Going To Town

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We live in a very small town in the hills rolling inland from Penobscot Bay in midcoast Maine.  It has a surprising wealth of amenities for such a little place–a good market, friendly post-office, library, farmers’ market, winery, distillery, two restaurants, and TWO tractor dealerships–everything we need, really.

As an added advantage, we also are close to four towns strung along the coast–Belfast, Camden, Rockland, and Damariscotta.  Each has a distinct personality.  When we visited this area while traveling in our RV in 2014, we spent most of our time in Camden and Belfast.  But we didn’t spend much time in Rockland.  IMG_4015

Since moving here, each town has developed a niche in our lives—certain things are best in one, others in another.  But Rockland has become our overall go-to town.  I’m a little surprised at how quickly I have come to love it.  When we were house hunting, well-heeled and well-intentioned folks in Camden (a picture perfect coastal village) warned us that Rockland was … well … a little dicey … higher crime, more drugs, more problems.  And our initial impressions were not particularly favorable.  To be blunt, it just seemed uglier than the other towns.  Objectively, that’s probably a fair assessment. Although all the coastal towns draw tourists, Rockland remains more of a working class town than its neighbors, with viable waterfront industries, including the only carrageenan (a seaweed extract) plant in the country.

Industry in the harbor. The smokestack is at a cement factory down the road from Rockland.

A harbor view.  The left smokestack is a cement factory down the road from Rockland.  The downtown brick buildings and old courthouse are just visible in the middle of the photo.

The old courthouse.

Here’s a closeup of the lovely 1874 old courthouse tower.

This may have no relationship to carageenan, but it's lovely seaweed.

This seaweed likely has no relationship to carrageenan, but I like it.

Rockland has pockets of poverty and depressing living conditions.  It is a regional center for shopping and services, so there are strings of unlovely big-box stores on the town’s outskirts.

End of the tracks.

End of the tracks.

As with many things, however, as we got to know it, Rockland became a lot less ugly and veered towards beautiful.  IMG_4129

The breakwater and lighthouse are just below the horizon

Breakwater and lighthouse are just below the horizon

At first, it was the shopping and services that drew us there.  It was the most convenient place to find the things that our little town does not provide.  Over time, the town grew on us more and more.

Lobster traps and buoys outside home on the water.

Lobster traps and buoys.

The people are remarkably friendly, there is a lively downtown, colorful history and architecture, ferries running to the nearby islands, and the backdrop of a stunning breakwater stretching across the harbor entrance, with a lighthouse at its tip.

The harbor breakwater, almost a mile long with a lighthouse at its end.

The harbor breakwater, almost a mile long with the lighthouse (the tiny white speck) at its end.

Larger fishing boat heading out past the breakwater.

The breakwater lighthouse.

An artsy shot of a railroad spike sculpture with a glimpse of the lighthouse on the horizon.

An artsy shot of a railroad spike sculpture with a glimpse of the lighthouse.

Plus, it’s interesting, with messy, contentious local politics and a tendency to party (it holds both a lobster festival and a blues festival in the summer).

Rockland's Christmas tree made of lobster pots.

Town Christmas tree made of lobster pots.

Rockland is a town of rocks and water.

The breakwater was built over twenty years at the end of the 1800s.

The breakwater took over 20 years to build at the end of the 1800s.

Breakwater lighthouse

Breakwater lighthouse

This day the water was a little choppy beyond the breakwater.

This day the water was a little choppy outside the breakwater.

And almost dead calm on the harbor side.

And almost dead calm inside.

Up until the Civil War, it had a thriving port and industries–with granite and lime quarries, lime kilns, and rich fishing grounds. 

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Pulling lobster traps from a small skiff in the harbor.

Pulling lobster traps from a small skiff in the harbor.

It built clipper ships–fast beauties that sailed the world, with fittingly aggressive names–Red Jacket, Springbok, Defiance, Rattler, Live Yankee, Anglo-Saxon, Progressive, Yankee Ranger, Young Mechanic, and one misfit soothing name, Euterpe, giver of delight.

Many of Rockland’s old buildings were lost to fire and age.

The Odd Fellows Hall still has closets of odd regalia on the top floor. It's crying out for a paint job.

The old Odd Fellows Hall still has closets of odd regalia left behind on the top floor. It’s a lovely building but crying out for a paint job.

Its downtown, however, retains architecture from the late 19th and early 20th century, with exquisite details for anyone who takes the time to look up a little.  IMG_4014IMG_4021IMG_4043The downtown has a wonderful bakery, excellent restaurants, galleries, stores, and the Farnsworth museum, featuring the Wyeths and other local artists.

I love how the girl in this shot is captivated by the window display.

I love how the girl in this shot is captivated by the window display.

