Sap buckets hang on a tree Friday, March 17, at Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LIVERMORE — A bleak future with possible closure of the Norlands has changed to one of hope and re-opening of programs, thanks to an outpouring of support from throughout Maine and beyond.

In December, it was announced Washburn-Norlands Living History Center was at risk of dissolving if it didn’t get a $3 million infusion of cash by this spring.

On Friday, March 17, Renee Bonin, president of Washburn-Norlands Foundation, which oversees the center, said over $140,000 in donations had been received. “The support has been unbelievable, really,” she said. “Outstanding.”

The center tells the history of Israel Washburn and his wife, Martha, and their 10 children who lived on the property. Their sons were most prominently known for being senators, foreign ministers, a war general, authors and successful business owners.

The working farm also tells the history of the common person in Livermore and life in rural New England in the 1800s through costumed characters, tours and hands-on programs for all ages year-round.

Among its buildings are a five-bedroom mansion, a meetinghouse, a library, a schoolhouse, a farmer’s cottage and a barn.


“We have a small endowment, and we were losing on average about $50,000 a year. If you do the math on that, we were going to run out. As a board, we have this fiduciary responsibility. So we put this stopgap in and we made a plea to the community letting them know that we may have to seek alternate stewardship. Maybe there’s somebody better out there that could manage and, and work this place. So the outpouring of support is what gave us pause. Huge.”

Mary Castonguay, treasurer of Washburn-Norlands Foundation came up with the idea of letting the public know about the center’s financial struggles, Bonin said.

Responses came from all quarters, Bonin said. “Some people wrote and offered to help write grants, other people donated lots of money, Washburn family members came from all corners,” she said. “Two Washburns now serve on our board. One in particular has helped tremendously in getting a Congressionally Directed Spending [CDS] application in. I depended on one Washburn, who doesn’t live here, but he is in construction trades and he helped so much in getting these quotes that you have to get [for the needed work].”

The application was directed toward economic development, Bonin said. “This is rural Maine, yet another mill has closed,” she said. “We do believe we can be that organization that brings people to the area. We can be the destination for families, for schools, for weddings and bluegrass festivals, lectures and events of all kinds.”

Quotes used in the CDS application – for repairs at Norlands – exceed $3 million, Bonin didn’t think allocations that large have ever been made. The library needs the most work, CDS funding will hopefully pay for that, she said. Once the amount allocated is known, the board will prioritize, with the meetinghouse first on the list to repair, she noted. “We need that for weddings,” she said. “We need to find other revenue sources, we can’t just keep depending on schools, donations and our grants. We’re going to really try and bring home the wedding idea.”

Sun sifts through a window on a display Friday, March 17, at Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore where Cadwallader C. Washburn was born when Maine was still a part of Massachusetts. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The meetinghouse needs a new entry, the ramp will be fixed right away and a moisture problem figured out before any painting can be done, Bonin said. The meetinghouse exterior, some of the mansion was painted this year, it was noted.


The mansion and barn were not included in the application, funds from real estate sales, timber harvesting and a few creative things should cover work needed there, Bonin said. “The timber harvesting taught us how to use this land to help us a bit,” she added.

The foundation has been working with Joel Gilbert, president of Jay-Livermore-Livermore Falls Chamber of Commerce, has received a letter of support from Mark Chretien, chair of the Livermore Select Board, Bonin said. “It was the right course of action,” she said. “Now that we think we can get ourselves through the summer and the fall, we need to go back to the buildings where these programs are housed. And then we really need to build back our cadre of volunteers and staff, because that’s who runs this place. It’s a nice balance of staffing. And we hope that they’re still on the periphery somewhere.”

Renee Bonin, president of the Washburn-Norlands Foundation, stands Friday, March 17, in the main entrance of the Washburn mansion at Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The Norlands is bringing back its two most popular events, Maine Maple Sunday breakfast from 9 a.m. to noon on March 26 and Christmas at The Norlands. Bonin said the foundation would like to bring back the Civil War rallies that had been held every other year.

School field trips for this spring might not be possible, although 13 requests have come in, Bonin said. Depending on staffing availability, trainings are planned for August to be able to offer a full fall session of 10 weeks with tours available four days each week, she noted. Students will get three or four experiences, will go to school, hear the story of the Washburn family, do some house and barn chores, carrying in wood — “There’s always wood to carry in!”, she quipped.

Currently there are no farm animals at Norlands, that is being worked on but a caretaker is needed first, Bonin said. The farm caretaker lives at Norlands, has a nice apartment, she noted. There are pens for sheep and pigs in the new barn that was built after fire destroyed the original in 2008, with spaces for horses and oxen too, she noted.

Norlands property manager Emelia Robbins of Pond Side Farms LLC is next door, will bring her animals to Norlands’ events until animals can be brought back, Bonin said.


Norlands may be open for tours this summer, Bonin said. Information may be found on the website. If scheduled dates don’t work, email for requests.

Snow blankets the sprawling 445-acre Washburn-Norlands Living History Center Friday, March 17, in Livermore. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The mansion, meetinghouse, library and school were built in the 1800s. The school needs a new roof, old buildings shift and always need work, Castonguay, said. “We still have to raise more funds,” she said. “As we go through these projects we will definitely need more.”

Donations are still needed and a membership drive is underway.

Those joining at the $100 level [or donating] will receive membership in North American Reciprocal Museum Association. Discounts available to members of Norlands will be enjoyed at 1,200 other participating museums, Castonguay said.

The director of a museum out west worked here, owes her career to Norlands, Bonin said. Heather Cox Richardson, popular professor and historian, used Norlands’ archives to write her thesis work at Harvard in 1984, so Norlands has deep roots for many people, she added.

“We have a lot of people who love the Norlands,” Castonguay said. “A lot of people didn’t realize we needed help. It was the right thing to do to let them know things weren’t fine, that we needed help.”

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