Everything south of the Piscataqua River Bridge in Portsmouth, NH, is "Away;" and if you are not born and reared, or raised as it were, in Maine, then you're "from Away." The south coast is the closest thing there is to being "from away," but it has its charms , even so.
Several communities on the Southcoast deserve a mention, and they're listed below. Comments on Kittery, The Yorks, Ogunquit, Portland and Freeport will be coming.
Bath's history may be as rich as that of any other community in Maine, but the city's current patriarchs seem more enchanted with "quality of life" issues than their history. Thus, we have a professed convergence of QOL with heavy industry. [The real, quite interesting history of Bath begins a bit further below.]
The community is proud that the Bath Iron Works is both the state's largest employer and the birth site of many commercial and Navy vessels. At the same time, city leaders boast that "In the early 1990's, author Norman Crampton published a book called The 100 Best Small Towns in America in which Bath was named number 32.
The chamber notes that the honor was based on Bath's "healthy, thriving business community, education, safety and quality of life issues," among other aspects of the community's day-to-day existence. Now, Bath officials say their town is up 15 points and is currently located in the number 17 position.
While Bath is logically known as the "City of Ships" based on its steel clad construction industry, it further takes advantage of its Kennebec River to support a fish canning factory and provide a backdrop for the Maine Maritime Museum [see Points of Interest below]. Naturally, the city's river location also provides a platform for boating, fishing, swimming and other water-oriented activities.
Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer, is believed to have been the first European in the area, mapping the region in 1605. He was preceded by Norse Vikings around 1018. The native American Abnaki tribe comprised the first real residents of the area, however.
While de Champlain was a transient, the English attempted to set up shop here. Despite their bold intentions, Maine's winter climate was too much for them. Cross country and downhill skiing were hardly everyday pursuits for 17th century explorers or settlers.
Thus, the region's place in history as potentially the first permanent English settlement was dashed and that title now is held by Jamestown in much warmer Virginia. Nonetheless, the early 17th century settlement of Popham [in today's Maine] "came close" to fetching that first-permanent-settlement title.
So daunted by New England's brutal winters, those early English settlers returned to their island homeland. In order to do so, however, they constructed the vessel Virginia of Sagadahoc. This was the first ship built in America, and as such lays claim to being the wellspring of the great New England ship building tradition.
Colonization, battling and abandonment in the area continued for another hundred years. But, by the early 1700s, sufficient peace had broken out that the lower Kennebec River was able to become the spawning ground for a serious shipbuilding industry.
Late in that century and when the Mainers weren't battling the British, they were fighting Massachusetts for independence. During this upheaval, not only did the shipping-related trades develop, but so did four churches, an academy, two banks and two weekly newspapers. By 1844, the community claimed 24 roads and a rail link to Brunswick.
During these years, the population was fed by boatloads of French and Irish who helped develop commerce in the textile, grist, and saw mills. These laborers and artisans also produced clocks, plows, boxes, brass and iron products.
On the more cultural, or at least literary side, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote her famous Uncle Tom's Cabin while living in her home on Federal in Bath.
Boothbay Harbor was incorporated in 1764, roughly a hundred years after the first European settlers arrived. Nearly another hundred years would pass before much meaningful commerce would take hold. Of course, pre-dating the Europeans here and elsewhere in Down east Maine were the "native American inhabitants," in this case the Abenaki Indians.
Alas, however, tourism would be discovered and Boothbay Harbor's fate sealed. "The attraction of the region as a summer resort was recognized before 1850." By the late 1880s, "hotels and summer developments were well under way."
Today, most visitors arrive by land---private car and tour bus---but in earlier times "the town could and did absorb huge numbers of people who came by steamer. The hotel and guest house rooms alone could double the population, without including the summer colonies and all their cottages." Ah, the birthing of an industry!
Only the lobster trade and boat building would survive those early days in any meaningful size, and now they feed the thriving mainstay tourism industry here just as they do in many of the other coastal regions of Maine.
