Maine – Part 5 (August 19 – September 9, 2019)

On Monday, August 19th, we drove 73 miles to Biddeford, ME where we spent three weeks at Homestead by the River Family Campground. The campground’s website had cautioned not to follow our GPS so Phil had written down their suggested directions. He missed one of the turns but managed to find our way to the campground without too much excitement. Upon checking in, the campground owner told Phil that the GPS would have taken us through the town of Saco, a route that she said would have been “horrendous.” Our site was in a large grassy field, under several very large trees. The trees made it unlikely that our satellite would get a signal but we tried moving the rig a couple of times before giving up on satellite. We had a clear view of the Saco River from our living room window. The owners operate a small farm with livestock including horses, sheep, goat, llama, chickens, turkeys and even a pig.

The high temperature on Monday was 85 degrees and Tuesday was almost as hot. We decided to head to the shore on Tuesday to beat the heat. We arrived in Old Orchard Beach, known by locals as ‘OOB,’ at noon and headed down to the beach. The beach was quite busy and became even more congested as the high tide approached, shrinking the amount of available sand. The beach, pier and nearby attractions reminded Phil of his childhood visits to the Jersey shore.

Wednesday brought heavy rainfall so we headed to the movies in the afternoon. We saw “Blinded by the Light,” the true life story of a Pakistani teenager living in Luton, England in 1987 who writes poetry as a way to escape the racial and economic struggles of his town and the traditionalist views of his father. He discovers power in the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen and this gives him the strength to follow his own dreams. The movie was quite enjoyable and provided a good way for us to escape the rain.

The forecast for Thursday called for highs in the mid-80s so we took refuge in the air conditioning of the stores in Freeport, ME. The town was first settled in 1700 and had a history as a center for shipbuilding, lumber, fishing and canning. Its current status as a major tourist attraction is attributable to L.L. Bean. In 1912, Leon Leonwood Bean opened a store in the basement of his brother’s apparel shop, selling the “Bean Boot.” The store became so popular that in 1951 it started staying open 24 hours a day. Its retail and mail order catalog facilities expanded into Freeport’s principal business. The L.L. Bean flagship store is now the anchor to a retail mecca of 140 stores, as well as many restaurants, drawing about 3.5 million visitors a year. In addition to visiting many of the retail outlets, we ate whoopie pies at Wicked Whoopies and had lunch at Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen (established by the granddaughter of L.L. Bean).

On Saturday, August 24th, we hiked the 2.2-mile Saco Heath Preserve Trail. The preserve was only a couple of miles from our campground. The first .75 mile was through the heath, most of which was on a multi-colored boardwalk. At the end of the boardwalk, we did a short loop through the forest before returning to the trailhead on the boardwalk. Much of the boardwalk was lined by blueberry bushes. We managed to harvest a snack of blueberries but most of the bushes within arms-length of the boardwalk had been picked over already.

On Sunday we drove to Scarborough, ME and hiked the Fuller Farms Trails. Fuller Farms consists of 180 acres of fields and woodlands protected by the Scarborough Land Conservation Trust. We combined several of the trails into a figure-eight hike that totaled 3.1 miles.

On Monday we spent the day in Portland, ME. Despite only having a population of 66,000, Portland is the largest city in Maine and was much bigger than any town we’d visited this summer. The Greater Portland area has a population of 270,000, which represents one-fifth of Maine’s total population. We spent most of the day exploring Old Port, a quaint historic district near the waterfront with cobblestone streets and brick buildings housing boutiques, gourmet food stores, and souvenir shops. The biggest challenge we had was in deciding where to eat. Bon Appetit magazine named Portland the 2018 Restaurant City of the Year. We ended up having potato donuts, a Maine specialty, at The Holy Donut and lobster rolls at DiMillo’s on the Water. There was much too much to do in Portland for a single day so we plan to return.

On Wednesday we visited “The Kennebunks,” the side-by-side villages of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. The region was first settled in the 1600s and flourished after the American Revolution, when ship captains, boat builders and prosperous merchants built large homes. After a brief stop at the Kennebunk Chamber of Commerce office, we drove by many of these beautifully-maintained manors. One of the more notable was the Wedding Cake House, which locals claim was built by a guilt-ridden ship captain who left for sea before his bride could enjoy a proper wedding cake.

We next visited Gooch’s Beach and Middle Beach, two of the three expansive, sandy beaches in Kennebunk. Parking at the beaches requires a $25 permit for the day but we were able to find a free parking spot on a side street.

Our next stop was at St. Anthony’s Franciscan Monastery. We spent a long time exploring the walking trails along the Kennebunk River.

We then continued on to Dock Square, Kennebunkport’s shopping district, where we visited a number of shops and ate a late lunch at Alisson’s Restaurant.

