Machias Main Street eyesore garage eyed as seasonal tourist destination

Posted Feb. 19, 2012, at 3:33 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 20, 2012, at 5:20 a.m.
An undated photo of The Lion, an 1846 steam locomotive.
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An undated photo of The Lion, an 1846 steam locomotive.

MACHIAS, Maine — A small group of visionaries is eager to transform a long-abandoned Main Street eyesore into a downtown Machias tourist destination, with plenty of ways to educate and entertain kids.

What years ago was a Ford dealership at 31 Main St. is now an aging hulk of a building that Bob Wright, a visionary who is pushing 80, is eager to revitalize as a seasonal attraction that will showcase artifacts and exhibits that draw on the rich natural and cultural history of Washington County. The goal, he said, is to make downtown Machias a destination instead of a pass-through en route to somewhere else.

The building now is owned by Machias Savings Bank and is leased for storage. June Ashmore, president of a group called Machias Valley Celebrations, joins Wright in the push to make this vision reality, and is eager to see the bank become a partner in this proposed sow’s-ear-to-silk-purse transformation.

Their collective vision for the property, which abuts the Machias River just below Bad Little Falls, includes a replica of a beaver house, fish tanks populated by young North Atlantic salmon and a 35-seat theater that would feature videos about local history. The facility also would showcase an array of artifacts related to local and regional history, including a rapid-fire deck gun from the battleship USS Maine, which was blown up in Havana Harbor, Cuba, in 1898, triggering the Spanish-American War. There’s also talk of sponsoring a fall pumpkin festival and a clam festival, with both events scheduled on weekends that don’t compete with other long-established festivals and celebrations.

In Wright’s sights is The Lion, the 1846 steam locomotive that once ruled the rails in Washington County. The oldest American-built locomotive in New England, it was in use until 1890. The Lion was given to the University of Maine in 1905 and turned over to the Maine State Museum in Augusta in 1976, where it is now on permanent exhibit. Wright would like to see the railroad relic returned to Machias as a centerpiece for the proposed facility’s artifacts display.

Wright also wants the facility he envisions to feature a burn-scarred tree trunk as an anchor for an exhibit about forest fires that have shaped Washington County’s history. Wright also wants to include another tree trunk that has been raked by bear claws. The possibilities, he’s convinced, are pretty much endless.

Wright understands that where all these ideas are headed is anyone’s guess. But, if vision plus enthusiasm could make grease, the wheels of the possible, Wright is convinced, will continue to churn.

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