Down East 2013 ©
If ever someone was well-equipped to write about the finer points of relocating to Maine, it's Victoria Doudera. A former Bostonian who moved to Camden in 1986, she's been an innkeeper, a Realtor, and a best-selling author whose book Moving to Maine : The Essential Guide to Get You There & What You Need to Know to Stay is the most authoritative volume on the subject. In this edited excerpt from the second edition of Moving to Maine
(Down East Books, Camden, Maine; www.downeast.com;  paperback; 282 pages; $16.95) she gives prospective newcomers the benefit of her experience.
The People of Maine
Ask new residents in Maine why they like living here, and, without fail, they will mention their neighbors. Mainers may be gruff or loquacious, natives or relative newcomers, yet almost all of them share a sense of community and a love for their state and its resources. "People here are friendly and supportive," says Dottie Paradis, who moved to Cornish from Massachusetts in 1999. "Not at all the staunch and rigid Yankees I imagined."
Even those who have been here for several decades cite Mainers themselves as a draw. "A few weeks ago I met a man who said he moved here twenty-five years ago," says Kathleen Hirsch, who headed north from Pennsylvania with her husband in June of 2005. "He said he chose Maine for the people and he has stayed here because of the people. That says you can't go wrong moving to Maine!"
Carole Brand, who also came in 2005, has formed a theory concerning why residents are typecast as rough-and-tumble woodsmen. "The stereotype of Mainers as mostly backwoods loggers in red flannel shirts living in drafty log cabins who drive trucks, drink beer, think ice fishing is the height of culture, and whose vocabulary consists of the all-purpose 'Ayuh' is locally promulgated as a way of keeping the tourist population in check. In fact, my immediate neighbors consist of a nuclear physicist, a retired pediatric oncologist, a pathologist, a former executive of Rockefeller Institute, a computer scientist, and a retired mathematics professor. The annual conference on foreign policy was sold out within days, and I am having difficulty finding a book group that has an opening. However, the local Shakespeare Society has been very welcoming."
Approximately 1,317,253 people live in the state of Maine in an estimated 518,200 households. The majority of them call the countryside home; while nearly 80 percent of the population of the United States lives in metropolitan areas, only 40 percent of Mainers live in cities, the major ones being Portland, Bangor, Augusta, and Lewiston-Auburn. Maine is the third most rural state in the nation, behind Vermont and West Virginia. People here like their personal space: the average population density in 2004 was sixteen persons per square mile, and, in about half the state, this figure drops to only one person per three square miles. More than one-half the population of Maine lives in the southern/southwestern corner of the state.
Maine's population on the whole is growing, albeit slowly. Over the 1990s, the population grew by 3.8 percent. Who's moving in? All kinds of people, really — young families, early retirees, skilled professionals, risk-taking entrepreneurs. They come from all over the map, although migration from southern New England and the mid-Atlantic region outnumbers other spots.
"If I had to rank them," says Valarie LaMonte, the director of the Center for Real Estate Education at the University of Southern Maine, "I'd say that the most common home states of new residents are Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania." A table produced by the U.S. Census Bureau that includes data on the largest migration inflow and outflow by state backs up her informal data. From 1995 to 2000, Maine gained nearly twenty thousand residents from one state: Massachusetts.
But certainly not everyone is from the Northeast. Ruth Anne and Wesley Hohfeld came to Maine in 2001 from California. "We wanted to move out of the high-pressure San Francisco Bay area," says Ruth Anne. "We wanted a lower cost of living and less people."
Laura Read lived in North Carolina and came to Maine to work at a summer camp. "I loved the blunt personality of Mainers," she says. "So refreshing compared to the 'Southern Gals' I grew up with."
Jeff and Cathy Cleaveland moved to the small town of Appleton from Seattle. "We wanted to be on the East Coast, closer to family in Massachusetts," says Cathy. While she loves having lots of land and four distinct seasons, there's one thing Cathy misses about Seattle: "Drive-through coffee stands!"
What is it like to get a job or start a business in Maine? Clay and Maggy King are massage therapists who came from Atlanta in August of 2002 hoping that their new practice would thrive. "We moved here with no hesitation or worries," says Maggy. "I suppose we should have been concerned about making a living here, but we just crossed our fingers and believed that we'd do just fine, and we have." Not everyone has the faith of the Kings, and even they admit it wasn't easy those first few years. "There were times in the beginning that we'd open the appointment book and shake our heads, but those times quickly passed. We were always very optimistic and confident that we'd be okay."
The Maine Economy
For hundreds of years, Maine's economic lifeblood pulsed thanks to the state's tremendous natural resources. Fishing, lumbering, farming, trapping, and shipbuilding put supper on the table for Mainers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the late 1800s, the industrial revolution took hold in Maine, and mills and other manufacturing centers sprung up along the state's mighty waterways and in remote northern towns. Soon shoes, clothes, textiles, paper, and other products were produced in all corners of the state. Fifty years ago, manufacturing was so important here that as many as one out of every two Mainers worked in the industry. In this economy of yesteryear, landing a job in a mill following grammar or high school ensured a fairly decent standard of living.
