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Visiting the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum: An Out of This World Experience

Traveling has always been one of my passions. The world is full of fascinating places and cultures and I hope to see as much of it as I can.

Maine Mineral and Gem Museum

Maine Mineral and Gem Museum

The small yet charming community of Bethel in west-central Maine is home to one of the most fascinating collections of gems, minerals, and meteorites. It is all part of the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum and is a must-see if you are visiting this beautiful region of Maine. Prior to our visit I had no idea of the geological significance of this area and found it both interesting and educational to learn about the world-class collection of gems on hand and how the museum came to be in this fairly remote region of Maine.

Gem Mining - It all started in Maine

Gem Mining - It all started in Maine

History of The Museum

Opened in 2019, the museum is the brainchild of Dr. Lawrence Stifler and Mary McFadden JD. The philanthropists turned geology sleuths purchased the collection of Perham’s Main Mineral Store that closed in 2009 after over 90 years in business. That collection, along with numerous other finds and purchases make up the bulk of the museum’s display. The museum now has over 15,000 square feet of display space for its stunning collection which consists of over 40,000 minerals and gems and over 6,000 meteorites. Many of the minerals and gems you will see on your visit come from this very region of Maine, and there are still a few active mines in the area should you wish to get your hands dirty and try your luck at mining.

The Rock Garden

The Rock Garden

The Rock Garden

Before entering the museum, be sure to have a look at the rock garden out in front of the museum. There are also a few displays in the back of the museum. On display are some large and impressive samples, and they are all from the state of Maine. You’ll see amazing pieces of quartz, granite, folded marble, gneiss, pegmatite, basalt, and jasper among others. It’s amazing the beauty that can be found in what most people consider just rocks.

The Rock Garden

The Rock Garden

Gem Tourmaline

As you enter the museum and before you start your visit you will be greeted by an amazing sample of gem tourmaline, which is pictured below. This beautiful crystal was mined at Mount Mica in Paris, Maine, and was loaned to the museum. Tourmaline also happens to be the state mineral of Maine, which seems appropriate.

Gem Tourmaline

Gem Tourmaline

The Big Find

The Big Find

The Big Find

In 1972, what has come to be known as “The Big Find,” was discovered at the Dunton Mine in Newry, Maine. This was the largest cache of gem tourmaline ever discovered in North America. Over a two-year period from 1972 to 1974, over two thousand pounds of gem tourmaline was extracted from the mine including the beautiful watermelon tourmaline pictured below.

The Museum

As you make your way through the museum, you will be taken on a journey back to the early 19th century when gem tourmaline was first discovered at the Mount Mica mine site. You’ll learn about the mining techniques used in the early days of mining, see some amazing gems and minerals, and get to partake in a fun and interactive exhibit where you get to detonate the explosives in the fire-in-the-hole exhibit.

You will also pass through the Maine Hall of Gems which contains some exquisite pieces of jewelry made from gems mined right here in the Pine Tree State. And the museum store contains everything from educational books, games, and puzzles to one-of-a-kind jewelry so check it out.

Martian Meteorites

Martian Meteorites

Meteorites

In addition to the impressive horde of gems and minerals, the museum also has one of the world’s premier collections of Lunar, Martian, and asteroid belt meteorites. Included in this collection are the five biggest pieces of the moon here on earth, which is quite impressive. We’re talking about chunks of the moon that are much larger than anything brought back to earth from the Apollo missions.

The largest piece of the moon on earth, discovered in the Saharan Desert in 2017.

The largest piece of the moon on earth, discovered in the Saharan Desert in 2017.

Meeting Dr. Stifler

On our visit, we had the very fortunate luck to meet Dr. Stifler himself. He is a fascinating guy, very passionate about what he is doing, and he allowed us to hold a sizeable piece of a meteorite from both the Moon and Mars, which was a rare opportunity. Then he opened a small black box that is not on display in the museum and had us touch a small piece of a meteorite that is estimated to be 4.5 billion years old. Absolutely amazing.

Small piece of meteorite estimated to be 4.5 billion years old.

Small piece of meteorite estimated to be 4.5 billion years old.

Meeting Al Falster

And if meeting Dr. Stifler wasn’t enough, after spending some time with him we bumped into Alexander Falster, who is the research technologist and experimental chemist at the museum. Al came to the museum from the University of New Orleans where he was a professor in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department. Al invited us into the basement of the museum to see the lab where they analyze the minerals. Al is clearly passionate about what he does, and we got to spend about thirty minutes with him in the lab while he entertained us with stories of his work, life, and world travels. It was an absolute joy to listen to him and he is a wealth of information if you have an interest in minerals, gems, and meteorites.

Al Falster giving us a tour of the lab.

Al Falster giving us a tour of the lab.

Visitor Information

Address:​

  • 99 Main Street
  • ​​Bethel, ME 04217
  • ​​207-824-3036

Hours:​​

  • Monday – Saturday (Closed Tuesdays):​ 10 am – 5 pm
  • ​​Sunday:​​ 11 am – 5 pm

Fees:​​

  • Adults - $15
  • ​​Seniors - $12
  • ​​Students - $10
  • ​​Age 12 and under – Free

​​Group tours available: tours@mainemineralmuseum.org

Pallasite - A rare form of meteorite of iron composition

Pallasite - A rare form of meteorite of iron composition

I hope you enjoyed this visit to one of Maine’s true hidden gems. The museum offers visitors a fascinating look at the geology of the area and it’s collection of meteorites from all over the world is incredibly impressive and key to expanding our knowledge and understanding of the universe. The museum is beautifully structured and easy to visit and enjoy. There are 19 interactive exhibits to give you that hands-on feel, and every display is explained in simple terms so everyone can understand. Should you find yourself in the vicinity stop by and enjoy this out-of-this-world jewel.

References

© 2022 Bill De Giulio