Rockland, ME: Windjammers, Wyeths, Lighthouses & Wonder
By Karen Rubin

Our coastal journey through Maine brings us to Rockland, a historic city enjoying a marvelous renaissance, abounding in charm and a stirring nautical and art heritage. What could be more fun than lighthouses, windjammers, Wyeths and the Red Baron's WWI tri-plane, all within easy reach of our "Turret" room in a Victorian mansion?

We head first for the LimeRock Inn, the first bed-and-breakfast in Rockland's residential district when it opened in 1994, which the owners converted from a stunning 1888 Victorian mansion that had built for Congressman Charles E. Littlefield who later became a State Supreme Court Justice (a portrait of the gentleman hangs in the County Courthouse, just down the street from the house). The mansion was purchased in 1952 by a second generation Midcoast doctor, Orham Lawry (he went on to become the prison doctor at Thomaston Prison, which was the subject of the "Shawshank Redemption"). It was acquired in 1994 by Kathleen and Jerry Dougherty -a couple from New Hampshire who enjoyed sailing from Rockland's port -who were only the third owners of the house, who set to re-making it into the charming bed-and-breakfast it has become.

The mansion, listed on the National Historic Registry, is an exquisite example of Queen Anne architecture. Our room, on the second floor, is aptly named "The Turret"-a spacious, rounded room with lovely windows and light that dances in. This room is ideal for honeymoon or romantic getaway (and proved superb for our family). The metal "Wedding Canopy" bed is the focal point--a four-poster bed with a lace canopy, downy pillows. The room is decorated in rich colors of basil and mushroom, furnished in French country pieces in cherry; French doors open to a lovely bathroom, with free standing tub and a separate oversized shower. The room also has a cherry sleigh-daybed that is perfect for our son. A fresh red rose on the spread and bottled water on the bureau welcome us when we arrive.

All the rooms at LimeRock Inn are different and distinctive and each is done with charm and character, hospitality and pampering comfort (for example, the bed linens and towels are all fine Egyptian cotton): the "Grand Manan," is adorned with heirloom mahogany furnishings reminiscent of an 18th century southern plantation and has a "Plantation Rice Carved" four-poster king-size bed, fireplace, large bay windows with stained glass and whirlpool tub in the luxurious bathroom (this room may also be turned into a suite, adjoined with a parlor with a queen-size sofa bed); the light and airy "Island Cottage Room," is designed as a romantic Victorian seaside cottage; the "Fox Island" room has the ambiance of the old French Quarter of New Orleans, with a gently curved cherry "French Quarter" king size bed that can also be made into two twin beds; the room also has an oversized luxury bath.

In all, there are eight guest rooms, each with private bath-remarkable considering when the owners acquired the house it only had one bathroom.

There are also two parlors which guests can use; one has a television and VCR, and the hosts make sure there is a video available ("Meet the Parents" was on deck when we visited, but we preferred to watch the Little League World Series with other guests). Breakfast is served in a stunning dining room with period wallpapers and furnishings. Afternoon tea is served in the parlor or on the porch along with homemade sweets.

The LimeRock Inn is located on a residential street just two blocks off Main Street (an advantage for families is that there is a marvelous playground just up the street), so for the evening, we stroll up and find a pleasant casual restaurant, M.O.M. (Market on Main) International Deli & Café, appropriately arty for its location across from the Farnsworth Museum. It offered an surprising range, from pastas to enchiladas, to warm feta, dumplings and chowder and burgers, at moderate prices (315 Main St., 207-594-0015).

The Inn is within strolling distance of the renowned Farnsworth Art Museum; the harbor park where you can watch lobster boats and fishing boats, sailboats and schooners (including much of the Maine Windjammer fleet, since Rockland is homeport to many of them); and Rockland's Main Street, which is itself listed on the National Registry of Historic Places for its collection of Italianate, Mansard, Greek Revival and Colonial Revival architecture. The city is undergoing a Renaissance and these lovely structures are being turned into galleries, boutiques and lovely restaurants (guided walking tours can be arranged through the Rockland Ambassadors, 207-596-6620 or the chamber of commerce, 207-596-0376).

