsbury said. “Seeing all these objects brings those stories to life.”

One item on display at the Agricultural Museum, an old wagon wheel, was donated by 11-year-old Jack Tate of Washburn. Tate had been playing near Mill Pond and discovered the wagon wheel half-submerged underwater. With help from his father Josh Tate, he presented the wheel to Salmon Brook Historical Society volunteer Larry Hallowell.

Kingsbury noted that with MSAD 45’s recent decision to establish a community service program at Washburn District High School, the historical society hopes to get more young community members involved with the Wilder House and Agricultural Museum during special events and regular tours.

“We could always use help with cleaning and setting up for events and would love to find teens who could serve as tour guides,” Kingsbury said.

Due to the cost of maintaining the Wilder House, the historical society is unable to open the home and museum during the fall, winter and spring months, except when hosting local teachers and their students for tours in late spring, and relies on community donations and funds raised through annual events.

This summer, volunteers will host a yard sale inside the Agricultural Museum on Saturday, July 14, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and their sixth annual Quilt Show and Tea on Sunday, Aug. 5. They currently are selling $10 raffle tickets for a quilt by Jill Fox of Falmouth, granddaughter of Basil Fox. The society also will host a harvest supper in September soon before closing the structures for the season.

Funds raised from events this year will help the society cover costs to add new fencing for the front yard, three new columns for the Wilder House porch, and for regular maintenance of the two properties.

The Salmon Brook Historical Society in Washburn is currently selling $10 raffle tickets for this quilt from Jill Fox of Falmouth, granddaughter of Basil Fox, one of the historical society’s founding members. The quilt will be one of many included in the historical society’s Quilt and Tea Show on Sunday, Aug. 5, at the Wilder House and Aroostook County Agricultural Museum. (Courtesy of Salmon Brook Historical Society)

“We always have something going on and every little bit helps us a lot as far as donations go,” said volunteer Wanita Hallowell.

Regular hours for the Wilder House and Agricultural Museum are Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. and Wednesdays from 8 to 11 a.m. To schedule tours, contact Hallowell at (207) 540-1154 or Kingsbury at (207) 429-9359.

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