We next drove along Ocean Avenue where we admired the multi-million dollar oceanfront homes, including Walker’s Point, the summer home of George H. W. and Barbara Bush which is still used by the Bush children. Jan was prepared to make offers on many of these homes but, with rain being forecast for later in the afternoon, we didn’t have time to stop.

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Summer home of George H. W. and Barbara Bush at Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport

Our final stop was the fishing village of Cape Porpoise where we viewed lobster boats in the harbor and the lighthouse on Goat Island. For a time during the George H. W. Bush presidency, secret service agents lived on Goat Island, which provides a good vantage point of Bush’s estate at Walker’s Point.

We began Friday, August 30th, with a visit to Cape Elizabeth, ME. Our first stop was at the Cape Elizabeth Light. The lighthouse itself is now on private property so it was not accessible. However, we were able to view it from the rocks across the cove. We had arrived at the peak of high tide and the highlight of this stop was watching the waves crash onto the rocky coast.

Next we visited Two Lights State Park. This was the site of one of the many gun batteries that were built along the coast during World War II to defend the Portland Harbor and Casco Bay. A fire control tower, built nearby, was used to aim the guns at approaching enemy ships. We hiked a mile-long trail around the park that took us along the coast and through the forest. The views of the waves on the rocks were spectacular.

We then drove to see the Portland Head Light and Fort Williams. The Portland Head Light, first lit in1791, is the oldest, and most photographed, lighthouse in Maine. Fort Williams, begun in 1873, served as headquarters for harbor defense and contained gun batteries that were manned during World War I and the early years of World War II. We ate lunch at a picnic table overlooking Casco Bay.

After lunch, we drove to Portland. Our first stop was a tour of the Victoria Mansion. The mansion was built in 1858-1860 as a summer home for New Orleans hotelier Ruggles Morse and his wife Olive, both Maine natives. The house was built with the latest technology and featured gas lights, hot and cold running water, flush toilets, central heat, wall-to-wall carpets, and a servant call system. Ruggles and Olive lived in the house until 1893 when Ruggles passed away and Olive sold it, fully furnished, to the Libby family. The last of the Libby family moved out in 1929 and the house sat vacant during the Depression. It was saved from demolition in 1940 and has been open as a museum since 1941. Because of this history, it still has 90% of its original interiors. We did a self-guided tour but there were docents in each room to tell us about the furnishings and to answer our questions.

We then drove by the boyhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the famed 19th-century poet and educator.

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Boyhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our final stop of the day was at the Portland Museum of Art, where they have free admission on Fridays from 4-8 p.m. We strolled through the exhibits on all four floors.

On Saturday we hiked the 1.5-mile out-and-back East Point Audubon Sanctuary trail in Biddeford Pool, a large tidal pool off of Saco Bay, approximately six miles southeast of downtown Biddeford. It was a mostly sunny day and most of the trail was along the ocean front. The Wood Island Lighthouse was visible across the bay. After our hike, we relaxed on the rocks above the shore.  On our drive home, we passed several oceanfront properties that would made been nice summer homes. That evening, Phil researched some of them and discovered one was a 1,100 square foot, 3 bedroom, 1 bath home that was listed for $2.4 million. The house next door was 1,800 square foot and listed for $4 million. We will keep looking!

On Sunday we returned to the Biddeford Pool area and hiked the 1.5-mile out-and-back Timber Point trail. The trail took us through woods and meadows, with the Little River on one side and a cattail marsh on the other. A short distance past the tip of Timber Point is Timber Island, a 13-acre landmass accessible by land bridge at low tide. Unfortunately we were there at 2 pm and low tide was at 7:30 pm. Timber Point was purchased in 1929 by Louise Ewing. Her husband, Charles, was a master architect who had studied in Paris in the late 1880s. The Ewing house, which is still intact, was his last major architectural project. Louise Ewing had a love of nature and wild things and it was largely due to her influence that Timber Point has remained relatively unchanged. Timber Point is now part of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and is used as a resting spot by migratory birds in the spring and fall.

After a rainy Labor Day, the weather on Tuesday was ideal. We started the day with a 2-mile loop hike at Wonder Brook Preserve, part of the Kennebunk Land Trust. We then drove to the Franciscan Monastery and ate a picnic lunch. On our way out, we stopped to see a sculpture that had adorned the façade of the Vatican Pavilion at the World’s Fair in New York City (1964-65).

We then drove to Dock Square in Kennebunk and rented a tandem kayak for three hours. We were told that we had arrived at the perfect time. Since it was an hour before high tide, we could paddle up the Kennebunk River with the current’s assistance. Then, when the tide started going out, our return trip would also be assisted. Departing the marina required paddling under a bridge with only a couple of inches clearance. However, when we returned, the water level was even higher and we had to lie back in our kayak and push our way along under the bridge.

