The Nordica Homestead Museum is open from June 1 to Sept. 15. Visiting hours are from
10 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and 1 to 5
p.m. on Sunday. The home is open by appointment from Sept. 15 to Oct.
15 by calling 778-2042. 

FARMINGTON — Bonnie Lander is learning about history, and a lot about opera, while reading through old letters written to and about Lillian Nordica.

“You’re holding a piece of paper that’s 150 years old,” she said of why she wears gloves to encase the letters in sleeves. “Many of them were sent from Paris, Italy and Russia.”

On June 30, Lander and her husband, Wint, became the new caretakers of the Nordica Homestead Museum on Holley Road. They are settling in to the caretaker home and learning about the opera star and her belongings.

“She knew a lot of famous people, including a Russian czar, a Chinese emperor and empress, famous composers and even a riverboat gambler, Diamond Jim Brady,” Lander said.

But the history in those letters and belongings also tell a story about the people of Farmington. Lander, the daughter of Jack Bell, grew up on Main Street near downtown Farmington. Although she doesn’t remember visiting the homestead while in school, many of the people mentioned in the letters, and those who created the Nordica Association, bring back memories of her childhood and “make me feel 12 and on Main Street again,” she said. “The home is steeped in history.”

The museum is the early childhood home of Lillian Norton who moved to Boston when she was 7. Her father sold the home and it fell into a state of disrepair. Norton, whose stage name was Nordica, loved the place. In 1911 her sisters bought the house and restored it — giving it to her for a birthday present, Lander said.

In the years after Nordica’s death in 1914 at age 57, the house fell into disrepair again until 1927, when 10 “town fathers” each donated $100 and took out a $500 mortgage to buy the house, restore it and form the Nordica Association, Lander said.

She is happy to be immersed in the history. Before taking this position, she had always loved reading history, especially Maine and Farmington history, and working on her family’s genealogy, she said. She also came to realize how much she loves “old” people and volunteering in nursing homes.

“They know so much,” she said. “History tends to repeat itself. We’ve already made a few mistakes in this country. We need to engage our older relatives and learn their history.”

Lander has already set goals for the homestead. One is to catalog the library according to the Dewey Decimal System. Another is to plant lilies along the driveway and in front of the homestead, in honor of Norton’s name-change.

Born Lillian Allen Norton, an Italian singing coach urged Norton to change her name because he was afraid Europeans wouldn’t accept an American opera singer. Norton became Madame Giglia Nordica, which translated means “lily of the north,” Lander said. Any donations of lily bulbs would be appreciated, she said.

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Bonnie and Wint Lander recently became caretakers of the Nordica
Homestead on Holley Road in Farmington. Donning white gloves to handle
old letters and photos, Bonnie said she’s learning more about history
and opera since starting on June 30.

Bonnie and Wint Lander recently became caretakers of the Nordica
Homestead on Holley Road in Farmington. A replica opera hall(based on three different halls) is being prepared for exhibit. The replica has a sound system and lights, Bonnie explained.

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