Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wiscasset - Don't Pass it. "The Prettiest Village in Maine"

It is hard to imagine traveling in mid-coast Maine and not being forced to go through the exquisite bottleneck that is Wiscasset.

Wiscasset is known for unbelievable back-ups in the summer, especially on weekends and was the topic of endless conversations.  Because all of that mid-coast traffic flows right through the center of the village, there has been, for many decades, talk of building a bypass. Finally after so much time, money and effort, (and nesting eagles) the committees have once and for all given up.

But this notoriety should not overshadow its true uniqueness. The town bills itself as "The Prettiest Village in Maine" and it is hard to argue that.

Earle Shettleworth, when he was the Director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission (he is now State Historian), cites Wiscasset as one of three architecturally significant villages in the state, along with the towns of Paris Hill and Castine.

Samuel Chamberlain, in his book Towns of New England, chose Wiscasset to represent the State of Maine. He noted that millions were spent restoring Williamsburg, while Wiscasset remains essentially intact.

Great prosperity had come to Wiscasset as a result of shipbuilding/shipping in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which is why one sees the construction of what are arguably Wiscasset’s two finest houses, Nickels-Sortwell House and Castle Tucker, in 1807. (Both are now owned by Historic New England).

Pumpkin House, also built in 1807

"It was said that at one time one could walk across the Sheepscot River, from ship to ship, it was such a busy harbor," according the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places from 1973 which also states the condition of the historic structures in Wiscasset was surprisingly good.

(If Wiscasset had more money thrown at it, it could easily have been ruined. The lack of conspicuous spending is conspicuous. As one Mainer said, referring to other Mainers. “They never painted their houses all at once. Each year they paint a different side.”)

“Today, its abundance of classical architecture is evidenced by the inclusion of 10 structures in the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) of 1936 and the subsequent inclusion of five buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. In 1973, a large part of the Village/Historic District became a part of the National Register.” (Source:

Moses Carlton House (1804)

Wiscasset Public Library - 1805

Castle Tucker


Old Custom House 1869/70

Back in the 70s the bus station occupied prime real estate.

Yacht Club - Wiscasset Style
The Sheepscot River
The Bridge from Edgecomb.
The Hesper and The Luther Little


The Silver Bunny said...

I have actually listed Maine on my blog as one of my dream destinations. I had never heard of Wiscasset before but it would be my first place to visit. Thanks for sharing !

Paul Connors said...


When one thinks of the quintessential New England village, with its unique architecture and sea coast locations, the photos you've posted here illustrate what one sees in one's mind's eye. The buildings here, the settings and the sea from which the original inhabitants made their livings shout New England. Although I haven't been to Wiscasset, these photos and your narrative make me want to visit (despite the horrific weekend traffic).

Thank you for posting these.

Paul Connors

John said...

Another lovely travelogue! I saw a Volvo of more or less that vintage just yesterday, and in very good shape. I can only hope my 2001 lasts that long!

Looks like the railroad there remains active--the rails are nice and shiny on top. What's it's provenance?

JSprouse said...

'Been threre many times, and it is one of the prettiest. I see lots of old Volvos in your photos.
'still looking to move near Round Pond sometime.

ClumberKim said...

The schooners are gone? It has been far too long since I went through Wiscasset. Growing up in Auburn, those were roadtrip landmarks for me. Thank you for the post and the lovely pictures.

Oxford Cloth Button Down said...

That yellow home that you featured is simply gorgeous. I hope to have a home so lovely, one day Muffy, one day.

Bitsy said...

It's so nice to see these towns that preserve their history. Your posts and photos of them always manage to capture their essence. One can almost feel the calm pleasure of walking their quiet streets.

Parnassus said...

I am familiar with Wiscasset from 19th century photos, and it really looks about the same, especially the Tucker Castle.
I would think that decaying schooners would be an attraction worth stabilizing, in the way that old abbeys are in England.

Michael Rowe said...

Just....breathtaking. Thank you for this white clapboard miracle of a Sunday blog post. It's set me up for the day.

Greenfield said...

I remember my brother telling me the schooners were gone; the end of yet another tangible link to our surprisingly recent past . . . sigh.

Dave T said...

With the aid of your photos, I just realized that I have been to Wiscasset. Thank you for jarring a memory!

Kathie Truitt said...

Muffy, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed, no - LOVED my New England trip. We stayed in Vermont and the first day we drove through New Hampshire and then up to Maine. The next couple of days we went all over Vermont and my dream came true when I got to spend several hours at the Vermont Country Store (I can't remember which one, though). Then we came back home through Rhode Island. This was a birthday trip from my parents.

I wanted to stay longer but my husband INSISTED that I be home by Thursday night though, because we had to be at the Australian Embassy. I found that odd because there are very few events in Washington D.C. during the summer.

