BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Some museums might be described as silent, passive preserves that struggle for a following, but the Custom House Maritime Museum here doubled its visitor count last year, and is launching a new program of events that managers hope will result in continued robust attendance.
The museum, which increased from 8,800 visitors in 2011 to 17,000 in 2012, is kicking off its new year tomorrow and unveiling a full schedule of activities for the coming months.
“We saw a significant increase in visitors in the past year,” said Michael Mroz, executive director of the venerable Water Street facility. “One thing we’re doing now is scheduling more programs and letting people know when they are happening.
“This area has such a rich history, and we want to make people aware of it with the materials that we have.”
The museum, which has 311 members, will be open on weekends throughout the winter.
It has orchestrated several upcoming presentations and new exhibits include the following:
January-February: “Upon a World Stage: Newburyport Intersections with History.” An exploration of Newburyport’s involvement in events and episodes of United States and world history. Managers say it will provide insight to the magnitude of military, political-social and diplomatic engagement by local ancestors. Lives to be examined include those of polar explorer Adolphus Greely, ship captain William Nichols, political luminary Caleb Cushing and judicial titan Theophilus Parsons.
March-April: “One Woman’s World: Elilzabeth Bray’s Journal of Discovery.” The Newburyport native, mother of three and wife of Capt. Stephen Bray, reveals first-hand experiences through more than 140 pages of her personal journal, detailing her long-sought adventure to sail the world. Museum officials say they would like to publish Elizabeth Bray’s writings in a modern, hard-bound copy. “She was an amazing woman,” Michelle Hastings, exhibition curator, said. “Her writings are interesting and observant, and remarkable in that she was on a moving ship and was frequently seasick.”
May-July: “Conflicting Stories: Native Vignettes of the Civil War.” Newburyport sent many of its citizens to this monumental conflict. At the 150th anniversary of Civil War events from 1863, the museum revisits episodes of bravery, charity, courage and service of those who participated in the conflict.
July-September: “Newburyport and the Nineteenth: A Mid-Century Modern Makeover.” An embargo severed European trade and a fire wiped out nearly the whole downtown. And then came the War of 1812 and later, the Civil War. Still, this was an era in which the city thrived. The exhibit looks at Newburyport’s period of modernization and of embracing the Industrial Age.
October-November: “Plotting Their Course: The Fine Art of Maritime Navigation.” In 1772, Newburyport ship captains established the Marine Society of Newburyport. A key reason was to effectively share their knowledge of the seas. Museum officials will present elements of the museum’s charts, maps and instrumentation that made it possible to map and navigate the high seas.
The museum is managed by the Newburyport Maritime Society, Inc., established in 1968 to preserve and protect the maritime history of the area.
Its collection includes maritime art, model clipper ships, displays of famous shipwrecks and a presentation focusing on the U.S. Coast Guard, which was founded in Newburyport.