Rocky, rugged, and interrupted by few sandy beaches, Maine’s craggy midcoast is the legacy of long-gone glaciers. During the ice age, the earth’s crust here buckled under the unimaginable weight of the ice cap that once covered the region. When the ice melted, the sea rushed in, transforming valleys into coves and inlets, leaving its mountain ridges exposed as headlands and islands.
Fragrant mixed forests still march right down to seaside in some places, just as they did when Algonquian Indians were the sole inhabitants of this convoluted coast. But elsewhere the scenic grandeur is accented by quaint fishing villages, lonely lighthouses, and vacationers’ waterside retreats.
The story of Brunswick began in the 1600s, when explorers from Europe recognized its potential as a center for the fur trade and for lumbering. Mills were eventually built to harness the power of the Androscoggin River, and by the late 1700s the town had grown so prosperous that Bowdoin College, the first in Maine, was founded there. Summer music festivals are held on the idyllic, tree-lined campus, and the college’s art museum displays works by Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, and other famous painters. Brunswick also functions as the commercial hub of this region, whose population mushrooms in summer. Explore the town and you will find a traditional village green, Federal-style mansions, seafood restaurants, and an array of antique shops and artists’ studios.
2. Bailey Island
Just east of Brunswick, Rte. 24 exits the sometimes traffic-choked Rte. 1 for small towns and natural splendors along a 16-mile run to Bailey Island. Among the cottages it passes is Pearl House, once the summer retreat of famous author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Slow down at the Cribstone Bridge, a 1,200-foot span linking Orrs and Bailey islands, to notice its unusual construction. Massive granite blocks are arranged in a honeycomb pattern, with gaps that allow the tides and the runoff from spring thaws to rush through without causing damage.
From the docks at Bailey Island, sportfishing excursions depart in search of bluefin tuna, some of which weigh 500 pounds or more. At the island’s far tip, a small beach nestles among granite boulders.
Located near the mouth of the Kennebec River, Bath has long been a boat-building center. Visit the Maine Maritime Museum to learn about the industry. More evidence of the city’s prosperous maritime past can be seen along Washington Street, where wealthy merchants and captains built their fine mansions.
Lying just before the Carleton Bridge is the sprawling Bath Iron Works, where ships continue to be built. (Traffic can be heavy here, particularly when the shipbuilders get off work in the afternoon.) While in Bath, stop by the revitalized business district, taking special note of the 19th-century storefronts, brick sidewalks, and lampposts along Front Street.