Traveling - Mid Coast Maine
Published in Ed Hitzel's Restaurant Magazine Spring 2006
Mention vacationing in
Maine and images of windswept lighthouses, hearty fishermen and plump,
juicy lobsters invariably spring to mind. Those journeying along the
Mid Coast of Maine, though, will find much more than rugged seafarers
and fresh seafood. Art, outdoor activities, historical sites and
natural beauty abound in this stunning coastal region.
Exiting off Interstate 95 to Route 1, one of the first Mid Coast towns
encountered is the village of Wiscasset. Dubbed “the prettiest
village in Maine” and filled with stately Federal and
Georgian-style homes, Wiscasset teems with tourists from spring until
Along with its elegance, several sites draw travelers to Wiscasset. Two
majestic sea captains’ houses, the Nickels-Sortwell House
(207-882-6218) at 121 Main Street and Castle Tucker House
(207-883-7169) on Lee and High Streets offer glimpses into the lives of
Maine seafarers. At the 1852 home of sea captains Henry and George Wood
joyful music fills the air. Now called the Musical Wonder House, the
captains’ former mansion at 18 High Street holds a vast
collection of refurbished antique music boxes and player pianos. Guided
tours and demonstrations are available. (800-336-3725)
At the 1811 Old Lincoln County Jail and Museum (207-882-6817) on
Federal Street visitors step back into the 19th century to experience
the desperate lives of prisoners in this former state penitentiary. The
jail remained in operation until 1954 and has not been altered since
that time. Graffiti from 150 years ago still decorates the thick, stone
What lures many to Wiscasset is not its history but a small, unimposing
lobster shack specializing in lobster and mayonnaise on toasted hot dog
buns a/k/a lobster rolls. In business since 1938 and once featured on
the Travel Channel as well as CBS’s Sunday Morning, Red’s
Eats sells fresh lobster rolls, fried clams, haddock sandwiches and
drinks. On any given afternoon customers line up along Main Street,
standing in the hot sun for up to an hour to order one of Red’s
fast food treats.
A quicker, tasty alternative sits across the street in yet another
small, weathered shack adjacent to the Wiscasset Bridge.
Sprague’s makes delectable lobster rolls, along with chicken
fingers, clam fritters, fresh cut fries and lobster dinners. Picnic
tables and waterfront views are plentiful.
Moderately priced lodging in Wiscasset can be found at the Wiscasset
Motor Lodge (800-732-8168). For more upscale accommodations, consider
either the seven-room, Fodor’s rated Snow Squall Inn
(207-882-6892) or the two-room Marston House Bed and Breakfast
(207-882-6010). All are located on Route 1.
Seven miles north of Wiscasset the picturesque town of Damariscotta
rises up from the grassy banks of the Damariscotta River. This
bustling, onetime clipper ship-building community of 2,000 possesses a
plethora of historic buildings and shops. Some of the more notable
stores include the diversely and well stocked Maine Coast Book Shop,
the department store R. H. Reny, and the environmentally-friendly Green
Store, all situated along Main Street.
Those looking for unique souvenirs will want to bypass the t-shirt and
tchotchke shops and instead pop into Sheepscot River Pottery at 34 Main
Street or into Damariscotta Pottery on Courtyard Street. Local artisans
handcraft the functional porcelain and majolica pottery carried at
In addition to beautiful views and abundant stores Damariscotta
provides a host of activities for nature lovers. At the Dodge Point
Preserve (207-289-3061) on River Road sun worshippers and hikers share
506 acres of pebble beaches and shore and inland trails along the
Walkers and history buffs will appreciate the three-mile Salt Bay
Heritage Trail. The trail traverses the Salt Bay Preserve
(207-563-1393) and detours into Glidden Midden’s, a Native
American feasting ground bordering the Damariscotta River. The mounds
of ancient oyster shells at Glidden Midden’s date back 2,400
years and are the remnants of the summer oyster feasts held on the
riverbank for 1,500 years. The site is on the National Register of
More adventurous outdoorsmen will want to drop by Sea Spirit Adventures
(207-563-5732) on Schooner Landing, Main Street. Here experienced
kayakers can rent or purchase kayaks and then glide off through the
blue-green waters of the Damariscotta River to view osprey, loons,
herons, seals and eagles. Lessons and a variety of guided tours,
including sunset, night, and gourmet lunch tours, are also provided.
Damariscotta dishes out an assortment of delightful restaurants,
including the casual, moderately priced Salt Bay Cafe (207-563-3302) at
88 Main Street and the seafood-oriented Damariscotta River Grille
(207-563-2992) facing the river at 155 Main Street. The Backstreet
Restaurant (207-563-5666) at 17 Elm Street whips up such delicious
entrees as Worcestershire-glazed steaks and grilled rare tuna with
roasted pepper-tarragon butter.
Those wishing to spend the night should check out the Oak Gables Bed
and Breakfast (800-335-7748), a secluded, 11-acre estate on the bank of
the Damariscotta River, or the Pioneer Motel (207-882-9281) on Route 1.
The seaside hamlet of New Harbor, 12 miles north of Damariscotta, is
home to one of Maine’s most photographed sites, the Pemaquid
Point Lighthouse. Commissioned in 1826 by John Quincy Adams, the
lighthouse sits atop a craggy, granite cliff overlooking the Atlantic
Ocean and the islands in the Gulf of Maine. Now automated, the
lighthouse and its tower are open to the public and contain a small but
fascinating museum devoted to the lives of local fishermen. Pemaquid
Point Lighthouse is featured on Maine’s commemorative state
quarter, an honor noted in the museum’s collection.
