TEXT BY KERRY EIELSON
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF LISTING TUNNEL
Can we take the roof off, then set the boom to get the cider press out?” Dr. Robert Schmick suggests to a pair of workers puzzling over how to move an 1870s cider mill from Newfield’s former Willowbrook Village Museum to Orrington’s Curran Homestead Village, which has been managing operations since Willowbrook closed in 2016. Earlier this year, citing dwindling admissions, Curran shuttered the 19th-century living history museum on Elm Street and began relocating 16 of its buildings, including a schoolhouse and blacksmith and letterpress shops, and most of its collections (ruffly Victorian garb and “hair art,” elaborately carved furnishings, dozens of antique carriages and Model Ts, an 1895 Armitage-Herschell carousel) to Orrington — a herculean job executive director Schmick is overseeing. Five structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with a 2,814-square-foot barn and tiny post office, were divided amongst three parcels and sold over the summer.
Willowbrook founder Donald King, who made a fortune in industrial lubricants, bought one of the properties, the 1813 Durgin House and barn (listed for $249,000), in 1965. An avid collector of antique tools, gadgets, vehicles, and furnishings, he scooped up nearby buildings, built others, and moved some to Newfield to house his acquisitions. In 1970, he opened the village as a museum where visitors could experience nearly every aspect of Victorian life, from ironing clothes in a machine with heated rollers, known as a mangle, to forging knives, grinding corn, and operating a butter churn powered by a dog on a treadmill.
Of what remains of Willowbrook, Schmick’s favorite is the 1856 Dr. Trafton House ($219,000), set on nearly two acres, with a small porch, attached former restaurant, and a view of a pond. Down the street, the third property ($229,000) comprises a 1970s barn, once a holiday store, and the Newfield post office, which brings in $8,000 in rent annually.
Standing in the Trafton House’s wallpapered sitting room, filled with books, seashells, a reed birdcage, and a stereoscope, Schmick says, “The Victorians had leisure time — they had songbirds; they made things together and used them in their homes.” He hopes a new crop of farmers, creatives, innkeepers, or antiques dealers will follow their lead.