BAR HARBOR — “Replacing his knowledge is going to be impossible,” Earl Brechlin, president of the Bar Harbor Historical Society board, said of Raymond Strout, who died Nov. 6 at the age of 79.
Strout owned Ahlblad’s Frame Shop in Bar Harbor, but his passion was collecting maps, letters and photos that documented the history of Mount Desert Island and, especially, Bar Harbor.
“He was the map man; that was his greatest love,” Brechlin said. “He collected every MDI map he could find, anywhere, any time.
“Raymond went to auctions all over Maine, and he was the subtlest bidder. He was one of those guys who would stay at the back and just move a finger, so people couldn’t tell who was bidding against them.”
One of the people Strout sometimes found himself bidding against was Judith Burger-Gossart, an MDI resident who, for a number of years, had a business called Spruce Wind Antiques.
“We always haunted the same auctions,” she said. “As Raymond said, ‘There’s never a friend at an auction.’ But I learned so much from him, and we became good friends. It was always a treat to go and visit him.
“With Raymond, it was always, ‘Let me show you something,’ and he would pull out some wonderful thing.”
Burger-Gossart said Strout was always eager to share his love of Mount Desert Island and his knowledge of its history.
“He was a reservoir of remembrances, events, island history, anecdotes, maps, paintings, prints and other ephemera,” she said. “His collection was endless; on and on it went. Whenever I visited his shop, I always left knowing more about MDI and appreciating its remarkable history.”
Bill Horner, now a retired physician, and Strout were members of the Bar Harbor High School Class of 1959. But they didn’t get to know each other well until about a dozen years ago, after Horner developed a keen interest in local history, starting with his own family history.
“He was a wonderful resource,” Horner said of Strout. “He had a vast historical knowledge.”
Horner is president of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society, and Strout served on the society’s board.
“He was really smart and a really good guy,” Horner said.
A number of items from Strout’s personal collection were exhibited at Bar Harbor Savings & Loan in the summer of 2019.
“What a delightful person he was to work with,” said Savings & Loan President Bill Weir.
The text that accompanied the exhibit explained that when Strout was a boy, “He saw an old photograph of Bar Harbor, and his life-long avocation for collecting was begun. Later he started buying paintings from artists who came for weekend plein air painting classes on Mount Desert Island. Photographs, old letters, signs, advertising art, memorabilia – they all tell a story.”
While Strout found many items for his collection at auctions and yard sales, Brechlin said, “People also brought him things. When someone passed away, the family would call Raymond to come and look at what they had.
“He had a huge collection of [photographic] negatives. He had etchings and drawings and paintings. He was very tapped into the artistic community and knew so many of the artists personally. His interests were wide.”
So was his circle of friends, one of whom was Martha Stewart, who spends part of each year at her home, Skylands, in Seal Harbor. She turned the former staff dining room at Skylands into a map room, where she displays antique maps of Mount Desert Island and Maine, many of which were acquired from and framed by Strout.
In an article that was published in a number of newspapers in 2007, Stewart wrote that after she purchased Skylands, the former Edsel Ford estate, “I began to immerse myself in the history of the region” and became “fascinated with the maps I discovered.”
“I purchased a few and, while searching for a framer, came upon Ahlblad’s Frame Shop…where the walls were hung with rarities relating to local history. Owner Raymond Strout is very knowledgeable, a collector himself and locally respected. He encouraged me to become even more curious, and I continued collecting.”
A portion of Stewart’s map collection was exhibited at College of the Atlantic in 2011.
In a story about the exhibit, Brechlin, who was editor of the Islander at the time, wrote that Stewart “gave much of the credit for her interest in old maps to collector and dealer Raymond Strout.”
Burger-Gossart said of Strout and Stewart, “They had a very special relationship. He used to go over to Skylands for breakfast and hang out with her. For many years, whenever she was around, he was over there.”
But people who knew Strout said he was not impressed by wealth or fame. Instead, he was drawn to people, regardless of their station in life, who shared his interest in the history of Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island and in the maps, documents and other artifacts that illuminate that history.
“He was great friends with so many people,” Burger-Gossart said. “He was really a treasure for the island.”