Maine and the nation recently celebrated the 150th commemoration of the Civil War (1861-1865), and books continue to come out weekly on all aspects of that terrible time in the nation's history. People continue to study and explore the ramifications of the conflict on a daily basis. For those interested in the role Maine and Mainers played in the war, a must is a visit to a little-known resource, the Maine Masonic Civil War Library and Museum at 415 Congress St. in Portland.
Located in the historic and beautiful Masonic building, The Masonic Temple, near City Hall, the museum and library was officially opened on Oct. 5, 2013 and was the brainchild of its director, James E. Dufresne and other local Masons.
“We were in the middle of celebrating the Civil War,” said Dufresne. The Masonic library’s space became available when the Mason’s Grand Lodge of Maine offices relocated to Holden, outside Bangor. He had been the Grand Librarian for the Grand Lodge for over 25 years.
As a pamphlet on the museum states, “The Maine Masonic Civil War Library and Museum was begun as a reminder to Mainers of the part that many Masons played in the Civil War. Mainers also played an important part in the nation’s recovery after the Civil War. Maine Masons were not the only Mainers who served in the Civil War; we must also recognize all Mainers, men and women, who participated in that great conflict.”
Dufresne, a Portland native, PHS Class of 1967, has always been interested in history and was particularly intrigued by the American Revolution which eventually led to an interest in the American Civil War. He was asked by the Masons to take on the Civil War library project in 2011 and has collected an amazing amount of books, literature, artifacts and other items relating to the war.
Dufresne is quite knowledgeable about the war; he becomes animated when he discusses the part the Masons and Mainers played in it. I am personally intrigued with the library and museum because my great-grandfather George J. Barker was a 32nd degree Mason in Portland and his grandfather George J. Barker of Rockland joined the Union Army at 49 and was discharged disabled 11 months later.
The library is located on the third floor of the Masonic building and is accessible by an antique elevator, the original elevator. The building itself was built in 1910-1911, and although the Masons’ offices removed to the Bangor area, it is still “quite busy,” according to Dufresne. Blue Elephant Events & Catering of Saco is the exclusive caterer at the building which is used for everything from local high school proms to wedding receptions. Many couples get married at the nearby First Parish Congregational Church and then go next door to the Masonic building for their reception. Blue Elephant business is largely helping to preserve the temple. According to Dufresne, a scene from the History Channel’s documentary on the Titanic was filmed in the building as the building has changed very little since 1911.
The role Maine and Mainers played in the Civil War is still being explored by historians and other interested individuals. Most have heard about General Joshua L. Chamberlain of Maine who led the 20th Maine which helped win the Battle of Gettysburg for the Union; and many have heard that Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote part of her seminal book Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Brunswick, a book that helped precipitate the Civil War according to many; still others know that President Lincoln’s first Vice-President during the war was Hannibal Hamlin of Maine. But there are other aspects to the war that have a Maine connection.
The Maine Masonic Civil War Library and Museum is a great place to learn about them; visitors can get acquainted by studying the Joshua Chamberlain exhibit at the front door of the library that was created by Dufresne. Chamberlain himself was a Mason.
Memorial Day events in the Greater Portland area include:
• Monday, May 30 at 2:00pm | Friends of Evergreen (Evergreen Cemetery) annual program "to honor fallen veterans and raise awareness of the original traditions of Memorial Day. The Friends of Evergreen have created a dignified event with participants such as our local veterans, the Woodfords VFW Color Guard, a symbolic black riderless horse, Girl Scouts, neighborhood girls as flower girls, Claddagh Mohr bagpipers, City Councilors, and local historian Herb Adams. The crowds along the route (Stevens Avenue from Deering High School to the chapel in Evergreen) increase from year to year as community involvement and appreciation continues to grow." |
Portland parade | Parade begins at 10:15am at Longfellow Square and continues down Congress Street to Monument Square for ceremonies. |
- Published in This Just In