NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 12, 2011

Masters of the maritime: Custom House Museum opens Wednesday

By Katie Lovett
Features Editor

The Custom House Maritime Museum just keeps growing.

Volunteers are spending their time setting up the facility for the season's opening on Wednesday — one that will include an ambitious slate of programs and exhibits, as well as inaugural joint efforts between the museum and other organizations.

It's a far cry from a few years ago when the museum was forced to close its doors for a period to tend to the aftermath of the Mother's Day storms in 2006.

Since it reopened the following year, museum volunteers have worked in full force to expand the role of the Custom House in the city.

This year is no exception.

For the first time in their combined history, the Custom House and the Historical Society of Old Newbury are partnering to host a joint exhibition and free walking tour.

The relationship between the two organizations is rich, Custom House member Michael Mroz said. When the Custom House first opened its doors, the Historical Society provided artifacts and materials for them to house.

Yet, the two entities never joined together on a program until now.

Starting later this month, Newburyporters and tourists can pick up a copy of a walking tour map at various retail shops and businesses throughout the downtown area.

The tour will take them across the neighborhoods of State Street, Fair and Fruit streets and High Street between the two museums, highlighting various landmarks and offering facts and trivia about the sites.

The purchase of one discounted admission will allow walkers into both museums to view two exhibits related to their joint history called, "Risk and Reward: Masters and Merchants in the Making of Newburyport."

"This is a landmark exhibition," Mroz said.

To launch the program, the two museums will each host an opening reception. The exhibit runs from May 25 through Oct. 30.

But first, opening day for the Custom House season is Wednesday — an event that will draw numerous participants to a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the season's first exhibit.

Named "Clarissa: Before Her Time," the display is composed of a collection of belongings from a North Hampton, N.H., woman who passed away recently. Elinor Bachelder served in the SPARs, the women's corps of the U.S. Coast Guard.

As Newburyport is the birthplace of the Coast Guard, Bachelder's family felt the museum would be the best recipient of her uniforms and accessories that she lovingly preserved, Mroz said.

The exhibit uses Bachelder's middle name to honor all of her peers, as well, Mroz said.

"She was well ahead of her time," he added. "She is the story of the females of the Greatest Generation."

Alison Smith, the exhibition curator and a graduate school intern from Harvard University, researched and organized the collection.

She also happens to fit into Bachelder's uniforms through a twist of fate, Mroz added, and will be able to personify the role as the exhibition runs from May 18 through June 30.

Custom House volunteers have invited numerous women from the community to take part in the exhibition's opening celebration Wednesday morning.

The guests include Mayor Donna Holaday; former mayors Lisa Mead, Mary Carrier and Mary Anne Clancy; Janice Morse, the president and chief executive officer of the Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank; Newburyport Daily News publisher Sheila Smith; Anna Jaques Hospital president and chief executive officer Delia O'Connor; Angela Bik, the director of curriculum for Newburyport public schools; and Ann Ormond, the president of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce.

Newburyport native Betty Ricker, 88, who served as a SPAR, has also been invited to attend. She now lives in Rowley.

From June 28 through Aug. 28, the museum will host the 2011 model ship exhibition, "Wings on Water," which explores the creation of the Clipper ship.

A fall exhibit at the Custom House, "A Merrimack Motif: A Bridge to Our Past," focuses on the history of the Chain Bridge. A collaboration with the Amesbury Cultural Council, it runs through Oct. 30.

"We've got a grand program," Mroz said.

The Custom House was designed by Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument and U.S. Treasury Building, and was built in 1835. The museum is managed by the Maritime Society.

For more information on the Custom House and Maritime Society, visit http://www.customhousemaritimemuseum.org/.