In the second half of the twentieth century, the economic climate began once more to change. While manufacturing remained the biggest source of employment, jobs in this sector began to decrease, falling 14 percent between the early 1980s and the early 1990s. Meanwhile, the number of jobs in the service industries and retail trade began to inch upward, and soon tourism took hold as the state's number one industry.
Keeping the economy strong is a challenge in a state of 1.3 million people living in an area roughly the size of the other five New England states combined. Factors that have had the most impact on Maine's economy in recent years include globalization of the marketplace, development of new technologies, the influx of women into the workforce, and an aging population.
Recessions, of course, pose special challenges, especially in rural states. Experts say Maine weathered the most recent economic downturn (which most feel ended in 2001) fairly well, and the state's economy has improved, albeit at a relatively modest pace. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, "Maine proved to be resilient in the face of recession, suffering less severe consequences than the rest of the region, so now it is enjoying milder gains." And yet those gains are pretty impressive. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that Maine's Gross State Product grew 10.6 percent between 2000 and 2004. The state regained all jobs lost and job growth is projected to continue, with the unemployment rate remaining below the national rate. Personal income increased, closing part of the gap with national figures, and the state's exports reached an all-time high. To cap off these achievements, Maine received an "A" on the Corporation for Enterprise Development's Assets and Opportunity Scorecard.
Even with these positive trends, some new Mainers find it a challenge to make a living. "We've always believed that it was important to live where and how you wanted to and that the economic aspects of life would tend to take care of themselves if you were doing what you wanted," says David Cherry, who moved with his partner from Northern California in 2002. "In truth, had we realized just how poor (and poorly managed) the state's economic outlook was before we moved we probably would not have come. It is extremely non-business friendly and seems to be trying to go back to the industrial 1800s rather than moving forward."
Job growth in Maine has outpaced both the New England region and the U.S. for the last seven years, and yet the gains are modest when compared to states such as California. There are disparities in income distribution, too, and the current growth doesn't benefit all of Maine. Realities such as the closing of the Brunswick Naval Air Station, one of the state's largest employers, will have major economic and social impacts on neighboring towns and the state as a whole. As a mill worker of a previous generation might have said, Maine has its work cut out for it. But rather than confounding Mainers, these challenges have spurred them to use the Yankee ingenuity and solid work ethic for which they're famous to adapt and begin to thrive in the face of change.
The Good News
As the Maine economy recovers, new jobs are being created, and innovative new businesses are taking the state in new directions. Along with jobs, wages and production continue to climb. Other indicators of a growing economy, such as retail sales, construction contract awards, and building permits, have all risen significantly. Under the leadership of Maine's previous governor, Angus King, the state mounted an aggressive economic development strategy aimed at creating new jobs, cutting workers' compensation insurance costs, lowering electric utility rates, reforming taxes, and building a state-of-the-art telecommunications infrastructure. The impact of these achievements still resonates, and provides an excellent base upon which the current leadership is building.
Is the Maine economy a glass half full or half empty?
"Half full," writes Jack Cashman, commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, on the Department's Web site (www.econdevmaine.com ). "It's time to focus on filling it rather than dwelling on why it is not already full. We are all working toward the same vision: an economically prosperous Maine. If we work together, we will make greater progress. Let's concentrate on the many good things that are happening in our state and use those good things as a foundation upon which to build our success."
The 2006 "Measures of Growth in Focus" report, prepared by the Maine Development Foundation, says that although the economic challenges are considerable, there are reasons for optimism. For instance, Maine is on the right track, investing considerable resources in research and development. The state takes care of its citizens, as demonstrated by the high rate of health-insurance coverage. On-the-job injuries have dropped consistently over the past several years, and the death rate from cardiovascular disease is coming down.
Conservation and well-managed forest lands are increasing, too. The report continues: "The bottom line is that the state must continue to focus its energy and resources on building its base of talent. Maine must also improve its business climate, strengthen its urban areas, and effectively manage the development of its natural environment. Through these steps, the state can position itself favorably in the new economy in which it operates."
Maine is a rich mixture of architectural styles and types of dwellings: grand old sea captains' homes gazing out to the ocean, elegant Federals lining a village square. There are raised ranches where yards are strewn with toys and tidy capes in new subdivisions. Picturesque villages shelter lobster shacks stacked high with traps and comfortable condominiums with water views. You'll find quiet cabins lining lakefronts and cozy apartments topping downtown shops. There are gleaming new retirement villages as well as trailers that have seen better days. And Maine is home to new houses of every imaginable design: modern, post and beam, solar, and manufactured.