We enjoy strolling Main Street-Rockland has had an art exhibit where six-foot high "lobsters" have been painted with different themes (like New York did with cows)-there are also pleasant galleries, antique shops and boutiques. Many of the attractions are linked by the Rockland Harbor Trail, a public footpath stretching more than four miles along the historic waterfront, but you will likely only want to visit sections of it. It is wonderful to go down to the waterfront a day-break, before breakfast, to see the fishing and lobster boats coming in with their catches.

Staying in a bed-and-breakfast is more than mere accommodations, it is a unique experience that enhances the overall travel experience, because you reside in a house which usually has architectural significance and in some instances, some historical connection to the community (as the LimeRock Inn has), and also, because the houses take on the personality of the innkeeper/owners.

The best of the bed-and-breakfasts also pride themselves on the breakfast they prepare and the presentation.

Breakfast at the LimeRock Inn was a culinary masterpiece of creativity, exquisitely presented on fine Dansk China, crystal goblets, silver, napkin rings; each table adorned with fresh-cut flowers.

We arise to sweet aromas of freshly baking pastries and brewing coffee. On one morning, there is fresh fruit with homemade sorbet, freshly baked muffin, incredibly fresh coffee; the main course is a blintz souffle with blueberry sauce that is scrumptuous. The next morning, breakfast consists of a lemon raison scone (incredible), fresh summer fruits with raspberry lemon granola, caramel apple French toast with a delicate sweetness) and country sausage links.

LimeRock Inn, 96 LimeRock Street, Rockland, ME 04841, 800-LIMEROCK, www.limerockinn.com. Rates range from $95-$185.

Lighthouse Country

Another wonderful aspect of staying in a bed-and-breakfast is that you feel part of a residential community, and that you basically live with a "local.." When we ask about biking and tennis, Kathy advises us to visit nearby Owl's Head where we can find public courts, and especially the Owl's Head Transportation Museum, where to park (at the general store, where we could also buy lunch) and then ride our bikes to the Owl's Head lighthouse.

Rockland is right in the middle of Lighthouse country, and as we were leaving for our excursion, just next door to the Limelight Inn in another unpretentious house, we happened upon what turns out to be the preeminent museum dedicated to lighthouses, which (as we discovered) are to Maine what castles are to Europe.

The Shore Village Museum (Maine's Lighthouse Museum) boasts the largest collection of lighthouse lenses and U.S. Coast Guard artifacts on display in the country. The curator, Robert N. Davis, is eager to talk about the engineering, the architecture, the history.

"Every lighthouse has its own "street address,"-its particular pattern of light flashes, spins, he explains. "Lighthouses are like people-some are brighter than others."

There are permanent exhibits of maritime and Civil War memorabilia (uniforms, weapons, medals, photographs, correspondence) as well as changing shows. Kids will especially delight at the groaning foghorns, clanging bells and flashing lights. There are also ship models on display. There is a marvelous shop, as well. Admission is free but contributions are encouraged (207-594-0311, knb@ime.net, www.lighthouse.cc/shorevillage).

Within Rockland, you can walk nearly a mile-long breakwater to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse for an interesting view of the harbor/

Owl's Head

A short drive from Rockland is Owl's Head where we spend a delightful day, starting off with a visit to the Owl's Head Lighthouse, which dates from 1825 and is at the end of the Lighthouse Park. It was here, Mr. Davis had said, that Spot, the dog owned by Owls' Head lighthouse keeper Augustus Homer-guided the Matinicus mail boat one stormy night in the 1930s; normally, the keeper rang fog bell by tugging on rope but when the rope was lost, the dog barked until boat was safe.

We follow the shore with our bikes to a small harbor, enveloped in fog, and watch the fog rolls out, revealing picturesque moored fishing boats.

We next visit at the Birch Point State Park, which has a pleasant beach and rocks you can climb on; and the highlight, the Owl's Head Transportation Museum.

Appropriately located just opposite the airport runway on Rte. 73 (just two miles south of Rockland and Coastal US Rte 1, and three miles from the lighthouse), Owl's Head Transportation Museum, is a treasure trove containing one of America's most important flying museums. It houses an astonishing collection of bi- and tri-planes from World War I (The Red Barron's Fokker Tri-plane) and the Barnstorming Era, classic antique autos from horseless carriages to luxury limousines, 30s Roadsters and Woodie Wagons, and the largest motorcycle ever made (even has landing gear), the world's first Ford Mustang-some extremely unusual and rare. The criteria is that everything works.

