Saturday, June 27, 2015

End of the Maine Course

MAINE COURSE, DAYS 7-10:  Ellsworth, ME to Home

Wednesday, 24 June—Ellsworth to Portland

The sun shone brilliantly over a cloudless blue sky this morning as we finally left the Ellsworth/Acadia area at 7 a.m., driving west toward Augusta for a visit to the state capitol.  Just before 8, we recrossed the spectacular Penobscot Narrows Bridge and shortly stopped at Mt. Prospect Cemetery in Stockton Springs for our first letterbox of the day.

Penobscot Narrows Bridge
Continuing our letterboxing adventures into Searsport (pop. 2,615), we started at Bowditch Cemetery, the oldest in town.  We were on the hunt for a series of 14 letterboxes planted by local boxer Jiffy.  Next up was Elmwood Cemetery for two boxes, then an interruption for a trio of boxes not in the series.  Then we moved on to Village Cemetery, where we snagged two more but skipped two that were well guarded by poison ivy.

Moving on to Mount Hope Cemetery, we located three more.  At the time we arrived at the small Gordon Cemetery, the final graveyard, for the last three boxes in the series, preparations were underway for an interment.  With a single entrance/exit and no designated space for parking, there was a good chance we would be trapped until the end of the service if we stayed to find the boxes.  So we left and drove back to US-1.

Another Searsport captain lost to the sea
In every Searsport cemetery we visited, we noticed an unusual number of sea captains, as noted by the inscription "Capt." or "Died at Sea."  As we later learned, Searsport produced more shipmasters than any town of its size in the world, and was once home to one-tenth of the deepwater ship’s captains in the American Merchant Marine.

Connected Farm
On our way out of Searsport, we passed a connected farm along the highway that was for sale.  Featuring a big house, a little house, a back house and a barn, this type of architecture dominated rural Maine dwellings before 1900, and we had seen quite a few on our travels in the state.  With all the buildings linked, a farmer could go from house to shed to barn and complete all his daily chores without setting foot outside, a big advantage on a stormy day or in extreme cold.

Driving south on US-1, we tracked near the coast until we reached Belfast (pop. 6,660), a seaport popular with tourists, where we paused to check out the town and have lunch.  Our first choice from Yelp wasn't open today, which turned out to our advantage when we ended up at Darby's Restaurant and Pub.  Perfectly situated in an 1865 building that originated as a pub, Darby's boasts the same walls, tin ceiling and antique bar that were installed the year the Civil War ended.  I ordered their zucchini sliders—seasoned grilled zucchini slices with fresh mozzarella, bean sprouts, tomato and fresh basil mayo.  Delicious!  Ken had blackened salmon salad with beets and spinach—also excellent.

Darby's historic interior
From Belfast, we turned inland on ME-3 toward Augusta.  The temperature seemed to climb as we moved inland away from the coastal breezes.  After visiting the state capitol, we drove on to the Portland area and checked into a Homewood Suites for the next few days, happy to have a little extra elbow room.

Thursday, 25 June—Portland

When we left the hotel around 9 a.m. Thursday morning, the temperature was already at 72°, a preview of what is to come as we make our way back south.  But the sun was shining and the letterboxes waiting, so we set out down US-1 after stopping by the local Michael's to re-supply our ink.

Though we never could identify the species, we saw massive pines like this in several cemeteries.
We found some boxes in the Scarborough area in the morning—around the Eastern Trail and in some local cemeteries.  Local boxers are inclined to plant series—six to ten or even 20 boxes.  And the Portland area seems to be a boxing hotbed.  We found 14 letterboxes in the morning before stopping for what turned out to be a dismal lunch at Taco Trio in South Portland (who is rating them so high on Yelp?).

The afternoon turned in a better direction.  We started with a Tour the Fort series of six letterboxes around Fort Preble in South Portland—good carves, great background information, and well hidden.  Nearby was the campus of Southern Maine Community College, where Jiffy had stashed a series of 17 boxes related to the school's courses of study.  Finally, a series of five on a coastal trail in the area portrayed the options in the selection of a wedding dress.

Remains of Fort Preble
By the time we found the last box, we had amassed a total of 35 finds for the day while walking almost seven miles.  Glad that Homewood was offering its complimentary weeknight light meal, we dragged ourselves back to the hotel, ate dinner, and made plans for Friday, our last full day of the trip.

