Washburn-Norlands Living History Center, seen Sept. 30, in Livermore has hired new staff, made some repairs and is awaiting word on federal funding to restore the library and meeting house next year. File photo/Livermore Falls Advertiser

LIVERMORE — Community and descendants have come together this year with much happening at Washburn-Norlands Living History Center to further preserve its legacy.

Last December, it was announced the center was at risk of dissolving if it didn’t receive a $3 million infusion of cash by spring. By March, hope of re-opening programs emerged as people from throughout Maine and beyond rallied in support.

In March Renee Bonin, president of Washburn-Norlands Foundation, which oversees the center, said over $140,000 in donations had been received. A Congressionally Directed Spending [CDS] application was submitted for needed repairs to the library which could foster economic development in the area following the mill closure, she noted then.

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.


On Friday, Bonin provided answers to several questions from the Livermore Falls Advertiser.

Since March, “[The Norlands is] continuing to bring in donations from community and family members as a result of the “Save the Norlands” campaign,” she wrote. “People continue to purchase memberships. We have well over 150 members right now, most at the sustaining level [$100].”

The Norlands has been selected by Sen. Susan Collins for a $3.42 million CDS grant to restore the 1883 Washburn Memorial Library and the 1828 Meeting House, Bonin noted.

“Additionally, the grant will convert a large storage barn into a welcome center which will have exhibits and bathrooms,” she wrote. “The grant has passed the Senate Appropriations Committee and is headed to the full Senate for a vote this fall. If it passes, the process will begin in the spring and we hope that the restorations will be able to start by the fall.”

Bonin indicated a new roof was put on the schoolhouse plus both the meeting house and exterior of the barn were painted this year.

In March Bonin spoke of hosting weddings and other events at The Norlands. Since then, “The Norlands hosted a 100th anniversary tea for a chapter of the Maine Daughters of the American Revolution,” Bonin noted. “We are booking weddings and outside events, and have the capacity to offer not just the site usage but the full event production for up to 75 people in the barn. We can accommodate more with our tent as well. We are now offering private dinners in the dining room for up to 12 people.”


Having an event at the Norlands is not just renting a space, Bonin wrote. “It is immersing yourself in the full Norlands experience in keeping with our values – supporting the local community with farm-to-table meals, having a little history in the event, and creating a warm, inviting atmosphere,” she noted. “All of our meals use locally grown produce, local meats and local flowers, often from our gardens. We may have a tour of the downstairs of the house, show some treasures in the library or have a living history interpreter present stories from the 1870s-1880s Livermore community and the Washburn family.Our farmer/chef and other assistants wear period dress [or farm appropriate “cottage core” styles] depending on the event.”

Staff has also been added at The Norlands. “We currently have a new site manager, Dan Pugh, [caretaker] and a curator, April Payne, living on site,” Bonin wrote. “We are thankful to the Washburne family for helping identify and hire an experienced team who had worked with some descendants before. Our former site manager, Emelia Robbins remains on the team working in programs, doing the farm-to-table dinners and working on our farming needs.”

Wally and Silver, the goats born in the barn on Maine Maple Sunday in March, are now part of The Norlands team, Bonin noted. “Our animals are rounded out by Emelia’s horse Bub, chickens and flock of sheep,” she wrote. “Her older sheep, Ned and Arya, will reside at Norlands for the foreseeable future.”

Over the summer, Ashley Heyer, a trustee and E.B Washburne descendant, served as the volunteer summer director and was assisted by a volunteer 19th historian, two summer college interns, a student from Spruce Mountain and a number of volunteers from the community, Bonin wrote. A number of descendants came into town to volunteer and do special projects such as cleaning the library, reviewing collections and interpreting, she noted.

“Our local volunteers have been invaluable – excited to come back and willing to take on any task we need,” Bonin wrote. “It has been special to have Willi Irish interpreting the town pauper, Mercy Lovejoy, something she has done for decades. We welcomed new volunteers, including teachers giving their time off in the summer and on Saturdays and neighbors stepping up to help. They have breathed new life into our signature living history interpretations, adding a new preacher and visits from Cadwallader Washburn to the Norlands.”

Fall living history days and site tours are run by the trustees along with the on site team and local volunteers, Bonin noted. She is running the school field trip program, which is already booked beyond the 2019 capacity. “A few slots remain in October and November is going quickly!” Bonin wrote.


Nov. 18 is the last living history day this fall where for a fee visitors can tour The Norlands from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. “We will be trimming the mansion for Christmas and cooking holiday foods in the Farmer’s Cottage,” Bonin wrote. “We hope we can add some inspiration for people as they plan their holidays.”

Christmas at The Norlands will be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9.

Other Christmas events will be announced soon, including dinner in the mansion and a Victorian Christmas party, Bonin noted.

“The Norlands’ success comes from the community and Washburn descendants coming together, cementing a new partnership on the 50th anniversary of The Norlands Foundation,” Bonin wrote. “We welcome new volunteers of all ages. Volunteers 14 and older do not need a parent accompanying them.”

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