A ten minute’s drive from the lighthouse on Snowball Hill Road,
Colonial Pemaquid and Fort William Henry State Historic Site
(207-677-2423) rests on settlement land dating back to the
1620’s. Pirates burned the first fort located along Pemaquid
Harbor. The French and Indians destroyed the second in 1689. The
current fort tower and outer walls have their origins in the
1730’s and were reconstructed in 1908.
In addition to the fort tower and walls Colonial Pemaquid possesses an
18th century fort house and cemetery. It also has a state-run museum on
its grounds with artifacts from the “Lost City,” a
settlement that may pre-date Plymouth. Over 40,000 objects have been
unearthed here since the 1960’s. Visitors may walk through the
excavation site, which contains the foundations of 14 buildings, and
observe archeologists hard at work, searching for further evidence of
the ancient community.
After touring the fort, fans of the beach will want to stop at the
neighboring Pemaquid Beach Park. Mid coast Maine’s only sand
beach, Pemaquid Beach is tucked away in a cove overlooking John’s
Bay, up the street from Colonial Pemaquid.
In the center of New Harbor stands one of the region’s many
artists’ cooperatives. The red, three-story building of the
Pemaquid Craft Co-Op (207-677-2077) displays jewelry, needlework,
prints and photographs by the co-op’s 50 members. Within walking
distance to the lighthouse The Saltwater Artist Gallery (207-667-2490)
at 3056 Bristol Road showcases paintings, sculptures, ceramics,
glassware and jewelry by Maine artists.
Across from The Saltwater Artist Gallery sits the 19th century Bradley
Inn (800-942-5560). Built as a gift for Captain H.C. Bradley’s
wife, the inn offers both fine dining and accommodations in 16
guestrooms. Open to the public, the acclaimed restaurant serves such
Maine favorites as Pemaquid oysters, lobster, house-smoked salmon and
blackberry shortcake. Reservations are recommended.
Down the street from the Bradley Inn, the Seagull Shop (207-677-2374)
doles out comfort food and spectacular ocean views. Situated atop the
cliffs and adjacent to the lighthouse, the Seagull serves breakfast,
lunch and occasional dinners.
At a family-owned lobster pound, Muscongus Bay Lobster Co.
(207-529-2251) in nearby Round Pound, fresh lobsters, clams, crabs, and
oysters are cooked to order and served on the weathered pier
overlooking Round Pound Harbor. Picnic table seating is provided.
Diners must bring their own drinks, sides, and desserts.
Fine food and breathtaking vistas can also be found 10 miles out to sea
on the rocky, sparsely populated Monhegan Island. A 700-acre island
renowned for its wild, rugged beauty and the absence of cars or roads,
Monhegan has acted as an artist’s haven since the 19th century.
Its towering ocean cliffs, 1824 lighthouse, busy harbor and wildlife
have been captured on canvas by such American painters as Edward
Hopper, Rockwell Kent, and N.C., Andrew, and James Wyeth.
Day-trippers to Monhegan often hike along the Headlands, 17 miles of
trails with some of the tallest ocean cliffs along Maine’s coast.
Some poke around the fish houses where island lobstermen store their
gear. Others opt for bird watching at Lobster Cover where shore birds
alight upon a1946 shipwreck, the D. T. Sheridan, rusting away on the
jagged, southern shoreline. Animal lovers frequently take a cruise
around the island where harbor seals sunbathe along the outcroppings at
half-tide. Art aficionados may spend hours perusing the many
artists’ studios and purchasing the works on display.
Although Monhegan only has 60-some year-round residents, it attracts
enough tourists to support several quaint hotels, bed and breakfasts,
and restaurants. The 1907 Island Inn (207-596-0371) sits atop a bluff
overlooking the harbor. Depicted in innumerable paintings and photos of
Monhegan, the inn has 34 lovely but pricey rooms and a full-service
restaurant. In the center of the village the 33-room Monhegan House
(207-594-7983) dates back to the 1870’s and offers views of the
ocean, meadow, and lighthouse. Its restaurant is also open to the
public for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Ferries to Monhegan can be obtained from Hardy Boat (800-278-3346) in
New Harbor, Balmy Day Cruises (207-633-2284) in Boothbay Harbor, and
Monhegan Boat Line (207-372-8848) in Port Clyde.
If a day on Monhegan sparks an interest in art and the Wyeth family,
then an afternoon in Rockland at the Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth
Center (207-596-6457) on Museum Street is a must. The main building of
the Farnsworth exhibits 18th to 20th century American artists spanning
the likes of Gilbert Stuart and Thomas Eakins to Louise Nevelson and
Alex Katz. Across from the main museum complex the Wyeth Center, a
remodeled 1890’s church, displays the works of three generations
of Wyeths. The Center focuses on the art of illustrator N.C. Wyeth and
his grandson James but also highlights various periods of Andrew
Wyeth’s long, prolific career.
The Farnsworth owns two other historic buildings, the Greek Revival
home of the museum’s namesake, the Farnsworth Homestead, and the
Olsen House. The latter is the isolated, 1700’s, saltwater
farmstead featured in Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s
World.” Admission to both houses is available through the
The final stop on this coastal journey is the quiet town of Thomaston.
Situated on Route 1, Thomaston possesses a very unique, well-secured
gift shop, the Maine State Prison Showroom (207-354-9237). Run by
inmates and overseen by armed prison guards, the spacious store sells
marvelous goods created in the prison’s woodshop. Items range
from simple cutting boards and children toys to ornate bureaus and
As a drive along the Mid Coast proves, Maine is not merely a land of
lobsters and lighthouses. Art enthusiasts, history fans, ardent
shoppers and nature lovers will find much to enjoy on the Mid Coast of