Building a Home
Home construction in Maine has been rising since 1998, and contractors are enjoying calendars with few empty slots. Maine leads New England in the rate of housing permit growth, with 40 percent of Maine's construction dollars going toward residential development. While this has made builders happy, not everyone is enamored with all of the new growth. Communities around Maine have begun to address the specter of sprawl, taking preventative steps to keep their precious open space and the character of their towns.
GrowSmart Maine, an advocacy group based in Yarmouth, is one group addressing the environmental and economic impact of this issue. Building houses with big yards and long driveways not only threatens the state's natural resources, but pushes up property taxes and makes it difficult for Maine to attract businesses. Their goal is to build a statewide coalition and promote a vision for " smart growth" that calls for focusing growth in town centers on small house lots rather than letting it gallop along willy-nilly. Recently the organization sponsored a major study conducted by the Brookings Institution to look at Maine's economy, cost of government, and patterns of development, today and tomorrow. For more information see its Web site at www.growsmartmaine.org .
Many newcomers — especially retirees — decide to build houses in Maine, some because they are seeking a special style, others because they desire certain amenities not usually found in older homes, still more because they want to build the dream house with the dream view for which they've long planned. Maine is one of the few places left in the country with reasonably priced shoreland still available.
"It took us twelve years of coming up on weekends from New York to build our house," says Allie Lou Richardson, of Islesboro. "It was worth it, because we wanted to be on the water."
Marlene Kinlin, who moved to Jonesport from Massachusetts, echoes her sentiments: "My husband and I chose Maine for peace of mind as well as the gorgeous, affordable seaside property." The Kinlins retired to Maine in 1994 and built a home with views of lobster buoys and spruce-topped islands.
One thing to remember when considering a coastal site for your dream home, though, is Maine's shoreland zoning law. This regulation places restrictions on a structure's proximity to a body of water, on the clearing of vegetation near the shore, and on types of buildings that can be located on the immediate coast. More information on the law can be found at any town office.
And what about McMansions? With very few exceptions, Maine has not yet succumbed to the epidemic wreaking havoc with communities in other states, in which older, smaller homes are torn down so that expansive new structures can occupy the lot. Instead of tearing down a vintage house, bring that old gem back to its glory days and bask in the admiration of all your new neighbors. If you buy a vacant lot on an established street (planners encourage this practice, called "infilling," because it helps to prevent sprawl) choose a design and a scale that will fit with the integrity of existing neighborhoods.
Before he became governor, John Baldacci served for eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives, living and working in the nation's capital. The rest of his family stayed in Maine, because, as he has said in public statements, "frankly, this was the best place to raise children." The governor's assertion has been seconded numerous times by children's advocacy groups who applaud Maine's kid-friendly policies, safe streets and cities, clean air, and old-fashioned sense of community. "In Maine, my nine- and six-year-old girls can be comfortable being kids," says Lynda Chilton, who moved to the state in 1998. "Having fun can mean chasing frogs all afternoon, or going to the corner shop with friends for ice cream. They can walk home from school or go to the library without parental supervision," she explains. "In Virginia, children were becoming mini grown-ups, with stresses and peer pressures that I didn't face when I was little."
Shortly after his election in 1994, Governor Baldacci's predecessor, Angus S. King, Jr., established the Children's Cabinet. Made up of the commissioners of the five state agencies most closely involved with children and families, the group has worked since 1994 to organize the best services for Maine children, families, and communities.
In recent years, Maine has been able to claim:
• The lowest infant mortality rate in the nation.
• The highest immunization rate in the nation.
• The fifth-lowest teen birth rate in the nation.
• The greatest decline (30 percent) in teen birth rates in the nation from 1991 to 1996.
• The highest rate (90 percent) of women receiving prenatal care in the nation.
• The lowest number of families currently on public assistance since 1970.
These important baselines help ensure that every Maine child has a healthy start.
More serious concerns aside, there is something magical about Maine and children. Think back to your childhood. Can you remember what mattered most to you? I have always loved roaming beaches, tromping through the woods, and spying on wildlife while canoeing on a quiet lake - fragments of time spent with family members in special, unhurried places. Maine is made for family recreation, for fun times that don't need to wait for a vacation.
Another special quality of life in Maine is the small-town atmosphere. Children are enriched by the community connections - the very real knowledge that grown-ups other than their parents know them, care about them, and will tell on them if they don't look when crossing the street. "Children have more freedom here," says Ruth Anne Hohfeld. "But if they act up, someone they know will call their parents."
And snow. What child doesn't find the phenomenon of snowflakes swirling down to earth a marvelous, miraculous event? (Not to mention the chance to miss school.) "Jason and I moved to Maine because of family ties, but also because we wanted to raise our kids in a place that was safe, normal, beautiful, and full of good folks," says Kristy Scher. Maine is that place.
Education is among any parent's top concerns when relocating to a new community. "We were really concerned about schools for Alex," says Jan Njaa of Belfast. "After talking with a school administrator and some parents we felt that Belfast would be a great place for her. We've been told there is a lack of activities for older kids, but we'll tackle that as it comes."
