A One of a Kind Venture in Bethel, Maine
by Dan Marios
Known for its charming New England countryside, quaint shops on Main Street and an array of bed and breakfasts, Bethel, Maine has always been a famous visiting spot for locals and tourists alike. Soon, it will be famous for another reason; the opening of the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum (MMGM).
“Originally, the plan was to add a one room addition onto the Bethel Historical Society” said Barbra Barrett, Executive Director for the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum. “Our project, today, is so much greater than the original idea.”
The project is well underway with the construction and renovation efforts to link two existing buildings on Main Street. A creative architectural design by Jim Reuter, has kept the visual and historic elements of the two buildings intact.
“You can’t make a museum overnight,” says Barrett. “There are so many details to make a first class facility. Every step brings us closer to opening the facility.”
“This is where we will display a 4,000 pound section of a beryl crystal from the nearby Bumpus Mine” she said, as she points to the entrance of the museum.
And then there’s a familiar sign that simply says, “Perham”, paying homage to the gem and mineral store and museum that stood in West Paris, Maine for 90 years. “This area will house the famous collection that was at ‘Perham’s of West Paris’ until its closure of the store in 2009,” explains Barrett. “The Perham Collection was the largest and best collection of Maine minerals on public display in its time.”
The upper level that will present truly impressive rocks; meteorites which are rocks that have fallen to the earth from the Moon, Mars and the Asteroid belt.
“There are only a few museums in the country that allow visitors actually to touch Moon meteorites,” said Barrett. “Our museum will be one of them.”
“The Maine Mineral and Gem Museum promises to deliver an immersive, well-rounded, and active educational component,” said Barrett.
Founders Dr. Larry T.P. Stifler and his wife Mary McFadden of Albany have assembled a large and comprehensive collection of Maine gem and mineral materials, purchased from miners, collectors and even science museums.
“Our collection is truly extraordinary,” said Barrett, whose enthusiasm for completing the museum remains strong. “We look forward to introducing visitors to a wonderful part of Maine and influence the next generation of rock collectors, gemologists or intergalactic rock enthusiasts.”
While earlier plans targeted a museum opening in 2013, it proved impossible given the additional scope of the project. Today, Barrett is cautiously optimistic for the doors to open by the end of 2015 or early in 2016.
“We have already seen great interest in what the museum will have to offer, so once it is open, I am sure it will be worth the wait,” said Jessie Seymour Perkins, Events & Marketing Manager for the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce. “We believe the museum will give Bethel and the surrounding area something to be proud of.”