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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: May 18, 2016

Tour 11 mysterious historic sites May 21 as part of Maine Historical Society’s “Magical History Tour”

Written by: Ray Routhier
Magical History Tour

Look familiar?
This image shows a glimpse of one of the 11 historic places in Portland featured on this year’s “Magical History Tour,” a fund raiser for Maine Historical Society. Most of the sites on this year’s self-guided tour, scheduled for May 21, will not be revealed until the night before the event.
Photo courtesy of the Maine Historical Society

A lot of great history around here is hidden.

Portland does have plenty of extremely visible history, including the 1807 Portland Observatory on Munjoy Hill and the majestic 1860 Victoria Mansion on Danforth Street. Both are open to the public.

But did you know that inside the Amore Styles salon there is the remnant of a seawall built in the 1840s, when Fore Street was oceanfront property? Or that the boilers in the basement of the Westin Portland Harborview hotel are the same make and model of those that powered the Titanic? Or that it’s possible to climb into the clock tower on top of the 1912 City Hall building?

Magical History Tour

This image shows a glimpse of one of the 11 historic places in Portland featured on this year’s “Magical History Tour,” a fund raiser for Maine Historical Society. Most of the sites on this year’s self-guided tour, scheduled for May 21, will not be revealed until the night before the event.Photo courtesy of the Maine Historical Society

You would have known all of the above, and seen the evidence firsthand, if you had been on last year’s Magical History Tour organized by the Maine Historical Society.

Not to worry: The society is planning a second Magical History Tour. It’s scheduled for Saturday at 11 historic sites around the city. Organizers want to keep most of the locations a secret, and therefore securely hidden, until the day before tour. Then, like a child opening a Christmas present, history buffs can get their map of the self-guided tour and plan their day’s adventure.

The event is a fundraiser for the Maine Historical Society, one that organizers feel is a perfect fit because it raises money while raising awareness of little-known historic sites. In the past, the organization has had fundraisers, like a Kentucky Derby party, that while fun, had nothing to do with Maine history.

Look familiar? This image shows a glimpse of one of the 11 historic places in Portland featured on this year's "Magical History Tour," a fund raiser for Maine Historical Society. Most of the sites on this year's self-guided tour, scheduled for May 21, will not be revealed until the night before the event. Source: Maine Historical Society

Look familiar?
This image shows a glimpse of one of the 11 historic places in Portland featured on this year’s “Magical History Tour,” a fund raiser for Maine Historical Society. Most of the sites on this year’s self-guided tour, scheduled for May 21, will not be revealed until the night before the event.
Photo courtesy of the Maine Historical Society

“It’s great for us to have our big fundraiser serve as a way to give people an taste of the work we do,” said Steve Bromage, the society’s executive director.

There are two ways for people to find out what’s on the tour this year. First, they can attend a cocktail party at the U.S. Custom House on Fore Street Friday night, when the sites will be revealed. Or they can show up at the historical society’s Brown Library on Saturday at 10 a.m. and get their map of sites then. The tour is $35 for adults ($25 for members), while a ticket for both the party and the tour is $85 ($75) for members.

Organizers recommend allowing about 30 minutes at each site you visit. So if you want to follow that recommendation and see them all, the total time would five hours and 30 minutes. At each location, on Saturday only, there will be volunteers to explain the site and answer questions.

Last year some 500 people participated in the first self-guided Magical History Tour.

Besides the City Hall clock, the seawall and the hotel boilers, sites on the tour last year included: the 170-old Portland Forge, where blacksmithing demonstrations were held; the Portland Motor Club, with close-up looks at a 1930 Ford and a 1957 Chevy; the 104-year-old West Mansion on the Western Promenade; and the Eastern Cemetery, established in 1668. People also got to go into parts of the Victoria Mansion not usually accessible, including the tower, and some usually off-limits areas of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s boyhood home, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House.

Bromage said he could reveal two sites on this year’s tour. One is the U.S. Custom House, where people will get to see parts of the circa 1868 government building not usually accessible, including the cupola on top, which offers a great view of the city’s waterfront.

Another stop on the tour is a building the society uses for storage on Riverside Street. While the building itself is not historic, its contents give people a good idea of how a collection as large and diverse as Maine Historical Society’s is managed, Bromage said.

There are some very large items there, including transformers used by Central Maine Power in the 1940s and 50s. There are old switchboards and other old furniture from various businesses, as well as some heavy equipment used by The Portland Co. over the years to make engines for ships and trains.

Bromage said he hopes the tour will give people a better idea of some of the people and places that helped shape the state.

“The broader reason for doing this is to explore the places that shape Maine history, the sense of place, and let people experience that,” Bromage said. “This is about appreciating, as you move through the city, all the eras and places and stories that have shaped Portland.”


MAGICAL HISTORY TOUR

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Maine Historical Society’s Brown Library, 485 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $35, $25 for society members, $5 for under 18
INFO: mainehistory.org
WHAT ELSE: There will be a cocktail party from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, at which time the 11 sites on the self-guided history tour will be revealed. The party is at the U.S. Custom House, 312 Fore St., Portland. Tickets are $60, or $85 for the tour as well ($75 for members).

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