Maine has a progressive education system that is ranked among the top ten in the country. In fact, the K-12 system may very well be the best in the country. In recent years, the National Educational Goals Panel recognized Maine as the state with the highest performance in the nation in improving public education. Among the strengths of Maine's schools are small class size (the average is fourteen students per teacher), high student engagement, and high parental involvement. Communities tend to be concerned about - and involved in - what goes on within the school's doors.
"Just after we moved here from Chicago, our daughter's elementary school was threatened with consolidation," says Jan Njaa. "The community voiced concern and we were impressed with how much the parents and neighbors valued having the school in the neighborhood. The building was renovated instead. There's a real sense of community in Maine, and we feel like the quality of the education Alex will get will be high."
A 1997 study by Forbes magazine revealed that, in a nationwide comparison, Maine gets the biggest bang for its education buck. Per-pupil spending is near the national average even though Maine students have the highest composite scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). As the Maine Department of Education itself notes, "Average investment and top performance-not a bad scorecard!"
In 2002, Maine could boast that 100 percent of public schools were "wired" - that is, linked to the Internet, and, in 2003, Maine was the first state in the country to provide all seventh- and eighth-grade students and teachers with portable, wireless computers.
Maine consistently outperforms other states - and often, countries - in reading, mathematics, and science studies. In 2006, Maine was in the top tier in the nation with the designation of "highly qualified" teachers - educators who had at least a bachelor's degree, state license, and proven competency in every subject they teach. Here are some facts provided by the Maine Department of Education, but for even more information:
• Maine boasts a school completion rate that is higher than the national average at 87.2 percent (2003).
• Only students in Singapore outperformed Maine eighth graders in science in comparisons with the forty-one countries participating in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (1998).
• Maine eighth graders came in eighth in mathematics in comparisons with the forty-one countries participating in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (1998).
• Maine eighth graders placed first in the nation in reading, and Maine fourth graders placed fourth in the nation in reading on the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
• Maine eighth graders placed first in the nation in science on the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
• Maine fourth graders placed first in the nation, along with Minnesota and Connecticut, in mathematics on the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
• Maine eighth graders also placed first in the nation in math, along with North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Montana, and Iowa on the 1996 test.
Something for Everyone
Maine's natural assets have always been its greatest attraction to vacationers, and they are a big lure for new residents as well. "One of the biggest advantages to living in Maine is the beautiful natural environment," says Lynda Chilton, a native of Virginia. "When I go anywhere here, my views are of beautiful mountains, oceans lapping at rocky shorelines, charming old homes, and comfortable farms."
Maine offers something for everyone, largely because of its size. Measuring 320 miles long by 210 miles wide, the state encompasses 33,215 square miles - about as much land area as all of the other five New England states combined. Its famous rocky coastline curves in and out for 3,478 miles, from York to Washington County. It comprises 16 counties with 22 cities, 424 towns, 51 plantations, and 416 unorganized townships. One county, Aroostook, is so big that it alone is larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Distances between Maine towns can be vast for travelers used to the scale of southern New England. For instance, Portland, the state's largest city, is actually closer to New York City (328 miles) than to Madawaska on the Canadian border (356 miles).
Maine boasts 542,629 acres of state and national parks, including Acadia National Park, Baxter State Park, and the ninety-two-mile Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The state's highest peak, Mount Katahdin, rises almost a mile above sea level, while Acadia's Cadillac Mountain has the distinction of being the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard.
Water abounds in Maine - on a map the state appears to be sinking, so frequently do blue patches interrupt the green! There are 32,000 miles of rivers and streams, fifty-one lakes that have an area of at least five miles, and, of course, the meandering coastline. More than three thousand islands dot the bays, making for spectacular sailing. Pleasure boats of all sizes ply the waters, as do working lobster and fishing vessels, ferries, and the beautiful historic wooden schooners called windjammers. "For me, spending time on the coast of Maine was truly magic," says Lynda Chilton. "I felt that this place was calling to me and my family."
Maine Annual Weather Facts
• Precipitation: 43 inches.
• Number of thunderstorms: 15 to 20.
• Clear days - without fog or other precipitation: 120 days.
• Average snowfall on the coast: 50 to 70 inches.
• Average snowfall in southern interior section: 60 to 90 inches.
• Average snowfall in northern interior section: 90 to 110 inches.
• Days with one inch or more snowfall along the coast: 15 to 20 (although a nor'easter may occasionally drop ten or more inches in a single day).
• Days with one inch or more snowfall in the northern interior: 30.
• Snowiest month: January, with an average of 20 inches.
• Month when hurricanes are most likely to occur: September.
• Frequency of tornadoes: rare.
• Number of sub-zero days along the coast: 10 to 20.
• Number of sub-zero days in the northern interior: 40 to 60.
