Rockland, Maine's founding as a Colonist's settlement dates back to before the Revolutionary War. A veteran of the French-Indian War was allowed to purchase property there from the English Crown. With one of the best harbors in New England it soon grew into a fisherman's community and port of call for coastal shipping.
Rockland's fortunes through the years has flowed with the demand for its natural resources which besides fishing included vast amounts of limestone which produced a high quality lime needed in the production of cement. Today it still enjoys a major place in the lobster fishery but now has a new role as well. Rockland has been 'discovered' by tourists and visitors as a wonderful place to experience the atmosphere and life of a New England seaport. A simple walk down Main street takes you through five centuries of American history.
Much of Rockland's new found fame rests with its Historic Inns and on our arrival we quickly made Captain Lindsey House our second home. Just a few short steps from Main street the Captain's Inn is one of four historic bed and breakfast establishments that have grouped together to offer visitors the comforts of home while exploring all the region has to offer.
For us one of the true joys of Rockland was the opportunity to abandon the automobile for many of the attractions are only a short walk away from your Inn. Besides Captain Lindsey's House the other historic Inns include Berry Manor Inn, Captain Granite Inn and LimeRock Inn. We had the opportunity to visit all four and view their many amenities first hand. Our Captain Lindsey's House Inn dates back to 1837 when a bold mariner named George Lindsey decided to build his home just off Main Street. Later it became Rockland's first Inn and once hosted President Robert Taft. Since the 1990s another captain, Ken Barnes and his wife Ellen have been proprietors.
With Patricia Payeur as Innkeeper Captain Lindsey's Inn was a place of serene efficiency during our stay. Breakfast was a delight in the dining room, showing the decor of an English Pub, with Patricia preparing something new and different each day. Then there was always her very own apple pie as an offering at snack time.
Through the years Captain Lindsey's House has seen many changes and innovations and today offers guests a charming homelike experience with spacious bedrooms and living areas including a lovely outdoor patio. One evening we dined with Captain Ken and Ellen Barnes at the newly opened Pearl Restaurant located on a pier just off Main Street. Before buying the Inn they operated the schooner Stephen Taber which gave visitors a true sailing experience. The Schooner Stephen Taber was built in 1871 and still sails each summer for visitor excursions now with son, Noah Barnes, as the helm. The Four Historic Inns celebrate National Pie Day in grand fashion each January. We had a preview of this event when we went from Inn to Inn to sample the savory pies that each had to offer. First stop was the LimeRock Inn, then Berry Manor Inn, our Captain Lindsey House and last but certainly not least Granite Inn. After this noon time feast we wished for a very late dinner hour.
But when it came to dining experiences in Rockland there was always one more. One evening we sampled some of the favorite dishes of Rockland restaurants with tasty offerings of Rustica Cucina Italiana, Amalfi, Cafe Miranda, In Good Company, Lily Bistro, Park Street Grille and SunFire Grille. As we mentioned earlier this city was designed for walking and almost all these restaurants are located on Main Street or within easy reach without the aid of an automobile. Still with food on our minds we hopped on the All Aboard Trolley which is available to take you wherever you want to go in the Rockland area. Our destination was the new Farmers Fare located on Route 90 in Rockport. This beautiful new building, designed to look like a classic Maine barn, has been open less than a year, as a place to support local farmers and bring joy is discovering many foods. Farmers Fare includes a Cafe offering breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch, a market filled with local produce, a butcher shop and cheese stand We met with Owner Teri Thompson-Cristie who explained the unusual concept of Farmers Fare which is to bring people together to "share food, stories, knowledge, and information." We also chatted with Kristin Varnum, associate director of the Maine Farmland Trust, whose purpose is to maintain Maine's farmland which is being lost to development, a problem which is facing many states. One of the ways the Trust is advocating farming is through eight short documentaries which tell the stories of eight Maine farms from Aroostook to York.
Fascinating is the only way to describe our meeting with Captain Jim Sharp, proprietor of the Sail, Power and Steam Museum in Rockland. It is located at the site of the Old Snow shipyard. In the 19th century this shipyard built more sailing vessel than anywhere in New England. At his museum Jim has amassed a huge amount of material and artifacts about building and sailing ships. Here one finds a collections of all the tools used in building and maintaining wooden ships, most requiring much human muscle. Also the navigation instruments used by seafarers through the centuries. With Captain Jim we learned how the ships were designed and a model built to be followed during construction. He, of course, would point to a model of a hull and then tell whether it was to be a one, two or three masted vessel. For us it was like reading Egyptian hieroglyphics. Of the power machinery on display everything is still in working order. He fired up for us the diesel engine that powered World War 2 landing craft. Also on display a 1909 automobile, with wagon styled wheels, that is still in operating condition.
No aspect of the seafaring life has been neglected at this museum. On Sundays musicians recreate and perform the sea chanties so loved by seamen of earlier eras. Fiddlers like on ships of old are heard on Sunday concerts held at this museum which is a priceless history of Rockland's seafaring history and tradition. The Sail, Power and Steam Museum is located at 75 Mechanics Street in Rockland within walking distance of downtown. It is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m.. to 4 p.m., on Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Phone 207 701-7627.
