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BRUNSWICK, MAINE: Get away to the gateway for exploring mid-coast Maine

The college town of Brunswick, Maine is known for education and recreation. There’s a lively arts scene, an array of restaurants, historic charm, nearby beaches, parks and gardens, and the beautiful Bowdoin College campus with its museums, theater and music.

Maine Street’s 198″ span makes it one of the widest streets in New England. It was built in the early 1700s when a grid of streets was planned for what was then a center of lumbering and shipbuilding. The grassy mall there is now the site of free concerts Wednesday evenings when local bands entertain at the Music on the Mall Summer Concert Series. A May-November farmers’ market is held there Tuesday and Fridays 8-2.

A newly opened hotel and onsite restaurant adds to the reasons to visit. The Federal and its onsite restaurant, 555 north, are right in the heart of Brunswick, just steps away from the shops and restaurants on Maine Street.

The Federal is on the storied site of the former The Daniel and The Captain Daniel Stone Inn. The central structure was originally built in 1810 for Captain Daniel Stone, a sailor who became a successful businessman, and his daughter, Narcissa, a prominent businesswoman. The new chic cosmopolitan foyer leads to traditionally appointed hallways and guest rooms, all in keeping with the character of the site while providing both welcoming warmth and modern comforts and amenities.

Its onsite destination restaurant, 555 north, like The Federal, adds a creative contemporary flair to New England traditions. There are favorites from the former 555, one of Portland’s top restaurants, like Pepper-Seared Scallops, Truffled Lobster Mac and Cheese, and Bangs Island Mussels as well as an array of other seasonal eye- and palate-pleasing delights.

The alluring bar is horseshoe shaped and walls are hand painted with local ferns. Sliding doors can create private spaces.

The seasonal menu is prepared with fresh ingredients from area farms and waters by one of Maine’s top chefs, Steve Corey and his wife, Michelle. Try the Signature Tasting Menu that includes soup, an appetizer, main course and dessert. Reserve a table early for what has quickly become the local favorite for fine dining. 

Bowdoin

Brunswick is best known for its prestigious private liberal arts college, Bowdoin, chartered in 1794 and named for a Massachusetts governor when Maine was still part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Notable alums include novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Bowdoin College professor and president, Union general and four term Maine Governor.

Chamberlain was dubbed the ”Lion of Little Round Top” for his leadership in the Battle of Gettysburg and received the white flag from the Confederates at Appomattox Court House April 12, 1865. Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Helen Keller and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were guests at his Brunswick home at 226 Maine, now a museum.

In summer, the Maine State Music Theater offers Broadway-quality musicals at Bowdoin’s 600-seat Pickard Theater in Memorial Hall. Joshua Chamberlain had Memorial Hall built to honor Bowdoin students who fought and died in the Civil War. The Bowdoin Campus is also home to the Bowdoin International Music Festival.

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the popular book credited with inciting the Civil War, while living in the home her family rented in Brunswick from 1850-1852. She also sheltered a slave there. The house is now part of the Bowdoin campus and primarily used for faculty offices. Harriet’s Writing Room honors her legacy and is open by appointment. The building is a National Historic Landmark and a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site. 

A glass pavilion leads the way to the copper-domed Bowdoin College Museum of Art. The permanent collection of over 20,000 objects includes finely crafted Wabanaki baskets and one of the best and most comprehensive collections of Mediterranean antiquities on any campus in the United States. Admission is free.

The Peary–MacMillan Arctic Museum on the first floor of Hubbard Hall is dedicated to all things Arctic, from polar bears, kayaks and ivory Iñupiat carvings. It is named for Bowdoin graduates and Arctic explorers Robert E. Peary (Class of 1877) said to be first in the race to reach the North Pole, and Donald B. MacMillan (Class of 1898), who began his career of 30 Arctic explorations in 1908 on Peary’s last expedition there.

Hubbard (Class of 1857) was one of Peary’s financial backers. Peary gave the expedition sledge in the foyer to him in appreciation for his support. Admission is free.

Peary’s summer home on nearby Eagle Island, off the coast of Harpswell,  is now a National Historic Landmark and Maine State Historic Site. Accessible only by boat, it is open to visitors June 15 through Labor Day.

South of Brunswick, Harpswell’s scenic peninsula, coves and islands have more coastline than any other town in Maine. This area is also known art studios and seafood restaurants with a view.

While in the Harpswell area, drive to Bailey Island and follow the half-mile trail along the rocky coastline to see geologic formations known as the Giant’s Stairs.

Need a little exercise? The 1.25 mile Brunswick-Topsham Riverwalk links the Frank J. Wood Bridge to the Swinging Bridge that crosses the Androscoggin River, built in 1892 for workers at the Cabot Mill in Brunswick by the company that built the Brooklyn Bridge and renovated in 2006.

Yearn for a souvenir from Maine’s past? Cabot Mill Antiques, 14 Maine Street, in a former cotton mill, has a vast array. There’s a flea market summer weekends.

And there’s more

As the gateway to mid-coast Maine, there is also much to see and do in the Bowdoin area. Two favorites are Popham Beach and the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens 

At low tide you can walk along a sand bar to Fox Island at Popham Beach State Park. Climb the rocks, explore tide pools and enjoy the lighthouse view. You may spot seals on the rocks.  The movie “Message in a Bottle” was filmed here. Author Douglas Kennedy writes about Popham Beach in his novel  “The Pursuit of Happiness.”

Children of all ages are delighted by the giant trolls and floral displays at the 295 acre Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay Harbor. It is the largest botanical garden in New England and one of Maine’s top attractions. It features plants native to Maine as well as others suited to the northern climate as well as giant trolls. Advance tickets are required to guarantee admission since some days sell out.

The Topsham Fair is authentic Maine at its best. There are barns, pony rides, live music, juggling, baking contests, all celebrating Maine agriculture.

Love to shop? L. L.Bean’s Flagship Store, a destination in itself, and the designer outlets in Freeport are only about 10 miles away. 

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