• Peak temperatures: 70° F throughout the state, usually in July, though during a very warm summer, temperatures may reach 90° F for as many as twenty-five days in the southern interior sections and for as long as a week along the coast.
A Quick Tour of the State
Maine is divided into sixteen counties. Although the county system is not as significant as town government, a glance at these counties, each of which has a distinct personality, is a good way to learn what's where.
This south-central county of 105,259 residents is named for the state's third-largest river. Although its waters were once so toxic that the river was said to glow in places, the Androscoggin is now the healthiest it has been in a century and is a prime spot for kayak and canoe enthusiasts, some of whom paddle in the Great Falls Canoe Race held each June.
The Androscoggin winds through the county's two biggest cities, Lewiston, home of Bates College, and Auburn.
The friendly burgs are so entwined they share two nicknames - L-A and the Twin Cities - and they rival Portland in their combined size and economic importance. Auburn is a city of about 23,203 people, while 35,700 or so folks call Lewiston home.
Lewiston and Auburn are busy centers of commerce and cultural activities, favored by many companies because of their prime location, which is nearly smack in the middle of the most populous part of Maine. Once an industrial area full of mills and factories, which attracted a large
French Canadian population, the pair have enjoyed a great rebirth in the late nineties, retrofitting office centers into these old mills and attracting new businesses of all sorts. Though they are bustling, the Twin Cities are ringed with bucolic villages, among them Leeds (population 2,000), Poland (4,866), and Turner (4,972), and they are only an hour or so from the heart of the western mountains. Androscoggin County is also dotted with crystal-clear lakes, ponds, rivers, and brooks, including Lake Auburn. Nearby Lost Valley is a popular ski area once the snow flies.
Maine's largest and northernmost county is unspoiled and unpretentious. Jutting up into the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec, this beautiful, rolling area is often called simply "the County" due to its vast size. Lumber barons and lumberjacks are the stuff of local legends, and towering timber still stretches for miles in the western and northern parts. More than two thousand lakes, rivers, and streams (including the legendary Allagash Wilderness Waterway) dot the countryside, home to scores of old-fashioned fishing and hunting camps. (Some are so remote that floatplanes are the only way in.) The rest of the County has an almost Midwestern feel, with miles and miles of agricultural fields, most of them devoted to potatoes — a breathtaking sight when in bloom. During the fall harvest, local children are excused from school to help dig for spuds.
Picturesque and remote, Aroostook is referred to (even by Mainers) as "the other Maine." It seems almost untouched by the faster pace of life to its south. The population has declined somewhat due to lack of jobs, a condition the state's Northern Maine Development Commission is working hard to improve, but the County is as real and unspoiled as Maine gets.
Major cities in Aroostook include Presque Isle, home to about 9,511 residents, a branch of the University of Maine, a shopping mall that is popular with Canadians, and a neat old downtown. With a population of eight thousand or so, Caribou is another hub, located on the shores of the Aroostook River. Madawaska (a Maliseet Indian word meaning "land of the porcupine") is the northernmost town in Maine and a major port of Canadian entry, with approximately 4,534 residents. Other communities in the region, most of them potato-powered, include Fort Kent (home to 4,233 and another branch of the University of Maine) and Fort Fairfield (population 3,579). Houlton is the county's oldest community and the seat of government, with more than six thousand residents. A number of its beautiful, rambling old homes and a whole section of the brick downtown are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The most populous county at 273,505, Cumberland contains the cities of Portland, South Portland, and Westbrook, and one of the fastest-growing areas in Maine.
With a population of 64,249, Portland is big enough to offer a wealth of cultural and recreational activities, yet still be of a size where folks know one another. A bustling haunt for locals and tourists alike is the Old Port, a quaint section of shops, restaurants, and offices by the waterfront, with Victorian brick buildings, wide sidewalks, and narrow cobbled streets.
Casco Bay wraps around the city, dotted by the Calendar Islands, which were named in the 1600s by Captain John Smith, who marveled, "there are as many islands as there are days in the year." (He was off slightly - there are only 136.) The city's waterfront bustles with activity. Lobstermen and fishermen off-load their catch, among the biggest in New England, and cruise ships and pleasure craft dock at Maine State Pier and Long Wharf.
The major island closest to Portland is 720-acre Peaks, home to a year-round population of about 1,500. Chebeague Island is the largest island in Casco Bay, supporting a year-round population of four hundred. Both have the remoteness and romance associated with islands but are within commuting distance of the city.
South Portland, one of Maine's largest cities in its own right, is home to the Portland Jetport and the Maine Mall, the state's largest retail area, full of big chain stores. Classic New England villages and wide sandy beaches surround both South Portland and Portland. The residential towns of Cape Elizabeth (9,068 people), Scarborough (16,970), North Yarmouth (3,210), Falmouth (10,310), and Cumberland (7,159) are still fairly rural, but the pace of new home construction is brisk. Farther up the coast is Freeport, home of the renowned sporting goods retailer L.L. Bean as well as numerous factory outlet stores, restaurants, inns, and 7,800 residents. Brunswick, a community of more than 21,172 people, has a college town feel thanks to historic Bowdoin College.