Still wearing our sailor cap we also visited the Lighthouse Museum in Rockland located on the shore of the Bay. With 5.300 miles of coastline, Maine has the most of any of the 48 lower states, the need for aids to navigation was a necessity. Here one sees the lens of the early lighthouses, light ships and buoys used to aid seamen in navigation of a dangerous coast. There is a marvelous collection of Fresnel lens, masterpieces of glass construction, which projected the often ship saving light out to sea.
The life of the early lighthouse keepers is portrayed here as well as some remarkable experiences they endured. Also the role that women played in this unusual occupation. There is the lengthy history of the lighthouse service and how it evolved from the time of George Washington's presidency as a separate entity to now when it is part of the U.S. Coast Guard.
For us our visit to the Owls Heads Transportation Museum wax pure joy. Here there is a marvelous collection of vintage planes, trains and automobiles. This Writer had just read Jeff Shaara's;' book "To The Last Man" , a novel based on the Lafayette Escadrille of World War 1. There before my eyes at Owls Head was a Nieuport 28, a Spad and a German Fokker just like the one flown by the Red baron. What is so special about this museum is that it truly an exhibition of planes that are still in flying condition and automobiles ready to be started for the road. We took a spin around the spacious ground in a 1915 Model T Ford and it became clear why Henry Ford was able to make and sell fifteen million of them. The Nieuport was the plane first flown by the Americans who volunteered to fight with the French in World War 1 before the entry of the U.S. Later the Spad was introduced to the Escadrille and it was this plane that went against the skilled pilots of Baron Von Richihofen and his squadrons. During summer exhibitions at the Owls Head these planes are actually flown. For this Writer and Peanuts'; Snoopy, well we were ready to get suited up, climb into our Spads and meet the Red Baron once again.
In September the Historic Inns of Rockland offer a 'Senior Month' with special reduced rates for three nights of lodging as well as a package of events that include visits to Museums like those described in this article. Actually September is ideal for visiting this part of New England for several reasons. It is the height of the lobster season and the fall foliage is in full color. Also our Captain Jack's Lobster trip is available as part of the package. We gave it a good try aboard the Lobster Jack but I am afraid this Writer will never make it as a Maine Lobsterman. However one of our best afternoons was on West Penobscot Bay with Captain Steve Hale at the helm of Lobster Jack. Our goal was to pull up some of ship's lobster traps to see how our fishing would be this day. Yes we did find the traps had entrapped lobsters but some were too small and went back to the deep. Then there was a large lobster but a female which meant that it too went back into the water to ensure future generations of this remarkable creature. However we did find a few "keepers" which were legal and ready for the pot.
We learned a great deal on this adventure. The appeal of the lobsterman vocation was evident. Working on the limitless seas and on this day with sparkling waves, blue sky and sea to match. In June the lobsters seek shallow water as they molt, shed the old shells and fit on the new. The season generally runs from June through October with the last two months yielding the greatest number of lobsters. Each commercial lobsterman is allowed 800 traps. These must be checked regularly for results and kept filled with bait. Maintaining traps close to shore is relatively easy but those set in deep water, often at 250 feet deep, means rougher seas and checking traps much more time consuming.
We continued our research into the role lobsters play in Maine's industry by visiting Ship to Shore Lobsters in Owls Head. This is a pier warehouse where the boats are serviced with bait for the lobster traps and then sell their catch upon their return. We watched as one boat returned with its 'harvest of the sea'. The lobsters were unloaded, divided by size and then weighed. The Catch is sold by the pound. The bait used is fish heads and parts left after filleting so the whole process is a form of recycling.By law the fishermen are required to return under sized lobster and females with roe to the sea. For these females a notch is made in the tail for easy identification if they are caught a second time.
Must see in Rockland is the Farnsworth Art Museum. That a town with a permanent population of about 8,000 should have such a museum is astounding. Currently the museum is offering an exhibition of one of America's most distinguished artist families, the Wyeths. This exhibition entitled "the Wyeth's Wyeths" offers a selection of works by three generations, N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth as well as Andrew's sister, Henriette Wyeth Hurd. We also enjoyed the Home to Hopper Farnsworth collection of American watercolors. This museum has over 500 watercolors by American artists. A book by Brander Matthews entitled "Poems of American Patriotism " was published in 1922 with illustrations by N.C. Wyeth. The surviving original sixteen paintings are currently on exhibit at Farnsworth including a famous oil painting of Paul Revere. Also equally famous and familiar "The Old Continentals". Like almost all of Rockland's showplaces The Farnsworth Museum is just off Main Street and in easy walking distance from the Historic Inns.
Still another Main Street attraction is the Puffin Visitor Center sponsored by the Audubon. This bird, which inhabits sub arctic regions was on the very edge of extinction in Maine at the turn of the 20th century. Puffins had been relentlessly hunted both for meat and its feathers which were popular with women of that era.
Only on the remote islands off the Maine coast did few Puffin survive. At first light house keepers were paid by Aububon to look after these few survivors. Now there are colonies of the birds on several of Maine's islands and still protected. The largest population of the arctic Puffin is in Iceland.
The Audubon Puffin Visitor Center in Rockland offers a movie showing the bird's life and habitat and other arctic birds as well. There is also a gift shop and stuffed versions of the bird for sale to children. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily at 311 Main Street.
For more information about Historic Inns of Rockland: Berry Manor Inn, LimeRock Inn, Captain Granite Inn or Captain Lindsey House visit www.historicinnsofrockland,com. For Privileges Packages call 1 877 762-4667.
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