With rain in the forecast for Wednesday afternoon, we limited our outdoor activities to a 2.5-mile hike at Horton Woods in the morning. This 100-acre wildlife preserve in Saco, ME includes diverse ecological habitats, including forests, marshes, streams, bogs and fields. It was one of the few moderate-rated trails in this area and we could feel the difference in the effort required to climb the hills.

That evening Phil observed the neighborhood cat tormenting a baby chipmunk again. Phil had intervened Tuesday afternoon and the baby chipmunk had managed to find refuge in one of our tire covers. On Wednesday night, Phil managed to get between the cat and the chipmunk. As he bent over to pet the cat, he felt the chipmunk run up his pant leg and onto the back of his shirt. When Phil called Jan to get the chipmunk off his back, her first instinct was to grab her camera. However, by the time Jan looked outside, the chipmunk was gone and Phil was left having to try to convince her that it had really happened.

On Thursday we headed north to Brunswick, ME. Brunswick’s main attraction, Bowdoin College, was founded in 1794 and has an impressive list of alumni, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, President Franklin Pierce and arctic explorer Robert E. Peary. Our first stop was at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. Admiral Peary (class of 1897) led the first expedition to reach the North Pole in 1909. Donald MacMillan (class of 1898) also was an accomplished arctic explorer. When they returned from their respective polar travels, they donated many items they collected to their alma mater, including many mounted animals. After the museum, we strolled the campus green and peaked inside the chapel.

Our next stop was at Cabot Mills Antiques, located in a restored textile mill. In the 16,000 square-foot showroom, more than 160 dealers display a wide variety of furniture, books, art, china and porcelains. We explored the entire showroom but left empty-handed.

We had received a promotional email from KOA for 20%-off at L.L. Bean so we returned to Freeport on our drive south. When Jan used the discount to purchase a shirt, we received an additional $10-off coupon so Phil had to buy some socks.

Finally, we drove farther south to Portland and did a 4-mile harborside stroll along the Eastern Promenade Trail. It was a beautiful day and there were lots of sailboats out on Casco Bay.

On Friday we drove to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. For the past 3 centuries, Plymouth has been the hub of the coastal Maine/New Hampshire region’s maritime trade. The west bank of the harbor was settled by English colonists in 1630 and named Strawberry Banke. It was renamed Portsmouth when the town was incorporated in 1653. Portsmouth grew to be one of the nation’s busiest ports and shipbuilding cities. The town expressed its wealth in fine architecture with many fine examples of Colonial, Georgian and Federal style houses, many of which are still lived in today and some are now museums. We walked by many of these houses, including the following:

  • John Paul Jones House, built in 1758. John Paul Jones, American Revolutionary War Naval hero was a resident in 1781-82 when it was operated as a boarding house.
  • Tobias Lear House – Built c. 1750 by Tobias Lear, a merchant and ship’s captain.
  • Wentworth-Gardner House – Built in 1760 by one of New Hampshire’s wealthiest merchants and landowners as a wedding gift for his son.
  • Warner House – Built in 1716-18 by a sea captain, it is one of the oldest, urban brick houses in northern New England and served as the governor’s mansion for 20 years.
  • Governor John Langdon House – Built in 1784 by John Langdon, a merchant, shipbuilder, American Revolutionary general and 3-term governor of New Hampshire.

We also visited Prescott Park, a beautiful public park along the Piscataqua River and across from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (established in 1800).

After lunch, we drove past the many factory outlet malls in Kittery, ME and continued on to Fort Foster at Kittery Point. During World War II, approximately 100 men were stationed at Fort Foster (built in 1897) to protect the coastline and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where submarines were built for the war effort. The fort’s primary role was to protect the harbor’s intricate underwater minefield from sabotage and enemy minesweepers and torpedo boats. The Wood Island Life Saving Station, visible from the Fort Foster pier, was used as a strategic observation post to watch for German U-boats. Fort Foster was closed after World War II and was turned over to the Town of Kittery in 1961 for public use.

Our drive home took us through a series of beautiful beach communities, including York Harbor, Ogunquit, Wells Beach, Kennebunkport and Cape Porpoise.

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Shoreline at York Harbor

On Saturday we drove to Wells, ME and attended the 32nd annual Laudholm Nature Crafts Festival. This prestigious event brings 120 of New England’s finest craftspeople and artisans, selected by jury, to exhibit their wares. We strolled through the grounds, visiting all of the booths and making several purchases. The temperature was in the upper 50s when we arrived but did warm up somewhat in the afternoon.

The festival was held at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm. This site had been farmed for over 300 years before being turned over for public use in 1986. The Wells Reserve uses this historical site as a platform for education, conservation, and research, maintaining more than a dozen historic structures. The property has many trails, including one leading to Laudholm Beach. We hiked to the beach and enjoyed strolling up and down the shore. The weather forecasters had issued a High Surf Advisory and the wave action was quite strong.

Sunday was spent preparing to travel again. It was difficult to say goodbye to the Maine coast after a wonderful three months.

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