Museum gets historic donation

13 years ago

ImageHoulton Pioneer Times Photo/Elna Seabrooks
FAMILY — Christian Putnam stands at the top of the stairs in the Aroostook Historical and Art Museum near the oil painting of his first cousin four generations removed — Capt. Black Hawk Putnam.
By Elna Seabrooks
Staff Writer

    HOULTON — A 200-year-old corner cabinet is now part of the collection in the Aroostook Historical and Art Museum thanks to a donation by a descendant of the town’s founding family. “It is a critical part of our history because it goes back to our earliest family which was the Putnam family,” said Leigh Cummings, Jr one of the museum’s directors.
    “It was in my father’s home and when he passed away, we made some decisions on certain things and where they should go. And, this was marked for donation,” explained Christian Putnam.
    But, that choice did not come easily or without a certain amount of angst. It was tied up with Putnam’s childhood memories and history. “We talked about it in great depth and detail. And, we didn’t want to store it since we wanted to do something meaningful,” explained Putnam. At first, he said the discussion revolved around keeping it. Finally, they came to a conclusion — “it will always be in Houlton if we ever want to see it.”
Memories and history
    He said it may have been hewn of pine. But, he recalled the smell of cedar from hiding in it as child, even though he and his siblings were not allowed to go too close. “I probably bounced my head off that about 50 times. It was a place to hide Christmas presents, Easter eggs and other things. It was so valuable to my mother and father that we were not allowed to go near it when we were very young children.”
    The cabinet came to Houlton, said Putnam, from New Salem, Mass. when the only transportation was via river. In this case, the St. John River. The 13 delicate and very thin glass panes in the cabinet doors appear to be original and represent the 13 original colonies, according to Putnam. Over the years and generations, the hutch eventually went to the home of Putnam’s father, Arthur Otis Putnam, Jr where it remained for some 50 years until it was moved to the museum.
ImageHoulton Pioneer Times Photo/Elna Seabrooks
ANTIQUITY — Catherine Bell looks at the 200-year-old cabinet donated by Christian Putnam to the Aroostook Historical and Art Museum as he points out the delicate glass panes that he said represent the 13 original colonies.

    Now located in the a room the museum has recreated as a kitchen, it is in remarkably good condition. “My mother dusted and polished everything in the house at least once a week,” said Putnam who added that  she inspected the work of anyone who took over those responsibilities in her later years.
Historical significance
    Since the museum has collections and artifacts that document the history of the area from 1807, Bell characterized the donation as “very important because it complements and completes the room and allows us to display some very old items that we didn’t have a spot for.” Among those items now on display is “a punch bowl with matching cups which had been waiting for a home. They were donated by the Houlton Eastern Star.” The Order of the Eastern Star, an international women’s fraternal organization, disbanded in Houlton about eight years  ago.
    “I was extremely pleased to see it and it looked better than I remembered it,” said Putnam upon seeing the cherished family heirloom set up for the first time in the museum. It had been sitting on it’s side in his father’s home to avoid any damage when the family was clearing out the residence and deciding what would go where.
Image    Bell said it wasn’t easy getting the very heavy piece up the winding staircase past the oil painting of Capt. Black Hawk Putnam — Christian’s first cousin four generations removed. “It was a truly hard job getting it up the stairs. It took three people and it was all they could do. If they were not very strong men, we would have needed more,” Bell added.
    “All old families go back to the Putnams,” said Cummings who noted that the town got it’s name from  Houlton Plantation because Joseph Houlton had the most land. But, he added: “There’s no question when you look back on the genealogy and the early writings, that the real boss of the organization was Joseph’s mother-in-law Lydia Trask Putnam.” Cummings said she was the one everyone turned to when there was any type of illness and she was the matriarch of the family.