It’s time for the second installment of Alpaca Sweater, our weekly New England travel blog! This week, because I’m feeling rather academic, I’m going to take you on a tour of the best historical relics Maine has to offer. Starting in Portland and moving North, we’ll cover such famous landmarks as the Wadsworth-Longfellow house and end up at the very historical Fort Kent in Aroostook County, while hitting all of the great things in between. So buckle up, history nerds, and those who just want to take a nice trip around Maine in the fall and maybe soak up some trivia at the same time.
Wadsworth-Longfellow House. Home to the very famous poet Henry Wadsworth-Longfellow, this house was built by Longfellow’s grandfather, a Revolutionary War general named Peleg Wadsworth. The home was a three-story Federal-style structure which the young Longfellow moved into at just eight months old. He spent the next 35 years there. Now, the house – which is just a quarter of a mile from our store – is a museum full of genuine Wadsworth family artifacts. Tours of the home are offered daily and start at just $15 for adults.
Just south of Portland is the Winslow Homer Studio in Scarborough. Previously a carriage house which served as the famous artist Winslow Homer’s studio from 1884 until the painter’s death in 1910, the studio is now a National Historical Landmark featuring guided walking tours. The studio has a massive balcony which spans the entire width of the building, and is said to have been the artist’s favorite spot to paint in the winter. In an interesting twist, the restorations made by Homer’s family in the late 1930s were reversed by the Portland Museum of Art to preserve the building exactly as Homer left it when he died in 1910.
Further out in Cumberland County is Eagle Island, once the home of the famous Arctic explorer, Robert Peary. Peary trekked the North Pole and rose to fame in the nineteenth century. In 1881, Peary bought the island, retiring there in 1911. This beautiful island is part of Casco Bay and can be accessed by ferry or boat. The island was donated to the people of Maine in 1955 by Peary’s surviving family. Visiting this historic island would make for a great day trip, not only because of its rich history, but because of the grand Casco Bay views.
Because Kennebec County is home to our state capital, there are quite a few historic landmarks to be seen in this Maine region. First is the Blaine House. The Blaine House is the official residence of Vacationland’s governor, and has been since 1919. The house was built in 1833 for ship captain James Hall. The house was then purchased by James G. Blaine, the then Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. The Blaine House is open for tours by appointment and is an amazing place to visit, especially for school-aged children. In fact, many school districts in Maine require a yearly trip to Augusta to visit.
Also in Kennebec County is the Bowdoin, a famous schooner built in 1921. This ship, designed exclusively for Arctic exploration, has made 28 trips above the Arctic Circle. The Bowdoin was acquired by Maine Maritime Academy in 1988 and is located in Castine, Maine at the school. The schooner served in World War II and has several awards, including the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. As of now, the schooner is used for training at Maine Maritime, and can be seen at the academy’s Waterfront.
Further North, in Somerset County, is the Norridgewock Archeological District, otherwise known as the historical home of the Norridgewock, a band of Abenaki Native Americans. While Norridgewock doesn’t boast its historical status and displays little more than a small Indian village and monument, the town is beautiful and is more than worth the visit.
East of Portland and home to a handful of coastal towns (including Wiscasset) is Lincoln County. Located near Bristol, the Pemaquid Archaeological Site is the land on which several archaeological excavations of 17th- and 18th-century villages and structures. A wonderful museum of excavated objects such as musket balls, coins, pottery and more stands on this land and pays homage to those who lived here. In this site is also Fort William Henry, a reconstruction of a late-17th-century fort from the early 20th century.
All the way up in The County is Fort Kent, the only surviving “fortification” of the Aroostook War. The Aroostook War is also sometimes known as the Pork and Beans War and was fought in 1838 and 1839 as part of a dispute between the United States and the United Kingdom over the New Brunswick boundary. The park, about three quarters of a mile southwest of Fort Kent, Maine (the town), features an original log blockhouse – or small isolated fort – and is open to visitors in the summer.
Those listed here don’t even scratch the surface of Maine’s rich history, but they are a good start. If you’re looking for a nice road trip with a little academic flavor, pick any one of these historical sites to visit. Not only will you learn something, but you’ll get to see some beautiful, underrated areas of our lovely state, and you’ll see some of the most overlooked attractions the Pine Tree State has to offer!