Inland, Sebago Lake is the second largest in Maine and the source of much of southern Maine's drinking water. Ringed with camps, motels, and resorts, Sebago is enjoyed year-round by residents of the neighboring towns of Windham (14,904), Raymond (4,300), Naples (3,274), Bridgton (4,883), and Standish (9,285). These small towns are rapidly developing too, and are host to thousands of summer visitors.
Franklin County rises from the central upland portion of Maine to a more mountainous region in the north. In population, Franklin is one of the state's smaller counties - about 28,000 people living in twenty-two towns and plantations. There are no cities in Franklin County, and Farmington, a town of 7,410 people with a University of Maine campus, is the county's shiretown and commercial hub. The University of Maine at Farmington was Maine's first public institution of higher education, and was recently chosen one of the top public liberal arts colleges in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Known for its brick downtown and quick access to the woods, Farmington is also enjoying a quiet renaissance as a retirement center.
Beautiful and unspoiled, Franklin County is an important center for tourism. Here you'll find many outdoor recreational areas, including the Carrabassett Valley, home of Sugarloaf/USA, a popular ski mountain; Saddleback Mountain; the Bigelow mountains, and more than a hundred lakes and ponds, including those in the magnificent Rangeley Lakes region. Franklin County straddles two major watersheds, with the Dead, Carrabassett, and Sandy rivers draining into the Kennebec River, and the Rangeley Lakes pouring westward into the Androscoggin. Rangeley Lake alone is 149 feet deep. The town of Rangeley is a nifty place, with a bustling downtown, remarkable mountain vistas, and easy access to the lakes. It's easy to understand why it was one of Maine's earliest resort areas.
Towns in Franklin County include Wilton, population about four thousand - home of the only fiddlehead canning factory in the country as well as lovely Wilson Lake - and Weld, a small community of four hundred or so, site of eight-mile-long Webb Lake and stunning Mount Blue State Park, where the peaks climb and the water is clear.
The resort town of Bar Harbor (year-round population about 4,820) and extraordinarily popular Acadia National Park are the best-known features of Hancock County - between them the pair see more than three million visitors a year. Bar Harbor has all the inns, shops, and restaurants one would expect of a national-park gateway, but it's also home to a highly regarded environmental school, the College of the Atlantic.
Hancock County's Mount Desert Island (pronounced as either "desert" or "dessert") contains most of Acadia, the oldest national park east of the Mississippi River. Cadillac Mountain, the tallest peak on the eastern seaboard, dominates the island's eastern side. If you explore south from Ellsworth to Deer Isle, you'll find the picturesque seaside towns of Blue Hill (population 2,390), Brooklin (841), and Stonington (1,152), as well as Castine (1,343), home of Maine Maritime Academy and one of the most beautiful villages in the state.
The county is named for John Hancock, the first governor of Massachusetts, who wrote the largest signature on the Declaration of Independence. Hancock's largest city is Ellsworth, which has approximately 6,456 year-round residents, a pretty old downtown, and a long stretch of strip malls. Tiny Frenchboro, on Long Island, is Hancock's smallest town, with — at last count — thirty-eight hardy souls.
Maine's capital city, Augusta, straddles the banks of the river for which this county is named. Once a trading post for the Pilgrims, Augusta is today a city of twenty thousand or so and provides a wealth of cultural and recreational activities as well as the workings of Maine's government. Nearby are the charming cities of Gardiner (6,198) and Hallowell (2,467), as well as the towns of Farmingdale (2,800) and Monmouth (3,785). The Belgrade and Winthrop Lakes regions are popular residential and recreational areas.
In addition to the mighty Kennebec River, Kennebec County is home to scores of lakes and ponds, including the county's largest, eight-mile-long China Lake. Not far away is the city of Waterville, population 15,605, and home to Colby College, one of the country's top private liberal arts institutions.
Established in 1860, Maine's youngest county is named for General Henry Knox, George Washington's chief of artillery during the American Revolution and, later, his secretary of war. A replica of General Knox's mansion, Montpelier, stands in the coastal town of Thomaston (population about 3,748). The largest city is Rockland, an eclectic mix of working waterfront and artsy downtown, which is currently enjoying great prosperity thanks in part to the Farnsworth Art Museum, one of the nation's best small museums. Rockland is home to about eight thousand people. In recent years this part of Maine's midcoast region has experienced growth due to the major expansion of the credit card bank MBNA, and then uncertainty as the company first downsized and then was sold to Bank of America.
