Westport Island celebrates history center

Mon, 10/26/2020 - 7:45am

    Growing up on Westport Island, George Richardson would cross Back River on a ferry his father George later bought. And in 1972, Adrien Wright, a worm dealer Richardson had dug worms for, and Wright’s wife Mary built a house near the ferry landing, now Wright Landing, Richardson, 84, recalled outside the house Sunday morning.

    After Adrien and then Mary died, the town got a grant for the land and bought the house, Richardson said. He noted multiple committees’ “fabulous” work on the house and the spot. Then the lifelong resident and longtime selectman turned from the socially distanced onlookers and cut the ribbon on a history center at Wright House.

    Volunteers welcomed the center’s first visitors inside four at a time and in face masks. According to the premiere exhibit, “Westport Island in Times of Pandemic, Epidemics & Outbreaks” and reporters’ pre-ceremony tour guide Gaye Wagner, some of the Spanish flu precautions a century ago were the same as today’s for COVID-19: Masks, hand-washing and avoiding crowds. And she pointed to a doctor’s 1918 Bath Independent article suggesting eating onions to help keep people at a distance.

    Wagner said, given the serious topic of disease, the exhibit’s workgroup decided to add something to make visitors smile: Pumpkins wearing face masks. 

    History Committee Chairman Jeff Tarbox showed attendees a plaque he said will go inside the center. The plaque reads in part: “Recognizing those whose outstanding efforts were responsible for bringing the History Center into existence.” It credits Richardson and fellow selectmen Gerald Bodmer and Ross Norton; Wright Landing Committee members Richard DeVries, Alton Andrews, Ken Parsons, John Henry Geschwindner, Richard Coventry, Bailey Bartlett, Robert Morris, Janet Hudson and Craig Hudson; major donors E. Davies Allan, Doggett Trust, Mary and Richard Coventry, Ted and Louana Frois, Joseph Ruzyckij and Westport Community Association.

    The plaque also recognizes the history committee and Friends of Westport Island History. 

    Officials said DeVries did a lot of work on the site. It needed a lot of work, and he was glad it was done, he said. There will be more to do in the spring, finishing the handicap access ramp, he said. There will always be something to do, he said.

    Two Bridges Regional Jail inmates helped and will again, Wagner said.

    The center will be open 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays until Thanksgiving, Mary Ellen Barnes of Friends of Westport Island History said. Or email Wagner at gdwagner1@gmail.com or Joan Bradford, masonjoan58@gmail.com, for an appointment to tour the exhibit.