The Abbe Museum - History and Facts | History Hit

The Abbe Museum

Bar Harbor, Maine, United States

The Abbe Museum in Maine focuses on Native American history and heritage, particularly that of the Wabanaki.

Peta Stamper

31 Mar 2021
Image Credit: CC / AbbeMuseum

About The Abbe Museum

The Abbe Museum in Maine focuses on Native American history and heritage, particularly that of the Wabanaki, Maine’s indigenous people. The Abbe Museum actually has two venues in Maine: in Bar Harbour and on Mount Desert Island.

The Abbe Museum history

Named for its founder Dr Robert Abbe (1851-1928), the Abbe Museum was founded in 1926, first opening to the public in 1928. Dr Abbe was an eminent New York physician known for pioneering radiation therapy. As a summer resident of Bar Harbor, during the 1920s Dr Abbe assembled a collection of early Native American artefacts from the Frenchman Bay area.

Persuading others with similar collections to join him, a museum was established in order to protect and display these objects for public education. Dr Abbe’s incarnation of the museum was focused on archaeology, but it soon expanded to include ethnographic materials from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

In 1931 the museum received a donation from Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian founder, Mary Cabot Wheelwright. The collection included a major selection of Wabanaki craft and basketry, contributing to the largest and best documented collection of Main Indian basketry.

As the museum collections grew, its educational role expanded. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Abbe began collaborating with indigenous people. At this time, the Abbe’s location at Sieur de Monts Spring was inadequate for housing the growing collections, opening seasonally.

Therefore in 1997, the Abbe bought the former YMCA building in downtown Bar Harbor, renovating and expanding the 1893 landmark. The new museum has space for exhibition galleries, indoor and outdoor space, a research lab and state-of-the-art collections storage.

The Abbe Museum today

Today, the Abbe’s collections represent 12,000 years of indigenous American culture and history in Maine, its conservation programme recognised nationally. Through a series of exhibitions, artefacts, workshops and events, including the Abbe’s core exhibit, ‘People of the First Light’, introduces visitors to the Wabanaki universe, their culture and history.

The Abbe Museum particularly uses oral traditions, personal stories, cultural knowledge and objects to explore conflict, adaptation and survival for the Wabanaki. You can also visit the original Sieur de Monts Spring site from October to May.

Getting to The Abbe Museum

Located on Mt Desert Island, you can reach the Abbe via the 3 off route 1 at Ellsworth. There is an Island Explorer bus stop across the Village Green on Firefly Lane, 100m away.

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