Several towns in Knox County, including Rockland, Rockport (population 3,209), and Owls Head (1,601), flank Penobscot Bay, world renowned for its fine yachting. The Camden Hills, a ridge of low mountains that stretch along the coast, offer sweeping views of Penobscot Bay and its two-hundred-odd islands. Snuggled between the mountains and the sea is the town of Camden (5,254), a vacation hotspot.
Knox County is a mix of bustling tourist towns, quiet fishing villages, rural inland communities, and hundreds of islands - some of them inhabited year-round. North Haven and Vinalhaven, known together as the Fox Islands, are both serviced by ferries from Rockland. A genuine working island, Vinalhaven has approximately 1,300 residents, while the more genteel North Haven has about three hundred. Matinicus, about twenty miles offshore from Rockland, is Maine's most remote inhabited island, with a year-round population of about fifty.
Most people think this county is named for our country's sixteenth president, but actually it is a tribute to Thomas Pownal, a Massachusetts governor whose home was Lincoln, England. Lincoln County is home to approximately thirty thousand Mainers and is a mix of coastal and inland towns and offshore islands such as the artist colony of Monhegan.
Lincoln County contains no cities, and the area's largest town is Waldoboro, with a population of about five thousand. Waldoboro was settled around 1740 by German families who were brought to America by General Samuel Waldo. Wiscasset (accent on the second syllable) is the next largest community, with about three thousand residents. This town bills itself as "the prettiest village in Maine," and it is indeed a charming place of fine architecture, nestled alongside the Sheepscot River. Other communities in Lincoln County include Boothbay (population 2,960), well-known resort Boothbay Harbor (2,334), and Newcastle (1,748). Damariscotta (2,041), located between the ocean and lovely Damariscotta Lake, is a bustling place during the warmer months and has seen an influx of retirees in recent years.
Monhegan, reached by ferry from Port Clyde, New Harbor, and Boothbay Harbor, is probably Maine's most famous island, thanks to the work of such internationally known artists as Rockwell Kent, Edward Hopper, and Jamie Wyeth. Located about ten miles out to sea, Monhegan is less than a mile wide and about two miles long, yet seventeen miles of trails wind around its nature preserves and spectacular cliffs, including the legendary Cathedral Woods. The island has a year-round population of about seventy-five and no automobile traffic.
Oxford sits smack in the middle of Maine's western mountains, and part of the White Mountain National Forest is located in this region, as are lovely lakes, ski areas, and resorts that draw tourists year-round. Bethel, called the classic New England village by many, is nestled in the Oxford Hills along the Androscoggin River. About 2,411 people live in Bethel's pretty old homes and farms. Close by is the Sunday River Ski Resort and the Sunday River Bridge, one of the most photographed covered bridges in the state. The foreign-sounding Maine towns of Norway (4,611), Mexico (3,959), Denmark (1,004), Sweden (324), and Paris (4,793) are all located in Oxford County.
Rumford, with a population of nearly seven thousand, is the largest community in Oxford County and the home of Mead Publishing Paper Division, a massive paper mill. Rumford has a ninety-seven-bed community hospital, as well as the small Black Mountain Ski Area. Rumford and nearby Mexico are part of the scenic River Valley, so named because it is where the Androscoggin and Swift Rivers converge.
Penobscot County was named for the mighty river that meanders through the region. One of Maine's prime whitewater rafting areas is on the river's west branch. Also situated along the river is one of the state's largest cities - Bangor.
Once known only for its colorful history as a logging town (a thirty-one-foot statue of Paul Bunyan welcomes visitors), Bangor today is a city of 31,473 residents and boasts a lively arts scene, state-of-the-art health-care facilities (including Eastern Maine Medical Center), and a growing importance in foreign trade and travel thanks to Bangor International Airport. It is home to the Bangor Auditorium - a six-thousand-seat hall hosting everything from concerts to garden shows - as well as the Bangor Civic Center and the Bangor Fairgrounds.
Bordering Bangor is Orono, population 9,112, home to the main campus of the University of Maine. The university is a city within itself, comprising more than 8,000 acres and 158 buildings, and featuring the Maine Center for the Arts, a concert hall that brings many national acts to the area.
The working city of Brewer (8,987 inhabitants) and the charming riverside town of Hampden (6,327) are nearby communities, as is the city of Old Town (8,130), famous for its finely crafted Old Town Canoes. Millinocket (population 5,203) is located about seventy miles up the Penobscot from Bangor at the northern end of the county. Known for its huge paper mill, it's also the gateway to the extraordinary wilderness area called Baxter State Park.
Piscataquis County takes its name from the Abenaki term meaning "at the river branch," and it is Maine's third-largest county. Within its boundaries are two-hundred-thousand-acre Baxter State Park as well as Maine's highest mountain, Mount Katahdin. The park was a gift to the people of Maine by Governor Percival Baxter, who stipulated that it be kept forever wild. Excellent fishing, mountain climbing, and hiking are found on its 175 miles of trails. Piscataquis County also contains much of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, a nationally known canoe route.