I’m a little embarrassed to say we haven’t been to the Farnsworth yet.  I can blame the weather.  IMG_4050We wanted to focus on outside work in the good weather and museums in the winter.  But our weather has been so mild that we continue to work outside.

Even the pigeons are enjoying the sun.

Even the pigeons are enjoying the sun.

More sunbathing.

More sunbathing.

Museum weather will come soon enough, I’m sure.IMG_4191

Finally, the gym at Rockland’s YMCA (which is inexpensive and open to everyone) has a full-length bank of windows looking out on the harbor—it must be one of the best gym views in the country.  Sweet.      IMG_4113

36 thoughts on “Going To Town

  1. This place looks great. It’s a part of the US that I’d love to visit. I love blog posts like this that introduce me to a new place and I like your take on it. Love the look of that museum – hope you get to visit (and then write about it!).

    • Thank you Sam. Maine has so much to offer, including some wild and lovely coastline. It definitely is worth a visit. We’ll be going to the arnsworth soon (really, we will) and I’ll report back. Although it’s ridiculously warm again here today, so I’m beginning to think we may skip winter this year. Crazy times.

  2. Oh, you should have seen Rockland in the old days. By contrast, it is positively gentrified now 😉
    Really enjoyed reading this post.

    • We have several really lovely towns nearby. This one is a bit of a black sheep, but we’ve come to love it, too. These old Maine seaport towns have some really interesting architecture, artifacts, and history. In the 1800s, Maine ships were sailing royalty, traveling the world, bringing back influences from “exotic” foreign ports, and adding spice to New England’s puritan background.

  3. Haven’t been to Maine myself in about 40 years. You do create an appealing portrait of Rockland in this post. You make me want to get beyond Boston and Providence in my visits to New England.

  4. Now that there looks like a mighty fine town, with a mighty fine breakwater, and even a mighty fine lobster pot Christmas tree. I wish I could visit, but lacking the capacity to go everywhere, I’ll take gratitude at your posts for sharing it. Grazie!

  5. I think I would love Rocklands too Brenda it sounds like my sort of place not pretentious but a down to earth “battlers” stamping ground.(Battlers is the Aussie slang for hard working but poor people) And seems to have all you would need. Looking forward to visiting the museum/art gallery with you. Thank you for introducing me to your favourite places.

    • You Aussies have the best slang. I’ve never heard the term “battlers” and wish we had a similarly descriptive term here. “Working class” doesn’t have the same oomph. I think you would like Rockland, Pauline, and this whole area. Maybe you could find a house-sit here sometime!

      • Maybe when you start travelling again we could come over!!! Unfortunately a lot of the distinctive aussie “strine” is being lost as the younger generations are using American slang picked up from TV.

  6. Maine looks like a very lovely place to live. I enjoyed your commentary and great photos. I hope one day I have the opportunity to visit. What an unusual Christmas tree! Love the quirkiness. 🙂

  7. You’ve got some great shots here and more importantly to me you helped me see a small town in Maine through your eyes. Having just relocated to Maine (as in last week) from Colorado, this post was a great help to me as I struggle with home sickness. I’ll definitely be heading down to Rockland in the very near future.

    • Wow. You are a recent transplant. Welcome to Maine–from someone who moved here only six months ago! I’m not sure where you are in Maine, but we really love it here. And we came from Alaska, which is hard to beat. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions. It’s a tough time of year to move, I hope your homesickness eases soon.

      • We’re in the Bangor area right now. We spent the last 20+ years in Colorado, the last year in a small town near Rocky Mountain Nat’l park. Even though we’re used to cold winters it has been difficult at least partly due to the weather. But boy am I looking forward to Spring!

      • I hope that you come to enjoy Maine. It’s such a unique part of the country and there’s a lot going on here. Besides, it has something that you’ll never find in Colorado–the ocean. Spring comes late, but is lovely. And the summer here is amazing.

  8. Lovely to see your wonderful pictures. It’s been a very long time since I was in Rockland. I used to spend a month each summer in Vinalhaven with my grandparents. Fabulous memories of swimming in quarries and messing around with my sisters and brother!!

    • So glad you enjoyed the photos. I imagine Rockland has changed since you were here. I haven’t been to Vinalhaven yet, but this whole area is so lovely and a paradise for little kids. It’s pretty nice for adults, too.

  9. I really enjoyed seeing Rockland with you. It has so much character! I love the breakwater lighthouse and the lobster pot Christmas tree. Maybe we should have one like that here it looks much more sturdy than the real Christmas tree we have down by the harbour, which has been battered by the strong winds. Wishing you a very Happy Christmas. Sarah x

    • Thanks JoHanna. We have several lovely towns nearby and it’s been a real pleasure to explore and get to know their quirks and personalities. We feel very fortunate to live here.

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