Sarah Graves: Many famous Maine landmarks are so beautiful that they are loved by people who have never even seen them. The images of our lighthouses, rocky coastlines, mountains, bridges, rivers, and forests are known to millions. But what of the Maine landmarks only we know — places that are famous only to us, our families, and maybe our friends? Sometimes they mark the place where we know we’re really almost home; other times they recall events, or people and even pets we have loved. Occasionally they are places where we learned something, remembered something, or were able — finally — to forget something, to put it behind.
And sometimes they’re much more mundane. Two important Maine landmarks for me, for instance, are the rest areas on Route 9 between Calais and Bangor. The first is the Mopang Stream rest area, not far out of Calais. This one has a tiny shed for the necessary facilities, but what it lacks in fanciness it more than makes up in scenery: babbling brook, wooden picnic table, pleasant greenery. Heading west, the second rest area is another good long poke down the road toward Bangor, next to the Airline Snack Bar. It has more evolved facilities, and it’s next to the restaurant and gas pumps; if I’m not mistaken there might be a few rooms for rent there, too.
Now, if you’ve ever driven Route 9 you know coffee is an important part of preparing for the trip, in both directions. You want your senses and reflexes sharp as you contend with big trucks, slow travel trailers, speeding maniacs, and That Guy. You know, the one who passes you on a hill, around a curve, 500 yards before the passing lane starts, and then slows down. So both those rest areas are important from the practical point of view. But that’s not why they’re private landmarks.
The reason is that the Snack Bar rest area means I’m solidly into the trip, either way: still contemplating my errand, or fresh from accomplishing it. The Mopang Stream rest area means I’m either just starting the long shank of my journey, or nearly (happiness!) back home in Eastport, again. They’re not big deals, either one of them, from the tourist-attraction-scenery point of view.
But they’re landmarks in my heart. Do you have Maine landmarks that only you know?
Kate Flora: One of my landmarks is known to pretty much everyone who drives the Maine Turnpike, it’s the rest stop formerly known as Mile 24 and now known as Mile 25–a change I’ve always wondered about. However it is that the location of this spot came to be changed, it is a place I’ve spent far too much of my life in. When I’m in Massachusetts, instead of Maine, it’s where I stop to grab coffee. Sometimes it’s the place that drags me in for an illicit chocolate milkshake or a lottery ticket. For a while, it was a spot that I routinely met Katherine Hall Page, also on a journey to care for an aging parent. It’s also a place I sometimes stop for coffee after a library talk, so I can keep my eyes open long enough to make that winding drive down to Bailey Island.
The other landmark is one that few people even know exists–it’s the bandstand on the Union Common. When I come up the hill past the Methodist Church and pause beside the post office, it’s just ahead of me, and it brings back memories of Christmas carol sings and hot chocolate, of parades, ceremonial occasions, and playing tag with other kids who lived closer to the center of town. Of skating on the pond down the hill from the Common, around a burning fire, and then having sloppy joes. There is nothing more exciting, in my memory, than a game of kick the can after dark, with kids racing out of the darkness. Thanks, Sarah, for such an interesting topic!
Barb Ross: My secret landmark is, sadly, gone now–Gus Pratt’s restaurant in Cozy Harbor on Southport Island. The reason it’s a secret is that Gus had a strict “no strangers” policy, meaning he didn’t want you in his restaurant unless he knew you, or someone he knew could vouch for you. I have no idea how he got away with this. I remember the look of astonishment on our accountant’s face when my mother-in-law threw her arms around him and swore he was our cousin, while Gus looked on skeptically.
Gus’s had old round-topped gas pumps out front like something out of an Edward Hopper painting and two candle pin bowling lanes inside across from the lunch counter. His dining room had fabulous views of the aptly named Cozy Harbor. He prepared the food like he was cooking in his own kitchen (and with the same approximate speed) and you had to order a slice of his wife’s delicious pie when you placed your meal order, or there might not be any left when you were ready for dessert. Maine food writer Karyl Bannister recently reposted her original writing about the place–a restaurant review distinguished by the fact that she wasn’t allowed to disclose the restaurant’s name or location.
Both Gus and his wife have sadly passed on. There’s a new restaurant in the spot Oliver’s at Cozy Harbor. The food is wonderful and the new building takes much better advantage of the views. I recommend it to anyone traveling in the area. But still, I miss Gus’s so much that I’ve recreated a highly fictionalized version of it in my new Maine Clambake Series, coming a year from now from Kensington.
