Historical society launches online museum

An aerial view of the Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church built in 1958. This structure replaced an older church at the same site.

Moving with the times, the South Portland Historical Society has just launched a new online museum, giving the public 24-7 web access to thousands of photographs, documents and other materials related to the city’s history.

With the support of Kaplan University, the historical society has already uploaded more than 6,500 photos, and it will continue preparing its archives for digitization with plans to add significant amounts of new material to the online museum every month through 2017.

“In this digital age, being able to provide online access to history is a huge achievement for any historical society,” said Kathryn DiPhilippo, executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. “We set out on this path back in 2011 when we received (an initial) grant through the Maine State Archives. This is a very exciting time for us.”

In this initial launch, the historical society focused much of the effort on its collections of photos showcasing historical homes throughout the city.

“We felt that members of the public might initially want to search to see if a photo of their own home were available,” DiPhilippo said. “Even if someone’s own home is not there, they might be able to see how other homes along their street used to look.”

And, she said, “Of course, we also have plenty of other content available – photographs and documents related to businesses, churches, schools, people and neighborhoods. There is just so much content. It’s exciting that we can make this available to the general public.”

To access the online museum, go to go www.sphistory.org and click on the South Portland Online Museum tab. Using the keyword search feature, users can enter any word, or group of words, to search for content.

“Kaplan University is honored to support the process of creating (historical) digital content. Learners in the information age expect to be able to access their materials electronically,” said Dr. Anne Ryan, executive director of the university’s South Portland campus.

Along with valuable financial assistance from Kaplan University, the South Portland Historical Society has also benefited from the work of dedicated volunteers like Diane Rollins, Sharon Allen and Bob Doan, DiPhilippo said.

“(They) have spent countless hours pulling photographs and materials from the society’s archives, digitizing them and cataloging them with the museum software so that materials can be found and viewed with a simple word search,” she said.

Several interns from the University of Southern Maine also helped to keep the online museum project moving forward. And, with grant funding and donations from private individuals, the historical society was also able to hire part-time catalogers.

DiPhilippo said that additional funding from the city, which pays the annual website fees, “helped us to cross that final hurdle.” The speed of new material coming online is dependent on further funding, she said, and the historical society has two grant proposals in the works, which it hopes will result in more money to continue the online museum project.

The South Portland Historical Society was founded in 1962 and it collects, preserves and exhibits local history at the Cushing’s Point Museum, located adjacent to Bug Light Park.

These three houses at the foot of B Street in South Portland were built by local shipwright Thomas E. Knight in 1851. Photographs of other historical homes can be found at the South Portland Historical Society’s new online museum.

An aerial view of the Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church built in 1958. This structure replaced an older church at the same site.