OQUOSSOC — With the grand openings Saturday of a million-dollar museum and a 21st-century public restroom, this tiny western Maine village will never be the same.

When the new Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum opened at 10 a.m., several hundred people converged on the area beside Route 17 and continued to arrive for a few hours afterward, Rangeley Historical Society President Don Palmer said.

“It was an overwhelming turnout and response that far exceeded our expectations,” Palmer said.

“Everyone seemed to be genuinely interested in the displays and learning more about our history and, in some cases, the displays and exhibits triggered memories in people’s minds of stories about growing up in the area as a child, traveling through Rangeley, visiting with family and friends, and enjoying the area,” he said.

He said the society hoped to capture those memories in the future by recording people’s stories.

Among the visitors were Gov. John Baldacci and several state and local officials who participated in a dedication ceremony before examining displays.

“(Baldacci) was genuinely interested in our history and the wonderful traditions that we have, and I hope we see him back in Rangeley after his term is over, for an opportunity to relax and enjoy the area,” Palmer said.

The 3,500-square-foot log museum is built on the site of the old narrow gauge railroad station at the corner of Routes 4 and 17.

Among the many historic documents, photographs of legendary guides and characters from the region, it houses the finest and largest collection of Carrie Stevens fishing flies in the world, and lore on the steamships that plied the region’s lakes, bringing guests from the railroad to camps and the hotel.

State Rep. Sheryl Briggs, D-Mexico, said she was overcome with emotion when she walked inside.

“Isn’t this amazing?” she asked. “I feel overwhelmed at the moment. This is our true heritage. This is what they did. This is my grandfather, Joseph Arsenault. This is his home away from home. He knew these lakes like the back of his hand.”

She said her ancestors and family grew up in the Mooselookemeguntic area.

“There is so much to offer here with our natural resources,” she said. “It’s such a gift to have this at our fingertips and to have this facility validate what you heard throughout your life. This is our heritage and to validate this for our younger generation is awesome.”

Ken and Mary Ellen Taylor of Nahant, Mass., who were visiting friends, said the museum was impressive.

“This place here is gorgeous,” Mary Ellen said. “They did a fantastic job.”

Leonard Bachman of Chevy Chase, Md., who summers at his camp on Cupsuptic Lake, was equally stunned.

“This is wonderful,” he said. “It takes my breath away. I’ve been coming up here for 45 years and I heard a lot about (the lore), but to actually see it preserved is really something.”

Pam Lehman of Brooklyn, N.Y., also loved the photographic displays, some of which she donated.

“I think it’s phenomenal,” said Lehman, who brought her grandchildren from Bethel to see the museum. “I’m so impressed by what they’ve done here.”

Palmer said more work remains, including raising another $75,000 to complete landscaping, and storage and expansion areas.

He said the museum, the new Oquossoc Comfort Station — the village’s first public restroom — and the new $2.9 million Height of Land overlook and road project to begin construction this fall, all bode well for growing tourism.

“Oquossoc has a special character and that’s what we tried to capture with this building, from the physical location of it and the appearance of the building, and also the displays inside,” Palmer said.

“We hope we contributed to the character of Oquossoc and Rangeley and Maine, and attracting people that otherwise would not have come,” he said.

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