Friday, 26 June—Portland

In another episode to prove that no good deed goes unpunished, I managed to pull a crown off one of my molars while flossing my teeth Thursday night.  First I booked a restoration appointment with my dentist back in Georgia for Tuesday morning.  Then the interim plan for dealing with the issue until Tuesday was in play.

Plan A.  Go to CVS for some temporary dental cement to re-seat the crown.  
An hour after I started working on it, the crown was still in my hand and I had a new appreciation for the delicacy and precision of dentistry.  No matter how little of the product I inserted in the crown, it was too much and the crown would bang against my lower teeth long before the others made contact.

Plan B:  Find a local dentist to re-seat the crown.
Seventeen phone calls later, I figured this was not going to happen.  Most offices were closed or the dentist was off on Friday.  Others were booked solid.  

Plan C:  Re-seat the crown with Vaseline.
Yes, you read that rightVaseline.  After my abject failure with plans A and B, I called my dentist's office back for advice.  Should I just leave it out for three days?  The dental assistant I spoke with suggested cleaning and drying the crown well, filling it with Vaseline and putting it back in place.  Skeptically, I followed her directions precisely.  It worked!  (She also gave me a plan D in case I needed it...Fixodent denture adhesive.)

Finally with the crown back in its home, we left the hotel a little after noon and drove to Fort Williams Park.  Situated in Cape Elizabeth, the park is a popular tourist attraction, primarily because of Portland Head Light standing on its grounds.  Often cited as the most photographed lighthouse in the world, Portland Head Light was commissioned in the late 1700s by George Washington and is still operational today.

And the photogenic lighthouse award goes to...
We found three letterboxes along the hiking trails in the park and stopped to chat with Eric, a local resident who was tossing a tennis ball for his terrier Charlie to retrieve.  Later we followed his recommendation to drive to Higgins Beach and Prouts Neck for some scenic views, finding one more letterbox along the way.

With a 5:45 a.m. flight the next morning, we bagged the day early and returned to the hotel to unload the car.  Not wanting to deal with leaving enough time to return the rental car before that early flight, we drove it to the airport and made arrangements for Francisco, the driver of the hotel shuttle, to pick us up and return us to the Homewood.  A native of Angola, Francisco has been in the U.S. just three years.  He arrived speaking almost no English, just French and Portuguese.  With experience as a taxi driver in Angola, he was able to obtain work fairly readily in Portland.  But he said he finds the American accent quite difficult to understand since what little English he did know was learned from speakers of British English.

Located on the other side of the parking lot from the Homewood, Sebago's brewpub was an obvious choice for an early dinner since we no longer had wheels.  While we were there, we heard from cousin Pam that a couple of osprey chicks on Hog Island, Maine, had been snatched by an eagle.  We have been following this nest by webcam for a couple of years after Uncle Joe (Pam's dad) introduced us to it via his friend from Maine.  We had hoped to visit the site while here but it didn't work out.  Sad about the loss but knowing that it was just nature taking its course, we returned to our room, packed up and set our alarms for 3 a.m.

Saturday, 27 June—Portland to Home

Though our flight was booked for 5:45, it was on United, so we didn't expect to leave Portland until eight or later.  They surprised us.  The flight left a few minutes early and landed at Dulles in Washington, D.C. 14 minutes before the scheduled arrival time.  Then to really keep us confused, the flight to Atlanta departed on time and also touched down a few minutes early.  Just when we thought we had United figured out, they try to lull us into a false sense of security.

The moment we stepped out the terminal door for our ride home, we were assailed by the heat and humidity.  Not that we weren't expecting it, but it still provided a rude reminder that our Maine course was over.  And this felt more like desert than dessert.
Trip Stats:
  • Miles driven:  992
  • Air miles:  2,076 
  • Weather:  46° to 78°, sunny to rainy
  • Letterboxes found:  69
  • Lighthouses:  12
  • Bumpy miles of Maine roads:  988
  • National parks:  1
  • International parks:  1
  • Scenic views:  236
  • Sailboats:  6,130
  • Rocky shorelines: 875 

More Photos

In a park next to the Penobscot Narrows, a sample section of the bridge
Darby's might be an old restaurant, but they get new technology needs.
Spring Point Ledge lighthouse
Another view of the Portland Head Light
And another
Daisies decorate the Cliff Walk at Fort Williams Park.
A Drive on Maine Streets

A Drive on Maine Streets 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Capitol Restraint

AUGUSTA, Maine—Upon entering the small city of Augusta (pop. 19,136), we had no difficulty locating the Maine State House.  From its position on a hill overlooking the Kennebec River, the domed capitol is quite visible from the Maine Turnpike as you enter the city.

