Subscribe Today -- It's Free!
Bryant's Stove Museum
by Cheri Sicard


As Joe Bryant finished the last chorus of the old time classic in as authentic a
"Down Maine" accent as could be, the crowd's spontaneous cheers and
applause drowned out the final tinny notes of the player piano.

Joe had managed to keep this crowd of jaded journalists enthralled, awed,
amazed and, above all, entertained, for the last hour; not an easy task with
people who travel for a living.

Before we go any further, it is necessary to point out -- because it is essential
to the understanding of the rest of this story -- that there are two types of
people in the world: those who are packrats, and those who are not.

Joe Bryant and his wife Bea, rule as King and Queen in the kingdom of the
former. The proud proprietors of
Bryant's Stove Museum in Thorndike
Joe and Bea oversee the largest antique stove showroom east of the

But Bryant's Museum is much more than the hundreds upon hundreds of
gorgeous, meticulously restored antique wood burning stoves from the 1750s
- 1850s. It is so much more that I actually procrastinated writing about it for
well over a year -- not because I didn't enjoy my visit, not by a long shot. I
procrastinated because I didn't know how I could write about such a place
and do it justice. I still don't.

You see, Bryant's Museum is a bit overwhelming. It is classic kitsch roadside
Americana at its finest, managing to be simultaneously fascinating, fun and
tacky. And yet so much about the museum is historically significant.

Of course there are the stoves, and lots of them! Visitors can perambulate
through row after row of the authentic antique cooking devices in a building
roughly the size of an airplane hangar.

Joe and Bea have been lovingly restoring, exhibiting and selling these old
relics for decades. Kitchen stoves, parlor stoves, Franklin stoves, miniature
salesmen's stoves, children's toy stoves; they are all here and built to last a
lifetime. Better make that two or three lifetimes. People order Bryant's stoves
from all over the world. They've even graced the sets of several popular
Hollywood movies over the years.

Stoves were just the beginning for Joe and Bea, however, as the couple are
avid collectors. And I mean COLLECTORS. Both of them. Anyone reading
this who is also plagued by this particular affliction knows what I'm talking
about. It starts out innocently enough as it did with Bea who bought her first
wood burning stove at an antique auction in the 1960s. She so loved the stove
and Joe so enjoyed restoring it that they soon bought another, and then
another, then a few more. Soon it was a full obsession.

But stoves weren't enough. Joe and Bea are multi-faceted; they have interest
and talents in many areas. Not to mention that Joe is a man who can't sit still.
He's constantly building, restoring and generally tinkering.

Joe's next passion was antique cars. The huge building housing the stove
collection was just the beginning in the Bryant Empire. Joe's enormous
collection of cars is garaged in a massive Quonset hut, alongside and in
between his even more massive collection of mechanical music machines.

Player pianos, hurdy-gurdies, calliopes and all sorts of musical devices you
never even knew existed keep the air filled with joyous sounds -- although
none joyous than the boisterous baritone of Joe accompanying his machines
(remember Barney Google?).

Not to be outdone, Bea start accumulating toys and dolls, and like everything
else the Bryant do, she did it in a big way. Then Joe started building toys for
the toys -- a miniature merry-go-round for the dolls to amuse themselves on,
then a set of swings, and eventually it grew into the "Doll Circus -- a spinning,
buzzing, whirling cacophony of sights and sounds that occupy yet another
large room in the museum.

As huge as the place is, the Bryant's collections are even larger. Every square
inch of the place is crammed to the gills with toys, dolls and mechanical
contraptions in varying stages of restoration.

To be sure, not all of it is quality -- the Bryants are accumulators as much as
collectors -- but that's part of what adds to the kitsch charm of the place.

For instance, perched atop a priceless, ornately carved antique player piano,
you're likely to encounter a dusty carnival prize teddy bear or a somewhat
tattered doll them some child -- long since grown into adulthood -- has played
with a bit too long.

But these seeming inconsistencies are anything but -- like most collectors of
this magnitude, Joe and Bea are nothing if not passionate. They are true
packrats, and unlike most of us who have to keep such tendencies under
control - Joe and Bea have allowed their passions to have free reign. (I can
hear the non-collectors out there recoiling in horror at such a thought.)

Allow yourself plenty of time when visiting Bryant's Museum. There is so
much to see, do and listen to. But most of all, allow some time to spend with
Joe and Bea. They are unique, a dying breed in the corporate tourism that has
taken over America. Their passion and enthusiasm for their hobbies, and each
other is delightful.

Personally, being a road trip and therefore roadside America junkie, I'm just a
little bit happier knowing places like Bryant's still exist. This is a stop well
worth going out of your way for. Perhaps with a little coaxing (not too much)
Joe will sing a verse or two of Barney Google for you!

Getting There

Bryant's Museum of Antique Woodburning Stoves, Meachanical Music and
Antique Cars, plus the One of a Kind Doll Circus is located at the junction of
routes 139 and 220 in Thorndike Maine (that's in Waldo County).

3 miles east of the Unity Railroad Station
30 miles east of I 95, exit 35 on rt. 139
30 miles west of Belfast, Maine, take route 137 to route 200, turn right 3 miles
Phone 207-568-3665
FAX 207-568-3666

About the author: Cheri Sicard is the editor and co-creator of
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
©The Heart of New England online magazine
...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
Contact| The Heart of New England HOME | Search

Click Here to Get Your FREE Weekly Newsletter Today!
Join us on
Facebook or
for exclusive updates
on travel specials,
& more!

Click here for your FREE
weekly New England
newsletter! (And get 12
FREE desktop

Bring the heart of
Maine into your home
with beautiful, affordable,
high-quality Maine prints.
Visit our
Maine Print Gallery

Visit our
Marketplace for
everything New England!

More Travel Info: