David Whalen presents a plan for the exterior of The S.S. Roosevelt Discovery Museum, which would tell the story of Adm. Robert Peary’s voyage to the North Pole and paint a picture of the local boatbuilding industry. The effort is being led by the Verona Island Historical Society, which had its first public meeting about the project last Friday. PHOTO BY DAVID ROZA

Volunteer group discusses plans to build S.S. Roosevelt museum

BUCKSPORT — After 10 years of planning and preparation, the volunteer group hoping to build a museum about the Bucksport area’s boatbuilding past had its first public meeting Friday night.

The Verona Island Historical Society calls its project The S.S. Roosevelt Discovery Museum, and hopes it will inform visitors and bring tourists to the area.

The museum bears the name of the Verona Island-built ship that bore Adm. Robert Peary on his way to becoming one of the first people to reach the North Pole in 1909. But the focus of the museum will largely be on the boatbuilding industry, a local economic and cultural force back in those days.

“It focuses in on the history of all those great-grandfathers of the people who are still around today,” said David Whalen, an artist, architect and owner and publisher of the Lincoln News, who is helping advise the group’s efforts.

“It’s the total boatbuilding experience that we want them to get, that community feel,” he said. “That’s going to get lost if we don’t do something about it now, because it dwindles away over time.”

The Verona Island Historical Society envisions the museum as a state-of-the-art facility with a stylish facade.

“A lot of times you see museums and they’re stark, old, tired elephants,” Whalen said. “You need to have panache to have it stand out and be significant to this area. That’s what we want.”

If built, the museum would have several artifacts from the S.S. Roosevelt era, but its open floor space could host a wide variety of exhibits.

“My goal is that all of the walls inside the museum are changeable,” Whalen said. “You can completely revamp the entire interior of this museum, so you’re constantly changing to give them something new.”

The group has plenty of optimism, but it also faces plenty of challenges. The society has to raise over $100,000 to buy the land on Route 1 on Verona Island where it wants to build the museum.

After that, the group will have to raise a lot more money to build the museum itself.

“I did get speculative pricing on what it might cost to put one of these facilities together, and you’re looking at around $300,000,” said Whalen, “which is not a cheap project, but it’s going to be on par with some of the better museums that are out there in the world today.”

The group has already started working with professional grant-writers to try to find sources of funding, but financial support isn’t all the volunteers will need.

“We’re not a professional museum committee,” Whalen said. “We’re winging it, as it were. That’s why we need input from people who know better than us.”

At Friday’s meeting, Rep. Karl Ward (R-Dedham) threw his support behind the effort, offering to contact a local architectural firm to see if it would be willing to provide pro bono consulting work for the museum. Ward, who is chief executive officer of construction firm Nickerson & O’Day, also offered to send one of his estimators to meet with the group to discuss the specifics of the building plan.

“I’d like to see something like this happen here,” said Ward, who called himself a history buff. “I think this is a fantastic idea.”

Perhaps the group’s biggest challenge will be finding younger people to get involved in the museum.

“We need some people from the 21st century to be involved in it too, to add that spark and that bit of input we need,” Whalen said to the mostly white-haired audience.

Bucksport business owner Larry Wahl asked Whalen about the possibility of the Verona Island Historical Society working with the Bucksport Historical Society, which has discussed plans to create a papermaking museum in Bucksport.

Whalen supported the idea of working together, but insisted that the S.S. Roosevelt Discovery Museum have its own space to honor the boatbuilding chapter in the Bucksport area’s history.

Verona Island resident Verna Cox was the driving force who started the project 10 years ago.

“I’m so excited,” said Cox, who plans to help raise funds for the museum by selling coloring books filled with images of mice building the S.S. Roosevelt and Bucksport landmarks such as Fort Knox and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. “I probably won’t be able to sleep tonight.”

David Roza

David Roza

David grew up in Washington County, Maryland, has reported in Washington County, Oregon, and now covers news in Hancock County and Washington County, Maine for The American and Out & About.

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