Sixty years ago, the slim first issue of a regional magazine appeared on selected newsstands throughout the length and breadth of Maine. On the cover, a stylized woodcut of a Maine harbor was topped by a hand-painted logo with the words “Down East” — a reference to the practice of sailing downwind to the east in order to reach Maine from Boston during the great age of sail. The new magazine, which was loosely modeled on The New Yorker, was the brainchild of a Mainer named Duane Doolittle.
By the time Doolittle sold out to retire in 1977, circulation was nudging sixty thousand for ten issues per year — a substantial accomplishment in a far-from-prosperous rural state with a population of little more than one million souls. But the magazine’s success was only just beginning. Under the ownership of the Fernald and Spahn families, Down East continued to prosper, becoming the true Magazine of Maine it always set out to be. Today, the company is owned entirely by the Maine-based Fernald family.
The goal of Down East has always been to hold a mirror up to Maine — its storied past and lively present — and to celebrate its flinty, independent character and unhurried way of life. As Maine has changed with the times, however, so has Down East. Today the state has come to embrace its future as well as its past. Accordingly, the magazine now focuses more on contemporary Maine life and what the future might bring and less on historical background and quaint rusticity. Booming circulation and advertising gains demonstrate the wisdom of this editorial shift.
The overwhelming concern among Mainers today is the rapid pace of change and development that has gathered increasing force in the last decade, disrupting town budgets, school districts, the real estate market, and traditional lifestyles. Here, at Down East, we feel that this editorial turn toward contemporary Maine reality falls well within the mandate first enunciated in Volume 1, Number 1 (see “One Mainer to Another,” August 2004, page 26), a mission statement on which we could hardly hope to improve and which reads, in part:
“We don’t pretend that we can define this evocative term, Down East. To attempt to crack the mystery of what those things are that make a Downeaster different from a Texan or a Hoosier would be as unavailing as pondering the imponderables. All we can honestly say is that we are tuned to this particular parcel of earth, and that we like its music.”