Local history is on display at two Clifton museums

Posted Dec. 23, 2011, at 1:50 p.m.

History literally lies exposed inside the Clifton Town Hall Museum, located at 9 Rebel Hill Road (Route 180) just south of Route 9 in Clifton.

In 1999, the Clifton Historical Society acquired the two-story, wood-framed town hall and a nearby one-room schoolhouse from the Town of Clifton. Established in December 1994, the CHS started renovating both buildings in the early 21st century; today the Clifton Town Hall Museum and Harold Allan Schoolhouse Museum contain interesting exhibits that capture rural life in Clifton.

Constructed in the 1890s by 21-year-old Winfield Campbell and originally called Cliffwood Hall, the Clifton Town Hall Museum includes a fully developed first floor and an open second floor with a wooden floor and exposed beams.

The second floor played a utilitarian role in Clifton history; concerts and minstrel shows were held there long ago, according to Clifton Historical Society President Larry Bragg. Standing beside a thick vertical beam, he pointed to the spot above the stairs where “the girls would sit and watch us boys play [basketball]” when he attended the one-room school in the early 1950s. Then he lightly ran a hand across the beam’s rough surface, scored by repetitive marks not seen on modern planed lumber.

“These are the saw marks they made when they were cutting the beam out of a log,” Bragg said. “You’re looking at history. These beams are unbelievable.”

Visitors look at history inside both buildings, which were named to the National Register of Historic Places in mid-2008. Displayed inside the Clifton Town Hall Museum are many artifacts, including dishes and other items inside the rear kitchen. Of particular interest is a vintage horse-drawn hearse, equipped with wheels for warm-weather use and skis for cold-weather travel.

Displays focus on Clifton residents, locations, and history. Situated amidst rugged rolling peaks in the southeast corner of Penobscot County, the town was once dotted by farms and saw mills. Although now a bedroom community for Bangor and Ellsworth, Clifton retains a distinctive identity championed by Bragg and other historical society members.

Non-residents know Clifton from its natural features: Chemo Pond and Parks Pond, the latter bordered by a popular campground and golf course; and Chick Hill (actually Peaked Mountain) and Eagle Bluff, both popular with hikers. For more than 100 years, however, the town’s center has been the old town hall and adjacent school.

According to CHS Treasurer Judy Bragg, the society did not envision establishing a museum after paying “a nominal sum” for the buildings 12 years ago. The old town hall “was not in compliance electrically,” she said; the venerable building actually faced demolition before the historical society saved it.

A grant paid for the roof’s reshingling, and the Clifton Snowmobile Club “rewired the hall and broke it up to code” in 2004, Judy Bragg said. Work crews from the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department do on-site maintenance work every year, and the Town of Clifton annually appropriates funds for the upkeep of both buildings.

The Clifton Historical Society held an open house at the old town hall in 2005 — and a museum was born.

“People started donating items to us,” Judy Bragg said. “There was so much given to us, we started displaying items in the town hall. We became a museum without planning it.”

Utilizing a Maine State Museum cataloging system, CHS members label and record all donated items, Bragg indicated. Many items are displayed in the Harold Allen Schoolhouse Museum, named after a local school superintendent.

Visitors travel 60-plus years into the past when they step inside the one-room school, built in 1863 and the sole survivor among five similar schools that once dotted Clifton. Students’ wooden combination chair/desks face the chalkboard, and books used in the 1940s and ’50s lie on desktops.

Near the blackboard stands a classic woodstove; when he attended the school, Larry Bragg would arrive early to start a wood fire in that same stove. “It’s all we had for heat,” he said.

From March to October, the Clifton Historical Society meets monthly at the schoolhouse. Next year, the society will open both museums to the public; the scheduled dates are:

• 1-4 p.m., Saturday, July 21;

• 1-3 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 9.

Museum tours are available by contacting Larry Bragg at (207) 843-5908. Museum admission is free.

The Clifton Historical Society has almost 50 members, including Harold Allan II and Vernon Campbell, the grandson of Winfield Campbell. Society members hold two food sales each year to raise funds for building maintenance.

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