A separate room, dedicated to industrialization, houses a 100-ton steam engine. There also are special events and demonstrations scheduled just about every weekend (including antique aeroplane shows where you can even meet the pilots), jamborees where the engines run and the airplanes fly, and owners of antique airplanes, autos, motorcycles, bicycles, engines and contraptions all rally, and live music.

It is important to note that this was incredibly engaging for our 12 year old, who enjoyed snapping photographs of his favorites. Just outside the museum is a small playground, and the museum itself is adjacent to a 60-acre nature park. (Owl's Head Transportation Museum, open daily; Route 73 Owls Head, ME 04854, tel. 207-594-4418, www.ohtm.org).

Farnsworth Art Museum

One of the reasons Rockland is enjoying such a renaissance is clearly The Farnsworth Art Museum, a world-class collection of some 8,000 pieces spanning three centuries, which does a superb job of focusing on art related to Maine and works that show off Maine's role in the history of American Art. No doubt, the connection with the Wyeth family of artists is a major draw, as well.

This summer, there are special exhibits: "N.C. Wyeth in Maine," which is on through April 27, 2003, and "Capturing Nureyev: James Wyeth Paints the Dancer" (through Dec. 2002), among others.

The Museum is named for Lucy Copeland Farnsworth..who donated the land; you can visit the Farnsworth homestead next door to the museum, which is actually quite interesting; the well-preserved Greek Revival home dates from about 1850 and contains original Victorian furnishings (late May through early October, 207-596-6457). Also, there is a separate Center for the Wyeth Family which houses Andrew and Betsy's personal collection of family art and archival materials. There also are several galleries along the street, including Julia's, which displays art of teenagers. In addition, the Farnsworth "campus" also includes a historic church.

The Farnsworth Museum also administers the Olson Farm in Cushing, a 30-minute drive. This is not a museum, but a "significant place" for those of us who are enamored with Andrew Wyeth's artwork: he featured the house and its residents, Christina Olsen and her brother Alvaro, in a number of works including the most famous, "Christina's World."

The Farnsworth Museum is open year round (though the Olson House, in Cushing, is only open Memorial Day through mid-October). Admission to the museum and surrounding buildings is $9 /adults, $8 for seniors; $5 for students 18 and older; there is no charge for children under 18; admission for the Olson House is $4 for those 18 and older (207-596-6457, www.farnsworthmuseum.org).

Other notable museums and cultural attractions include Fawcett's Antique Toy Museum, Rte 1, Waldoboro (207-832-7398, http://mainetoymuseum.homestead.com/museum.html); and Penobscot Marine Museum, in Searsport ME, which offers a 19-century seafaring village with nine historic houses displaying marine paintings, models and artifacts (Memorial Day-mid-October, 207-548-2529, www.penobscotmarinemuseum.org.

You can also take a local ferry across the Penobscot Bay to one of Maine's lovely islands, such as Monhegan Island, the most famous island in Maine (largely because of the paintings of Edward Hopper, Jamie Wyeth and George Bellows), with dramatic cliffs (highest on the New England coast), a wildlife sanctuary with more than 600 varieties of wildflowers and w200 kinds of birds (peregrine falcons, ospreys, marsh hawks), 17 miles of trails; artists' colony, museum, swimming beach (expect the water to be cold); reached by daily boat service.

Another reason for the rejuvenation comes from Rockland's heritage as a seafaring port. We wind our way up the Rockland Harbor Trail, a four-mile scenic route, to the historic harbor where much of the fleet of 14 historic Windjammers sail on three to seven-day cruises through Penobscot Bay. (Contact the Maine Windjammer Association, 800-807-WIND, www.sailmainecoast.com.)

For visitor information, contact, the Rockland-Thomaston Chamber of Commerce, Harbor Park, Rockland, ME 04841, 800-562-2529 or 207-596-0376 http://www.midcoast.com/~rtacc/; or Visit Maine Office of Tourism, 888-624-6345, www.visitmaine.com

Next stop: Bar Harbor, ME

Photo caption:
(1) Morning at the historic harbor in Rockland, Maine (© 2002 Karen Rubin).

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