A benefit of planning a trip with a flexible schedule is the ability to adapt the itinerary to suit one’s mood, changed circumstances, or new information. On our recent trip to New England, we left San Francisco with white space on our calendar/schedule that was easily filled in with interesting stops as we learned along the way.
Before leaving California, we planned on a several stops in Maine: Portland and Biddeford to see friends, the DeLorme Map store in Yarmouth, LL Bean in Freeport, and Acadia National Park and nearby Bar Harbor. When we were in Portland exploring in Sherman’s bookstore, we noticed a good looking book entitled Maine’s Museums, Art Oddities & Artifacts. With a title that is right on this author’s preferences, the book is a cornucopia of places for discovery and, lucky for us, it was on sale that day.
As one might expect or hope, the book drills down on Maine and its uniqueness, and offers an extensive yet curated selection of Maine’s museums – many are quite specialized and would probably be overlooked by travelers not informed by such an impressive guidebook.
Maine’s Museums thoughtfully presents its data on 70 or so museums by geography. We simply traced our route between Portland and Bar Harbor, learned what museums were along the way, and then made time for a few of them.
Traveling from the wonderful Pilgrim’s Inn on Deer Isle southwest toward Portland, first up was The Wilson Museum in Castine. This town is off the beaten track and was a diversion even for us, but it was well worth the effort. A small, scenic community on the
water, Castine boasts 300 healthy elm trees, an arborist on city staff, the Maine Maritime Academy, and the small but impressive Wilson Museum.
Dr. John Wilson (1871-1936) was borne into a family of successful industrialists, became a geologist, and travelled widely. He assembled a collection of rare objects that are well presented in the museum’s attractive waterfront facility. Scholars travel from afar to study the rocks, fossils, and implements from the earliest of times. The museum presents humankind’s advances in tool-making from pre-history through Castine’s rich local history.
Leaving Castine and rejoining US#1, we headed southwest again, passing Red’s Eats, a lobster shack with an excellent PR department. We continued on to Bath, which enjoys a rich history of shipbuilding beginning in 1743 – today the city is a key supplier of warships to the U.S. Navy, including the first in the new Zumwalt (DDG1000) class of destroyers ($3.5 billion a copy).
Bath’s rich history of shipbuilding makes it a natural location for the Maine Maritime Museum, founded 1962. Located on the Kennebec River just downstream from Bath’s attractive downtown, the museum has an interesting variety of permanent exhibits which are supplemented with solid temporary exhibits. When we were there, the temporary exhibits included one on Maine’s entrepreneurs who create handmade surfboards…and
The museum ‘s 20 acre campus offers plenty of grass, picnic tables, and kids-oriented features. In addition to its traditional museum offerings, the museum sponsors trolley tours of its neighbor, the Bath Iron Works, the Zumwalt’s builder.
Our 2-hour visit of the Maine Maritime Museum was hardly enough; but we had to keep moving as our days in Maine were melting away and we had obligations down the road, including a flight back to SFO in a few days.
Seven miles down US#1 from Bath is Brunswick, the location of Bowdoin College and the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, which is on Bowdoin’s attractive campus. The reader may not be aware that the explorer Robert E. Peary was in Bowdoin’s class of 1877 – Peary
and his assistant, Matthew Henson, are said to have been the first to the North Pole.
The Museum’s collections largely relate to the cultures, geography, and natural history of Labrador, Baffin Island, Ellesmere Island, and Greenland. Permanent exhibitions focus on the natural and cultural diversity of the Arctic. The temporary exhibit during our visit was a large selection of Inuit Art, largely from Cape Dorset on Baffin Island, lent by private collectors.
As a group, the three museums mentioned above provide good insights on some of Maine’s history and the state’s important role in the nation’s maritime endeavors.
Finally, I must mention the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, which are in fact on a tidelands shoreline. Opened in 2007, the 270 acre garden is designed beautifully and it’s
well on the way to becoming a “must do” in coastal Maine. (Beware – the drive from Camden took longer than Google Maps said, so, unfortunately, our time in the garden was short.) Even so, we were glad to view, walk, and inhale the gardens, and look forward to a future, longer visit.