Lea Wait: Cozy Harbor itself won my heart, too, many, many moons ago. But there are two other places I’ll mention here. Both are on maps and open to the public, but have special meaning to me. One is the Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve — a stretch of waterfront on route 32 just north of “downtown” New Harbor (another favorite Maine place) which honors a very special Maine summer resident. Her home was not in New Harbor — it was actually closer to Cozy Harbor — but at low tide the Salt Pond Preserve is a wonderful place to walk the rocks and see the tidepools and sea creatures she wrote about in my very favorite of her books, The Edge of the Sea. As a young teenager I dreamed of being a marine biologist, and sought my future in those tidepools. I still love to sit on the rocks, looking for perfect limpet shells and tiny starfish and pieces of blue and red sea glass.
My other special place is on Foster’s Point Road in West Bath. When I was a child it was where my “best grownup friends,” Millicent Hamilton and her mother Estelle, lived. They’d moved from New York City and bought many, many acres during the depression, but were “land poor.” They sold their raspberries so they could buy enough hamburger to have one meal of meat a week. They grew and canned enough vegetables for themselves for the year. They had one woodstove, for heating and cooking. No car. No TV. But they always had enough money for bird seed, and they had beautiful gardens. Millicent smoked her omnipresent cigarettes through a 1920s-era holder, swam in the nude, and chased hunters off with her own rifle. She also taught me to row on Back Cove, the large cove off the New Meadows River her lands surrounded. She took my sisters and I on nature walks, identifying mosses, lichens, trees and birds in her woods. When I grew up and had children of my own, she welcomed them to her home and gardens and cove. And when she died, she left her home and 74 acres to the Audubon Society. Now you, too, can walk through the fields and woods of the the Hamilton Sanctuary. And, sometimes, I go back to visit. And remember two very special women.
Vicki Doudera: My favorite landmark is very secret… known only to our immediate family and perhaps a few of the kids’ friends. It’s located on Route 52 in Lincolnville, along the lovely stretch that winds up and down hills and past farms and fields (with lovely views of the Camden Hills) on the way to Belfast. It’s a ramshackle old house on the right (going north) almost directly across from Vancycle Road and immediately before North Cobbtown, the dirt road that leads to our camp on Pitcher Pond. For at least a decade, whenever we would come to that house, my kids would scream out, “Falling down house! Blue boat! Demented trailer!” As you might surmise, the property boasted, along with the sagging structure, a permanently dry-docked lobster boat sporting faded blue paint, and a creepy Airstream trailer, always askew. Of course it was a competition between the kids (and any friends who happened to be coming along) to see who could belt out the three phrases first!
To me, this landmark meant we were close to one of my favorite spots on earth: our little lake house and the relaxing, unplugged family time it represented. It was always a dream of mine to have a little camp, and turning right onto the dirt road was (and is) a very magical feeling.
Although our kids are (mostly) gone off into the world, I know I’ll always “hear” their excited cries whenever I pass that particular part of Route 52, and many of the special memories of the those long summer days will return.
Sarah, I always stop at the Airline Snack Bar when heading in or out on the Airline. It serves a wicked late breakfast and when I worked with the Washington County Libraries, I generally left home too early to make it all the way without food. I remember a young lady working there who had the best tattoo I’ve ever seen on her shoulder. Lee, Milicent sounds like the perfect main character for a Maine mystery. Kate, were you ever part of the giant Kick the Can games by the monument opposite the bandstand? Good rainy Sunday posting folks.
John, I’m a pack-a-sandwich person, myself, so I’ve never tried the Snack Bar, but I hear great things about it.
An update: It so happens I stopped at both Route 9 rest areas yesterday, and while the Airline Snack Bar one remains entirely acceptable, I regret to report that the Mopang Stream location needs either a good cleaning or a bad fire.
John, you’re right about Millicent. You may hear more about her in the future. Fictionalized, of course. She even had secrets in her past … which I’ve tried to discover through ancestry.com and other sources. (Generally, unsuccessfully, although some of her story paths are yet to be followed.)
I used to live in Maine–wasn’t born there, was a transplant. One of my many secret landmarks is the Father Rasle (sp?) monument in Madison on Old Rte. 2. Tall pines and the ground covered deep with pine needles made a cathedral like place to sit in quiet reverence and watch the Kennebec River flow by. Another place, the Norridgewock Library, is a few miles down river, right on the bank by that old cement bridge. When I lived there 35 years ago, it was crowded with ancient books, I bet a treasure trove of first editions. It wasn’t open the last time I was there–it always had spare hours–but it looked the same. Both those sites will make it into my next novel so I can spend time thinking about some of my favorite places.
Barb–a restaurant where the owner dislikes new customers?! If you’ve some place else, you know that is SO Maine!