After Maine broke away from Massachusetts to become the 23rd state in 1820, a bit of jockeying ensued over the location of the state capital.  Portland, still by far the largest and primary city of the state, was a popular choice, but its temporary status as capital was vacated due to its extreme southeastern location.  Augusta—farther north and inland—was officially proclaimed the state capital by Governor Enoch Lincoln in 1827.

Original 1832 Maine State House (image from Wikipedia)
Charles Bulfinch, a well-known American-born architect who designed the Massachusetts Statehouse and was doing some work on the national capitol, was hired to design the government building for Maine.  Drawing on his Massachusetts design, Bulfinch aimed for a simpler Greek Revival style which could be fashioned from local Maine granite.

Current Maine State House
To serve the growing needs of a burgeoning government, the state scrapped all of the 1832 capitol building except the front portico and the wall behind it and doubled the size of the state house in a 1909-10 project.  Bulfinch's center cupola was replaced with a copper-clad dome.  Over time, the copper oxidized to a dull green.  In 2014, the original copper sheathing on the dome, which had become leaky over time, was replaced.  Today it is a flat brown and is expected to remain that color for another 30 or so years before oxidation restores the green patina.

State House dome before and after copper sheathing replaced
Visitor parking for the capitol was free and conveniently located across the street.  Security screening was competent and standard—walk-through metal detector and bag x-ray.  Near the exit to the security station was an information desk where a congenial state employee ensured that we picked up copies of the myriad and superfluous brochures about the state house.  Arriving at 1:45, we were too late for a guided tour, so armed with plenty of (sometimes conflicting) information, we were on our own.

Hall of Flags
In the center of the second floor, where we were told to begin our tour, we found the Hall of Flags, located under the dome but with a ceiling that blocked the view of the inner dome.  Arrayed around the room were massive display cases exhibiting replicas of battle flags used by Maine military regiments in various conflicts from the Civil War to Korea.  In the center of the hall is a bust of Percival Proctor, governor from 1921 to 1925.  Over a 30-year period, Baxter used his immense personal wealth to amass more than 200,000 acres of wilderness land in north central Maine, which he donated to the state, becoming Baxter State Park.

Portraits of prominent Mainers line the halls
As we found throughout the building, light fixtures in the Hall of Flags were basic, ceilings unadorned.  Only plain molding and trim decorate the walls, along with a collection of more than 140 portraits—governors, supreme court justices, state legislators and Congressional representatives, military heroes—a veritable conglomeration of prominent Mainers.  Placement of the portraits seemed to be random with a 20th century jurist next to a Civil War general.

In one of the numerous pamphlets we were shuffling on our self-guided tour, we found the state's perspective on the lack of opulence in its capitol building:  "Designed with restraint, the rotunda walls are relieved only by the simple lines of paired Doric pilasters and denticulated cornices."  As we were to learn, the Maine State House is deliberately plain and simple, a reflection of the Puritan ethic and frugality of its people.

Inner dome
Upon reaching the third floor, we had our first look at the admittedly prosaic rotunda and the inner dome above it.  Apparently the restraint was extended to the dome as well.  Its most prominent feature was a bulky black iron staircase that wound around the interior.

Chamber of the House of Representatives
Despite the lack of ornamentation, one feature the re-design architect, G. Henri Desmond, did not scrimp on was natural light.  It is the most arresting feature of both the House and Senate chambers, which also include considerably more molding and trim than any other parts of the building and even a coffered ceiling.

Capitol Park
Stretching between the State House and the river is a lush green landscape known as Capitol Park.  Over the years, the park has functioned as parade grounds, camp site, and even leased farmland.  Today it offers walking trails lined with oaks, beeches and pines and is home to Governor Enoch Lincoln's tomb and several memorials.


Maine State House Stats:
  • Construction period (original):  1829-1832
  • Construction period (re-do):  1909-1910
  • Original cost:  $138,991 ($59,000 over budget)
  • Re-do cost:  $350,000
  • Remnants of Bulfinch design:  front facade
  • Building height (to tip of dome):  185 ft.
  • Dome topper:  "Lady Wisdom," 15-ft. gold-leafed copper statue
  • Dome surface:  copper
  • Exterior material:  Maine granite
  • Site size:  34 acres
  • Portraits hanging in statehouse:  141
More Photos from the Maine State House

Hall of Flags display
Flag of the 10th Regiment Maine Infantry, Civil War (lists battles in which they fought)
Senate Chamber

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