Maine Mineral and Gem Museum set to open this December
Imagine a place that is home to some 40,000 of the nation’s finest terrestrial minerals and gem specimens, from tourmaline to quartz, and 6,000 of the world’s foremost extraterrestrial rocks, including the four largest pieces of the Moon on Earth, the largest collection of Mars meteorites, the oldest igneous rock in the Solar System, and the largest piece of the Vesta asteroid.
Then imagine a place that also is home to a laboratory that is staffed by some of the most accomplished pegmatologists, geologists, and cosmologists, and holds equipment and has the capabilities rivalling that of institutions hundreds of times its size, as well as a library of more than 10,000 books, scientific journals, and other periodicals.
One might imagine that such a place is located in New York, Chicago, California, Texas, or the Silicon Valley.
But, the reality is that this place — the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum — is in the town of Bethel, Maine’s tourmaline mining region and the heart of ski and hiking country in the state. And, it is opening in May of 2019!
The Maine Mineral and Gem Museum (MMGM), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, promises a mission to celebrate the mineralogy of Maine, to promote an understanding of the importance of minerals in our lives, and to teach of the origins of Earth and beyond. The MMGM will accomplish this mission through dynamic exhibits, educational programming, and scientific research, all of which are designed to fire the imagination.
The MMGM will contain approximately 45,000 specimens, including 15,000 gems that were mined in Maine. With a meticulous eye for detail, the Paulus Design Group of Bath, Maine and Washington, DC, along with 1220 Exhibits of Nashville, TN, have created an experience for visitors to observe and learn about all specimens through 19 different interactive exhibits in four galleries within a 15,000 square foot space on three floors.
One of the permanent mineral collections is the famous Perham Collection, which had been previously viewed by generations at a local Bethel, ME mineral store that operated for 90 years. Beryl, quartz, and tourmaline are at the forefront of the 300-plus superlative Maine gems at the museum. In front of the museum is a rock garden dedicated to the memory of Dr. Arthur M. Hussey, a geologist at Bowdoin College and a founding member of the MMGM’s Board of Trustees.
Open to the public year-round, the rock garden introduces Maine’s geology with 22 specimens from around the state. The museum’s collections are rounded out with approximately 260 specimens of fossils (half from Maine, the other half from elsewhere), more than 1,000 polished tourmaline spheres and carvings, nearly 400 mining-related artifacts, and an array of jewelry masterworks using Maine gems.
Driven by their love of Maine and a deep passion for conservation, the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum was founded by Dr. Lawrence Stifler and Mary McFadden. Over the course of several decades, the two established a land trust of over 15,000 acres which fortuitously contained historic mines. The legacies of these mines and being able to preserve the minerals, gems, and mining history is the inspiration behind the museum. Dr. Stifler and Ms. McFadden invested over $20 million in bringing their vision to fruition.
The on-site research laboratory is unrivaled for a museum the size of MMGM. The laboratory houses an electron microprobe, a scanning electron microscope, an X-ray diffractometer, a direct couple plasma spectrometer, polarized light microscopes, and other instruments which provide the foundation for mineralogical research and more. The staff includes one of the world’s foremost pegmatologists, Dr. William B. “Skip” Simmons, former Research Professor and Professor of Mineralogy at the University of New Orleans.
The MMGM library collection is comprised of 10,000 books, periodicals, maps, and recordings with a focus on Maine minerals and geology. A combination of important libraries gifted to the MMGM in addition to complimentary acquisitions, the library is broad in its scope and essential in supporting research and developing new programs and future exhibits.
A rich archive of documents detailing the history of early local mining and mineral shops is also part of the library. The archives of many of the most important figures in Maine mineralogy are represented as well as a large collection of historic photographs of mining in the region.
The Maine Mineral and Gem Museum is located at 99 Main Street in Bethel, Maine. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM and closed on Sundays. The cost of admission is $12 for adults (18+) and non-students. It is free-of-charge for children and students (with a valid student ID).