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Castine, Maine - under the elms and by the sea

A historic little town at the mouth of the Penobscot River estuary was such a pleasant surprise.

If you like history and charm, this town is for you!

I had read about the rich history of Castine and wanted to go...Tad was not so intrigued. But, our goal is to out-serve the other, so I let him be the hero, and Castine it was!

We were greeted at Eatons Dock by this little guy and Mr. Eaton himself. "Feel free to stay on the dock while you check out the town, you can tie up to the buoy later" he said with a wave.

We took him up on his kind offer and found ourselves looking up from the bay to ribbons of streets reaching for the sky. Main, Dyer, Green, and Pleasant street all with buildings dating back two centuries; The Parson Mason House (1796), Ebenezer Perkins House (1807), The Pentagoet Inn (1894), the oldest continuous working post office in the US (1817), and on-and-on it went.

We picked up a free walking map that read, "Visit us under the Elm and by the Sea", and oh my gosh, they couldn't have said it better. These large and stately trees hovered over the town in a canopy of green. Their presence was heartwarming. On a side note, Elms were once found throughout the US, but almost all were lost to Dutch Elm Disease in the 1930s, so this is kinda a big deal!

You can see the Elms hovering over the town...

We wandered around and admired the New England architecture, churches, and beautiful homes. We also went through the shops and "tested" the local ice cream. Tad's now telling people he's doing "research" for his Ph.D.!

Tad ordering his next test subject

We strolled past the many colorful signs sharing snippets of town history, marked with flags. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Castine (1829) is the oldest meeting house in eastern Maine. I was taken back by its simplicity and overwhelmed by a sense of humility.... it was as if the walls had witnessed much and understood the focus was not in them but in Him.

We returned back to the boat to get our bikes and spent the full day learning the tale of this little town.

A bit of history from Castine's Historic Signs

(said by the Castine Historical Society, to not to be completely accurate) - my disclaimer!

One of the oldest communities in North America, Castine, Maine has been home to several nations of Native Americans, the Tarratine (a Mi'kmaq tribe originating from Nova Scotia) to be the most prevalent. With its prime location on the Penobscot bay, Castine was widely fought over and the site of numerous trading posts, missions, and the permanent settlement of Holland, France, England, and colonial America since the 1620s.

In the 1630s the French built Fort Pentagoet in their attempt to extend control over "Acadia" - the region between the Kennebc and St. Croix Rivers. Baron Jean Vincent d'Abbadie de St. Castine, for whom the town was named established a trading post in the 1670s and married the daughter of Madockawando, the chief of the Tarratine Natives. They had at least two children. Two streets in present-day "Tarratine" and "Madockawando", reflect this heritage.

The Dutch occupied Castine from 1674-1676 when they bombarded it from the bay. After coming ashore they completely destroyed Fort Pentagoet.

Led by John Perkins, the earliest permanent settlement began in the 1760s. By 1776 the town consisted of twenty or so homes nestled on the south side of the peninsula.

We visited the Wilson Museum which was the home of Mr. Perkins. The museum has wonderful artifacts from the worldwide travel of Mr. Wilson, a person of great influence in later years.

In 1779 the British Royal Navy sent a detachment and built Fort George on the highest point near the bay. The colonial Massachusetts Board of War sent a combined naval and military expedition to recapture the area but suffered a humiliating defeat. American presence was still apparent, but not dominant.

In 1808, Ft. Madison (named for President James Madison), an earthwork fortification was constructed and 1812 the war broke out again. This time, the British were defeated. Ft. Madison was minimized and renamed Ft. Porter.

As was the case of undefended ports along the eastern seaboard there came fear and raids from privateers and the Confederate Navy. This fear brought about the construction of a new earthwork fortification that mounted 5 guns in 1863 on the site of old Fort Madison. At the onset of the American Civil War, the name was once again changed, this time to Fort United States. The fort was garrisoned through the end of the war and was finally abandoned in late 1865 for the final time. It never fired a shot in anger during its Civil War service.

As you see here, today the fort is once again named Fort Madison, and is run by the state of Maine as the Fort Madison State Historic Site.

Maritime Academy

In 1867, education became a new focus for Castine with the construction of the Eastern State Normal School that trained teachers in the Maine School system. It closed in 1940, but was followed by the establishment of the Maine Maritime Academy, which still graduates hundreds of students each year for maritime careers.

The training ship State of Maine is docked in the harbor most of the year. It serves as a training vessel as well as a reminder not only of Castine's seafaring past, but of its role in the future.

And what coastal town could be complete without a lighthouse?

Castine’s Dyce Head Lighthouse was built in 1828. Today it’s privately owned, but there is a footpath visitors can follow around the property for views. We found it a bit tricky to maneuver the property without feeling like we were invading someones property, but we did it anyway!

What a perfect visit – history, a lighthouse, and all the coastal New England charm you can fit into a single day.

Marina Info:

Eaton’s Boatyard

17 Sea Street

(207) 326-8579

The harbor has a wide and deep entrance under the landmark Dyce Head Lighthouse. Visiting yachts may seek; pump-out, fuel, fresh water and chandlery services can be found at the Town Docks or at Eaton’s Boatyard.

Natural anchorages are found in the adjacent waters of Smith Cove, Bagaduce River and the Holbrook Island Thoroughfare.

Mainely Marine Services Lance Burton (207) 669-5029

New Amenities For Boaters

Free Wireless for Boaters in Castine HarborNewly Renovated Rest Rooms at Town Dock


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