Often, townies and tourists don’t gel. In this seaside town, they’re one in the same.
In the sleepy coastal village of Bristol, Maine, boats nod gently in a harbor buffeted by wood-shingled businesses covered in aging buoys. A stately lighthouse sits atop a rocky bluff, just above crashing waves. It’s an idyllic location in which to live or to vacation, which is why the tiny hamlet’s population of 2,500 swells to 9,000 during the summer months.
For places like this, the annual tourist bloom can mean conflict between the locals and visitors, previously quiet lanes jammed with cars and once-peaceful waters choppy from added boat traffic.
But not in Bristol.
The secret? A history of going outside the community—and bringing folks in, as close as can be.
“The local families have a tradition of getting their children well educated and well traveled that goes back to sailing-ship times,” says town administrator Christopher Hall, adding that, “Many of the summer people plan to retire here. Some have intermarried with the year-round locals.”
It’s unusual to go on vacation and then to put down roots—and there are a lot of places like Bristol where the scenery is nice and the vibe easygoing. What separates Bristol is that it’s a community that believes in community, where neighbors truly love and take care of one another.
When storms hit, local officials go door-to-door, making sure folks are okay. Power out? Expect an invitation for dinner and company from a neighbor. When a family is in need, grocery stores put out collection jars.
“When the Patriots’ Day storm hit the East Coast in 2007, it was the local fire chief who knocked on my door to see if I was okay, and my neighbor brought up firewood by the armful so that I would have heat,” says the person who nominated Bristol, who wanted to remain anonymous so as not to appear to be bragging about the town—modesty is another common local trait.
In addition to being town administrator, Hall once represented the area in the Maine senate, so he knows a thing or two about all the little places up and down the state’s coast. He says this one is special.
“Yes, I’m prejudiced! But how many towns would elect an immigrant with a funny Oxford accent to represent them in the legislature?” he asks.
When the Patriots’ Day storm hit the East Coast in 2007, it was the local fire chief who knocked on my door to see if I was okay, and my neighbor brought up firewood by the armful so that I would have heat. On one occasion a major storm sent rainwater pouring through our light fixtures, and our local handyman came by at 11 p.m., fearing for my safety. Another neighbor invited us to dinner when the snow was knee deep and, again, due to no power, we were vulnerable. People look out for each other here and whenever there is a family tragedy or illness, the local grocery store puts out a collection jar for donations.
The list is endless of the good deeds I’ve run across, and I feel very fortunate to have ended up in this little corner of paradise for its beauty, its neighborliness, and the endless wildlife to be found nearby.
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