The Maine State Aquarium in West Boothbay Harbor is a hidden gem in the Boothbay region. It is an attraction for its collection of Maine wildlife and holds an immense amount of Boothbay’s and Maine’s history.
This history had been left for the history books until one woman had an idea. Desiree Genthner arrived at the aquarium last year under what she later called luck. Genthner is passionate about history. She graduated from the University of Maine at Presque Isle and is working towards her master’s degree in history. Unlike many history majors, Desiree had no intention of becoming a teacher, as she saw classroom teaching as overly structured with little freedom. Before working at the Department of Marine Resources, she worked for historical societies throughout Maine. Last year, she was hired as a receptionist at DMR.
The aquarium's director Elaine Jones encouraged Genthner to be curious and use the resources around her. Genthner quickly discovered Bigelow and Schroeder’s book “Fishes of the Gulf of Maine.” She became fascinated with the history of the marine industry in Maine and pitched an idea of a walking history tour to Jones during a trip to Burnt Island. Genthner thought it would be a great addition to the aquarium, as many people do not know the role the aquarium played in Boothbay’s marine history, and Maine’s. Jones supported the idea, and the rest as they say is history.
Genthner values the importance of not just reading about history, but seeing it in action. The tour's purpose is to do just that. “People think of history as boring, full of textbooks and long lectures, but it is totally different than that, and that is what I am trying to show here. Sometimes when you are standing on front of something it puts it more into perspective.”
The story Genthner is telling about the area starts centuries ago, when lobsters were so plentiful on the coast of Maine you could stand in the water and pluck them from the harbor. In the early 1900s, the lobster population sharply declined, and there were no lobsters sitting in the harbors. It become apparent one of the state’s biggest industries was in danger.
A concerned group of locals received an enormous grant from the federal government to aid in the attempts to save the lobster. Using the grant money, the group built multiple buildings on McKown Point. The tour explores these buildings the group used as it sought to raise the lobster population. Genthner goes into depth discussing the group's methods and successes.
The tour concludes with a large display Genthner created. It shows the transformation and impact the DMR and aquarium have had on the region. Newspaper clippings, lobster incubators, stories of seals and more await lovers of history, marine life, the Boothbay region, Maine, and of course, lobster.
Tours will be offered most afternoons throughout the season, but please call the Aquarium for the schedule at 633-9406 or email email@example.com