An autumn visit to Maine is replete with amazing fall foliage, quaint villages, colonial and Victorian architecture, lighthouses, the Atlantic ocean and seafaring culture. Reads just like a travel brochure, right? And let us not forget lobster rolls, lobster steamed, lobster grilled, lobster salad, lobster chowder – did I miss any variations?
Our only rainy weather came on our first day driving from Portland to Bailey Island. Hurricane Matthew pushed the rain up the east coast, but thankfully, cooler air from Canada brought us clear skies, and delightful crisp autumn days going forward.
A small park on the point of Bailey Island features this memorial to “all Maine fishermen who have devoted their lives to the sea.”
A wide variety of shore birds made for interesting bird watching. I regretted not having a block of time to spend quietly taking in the scene. Ah well, down the road we go.
A rainy day seemed like the perfect time to visit the Maine Maritime Museum complex that extends along the Kennebec River in Bath. The 20-acre historic Percy and Small shipyard became the home of the museum in the 1970’s. An extensive collection of maritime history is housed in a modern building dedicated in 1989, and the original workshops and outbuildings for shipbuilding dating back to 1607 are well preserved. More than 5,000 ships have been built in the area, including the Wyoming, the last and largest six-masted schooner built. As the 100th anniversary of the Wyoming’s launching drew near, the museum dedicated a sculpture on the site where the Wyoming was built in 1909.
Next, backtracking to Harpswell for a bowl of fish chowder at seaside as the sun went down over Casco Bay. Spending the night at Cundy’s Harbor in”The Captain’s Watch,” an 1862 landmark home built during the Civil War as the “Union Hotel.” Recognized by the National Register of Historic Places and the Harpswell Heritage Trust, the eight room original section survives as Maine’s “oldest known coastal hotel structure.” This bed and breakfast did not disappoint, and the breakfast conversation with the other guests, none of whom were from Maine, was great fun.
DownEast and Acadia
Rockland is home to the Farnsworth Museum and the Wyeth Center, which features paintings by all three generations of the Wyeths. The artists spent summers in Maine not too far from Rockland, and many of their great works feature the coastline, local residents and wildlife. We toured the sculpture garden and all the galleries. It would be one of our last quiet interludes. The Columbus Day holiday was reputed to be one of the busiest weekends of the year and Freeport, home of L. L. Bean, was so full of people we drove through and headed north to Bar Harbor.
We walked the Shorepath, a scenic waterfront trail that follows the edge of Bar Harbor’s cottage district where wealthy “rusticators” kept vacation homes and escaped the summer heat of northeastern cities. We walked the length and breadth of Bar Harbor, taking in the history, sampling the restaurants and enjoying sumptuous accommodations at the Bass Cottage Inn.
One lovely cottage after another!
Bar Harbor is a relatively small community that is filled to the brim when cruise ships pull in to allow everyone on shore to shop or tour Acadia National Park nearby.
Acadia is 47,000 acres of mountain, forest and rock-bound shore that became a summer retreat in the 1800’s for the wealthiest Americans including the Rockefellers, Morgans, Fords, Vanderbilts, Carnegies and Astors. Around 1900 early summer residents joined forces to create a preserve called Sieur de Monts National Monument; it then became Lafayette National Park and in 1929 it was named Acadia National Park. Much of the funding for the land purchases came from philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr.
At 1,532 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the highest point within 50 miles of the sea from Maine to Rio de Janeiro. Standing atop the mountain at dawn you can be the first U.S. citizen to see a new day. The first visitors arrived about 6,000 years ago and the Wabanaki Indians named this place “Pemetic” or “sloping land.” We made a visit to the Abbe Museum which is dedicated to the Wabanaki history, culture and archeology in the area.
After two days of touring Acadia, and dodging lots of people in the process, we were ready for the road. Heading south once more, we traveled the backroads and byways.
The jetty near Rockland looked like a nice walk. It doesn’t look too far to reach the lighthouse and we decided it would be refreshing to get out of the car for awhile.
Huge blocks of granite piled up in the sea create a fairly level walking surface. Or so it seemed. Just a few feet short of a mile, the jetty was a vigorous workout and took longer than we expected. We made it all the way to the lighthouse and back and it felt good to be back in the car!
This character seemed very disappointed that we had no treats to share with him and gave us an indignant stare as we walked by
The Mid Coast
Yet another side trip to Boothbay Harbor to visit the Maine Botanic Gardens turned out to be a bonus. We had no reservation for the night and were somewhat apprehensive that we could face a “sold out” situation wherever we headed. But we resolved to visit the gardens and take our chances. We were so glad we did.
Boothbay turned out to be yet another lovely surprise. We did not expect to find much of a town and were somewhat anxious as we had no reservation for the night and expected we would have to push on further south at the end of the day. But lo – yet another wonderful harbor and colonial village waiting to be explored! We drove around trying to sort out what our next step would be and after negotiating a dizzying array of one-way streets up and down hills, pulled up in front of my kind of place.
Home for the night in the most charming bed and breakfast. I didn’t try out the swing but I wanted to. The innkeeper recommendation for an Italian restaurant sounded great–perhaps it was time for a break from eating lobster! We ended up with cioppino, or fish stew which contained shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, squid and I don’t know whatever else. It was a great meal.
Another innkeeper suggestion was taking a short island drive around Ocean Point before returning to our route south. It was a great idea. We next made our way back to Free Port and this time, had to stop in at L. L. Bean for a little shopping. The success of this Maine retailer has spread throughout town and we noted outlet stores for about every major brand name. We left our money with L. L. Bean.
Fort Williams Park on Cape Elizabeth was just what we needed for an ocean view. This former mansion was converted to officers’ quarters as the military developed a fort along the coast. There are many ruins worth exploring, but the ocean was what we came to see.
The tide was out, but the waves crashed into the rocky coast, sending spray and foam up into the air. We sat on a bench and just listened to the waves. We don’t hear such things in Wyoming.
One of the best known lighthouses in Maine and America–the Portland Head Light. We stopped at the visitor center to try to pick up a brochure on the history of the area but they were totally out. The elderly gentleman who worked the center said they had record crowds over the weekend and ran out of all their printed material.
We left Cape Elizabeth and headed south to Kennebunk Port, summer retreat of the rich and famous. The shore is lined with stately homes and a long stretch of very nice beach which people were enjoying for a walk but the temperatures were a bit cool for bathing.
We watched the surfers try their luck at riding the waves. They wore body suits to keep warm, but it was a crisp day with a stiff breeze. Brrrr! Nice way to spend the summer, though.
Back to Portland to explore the Old Port district. Cobblestone streets, revitalized warehouses with exposed brick and beams, and more restaurants and shops than you can sample on one short visit. And of course, breakfast the next day would find us at Holy Donuts, famed for their potato donuts (my grandmother called them spudnuts and hers were famous too!).
Upon returning home, the first thing I shopped for was a doughnut cutter. I had made my grandmother’s recipe for spudnuts before but had to use a biscuit cutter which left them smaller than a traditional donut. So now, I’m ready to bake a batch and see if I can match the Holy Donuts of Maine. All I have to do is go to “Wecipes.”