Heavily forested, with a low population density, Piscataquis has about 18,000 residents. The town of Dover-Foxcroft, with 4,211 people, is the largest community and a business center for the surrounding area. A pretty town of graceful old homes, it is situated on the Piscataquis River. Greenville, population 1,625, is on the banks of 75,000-acre Moosehead Lake, the biggest lake contained in one state this side of the Mississippi. The town is a wilderness outpost, known for moose and four-season outdoor recreation. A spectacular site at Moosehead is majestic Mount Kineo, which rises out of the water forming a sheer seven-hundred-foot cliff.
With only 257 square miles, this is Maine's smallest county. Bath, located along the Kennebec River, is Sagadahoc's largest city, with a population of 9,266. Bath has been a shipbuilding center since the eighteenth century, and the tradition continues today at Bath Iron Works, where massive ships are constructed for the navy. Bath boasts handsome homes and a brick downtown as well as the Maine Maritime Museum.
Topsham, with about nine thousand residents, is the next-largest community, as well as the area's fastest-growing town. The towns of Bowdoin (2,727) and Bowdoinham (2,612) are bucolic villages near massive Merrymeeting Bay, where six rivers meet and where migrating ducks and geese rest en route to warmer climes. Woolwich (2,810) is a rural town located across the Kennebec from Bath.
The land area of Somerset County - 3,903 square miles - makes it Maine's second-largest. Extending from the Canadian border all the way to Fairfield in central Maine, the area is almost 90 percent forested, and borders Moosehead Lake and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Flagstaff Lake, as well as much of the Dead River, a popular rafting spot, are located in Somerset County.
Skowhegan is the largest community, with a population of 8,824. The home of the late Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both the U.S. House and Senate, Skowhegan is also the site of one of Maine's largest agricultural fairs and a prestigious school of painting. Fairfield (6,573), Pittsfield (4,214), and Madison (4,523) are other sizable towns in Somerset County. The Forks and Caratunk, tiny villages both, are at the epicenter of Maine's whitewater rafting industry.
Belfast (population about 6,381) is the largest community in Waldo county, and the area's only city. Once known more for its chicken processing plants than its lovely harbor, Belfast today is a mix of lively downtown shops, businesses, and elegant homes from the 1800s. Deemed "culturally cool" in USA Today, the city is home to a number of artists, has a theater troupe, a huge co-op, a dance studio, and a movie theater.
Waldo County's coastal towns include Lincolnville (2,042) and Searsport (2,641), famous for its sea captains' homes. Several of its small inland communities bear patriotic names: Liberty (927), Freedom (645) and Unity (about 1,889). Waldo County has grown in recent years, thanks to the expansion of credit-card giant MBNA and smaller local heroes such as Moss, Inc. There is a small but excellent hospital - Waldo County General, in Belfast. Islesboro (population 603) is home to a tony island community where actor John Travolta has a summer place.
The easternmost county in the nation, Washington is nicknamed "The Sunrise County" because many argue that the sun hits here first as it wakes up the United States. A trip through this part of Maine reveals rocky and sandy beaches, dramatic oceanside cliffs, the highest tides in the country, and acres and acres of windswept blueberry barrens, home to Maine's thriving lowbush blueberry industry. Nature preserves dot the landscape: Petit Manan in Steuben, Great Wass Island in Beals, Roque Bluffs State Park south of Machias, Cobscook Bay State Park in Dennysville, and Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge outside Calais - all set before miles and miles of oceanfront.
This is the quietest coastal region in Maine, a place where tradition still reigns and where tourism is welcome but not counted upon. Fishing and blueberrying are the major industries. The primary city is Calais (pronounced CAL-us), which has about 3,447 residents and is connected by a bridge to St. Stephen, New Brunswick. Eastport (population about 1,640) is the easternmost city in United States, and it has a lovely and historic brick downtown. Because of its situation on Moose Island, just about every house in Eastport has a fantastic view of Passamaquoddy Bay. Other important towns in the county are Lubec (1,652) and Machias (2,353), home to a branch of the University of Maine.
Maine's oldest and most southerly county was created in 1652 as Yorkshire Province. This stretch of Maine is famous for its broad white beaches and picturesque New England towns. York's coast is the home of the famed villages of Kennebunkport (population 3,720) and Ogunquit (1,226), where tourists flock by the thousands in the summer. From Kittery (9,543) in the south, known for its outlet shopping, to Old Orchard Beach (8,856) in the north, a beachfront boardwalk community famous for its honky-tonk atmosphere, the southern Maine coast is popular both with vacationers and new Mainers, many of whom commute to Portland or Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for jobs. Some of Maine's wealthiest communities are in York County, as well as many of the fastest-growing towns.
The neighboring cities of Biddeford and Saco (with populations of 20,942 and 16,822 respectively) together make up York County's largest center of commerce. The towns of Sanford (20,806) and Wells (9,400) are other notable spots.