No; I don’t live in Wiscasset, Maine, the harbor village twelve miles from the Atlantic, on the Sheepscot River, about an hour north of Portland. But when I decided to write a series of books set in one typical northern New England town, Wiscasset fit the bill.
In the early 19th century Wiscasset was the largest port east of Boston. The Boston Stage stopped there. Ships sailed from Wiscasset in the salt and spar trade (Yes, there were lumber mills in town) and, later in the century, to the South Pacific. There was a small ice trade … and a smaller whaling industry. Later there were mills, and the railroad brought passengers to town.
Wiscasset was (and is) the county seat of Lincoln County, Maine, and its courthouse stands, next to the Congregational Church, above the town green, overlooking the harbor.
Once eleven long wharves stretched into the deep river from the shore. Most were burned in one of the two fires that destroyed much of Wiscasset in the 1860s and 1870s. For many years tourists stopped to take pictures of the Luther Little and Hesper, two schooners built in the early twentieth century and left to rot on the mudflats near the bridge to Edgecomb. The ships are gone now, too dangerous and tempting to young people who wanted to explore them, but their memory — and their images — are part of the history of this midcoast town. Today about 3700 people call Wiscasset home. It’s a year round community, although in summer tourists stop for the many antiques shops and historical sites in town — and to stand in line at Red’s Eats, a nationally known spot to buy lobster rolls and other local cuisine.
I’ve written five books set in Wiscasset … Stopping to Home, set in 1806, about two children who’ve lost their mother to smallpox and their father to the sea, and who must make a new place for themselves. Seaward Born, 1804-1807, in which a boy named Michael Lautrec in Charleston, South Carolina, escapes slavery via sea, changes his name to Noah Brown, and ends up in —
Wiscasset, of course. Maine’s separation from Massachusetts and statehood in 1820 is the background for Wintering Well, about a boy who learns life does not end with a disability, and his sister, who must make a place for herself, too. Finest Kind (1838) is set after the deep depression of 1837, and follows a family from Massachusetts who come
north, hiding a family secret, and make a home for themselves in Maine. And Uncertain Glory (1861) is about a boy who published the town newspaper in the middle of the 19th century, and how Wiscasset reacted during the first two weeks of the Civil War.
Many characters in my books really lived in Wiscasset, and historical notes at the end of each book give more background. A local artist, Brenda Erickson, has drawn a map of “Lea Wait’s Wiscasset, so
readers can take walking (or imagining) tours of the places in my books, such as the old
jail, built for the war of 1812, which plays a big role in my Finest Kind, and which is open to the public on weekend afternoons in the summer. Fort Edgecomb, built across the river for the war of 1812, is a location in Uncertain Glory. And the Congregational Church and buildings that once houses general stores and taverns appear in all of my books.
People might debate that Wiscasset is “the prettiest town in Maine,” despite the sign you’ll see as you drive into town on route one. But it’s hard to argue that it isn’t one of the most historic, and well worth a visit.
Lea Wait, who lives in Edgecomb, writes not only historical novels set in Wiscasset, but the Mainely Needlepoint and Shadows Antique Print mystery series. For more about her books, see Lea’s website, http://www.leawait.com