I’m not certain when the word “stay-cation” appeared in our vocabulary but I have a sneaking suspicion it might have correlated with skyrocketing fuel prices.
A “stay-cation” is a vacation you spend at home or in your hometown. And why not? It saves on gas, there’s no air travel involved, no expensive hotels, and way less stress than a “traditional” vacation.
How many of us drive by museums, shops and galleries in our own towns just to tell ourselves “I’ll check it out another time”?
So, in the spirit of the “stay-cation”, I spent a day as a “tourist” in Eastport, Maine. Not only did I have a lot fun, I did many of the things I’ve wanted to see and do (after all, it would take more than one day to do it all).
Let’s start with a little background on Eastport:
Eastport, the easternmost city in the United States, is actually comprised of several small islands. The city itself is located on Moose Island and is joined to the mainland by a causeway (Route 190).
There are more than 1600 residents living in an area of 12 square miles, but at one point in Eastport’s history, the population was more than 5100. That’s a pretty tight fit in 12 square miles.
In its heyday, Eastport boasted 13 sardine factories and was the second busiest port in the country(second only to New York Harbor). Sardines were a very big deal in Eastport and understandably so. More than 800 men, women, and children worked in the sardine industry and one can still see the impact the salty little fish made on this island city.
There’s a lot of history in Eastport and like everything else, Eastport is changing. The changes are coming slowly and Eastporters seem determined to hold on to its history, charm, and unique character. Eastporters cleverly combine the old with the new to offer something for everyone.
Follow me on my “stay-cation” in Eastport and you’ll see what I mean.
Welcome to Eastport!
Being the outdoor type, I began with a hike at Shackford Head State Park on Deep Cove Road. I took along my fearless terrier and we trekked the Schooner Trail. More information (and pictures) on Shackford Head State Park can be found here.
Molly at Shackford Head State Park
Molly and I are “regulars” at Shackford Head and we never, ever tire of the scenery. We didn’t spot seals, herons or bald eagles today but we usually do. The Schooner Trail is one of six trails and it’s the longest and most scenic. The most popular is probably the Overlook with expansive views of the bay, Lubec and Campobello (Canada).
Because it was shaping up to be a warm day, I dropped Molly at home (another luxury of the stay-cation) and drove down Water Street to Dog Island to see the Old Sow whirlpool.
The Old Sow is best seen about three hours before high tide from what I understand. The time wasn’t right, so any pictures I would have taken wouldn’t have done the old girl justice. If you’re interested in seeing some photos and reading some survivor tales about the largest whirlpool in the western hemisphere, check out this site
Reeling in the big one
I passed the U.S. Coast Guard station, and came upon a slew of people, young and old, fishing from the breakwater for mackerel.
The breakwater is always crowded with people fishing and visiting. For now, recreational salt water fishing doesn’t require a license, so bring your rod and cast a line.
The breakwater overlooks Passamaquoddy Bay and is a great place to watch whales and seals.
I left the breakwater and the sound of screeching gulls and made my way down to the historic waterfront business district.
Most of the store fronts on Water Street date back to the 1800’s and Eastport has been hard at work replacing sidewalks and installing period lighting. In this eclectic little city one can shop for just about anything ranging from pottery to tattoos.
Water Street, Eastport
The best part about shopping in Eastport is the quality of the distinctive wares on offer.
Nearly everything is made locally and there’s some serious talent in Downeast Maine.
I always stand in awe of the gorgeous creations displayed. Prices and styles run the gamut but whether you are browsing or a serious shopper, everyone is friendly and willing to answer questions.
My first stop was the Quoddy Maritime Museum which also houses Quoddy Crafts (yes, I finally bought the coveted woolen socks with lupines knit in the sides).
The museum has a small display on the Quoddy Dam Power Project which began under the hospices of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The project was meant to harvest hydro power from the strong tidal currents. The dam was never built but tidal power is being given a very hard look once again.
Quoddy Crafts has many items for sale: knit items, photographs, sea glass jewellery and more.
, a fine artisan gallery, displays the work of over 72 local artisans. They have the largest collection of Passamaquoddy Indian baskets in the area as well as jewellery, fiber arts, pottery, and wooden ware.
The Eastport Gallery
, a fine arts collective, sells works from 30 area artists in a variety of mediums.
Speaking of fine arts, I visited the Tides Institute
and perused the loaned works of William E.B. Starkweather. The Tides Institute has a permanent collection on the second floor.
The Starkweather exhibit ends August 17, 2008 and will be replaced by etchings from New Brunswick artist, Dan Steves (Steves’ etchings will be on display August 23 – September 21, 2008).
The Tides Institute is undergoing renovations to restore the copper roof as well as the original decorative stonework. The Tides Institute is free of charge and will remain open during renovations.
I walked to the pier in the center of town, sat on a bench under the shadow of the fisherman’s statue (which was a gift from Fox after they made the reality show/mystery drama “Murder in Small Town X” in Eastport). I watched passengers board the schooner Halie & Matthew
for a whale watching tour and longed to go too. Another day, for I had more to see and do.
Eastport's fisherman statue
I crossed Water Street and visited S.L. Wadsworth & Son
which is the nation’s oldest ship chandlery and has been owned and operated by the same family since 1818.
Aside from being our local hardware store, Wadsworth’s also carries gifts and souvenirs (not to mention a fine selection of pirate gear for Eastport’s Pirate Festival
which runs the same weekend as the Salmon Festival
September 6-7, 2008).
Pirate booty at S.L. Wadsworth & Son
Not to be outdone, there’s Raye’s Mustard Mill
, North America’s only remaining stone ground mustard mill.
A working museum, Raye’s was built in 1903 and still uses the enormous grinding stones that were imported from France way back when.
More than 23 gourmet mustards, all available for your sampling pleasure. Tours of the mill are free and are offered seven days a week, from Memorial Day until New Year’s.
The afternoon was rapidly drawing to a close, but there was one more stop I needed to make.
The South End of Eastport is home to one of the few sand beaches on Moose Island. Could there be a better way to end my “stay-cation” than with a leisurely stroll on the beach?
My “stay-cation” barely scratched the surface of what Eastport has to offer her visitors: plays, live music, friendly people, harbor cruises, shopping, plenty of restaurants serving plenty of fresh seafood, a fine hotel and lovely B & B’s. Why not make the trip down and find out?
Eastport holds delights for all ages, and who knows, you may fall in love with this island city, just like I did.
I got to thinking: I had so much fun on my “stay-cation”, I think I may expand a bit. Join me next time when I visit Lubec, Maine.