By Catherine Cyr, Associate Curator
A key aspect of Maine Maritime Museum’s new mission is to reframe our consideration of maritime to include an emphasis on waterways and their local, regional, and global impact.
By definition, a waterway is simply any “navigable body of water.” While that includes our 3,000 miles of tidal coastline, it also encompasses the staggering number of Maine’s inland water sources. Maine alone has nearly 32,000 miles of river and over 60 0 lakes and ponds, meaning most areas in the state have a direct, often vital, connection to some form of water.
This connection to water has provided innumerable tangible and intangible benefits to individuals and communities across the state for thousands of years. Waterways are and have been a source of food and natural resources, a mode of transportation, sites of labor, and a recreational gateway. It is this latter role—recreation on inland waterways— that we will explore in our upcoming
exhibition, Upta Camp.
The new exhibition, opening in April, aims to immerse visitors in the long and storied tradition known as “headin’ upta camp.” While the definition of a camp can vary among locals and visitors alike, a camp is often defined as a remote, rustic structure on or near a lake, pond, river, or stream. “Headin’ upta camp” has long been associated with restorative and invigorating properties, with boundless access to fresh air, stunning, undisturbed forest, and water views. Of course, there’s also a host of recreational activities to enjoy, from boating to fly fishing to swimming—all of which are tied deeply to the presence of inland waterways.
Upta Camp will guide visitors through the rise of Maine’s camp culture from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. The sporting and leisure camp movement in Maine began in the 1870s in part due to the publication of guidebooks and articles proclaiming the superior sport fishing in Maine, especially in the Rangeley and Moosehead lakes regions. In addition to learning about the broader local and national historical contexts of Maine camps, visitors will be introduced to the logistics of traveling by water to more isolated camps and the iconic material culture associated with camp lifestyles and activities, including fishing poles, Old Town Canoes, and lots of flannel.
To further engage our visitors, the exhibition will also have an immersive cabin setting with hands-on activities for all ages to help replicate the experiences one would find when visiting a camp.
Upta Camp is an exciting next venture for the museum as we look to expand on our recent success of broadening the scope of our exhibitions to share under-told stories of Maine’s rich maritime history, while also highlighting collections that have had limited opportunities for public display and interpretation.