Finding Art in Eastport
At a time when many have watched their investments crumble, Linda Godfrey, a retreat producer from Eastport, can reasonably say that hers is sturdier than most. It stands just thirty feet from the silvery, fish-laden shore of Passamaquoddy Bay—all 4,500-feet of it.
That’s because five years ago, Godfrey invited eight female friends to join her in buying and renovating one of Moose Island’s century-old, brick factories and refurbishing it as a gallery and seminar space. In addition to displaying the work of seventy-four local artisans, the building—now known as The Commons—also includes two luxury apartment rentals, which draw a steady stream of visitors to the shores of this traditional fishing village.
Set in the bay facing Canada’s famous Campobello Island, the country’s easternmost city makes an appealing shopping retreat, far from the holiday rush. Or reserve a room for New Year’s and watch the world-famous Great Sardine & Maple Leaf Drop. On New Year’s Day, you’ll be among the first in the country to witness the sun rise on the United States.
“It is a spectacular little diamond in the rough,” said Godfrey, a former speech therapist and college administrator from Indiana, who moved here with her husband, Bob, twenty years ago.
Having visited Eastport only once before, the couple was captivated by the region’s natural beauty and rugged coast. When an opportunity presented itself to manage a historic lodge on Campobello, Godfrey organized four women to form the Lupine Corporation and made an offer.
“With no one having great resources unto themselves, collectively we were able to make things happen,” Godfrey said, of the rental property now known as Lupine Lodge. Ten years later, it occurred to her that this same model might work in Eastport, one of the deepest ports in the country that was somewhat abandoned when the last of its sardine canning factories closed in the late 1970s. The island, which is connected to the mainland by a causeway, has a population of roughly 2,000—many of who are fishermen or artists.
Seeing an opportunity to invest in the downtown, Godfrey gathered a new group of women to purchase the old Mincton Building, which was constructed in 1887 just after a devastating fire swept through the downtown. Once the location where farmers brought hay to be weighed, it has also served as a men’s clothing retailer, real estate office, doctor’s office, and cyber café. When the women bought it for $100,000, it was vacant after having been twice condemned.
“It was waiting for us,” Godfrey laughed.
Although she said the amount the group invested was “significant,” Godfrey declined to cite a figure for the renovation, saying the real investment was in “thinking and doing.” To link the two investment groups, each member of the original Lupine Corporation bought one stock in The Commons.
“It is the same thing, engaging the community to collectively share the load and to collectively achieve dreams,” said Godfrey. Now we are getting ready to do our third project, a revitalization of a large sardine can-making operation. Three members of The Commons are going forward to lead that project. It is a big project for Maine, it is a huge project for Eastport. It is a humongous project for us, but we believe that we can achieve it together.”
The ages of the investors range from fifty to ninety-four. Godfrey herself is the president and founder of The Atlantic Leadership Center and gives presentations on a wide range of topics from women in leadership to sacred forests.
Called one of Maine’s most inspiring speakers, she has also been quoted as referring to herself as a “communitarian and aspiring Fairy God Mother, seeking ways to champion and cheer on the work of others.”
With a visit to the deep waters of this quiet port, it’s not hard to see why.
Where to eat:
For fine food and drink, Godfrey recommends The Pickled Herring, which recently opened at 32 Water St., 207-853-2323. Located in a former Masonic Lodge, the restaurant features a bar, open kitchen, and one of the few wood-fired grills in Maine.
Just up the street, The Happy Crab, 35 Water St., 207-853-9400, is a favorite watering hole and lunch spot. With a big-screen TV, Saturday Mexican night and Thursday evening pool, it offers entertainment for bleak winter evenings in addition to claiming to be one of the friendliest restaurants in town. The diner menu includes pasta, seafood, burgers, and more.
Breakfast is a tradition at The WaCo Diner, 47 Water St., 207-853-9400, the oldest in Maine. Serving home-style meals and “he-man” breakfasts, the diner has been around since 1924.
What to do:
No surprise here, Godfrey suggests visitors begin at The Commons, 51 Water St., 207-853-4123, particularly to buy local art—including handcrafted baskets, pottery, glass, tin, leather, silver, wood and more—or set off on an area art walk. The folks at the gallery can supply you with all the information on where to go, which artists are currently in town, and what studios are open—including wildlife woodcarver Roland LaVallee, who exhibits and exceptional collection of Maine birds at his Crow Tracks studio, 11 Water St., 853-2336.
A visit to the Tides Institute & Museum of Art, 43 Water St., 853-4047, will reveal a large collection of art representing the greater Passamaquody region from the early 19th century to the present. It’s also where you can catch up on showings, theater, music, dance, and other area cultural activities through the Institute’s “Culture Pass,” a listing of area events. The list can also be accessed online at: www.tidesinstitute.org.
Mystery lovers will be eager to note that Eastport is the home of writer Sarah Graves who uses the city as the backdrop for her many home-repair themed murders. Godfrey suggests clicking on the author’s web site: www.randomhouse.com/bantamdell/graves/tour and touring all eleven fictitious murder sites found around town and in her books. Or stop by S.L. Wadsworth and Son’s, 42 Water St., 207-853-4343, the local hardware store—which just happens to be the oldest ship chandlery in the country—and pick up a few autographed copies for gifts.
If that’s not spicy enough, Godfrey suggests a visit to Raye’s Mustard Mill, 83 Washington St., 853-4451, which has been grinding up the good stuff since 1900. Not only can you tour the award winning stone-ground production facility, you can also load up on gourmet food, including Maine beers and wine, smoked salmon, and specialty cheeses at America’s last remaining traditional stone-ground mustard mill.
Places to Roam:
Just across the Bay, Campobello Island makes for an interesting afternoon but be sure to bring the proper ID to cross the bridge into Canada from Lubec. During the warmer months, you can get there by ferry, but this time of year, the easiest path is Route 1 south to Route 189. In all, the 40-mile drive takes roughly an hour. Once on the island, Godfrey suggests a visit to Roosevelt Memorial Park. While the summerhouse of the former U.S. president is closed at this time of year, Herring Cove Beach and the accompanying carriage roads make for an enjoyable walk.