Our mission: Preserving the Treasures of the Past as an Investment for the Future.
An 1862 Meetinghouse is the headquarters of the Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit. Our Esselyn Perkins Library, one of the finest genealogical collections in southern Maine, contains family histories and town histories of Maine. Artifacts from local families, fishermen, farms, and businesses are on display in our Meetinghouse Museum to tell the stories of Wells and Ogunquit, which began as one town in 1653.
We serve our community in numerous areas of research, study, education, and outreach that pertain to the towns of Wells and Ogunquit, the State of Maine, and New England. The building, archives, libraries, and collections that we preserve speak to local, national, and international historical narratives that contribute to the development of our culture and society.
Interested in getting involved? We'd love to hear from you! The Board of Directors for the Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit meets on the first Tuesday of the month in the Esselyn Perkins Library at the Meetinghouse. All members are welcome. Please contact us if you plan to attend.
OUR SOCIETY'S HISTORY
The town of Wells was settled in the 1640s and incorporated in 1653. Three hundred years later, perhaps inspired by all the Tricentennial celebrations, a group of Wells residents saw the need to preserve the town's rich history. Together they formed the Historical Society of Wells & Ogunquit on March 15, 1954. Initial funds for the Society were provided by the sale of the 300th Anniversary Booklet.
Early membership included 25-30 people with three to five meetings a year, alternating between the Fireman’s Hall in Ogunquit Village and the Wells Town Hall. Programs included a series of research papers on local history, prepared by Society members. These papers were later used by Esselyn Perkins for her two-volume publication Wells, The Frontier Town of Maine (1970).
As detailed in the history of our Meetinghouse, in 1966 the Congregational Church of Wells offered its historic First Church to the Society. We took ownership of the building in 1967, with the stipulation that the congregation would return once a year for services on Heritage Day.
Meetings of the society were now held six times a year, with two summer fairs providing revenue. The 1960s and 1970s saw several by-law revisions. The Officers of the Society were responsible for the business of the organization, while the Board was largely an honorary body comprised of past presidents of the Society.
In 1980, the Village of Ogunquit claimed its independence from Wells and became Maine's newest town.
During the 1980s, the annex rooms were arranged with displays depicting the history of the town and were open for tours during the summer months. This decade marked significant growth for the Society, including membership drives, budget formation, fundraisers, active committees, and frequent by-law revisions. During this time, winter and spring meetings were held at different sites in order to save on heating the building. An alarm system was installed, grants were received, tours of local historic homes held, and an archeological dig was sponsored by the Society with substantial funding from the Town of Wells.
It was during this period that Hope Moody Shelley began her decades-long work with the Society. Hope became the Wells Town Historian in 1992 and has completed extensive research on the history of Wells, contributing immensely to our understanding of local people, stories, cemeteries, and places.
In 1988, a governing Board of Directors was formed and met throughout that winter to establish long-range plans for the Society. Soon after, a Coordinator was hired to begin cataloguing the library. Funds from a Maine State Library grant assisted in the purchase of archival supplies and a generous donation from a local businessman met the salary of the Coordinator. In 1990, another Maine State Library grant helped us preserve threatened maps and photographs, and it funded a survey of our archival materials by the Northeast Document Conservation Center. In 1994, the Society hired its first full-time Director.
In June 1991, our Meetinghouse -- the historic First Church -- was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Society has undertaken numerous repair and restoration projects on this iconic building, including preservation of the windows, painting the exterior, roof replacement, and insulation upgrades to improve energy efficiency. In 2017, the historic 1869 Naylor & Vickers bell had to be silenced when a repair assessment uncovered damage to the support arm.
In 2018, a generous grant from the Morton Kelly Foundation allowed the Society to renovate the museum galleries, greatly improving artifact display and visitor experience. The Society welcomes hundreds of visitors each year and offers tours three days per week from April through December. The Society continues to raise its revenue through a combination of town grants, membership, events, donations, business advertisers, and renting the building for private weddings and events. The beloved Woodies in the Cove car show each August is our largest fundraiser, and the Society hosts the popular Market at the Meetinghouse twice each year.
Presently, a Board of Directors governs the Society and oversees a part-time Administrator/Curator and Bookkeeper. Numerous volunteers support the work of the Society by providing museum tours, archival collections management, building repairs, event support, and development. The Society’s quarterly newsletter, Waves & Furrows, is published each season both in print and online.
With the continued support of the townspeople of Wells and Ogunquit, our growing membership, and our dedicated staff and volunteers, the Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit continues its mission of Preserving the Treasures of the Past as an Investment for the Future.