The tiny coastal village of Rockport, Maine, may be easy to overlook, situated as it is between the better-known towns of Rockland and Camden. But if you’re heading to Maine’s Midcoast, this is one stop you certainly want to add to your itinerary.
Despite an ominous weather forecast, the sun was blazing as Jim and I sped along Route 1 toward Rockport on a Friday afternoon. Our ultimate destination that weekend was the annual Maine Lobster Festival, but owing to the event’s popularity, we deemed it wiser to camp out in the neighboring town to avoid the crush of festival-goers, while affording ourselves the chance to explore Rockport, Maine.
Doubts about our timing crept in as we entered Wiscasset and traffic slowed to an excruciating bumper-to-bumper crawl. Once we passed Red’s Eats, however, the jam cleared and we were once again on our way. If you’re on a tight schedule, you can avoid this summertime traffic delay by staying on I-295 North (instead of getting off at the Brunswick exit) and heading inland toward Richmond before looping back down to Route 1 in Newcastle.
By the time we pulled into Megunticook Campground by the Sea, a thick blanket of fog had settled over the area, saturating it with the scent of the ocean. While checking in, we learned that the campground office was once home to a polo training facility and still houses the original horse stalls. When we left the registration desk, we not only knew a bit more about the location’s history, but were armed with a town map and a listing of area attractions.
We got our site situated before taking a leisurely stroll down to the seaside “deck” that’s perched at the tip of the campground. This scenic outlook offers a stunning view of Penobscot Bay, even through the wispy fingers of sea smoke blowing in off the waves. With a view like that, it’s easy to forget you’re at a campground and not a seaside resort.
Despite being in town for the Lobster Festival, which promised to offer more lobster than we’d ever be able to eat, we were craving an authentic lobster-in-the-rough experience. A chat with one of the shop owners along Rockland’s Main Street yielded a tidbit of advice that Yankee’s editor Mel Allen would file under “what the locals know.” Summer visitors tend to stick to Route 1, he told us, but to really experience the area, you need to head down the peninsulas. Then he grabbed a brochure, flipped it over, and drew a map that detailed how to get to his favorite lobster shack in neighboring South Thomaston.
Down the peninsula we went, rolling past cows grazing in pastures, quiet coves filled with boats resting on their glassy surfaces, and white-steepled churches, to reach Waterman’s Beach Lobster — named one of the 12 best lobster shacks in New England by Yankee Magazine in our May 2012 issue. We knew as soon as we pulled into the parking lot that this was exactly the place we were hoping to find. Seating options included tables on the open-air porch or in the yard, which bumps right up against the beach — both include spectacular views of the water. Jim and I agreed that the lobster was both fresh and perfectly cooked, but the real star of the show was the homemade blueberry pie. Stuffed with wild Maine berries in a filling that’s light on thickeners and lemon flavoring, we declared it the best blueberry pie we’d ever had!
The following morning we were up bright and early to enjoy coffee on the deck before wandering into the office to learn more about the village of Rockport, Maine. Liz, a natural-born tour guide, was on duty and suggested we make our way down to the harbor that day, cautioning us not to miss the monument to Andre the seal – perhaps Rockport’s most famous former resident. I hadn’t thought about Andre in years, but of course I remembered him from all the news coverage he received in the ’70s. While I never saw him perform, one summer my aunt and uncle — who would spirit my brother, sister, and me away for a week each July — made a special trip to Rockport so that we could see him, and I can still picture his sleek head bobbing above the waves as he cavorted in his pen.
When we arrived at Rockport Harbor’s Marine Park, there were as many tourists clustered around Andre’s statue as there were fishermen lined up at the dock. Cameras clicked away as they posed next to his stone likeness, gliding their hands along his smooth back, and whispering their respects into his ear. If you’re not familiar with Andre’s story, you can learn more about this beloved seal in Yankee’s classic article “25 Years with Andre.”
Also located in the park are the remains of the kilns that converted limestone into lime for use in plaster and mortar in the 1800s, when Rockport thrived as one of the top lime producers in the country. A devastating fire in 1907, in conjunction with the rise in popularity of cement, brought about the decline of the town’s lime industry. Through the efforts of Ambrose Cramer, the kilns have been preserved as a nod to Rockport’s industrial past and were declared a historic site in 1970.
The next time you’re zipping along Route 1 toward Camden, Bar Harbor, or another destination along the Pine Tree State’s rocky coast, be sure to take the time to wend your way down the peninsula and spend a few hours enjoying the scenery at one of Maine’s most picturesque harbors.