With a wide array of colorful tins, labels, vintage photos, and salvaged equipment, the Maine Coast Sardine Museum honors the area’s long history with a little fish that brought big business to port towns all along the Maine coast.
Sardine fishing and canning in Maine goes back to the 1870s, a time when most people associate New England with a much bigger catch-of-the-day. Sure, there was whaling and cod, but sardines supported hundreds of Maine fishing families and dozens of canneries, with a peak of 75 plants operating by 1900.
Jonesport alone, a town of fewer than 1500 people, had 15 canneries of their own, inextricably linking them with the sometimes maligned oily fish. It’s a logical place to create a center to remember this once thriving ocean trade.
The museum was started by Ronnie and Mary Peabody, a couple who grew up in and around the world of sardines. In the late 20th century, as they watched the canneries, and the fishermen that supplied them, start to lose out to the global market, they decided to create a lasting tribute to their local way of life. And to sardines.
Maybe the most poignant display is the collection of delicately mounted scissors that belonged to local women who worked the canneries, each pair etched with a name to claim the shears as their own. Reading the names — Merty Alley from Jonesport, Willimena Mitchell of Milbridge, Abigail “Gusty” Beal of Beals, Maine — you leave the museum with not just the story of an industry, but of the lives and towns it shaped.
You might call the Sardine History Museum a museum that eBay built. The Peabodys had been collecting memorabilia, photos and long-outdated equipment for years, but in order to raise the funds to build a place to house it all, the couple worked the eBay market, buying and selling antiques and collectibles, and funneling the profits back into their hopes for a museum. By 2005 they had raised enough to build a small building next to their home, which now houses their collection. They are open during the summer months, happy to share their knowledge and respect for an industry born of the New England spirit.