History with a view: Touring Kennebunk Beach
The Brick Store Museum is offering a Mother’s Beach Walking Tour every Saturday at 10 a.m. until Columbus Day to visitors who want to learn about the history of Kennebunk’s beach houses.
Departing from Trinity Chapel in Kennebunk, Brick Store Museum volunteers walk anyone interested through the homes around Mother’s Beach, some even provide their own perspective and knowledge of the area.
Cynthia Walker, the Brick Store Museum’s executive director, said that the tour was added about three years ago as just a one-off deal, but it was so successful that they decided to make it a weekly event.
With 14 different stops along the way and seven volunteer tour guides, each tour is a unique experience, Walker said.
“Several of the volunteers grew up there so they throw in a couple of personal stories with the rest,” she said. “It’s nice that they can apply their own story to it, so there’s a different story every time you go.”
One guide, Betsy Webster, who has been vacationing in Kennebunk since 1943, said that her grandmother knew one of the historical figures on the tour, Margaret Strong, whose former beach house is one of the more prominent talking points along the way.
The Walter Coleman Cottage, one of the biggest homes featured on the Mother’s Beach Walking Tour in Kennebunk, was built in 1888. Tour guides have permission from the current owner to walk through the yard during the tour, which provides a closer look at the house. CATHER(NE BART/Kennebunk Post
Strong, who has a museum dedicated to herself in Rochester, New York, was an eccentric figure, Webster said during the tour. She died with a fortune of $660 million, and during her time in Kennebunk, around the 1960s and 1970s, she lined her property with bathtubs, which amused some and horrified others.
“My grandmother did not like her at all,” Webster said.
She and Jay McEvoy, another volunteer guide with fond memories of the area, took turns guiding the tour, which lasted a little bit more than an hour.
One of the last stops on the tour was Webster’s old family cottage, once called the Arnold Cottage, built in 1900, which her grandfather bought in the 1940s.
Even though there are plenty of personal anecdotes along the tour, depending on the guide, Walker said that the information given to the volunteers was researched through the Brick Store Museum’s archives.
“So almost everything was researched here at the Brick Store Museum, which has its own archives,” she said. “The guides have a binder they carry with them. People on the tour will be able to see these old archival houses and see what the beach looked like in 1905.”
Visitors can purchase a book with all the historic photographs at the end of the tour, Webster said, but the guides do show plenty of old pictures along the trip.
Walker said that she was surprised that so many local residents have been taking the beach tour instead of tourists, which is what she mostly expected.
She said that people who take the tour enjoy learning about the owners inside the house more than the architectural history.
“Most of the feedback I hear is that you pass by these houses every day and you never notice them,” she said. “Once you know the personal story behind it, going to the beach means a lot more than it used to.”
While the museum has been offering historic tours for years—for example, the Historic District Walking Tour on Summer Street—Walker said that the beach can often be over-looked from a historic perspective.
“All picture the beach as a vacation stop, just sitting out in the sun, but beaches are huge treasure boxes of history,” she said. “Those same beaches have shipwrecks buried underneath the sand. If the tide’s low enough you can see traces of ships wrecked beneath the sand.”
Walker added that the museum is always looking for more volunteers to lead tours.
“We’re very thankful at the museum — because we have such a small staff — that this really dedicated group of volunteers does it without question every week,” she said. “It’s really nice to have that sort of help.”
In the past couple of years, Walker said, the Mother’s Beach Walking Tour departed on Thursdays, but this year it was changed to Saturdays to attract more people.
“We changed it to Saturday mornings at 10 to allow us to reach out to more families that might not be working at that time or crowds who are at the beach with their kids,” she said. “We’re trying to reach a new audience.”
Anyone interested in a walking tour can visit the Brick Store Museum’s website at www.brickstoremuseum.org or call 985-4802. Tickets for the beach walking tour can also be purchased the day of, at Trinity Chapel, before departure.
— Catherine Bart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 780-9029.