Much of the power that propels change along the Maine coast is steeped in our traditions. The Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, founded in 1936, is playing an increasingly active role in translating these traditions to serve the needs of today’s coastal residents.

Our rich maritime history is well documented at the museum, which was specifically designed to preserve and celebrate the traditions of the past. In addition, PMM has proudly branched out into the future, with efforts as diverse as community outreach, after-school literacy programs and boatbuilding classes.

Such maritime activities remain a central tenet of Maine’s present-day story, and one thing is true of the Maine coast regardless of the era: travel, commerce and recreation all have strong ties to the sea. Boatbuilding, fishing, shipping and trade defined many early successes for the state, and contributed significantly to its wealth.

That heritage could well have been lost, however. But sometime during the summer of 1935, Clifford N. Carver, a summer resident of Searsport, and noted author Lincoln Colcord, drove past a local resident who was dismembering a handsome ship’s half-hull model with a hatchet. Horrified, they stopped and asked the fellow why he was destroying such an important artifact. The reply was: “Well, these things are a dime a dozen and I’m using the pieces to start my wood fire.”

This inspired Carver and Colcord to create the Penobscot Marine Museum, Maine’s first maritime museum, which was officially launched to preserve a lasting memory. A gift from the town of Searsport — the former town hall, built in 1845 — was given to the museum’s trustees early on, and today, PMM boasts a collection of a dozen National Historic Register properties. They are located in the center of a village with such strong seafaring ties that it provided some 10 percent of America’s ship captains (under sail) during the last decades of the nineteenth century.

Trustees and volunteers gathered paintings, ship models, half-hulls and myriad loaned objects from families who lived in towns around the bay. Over time, noted Searsport families with names such as Carver, Colcord, Nichols, and Blanchard contributed artifacts and artwork.

Included are portraits of vessels launched in the John Carver shipyard in 1840: the B. Aymar, the Lucy A. Nickels, and the ship William H. Connor. The collection has grown over the years, and PMM has been recognized by the American Association of Museums as a fully accredited member.

In celebration of all this, this summer’s special “curator’s choice” exhibit at PMM, “75 For 75,” showcases 75 of the most intriguing art objects and artifacts from the museum’s catalog. These range from 200-year-old Dutch whaling scenes and fine marine paintings by Buttersworth to early American textiles, Victorian furniture and the world’s oldest known gasoline marine engine.

The Penobscot Marine Museum is one of the fine organizations that will exhibit at the Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Show, Where Tradition Shapes Innovation™, August 12-14, 2011. Explore more about the show theme of “75 Years on Penobscot Bay — A Retrospective” at maineboats.com.

The Penobscot Marine Museum is located on Route 1 in Searsport; penobscotmarinemuseum.com, 207-548-2529. For more about the Penobscot Marine Museum — past, present, and future — see the Boat Show issue (#116) of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine.

Renny Stackpole, a Thomaston resident, is the former director of the Penobscot Marine Museum.