Anyway, on Thursday night we 'had' to stop by one of the restaurants that we co-own with our son-in-law so we could sign 'papers'. When I got there I was very pleasantly surprised by about 50 friends - we weren't going to the embassy after all. My parents were instructed to get me out of town so they could plan my surprise birthday party. All in all it was a perfect week.
And I especially appreciated the New England climate.

j.mosby said...

In Wiscasset, go to Red's lobster shack! the best lobster roll you'll ever eat!

Carol-Anne Wyseman said...

Thanks so much for this post! I'm heading to Maine next week so I'll definitely have to check it out!



Anonymous said...

You know Muffy, I live in the midwest and it's rare to see buildings older than about 1840 or so.

So one cool thing about your blog is seeing the architecture. I used to be a National Trust member, wrote up one noteworthy local mansion for the national register (it was later upgraded to landmark status). At any rate, cool to see the architecture of New England. Different from here.

Anonymous said...

Oh, what a beautiful place... I adore your New England posts. Seeing these photos reinforces my thoughts about moving away from northern Virginia as soon as possible.

Jed Wall said...

Absolutely the best place I've found for antiques shopping. Thanks Muffy!

James Kyle said...

I love your comment suggesting that the Subaru wagon is the de facto mid-coast vehicle. I have made the same observation about the entire state of Vermont, particularly northern Vermont. Otherwise, thanks for the photo essay on Wicasset. I never actually stopped long enough to take it in properly. I will now.


C said...

Charming, especially your quotation: “They never painted their houses all at once. Each year they paint a different side.” A wonderful metaphor.

You could even apply it to outfits: if you've got to wear something shiny & new, be subtle; downplay it with other well-loved elements.

Rusty said...

Very nice photos. Heven;t been ther since teh 70s and it hant; changed except for the Hesper & Luther Little being removed. The shiny RR racks are those of the former Maine Central RR and still used by, I believe, CP Rail. The tracks of the former 2-foot gauge Wicasset Waterville & Farmington RR used to cross them in Wiscasset and ran along the shore until 133. That railroad is being restored on its original grade in nearby Alna where they operate tourist trains.

Laurie said...

One of my favorite places. Thank you Muffy!

Anonymous said...

I've driven through and stopped in Wiscasset more times than I can count in my young life either on the way to my grandfather's or to summer camp. I must say I love Le Garage, but I'd also check out the lobster shack across Route 1 from Red's, it's just as good, just more off the radar. To me, the Mid-coast feels like a second home, I'm glad you enjoy it as well.

Anonymous said...

Driving up the 1 from Bowdoin the day Red's opens for the Spring/Summer season is one of my favorite college memories! The ice cream shop across from Red's is also fantastic, and the owners are very friendly

Pete said...

During our recent trip to main I was very charmed by Wiscasset. The lobster rolls at Reds were devine.
The local bakery had a wonderful selection (yes, a bakery). Also, there are some wonderful art galleries in Wiscasset.

Nick F said...

The blueberry pie at Treats is amazing. Great place to stop before heading up to Camden!

Anonymous said...

That is a beautiful village and I wish I could visit. I'd like to get away from the heat and humidity! I love the quirky old houses. They have so much more charm than newer ones and it's great to see them being preserved and used.


Anonymous said...

My father-in-law visited the Nickels-Sortwell House many times with his best friend, Alvin and Gertrude Sortwell’s grandson. He loved Wiscasset. This house reminds me of the great Salem houses built by Samuel McIntire; the interior is as beautiful as the exterior. Alas, I can’t think of my father-in-law and Maine without sharing his favorite Maine story, told to him by a lobsterman.

A visitor from Boston arrived one summer in Port Clyde on his large power boat, which had every navigational accoutrement known to man. He helped himself to an empty mooring, made cocktails, and spent the remainder of the day in a deck chair drinking with his wife. About five o’clock, he took his outboard dingy on an excursion, arriving back with a several lobsters he had looted from a local lobsterman’s trap; thereupon his wife made dinner.

Sometime in the middle of the night, an unnamed citizen of Port Clyde rowed out to the power boat and with his rifle, took aim at the side window of the wheelhouse and fired a single shot that traveled diagonally through the window, directly over the wheel, exiting through the front windshield. The path of the bullet would have gone through a man standing at the wheel.

The boat’s owner and his wife did not awaken, no doubt sleeping soundly through a day’s drinking, but the next morning, as several citizens watched from land, he quickly assessed the damage and calculated the deliberate angle of the shot. Within minutes, he was headed out of Port Clyde at high speed, leaving a sizable wake that rocked the lobster boats he passed.

If Port Clyde has run out of old timers to keep this story alive, I trust I have done my duty.