Farther up the coast — past the pleasant communities of Belfast, Searsport, and Bucksport on the shores of Penobscot Bay — follow Rtes. 175 and 166A to the historic village of Castine. This part of Maine, beginning with the eastern shore of Penobscot Bay and continuing to the Canadian border, is referred to by residents as the Downeast Coast. Here the signs of commercialism begin to thin out. The cottages, barns, meadows, and woodlands along Rte. 166A, for example, look much as they might have some 100 years or more ago.
Centuries-old homes, quiet inns, and grand elm trees line the streets of Castine. Spend some time sitting on the benches that overlook the town’s peaceful dock, or take a walking tour of the town to gain insights into the history of the homes and other points of architectural and historical interest.
15. Holbrook Island Sanctuary
Nearby, Rte. 176 passes through rugged, unspoiled countryside and leads to the turnoff for Holbrook Island Sanctuary. An ideal spot for picnics and nature walks, the seaside refuge has some 1,250 acres of varied terrain — from pebble beaches to seaside crests.
Farther south, Rte. 15 leaps across a narrow suspension bridge to Little Deer Isle, then continues on to land’s end in Stonington. In the late 1800s the area was a booming mining center. The distinctive pink granite quarried here can be found in famous structures up and down the East Coast. Today the quarries are active again, though on a much reduced scale.
Town life is now geared mostly toward the sea, as witnessed by a harbor full of trawlers and other fishing vessels. Lobster traps are stacked high on the docks, and canneries are ever ready to process the day’s catch. The shops along Main Street offer a variety of well-crafted wares, from pottery to clothing. For a glimpse of inland nature, head east on Indian Point Road to Ames Pond, where the water lilies bloom in pink and white from June to September.
Passing by charming villages, saltwater ponds, meadows, and forest, the coastal highways lead along the eastern shores of the Blue Hill Peninsula to Ellsworth, which is the commercial center for this portion of the Maine coast. The First Congregational Church, with its sky-piercing steeple, is among the town’s noteworthy buildings. Another example of outstanding architecture is the 1828 Colonel Black Mansion, which features antique furnishings appropriate to its age, and outstanding views of the Union River that flows alongside it.
Situated on the eastern side of the river is the Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary, an animal refuge encompassing about 130 acres. The park is a peaceful place, lush with wildflowers, shrubbery, and a varied woodland. Viewing areas in key locations enable visitors to watch the many different species of birds that come to nest near and bathe in the sanctuary’s three ponds. The grounds also contain a wildlife recovery center where injured birds find solice and care, and the onetime home of Cordelia Stanwood, a pioneering ornithologist whose efforts at observation and conservation made her quiet refuge a sanctuary for avian visitors and those who love them.