The mission of the Abbe Museum is to share the rich culture of the Wabanaki, the native people of Maine. The museum’s 17,000-square-foot building in downtown Bar Harbor houses more than 50,000 objects going back 10,000 years.
The Bar Harbor building opened in 2001, but the history of the museum goes back to 1926. It was then that Dr. Robert Abbe opened a private museum to display his collection of early Native American artifacts in a building at Sieur de Monts Springs in what was at that time called “Lafayette National Park.”
Abbe was a New York physician and a summer resident of Bar Harbor whose collection consisted of artifacts found in the area around Frenchman Bay. Abbe died in March 1928, and that August, the museum opened to the public.
The Abbe Museum didn’t just display artifacts. The year it opened to the public, it became the first institution in the state to participate in archeological research. The museum continued to sponsor archeological excavations along the Maine coast, which resulted in additions to the collection of about 50,000 stone and bone tools, pottery and other artifacts that go back 6,000 years. In the 1980s, the museum started an Archeological Field School, where people can participate in a dig and take part in analyzing the finds.
Between the burgeoning collection and the Abbe’s expansion of educational programs, the museum outgrew the 2,000-square-foot Sieur de Monts building. The decision was made in 1997 to purchase, renovate and expand the former YMCA building in Bar Harbor. The Sieur de Monts museum, which is open from mid-May through mid-October, continues to house important parts of the collection and is one of a handful of trailside museums in national parks.