Dateline: Belfast, Maine
When we arrived at our Maine cottage, we knew of Belfast only as a place to find a grocery store. Not terribly inspiring, but at least practical.
In our continuing quest to locate shoreline walks, we stopped at the Blue Hill Chamber of Commerce to ask about local possibilities there. In the course of the conversation, the Chamber’s economist pointed to Belfast as an example of what she hoped Blue Hill (already an appealing town) could achieve. “You wouldn’t have wanted to go to Belfast a few years ago,” she said, grimacing at the thought. Then, MBNA located a good-sized piece of business there and invested in cleaning up the waterfront. When MBNA pulled out of town, it all could have come apart, but, she reported with admiration, a “very smart” town manager was determined to build on what had been achieved, despite it all.
Along with Rockland, already a favorite from a previous visit to Maine, Belfast became our town-of-choice. Its bustling main street is festooned with fanciful street art you can sit on, galleries, and artist studios; shops like eat more cheese and Colborn Shoe Store, which lays claim to be the oldest shoe store in America; and a plethora of imaginative places to eat.
Beyond that, Belfast has worked hard to extend public access to its waterfront, including an attractive waterfront park in which, while we were there, the 20th Annual Arts in the Park was underway. A waterfront boardwalk includes passage through an operating shipyard to a public walkway over the Passagassawakeag (the “Passy”) River and would also link up with a rail trail in the making were it not for the failure of Penobscot McCrum, recently fined for dumping ammonia into the river, to agree to a public right-of-way:
City officials and residents like Hutchings said they are looking forward to the day the trail can be joined to the half-mile long Harbor Walk, which runs along the waterfront from the Belfast footbridge to the Belfast Boat House. An energetic person then could start downtown, walk to City Point along a dedicated path and circle the river estuary on Kaler and Robbins Road, crossing back to downtown on the Armistice Bridge.
“In New England, there’s nothing like this,” he said. “Show me a port city in the United States that has a six-mile walkway. It’s awesome, is what it is.”
The rail trail cannot now be connected with the Harbor Walk because the railroad crosses the Penobscot McCrum potato processing factory site on the waterfront, and the owner does not allow the public to travel back and forth there. Slocum said that city officials are “always talking” to Jay McCrum, the owner, about his concerns. [citation]
In addition, there’s the four-mile Little River Community Trail that takes in two reservoirs along its length (about which we’d strongly urge improved trail maintenance in deer tick season to keep the path as free as possible from tall grasses). Perhaps there’s nothing in Belfast that might be characterized as a “major site,” but the town radiates vitality and seems able to absorb visitors without losing its feisty, idiosyncratic character.
Postscript: We were struck on this visit to Maine, particularly, by how much visual artists contribute to the vibrancy of its towns. (While in Belfast, we picked up a gaily painted box at Arts in the Park and an irresistible miniature from the Arts Alliance Gallery as a gift for Mom.)
As in Portland and Belfast, visual art contributes strongly to Rockland’s appeal. While the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland is the flagship, local galleries displayed current work that went far beyond the usual tourist fare. On a visit to Rockland’s Landing Gallery, one artist whose work caught our eye was Sarah Faragher. We circled and circled the gallery, finally giving in to the knowledge that we couldn’t leave without something more than the usual postcard to remind us of her work. The creative spirit exemplified in Faragher’s paintings, also present in Belfast’s ingenious reinvention of itself and the book-loving charm of Beyond the Sea’s proprietor, represents for us the very best of Maine. And that’s not on any map.
This is Part 4 of a 4-part series on Maine. Click here for Part 1, Warning: Reflections May Be Distorted, here for or Part 2, In Search Of . . . Maine Past, and here for Part 3, In Search of . . . Maine’s Shoreline.
Lunch out in Belfast and Rockland
Chase’s Daily (Belfast, vegetarian & indoor farmer’s market)
Meanwhile in Belfast (Belfast, pizza & Italian)
The Lobster Trap (Belfast, lobster shack)
Home Kitchen Café (Rockland)
Rock City Café (Rockland)
Maurice Ravel, Alborada del gracioso (Morning Song of the Jester) (orchestrated by Ravel), from Miroirs
On Spotify (Boulez/Berlin Philharmonic)
On YouTube (Barenboim/West–Eastern Divan Orchestra)
Credits: The quotation from the news article may be found at the source linked in the text. The photographs, as always unless otherwise indicated on the blog, are mine.