It’s rare for me to be so enthralled by a small community that I tell my husband that I am ready to move there; I’d move to Eastport in a heartbeat. I’d have to do it fast before my brain kicked in, but my heart felt so connected with the warm and friendly people that my sensibilities were smothered—much like the lobster smothered in butter I had last night at the Chowder House Restaurant.
The idea of living in a community where people all know one another and can pick out a visitor in a heartbeat appeals to me. I can tell you that they stick together; they do business with each other and help each other out, as any good neighbor would do. While there are many empty storefronts on Main Street, the town seems so alive and vibrant. People actually say hello when they meet you on the street or at the next table in one of the half-dozen restaurants. Although this is an economically depressed area and I’m sure many of these smiling faces feel the pinch of the present economy, they are positive people. I like that.
It is certainly an artist community with many artisans having small studios to display and hopefully sell their wares. Locals, like Don Dunbar, provide wonderful photography, while writers, such as Sarah Graves sell their works at Eastport gift shops. Woodcarvers, jewelry makers, stone workers and glass workers offer their unique wares in their own studios as well as in the area shops. It’s a short tourist season here, and to make a living this way is tough. Fortunately, Maine people are tough and passionate people who hold down another job while supplementing their earnings by selling their craft.
The town is steeped in history; at one time it was the second busiest seaport in North America, topped only by New York harbor. Eastport’s deep harbor allowed huge cargo ships access and nearby railroad transportation made for an efficient operation. Fourteen sardine factories once lined the waterfront—now there are none, nor is there cargo ships pulling up to the large wharf that sits parallel to Maine Street. Those were the bygone prosperous days of Eastport.
Traffic is light here, with no need for traffic signals. The main intersection is at Water Street and Washington Avenue, but simple courtesy is all that is needed to keep traffic flowing easily. There is really no need to be in a rush in Eastport, which is a fine way to plan traffic patterns for a small city.
The bay in which Eastport sits is large and deep and the tides fill and empty it every twelve hours. The boats tied to the wharf at high tide will be twenty feet lower at low tide; this is hard to fathom unless you witness it in person. The tides rate and fall at an astonishing rate; if you sit in one place for more than an hour you can witness the tides speed. I was told that the amount of water that flows out of the greater Bay of Fundy area is equal to emptying Lake Erie—and it’s done in the span of six hours!
The homes in Eastport are old and beautiful, their architecture ranging from the Colonial period (1775-1800), the Federal period, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne to the Colonial Revival period, 1890-1910, which can be witnessed in the “walk-about” tour. This walking on-your-own tour brings you past the older homes in town and show great examples of the various periods of home architecture. Several Inns in town demonstrate the differences in time periods, and the antiques inside them are visual proof of the history of the smallest city in America. Take the time to look at the small details on these homes to fully appreciate the craftsmanship that went into building them.
Real Estate values here are low compared to national home prices. Even waterfront homes would seem an incredible value to people who live inland anywhere in the country. It’s not an easy life here and the cost of living is high. Your shopping choices are limited—there is only one grocery store in town and the nearest Wal-Mart is thirty miles away in Calais (pronounced CAL-is). Heating oil prices, gas prices are high—everything has to be transported in—so life here is not for the faint of heart. It’s very cold here in winter and the wind is relentless. The basics of life are expensive here, even if real estate is not.
There is much to do in and around Eastport, from beachcombing for sea glass to Mex night at the Happy Crab. Within a short drive is Cobscook State Park with outrageous tide fluctuations and Jasper Beach in Machias with incredible solitude on a beach with beauty that is almost impossible to describe. Hiking trails abound in the area, the most popular trails are at Shackford State Park and at the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, with over fifty miles of trails. There are numerous day trips, from a 3-hour sail on a 3-masted schooner to Campobello Island, vacation retreat of “Ike” Eisenhower to tours of award-winning Raye’s Mustard (their current schedule involves the actual making of mustards on Tuesday and Thursdays) and leaf-peeping the beautiful fall foliage with an Atlantic Ocean backdrop. Truly, a long weekend will leave you wishing you had planned just one more day in the area.
There are several surprisingly good and reasonably priced restaurants where the specials almost always include fresh Maine seafood. The newest eatery, The Pickled Herring, has proven itself to be a big hit in the three months that it has been open. The ambiance, food and service are exceptional and the prices are very reasonable. This restaurant in a large city would cost a diner twice as much. The Happy Crab, a sports bar, offers a large menu, down-home wait staff and very good food and has free WiFi. Just across the street is the Waco (Washington County) Diner, which puts out a great breakfast and you get to listen to the locals dishing out the local gossip every morning over coffee. The Chowder House, on the north end of town, is a family oriented restaurant with little ambiance but a great view and terrific fresh seafood. The baked stuffed haddock was delectable!
Eastport is simply a great destination for four to five days. Stay in one of the lovely B&B’s in town, like the Milliken House on Washington Street or the Kilby House on Water Street. Be open to friendly people and enjoy the glorious scenery. Be prepared to slow yourself down and enjoy the simple, yet powerful and rugged, area around you. You won’t find hopping nightclubs in Eastport or heavy traffic, but you will find an incredible draw to this area that is as predictable and constant as the tides; their ebb and flow is as comforting as your own breath.