Children’s museum opens in Rockland

Posted July 26, 2009, at 9:27 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — After at least a dozen years of operating as a “museum without walls,” the Coastal Children’s Museum has a new home by the harbor at Sharp’s Point South.

The bright, airy museum is still a work in progress, and board members and co-founders Elaine Wilson and Felicity Bowditch gave an informal tour Sunday afternoon that was full of information about exhibits and projects that are coming soon.

But for the herd of children making a cheerful, industrious din as they played with puppets, puzzles and woodworking tools, it’s clear the museum is just fine as is.

“There’s nothing more exciting, frankly, than to watch the children enjoy themselves here,” Bowditch said. “The kids just love it.”

Bowditch and Wilson are both retired schoolteachers, who came up with the idea for the Midcoast Children’s Museum more than 12 years ago, Bowditch said. Although they didn’t have a building, they did have nonprofit status, volunteers and a mobile curriculum that made visits to area Head Start programs and other locales.

That changed this winter when Capt. Jim Sharp called the women and said he had heard they were looking for a space — and he had space to spare. Sharp recently had purchased the former home of Hurricane Island Outward Bound at the south end of town, and planned a sail, power and steam museum for the site. He figured a children’s museum would be a good complement.

“I just couldn’t think of anything better,” Sharp said. “Hopefully, we will hold each other’s hand and help each other out.”

The museums held a double grand opening celebration the weekend of July 18 and hundreds attended, Sharp said.

According to Bowditch, the Coastal Children’s Museum fills a need. It is the only children’s museum between Bangor and Portland, and the rainy weather last week has meant the place has been hopping.

Linda Duncan of Tenants Harbor came with two young relatives from San Diego.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “The kids are really fascinated with everything.”

And though its target audience is children ages 2 to 9, the museum has a broader appeal, Bowditch said.

Highlights include a giant mermaid puzzle with hand-painted blocks, “Sharpie’s General Store,” where youngsters can go grocery shopping for pretend food, two looms for weaving, the wood workshop and an “arty party” space that will be home to themed birthday parties.

The store has been a “howling success” so far, Bowditch said.

Alexi Stein, 12, of San Diego said her favorite activity was the puppet show.

“She animated the dragon,” said mom Charlotte Moss. “It bit me.”

Coming exhibits include a replica of the shipwrecked Polias, a cement boat that sank off Port Clyde, which children will be able to study “just like marine archaeologists,” Wilson said. There also will be a touch tank with creatures from the Gulf of Maine and a corner to learn about Maine islands.

So far, so good, Bowditch said, looking around the busy museum.

“My hope is that we get funding to be able to keep going with wonderful programs, to have constant workshops, and to make this a place that everybody should come to,” she said.

For more information about the Coastal Children’s Museum, call 975-2530 or visit www.coastalchildrensmuseum.org.

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