While the ship, or boat, building industry continues to the present, it glory days were from the early the 1800s until the 1920s. During that time, most boats constructed were schooners ranging from 50 and 100 feet although some "shipyards also turned out brigs, barks and ships reaching 180 feet."
Now in the 21st Century, the resident population of about 2,500 has grown accustomed to the summer people--- and indeed thrives on them--- as well as the "large group of non-resident landowners," who have become an established economic aspect of the community. As in other parts of coastal Maine, this condition of absentee ownership must be accommodated as a mixed blessing.
This village on the east side of I-295 a few minutes north of Portland gives a whole new meaning to the term "company town."
Freeport, more than any other fact of local life, is the home town and global headquarters of L.L. Bean, the legendary vendor of outdoor gear. And by all appearances such a prominent business position seems to have allowed Bean to establish a broad set operating and aesthetic standards for itself, then invited the whole town to follow. With such a leadership role, perhaps "invite" is an understatement.
Invited or otherwise, Bean clearly has set the pace for what a outlet mall or outlet city can be -- neat, appealing, orderly actually pleasant. Now, if the can extend their aesthetic influence and financial resources to the practical issue of parking , they will have truly accomplished something. [Fact is, a parking deck is in the planning stages, but for it not to be in place already shows a small lack of foresight or confidence in the the community's volume of retail business.]
Another notable aspect of the Freeport is a dense Maine State Police presence. Interstate 295 provides three primary ramps off of the highway and into town. While that is pleasantly convenient, those exists also denote a stretch of 295 that seems to have an inordinate concentration of radar wielding troopers. From Boston to Augusta, MaineSail editors have never seen such a consistently high concentration of blue cop cars as along this this stretch, and this has been the case for as many years as we can remember. So, watch it!
We'll have more detailed comment on Beanport, oh, that should be Freeport, in coming weeks.
A detailed report on Portland is being prepared, and will be available before the tourist season fully beings.
Seems that every third community in this part of New England has been called "the Prettiest Village in Maine" by someone at one time or another, and Wiscasset is no exception.
When such things were first becoming important, Wiscasset laid claim to yet another title of quaintness. In a 1930s edition of Samuel Chamberlain's Old New England Villages, the town was noted as one of the best preserved New England villages in Maine, the regional business association tells us.
A decade ago when ship building, fishing and lumbering were mainstay industries in Maine, Wiscasset boasted of being the largest working harbor above Boston. That legacy has long since passed and even the wrecks of the Hesper and the Little Luther---which protruded from Wiscasset's harbor waters for six decades---are now gone. [Community beautification, we assume.] And fishing today is confined to a few local professionals, weekend anglers and tourists.
Tourism is today's staple industry and the business association describes the local appeal this way: "Visitors can stroll the town's pleasant brick sidewalks and visit churches, old graveyards, the Sunken Garden, antique shops, art galleries, fine stores and restaurants." And they're not wrong.
This little community with the funny sounding---and decidedly New England sounding---name is worth your time to stop and stroll before you continue motoring north and east into Midcoast and Down East Maine.
Addendum: Across the Wiscasset River is the 1774 town of Edgecomb. Once more of a farming community than a commercial center, this town is characterized by its classic wooden farmhouses perched above the Sheepscot and Damariscotta Rivers.
Begun 44 years ago, the Yarmouth Clam Festival is a notable mid-summer event in south coastal Maine, and occurs during the third weekend of July.
So popular is the event that the 8,000 residents of Yarmouth village are truly overwhelmed by more than100,000 visitors during the three-day festival. In addition to gobbling clams, the activities includes a parade, road and bike races, fireworks, 165 arts and crafts vendors, live entertainment by 40 performers, and food booths -- other than clams -- lining Main Street. Detailed information is available at this Web page.
The chamber says, "As always, clams will be the featured menu item at the food court, but there’s much more choose from: lobster stew, lobster rolls, shore dinners, fried shrimp, pizza, chicken fajitas, home-baked desserts, the famous Lime Rickeys and more."
Proceeds from the food booths and parking fees help support over 35 non-profit groups in the town of Yarmouth. You can get more information about the event and attractions by calling the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce at 207-846-3984 or at the event's Web site.