Time to get your maps out and follow along. Sadly leaving Star Island we docked in Portsmouth about 4:30 Sunday, and shortly I was crossing the bridge into Maine on I-95 quickly exiting to shunpike along Maine 103 close to the coast. On my War of 1812 IPhone app I had learned that Fort McClary was on that route, and I carefully reconnoitered it as we sailed back up the river. It is now a beautifully maintained state park with nice signage in the blockhouse of the history of the fort from pre-Revolutionary War days through its use as a civilian
defense point during World War II. Just minutes from Portsmouth it is well worth a side-trip.
Continuing up Route 103 from Kittery Point is remote and picturesque with impeccably maintained homes and estates. I jogged over to that dreaded interstate, however, at Yorkville since it was getting late, and I wanted to arrive at my circa 1730 Inn in Old Orchard Beach by 7 PM. Old Orchard Beach has changed from my collection of early 1900s postcards showing it as a quaint seaside resort and amusement center. It still retains the same family amusement theme with expansive beaches, but thanks to those old dreaded fires with wooden buildings the current architectural style reminds me of 1970s seaside New Jersey. But even without the fires I am afraid the grand 19th century architecture would not have remained. I enjoyed walking through town to experience it, but sadly the 1898 amusement pier was closed, and I was just glad I was seeing all without the crowds that probably choke the streets and sidewalks during the summer season. That is “not my thing” as you know.
My plan, without having planned the details, was to journey to Portland today. On a peninsula, Portland too was devastated by fire in 1866 and rebuilt at that time in brick and stone, most of which remains today particularly in the Old Port section. A clean and easy
to grasp “city,” Portland has distinct sections which also include the arts district, waterfront, government and downtown. I arrived at 9:30 via the old route through South Portsmouth (no surprise there that I came in on the old back road) and drove along the waterfront looking for the tourist bureau. A Celebrity Cruise Line ship was docked at the east end of Commercial Street near the tourist bureau, but I parked and walked over and loaded up with a bonanza of Maine literature, as well as enough detail to tackle Portland without having had time for previously planning. Then I drove through the various districts and parked to walk the Old Port district enjoying the architecture.
I then decided to take in the Maine Historical Society Museum to immerse myself in history of the area. It adjoins the Wadsworth Longfellow house that I thought I would pass on (I don’t need to spend time at another restored home thought Ray), but the package admission price for the museum and home made it worthwhile. I am glad that I did, because I soon found out that instead of extensive permanent history exhibits the museum only had one temporary exhibit on the electrification of Maine. Fascinating, but I had hoped for rooms and rooms of Maine history. Well, docent Howard came through the exhibit calling us for his 2PM tour of the house, and this made up for my disappointment. The Wadsworth-Longfellow house was willed to the state in 1902 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s sister Ann, with 95% of the furnishings original to the family and the house. It was Ann’s mission, when she took over the house in 1851, to keep it as it was for three generations in the family to honor her family and brother Henry who spent the first 18 years of his life there, wrote his first poem there, and visited every year of his life thereafter. Many of his works reflect family life and tragedies, and I learned so much about Longfellow’s accomplishments that I now will have to read more. The museum’s bookshop was a delight to my bibliographic eyes putting the icing “on the house.”
Over the years I have had a number of books on the Maine Two-Footers, and when I saw on the map the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company and Museum I thought it worth the visit. In the US, standard gauge trains run on tracks that are 4 feet 8 ½ inches, but in Maine there were a number of lines that operated on track two feet wide. As a result the
engines and cars were much smaller and the lower cost of laying tracks and building bridges enabled access to the remote Maine areas connecting them to the major lines to get goods to market and manufactured goods and vacationers into the remote “Vacationlands.” I paid my $2 admission and viewed several restored and original cars as well as a 1925 Model T Ford that had been converted to ride the rails and was still in it original condition.
Leaving the museum at about 3:30 I drove along the Eastern Promenade overlooking the bay and picked up US Route 1 towards Freeport and L.L. Bean – just figured I had to see it. Taking US 1 is shunpiking from I-295, but I also shunpiked US 1 when I followed picturesque Route 88 through Falmouth Foreside which I recommend. On US 1 at I-295 Exit 17 is the absolute best Maine Tourist Office with loads of literature – I recommend a stop if you are travelling up that way. But what I do not recommend is a visit to Freeport, Maine. Yes, I now can say I was at L.L. Bean, and they had a few small displays I enjoyed for their 100th anniversary this year, and I am thrilled that it was not a high season day, but otherwise the other shops in town gave the appearance of another “has-been” outlet town. Remember how wonderful Manchester, Vermont was in the 1960s and 70s before the outlets arrived? And now how empty and depressing it is with the vacant stores? The fact that I am not a shopper and neither need or want to buy anything material is not jading me on this fact, just use the L.L. Bean catalogue and free shipping and save the time.
With darkness at hand making scenery hard to see I picked up I-295 back to Portland and then I-95 back to Old Orchard Beach. I will now plan my route along the coast heading south from here to see the old church camp meeting town of Ocean Park in its original state from the 1870s, Biddeford (following Route 9), Kennebunkport, Wells, and the resorts of Ogunquit and York Beach. Then I will backtrack west to US Route 202 and follow the front of the car meandering back to and across New Hampshire. That’s it for this adventure – but there is more to come. Bye and thanks for travelling with me, yours, RAY