The success of a city or town is often determined by its ability to reinvent itself. Whether it is one of New England’s old textile or shoe making communities that have been transformed into a flourishing arts district with trendy mill style lofts, or a former Pennsylvania steel town that now houses an office park of tech firms, if a city does change with the times, it often becomes a shell of its former self, a ghost town that tourists go out of their way to avoid. For many years, this was the case with Rockland, Maine. In fact, the running joke in this part of the Midcoast was like something you would see satirically emblazoned across a T-shirt or a disparaging bumper sticker. Camden by the Sea, Rockland by the Smell, was the local catchphrase once used to describe this area of Maine.
Rockland’s image as a down and out fishing port began to change in the 1990s. Known mainly for its biker community and the overpowering stink generated by its fish processing plants, the revival and expansion of the Farnsworth Art Museum on Route 1 anchored the city’s full-blown transformation. The upscale galleries and organic restaurants soon followed. New shops and boutiques opened. The 1923 Strand Theater was immaculately restored. Rockland was reborn. Today, this city on the west side of Penobscot Bay is not only a must-see on Maine’s museum trail, but a coastal diamond that has been pulled from the rough, recut and polished to sun-lit perfection.
Attractions & Points of Interest in Rockland
In Rockland, the seafood business and the art world share center stage. The two industries give the town both a blue-collar realism and a yuppie-centric veneer. This is no longer simply a place you drive through on the way to somewhere else, but a quintessential day trip destination.
The average itinerary might look something like this:
In the morning, you visit the Farnsworth Art Museum. It has a wealth of Maine-related work but is globally recognized for its Wyeth Center, an extensive gallery that has masterpieces from three generations of Maine’s most popular artistic family. The Lincoln Center for Arts and Education is a non-profit venue that holds art classes, exhibits and rents studio space, so if you ever thought of trying your hand at coastal Impressionism, now is your chance. Get a better understanding of Rockland’s history by visiting the Historical Society and Museum.
In the afternoon, you take a walk down to the Rockland Breakwater and take in the view of Penobscot Bay. The breakwater is a unique wall of granite stones that protect the bay, and it is also where you will find the Rockland Breakwater Light. The lighthouse sits at the end of the 4,300-foot breakwater and was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1981. Seeing only one lighthouse is never enough, so why not peruse the Maine Lighthouse Museum?
Rockland’s Special Events
While not a traditional special event, riding the Maine Eastern Railroad from Rockland to Wiscasset, Bath or Brunswick goes above and beyond your typical day trip. St back and relax in a restored, vintage railroad car and recapture that old time America feeling that Maine has trademarked.
Despite the fact that other Maine communities would disagree, Rockland calls itself the Lobster Capital of the World. The city proves it is worthy of the esteemed title every August when it hosts the Lobster Festival. This five-day, Dionysian celebration of Maine’s favorite crustacean includes cooking contests, live bands, a marine tent and lavish parade.
The North Atlantic Blues Festival, held at Rockland’s Public Landing, is one of the most prestigious blues events on the east coast. Two days of chord progressions, blistering guitar solos and lovesick ballads fill the air overlooking Rockland Harbor. Food, drink and craft vendors fill out the festival like an opening act pick-up band.
Thomaston & Owls Head
Similar to Rockland, Thomaston is another Maine town that has reinvented itself. For over 100 years, the Maine State Prison dominated the landscape (it was Stephen King’s inspiration for The Shawshank Redemption) but in 2001 the maximum-security fortress was finally torn town, and Thomaston had a collective sigh of relief. Today, the town’s most prominent feature is Montpelier, a museum and replica of General Henry Knox’s 18th century mansion. Knox was a prominent commander in the Revolutionary War. In and around Thomaston’s brick lined downtown and waterfront, you will also find the Maine Watercraft Museum, which has an excellent cross-section of the state’s small craft boat industry, as well as the Historical Society and Museum.
Originally called Bedabedec Point by the Abenaki Indians, when sailors looked at what is today called Owls Head, they thought the rocky promontory mirrored that elusive nocturnal bird. Occupying just a scant 9-miles, Owls Head not only has some beautiful and rugged scenery, but is packed with a handful of attractions.
Erected in 1826, the Owls Head Light Station is a squat and cylindrical granite beacon. A fact for the history buffs out there: the lighthouse is still using its original Fresnel lens. Strategically placed next to the Knox County Airport, you will find the Owls Head Transportation Museum. It is an extensive showcase of antique airplanes, automobiles, bicycles, engines and everything else related to getting from one point to another. The museum holds an airshow every year, and the highlight is a replica of the Kitty Hawk Flyer. Do you want to hangout with the locals? An inconspicuous dirt road will lead you down to Birch Point State Park. Quiet and beautifully secluded, there are outhouses but no lifeguards on duty at this local patch of idyllic sand.
The St. George Peninsula
The St. George River cuts a path between Cushing and St. George before ending up in Thomaston. Rural woods, stark fields and windswept meadows define this area of Maine. The tidal river and saltwater farms emanate with a tempura light. In other words, this is Wyeth Country. From Port Clyde, where the Wyeth ancestral home is located, to the small town of Cushing, where the famous Olson House can be found (depicted in Andrew’s Wyeth’s iconic painting, Christina’s World) this area is a historic and visual treat for fans of American art.
Artists and lobstermen alike favor Tenant’s Harbor and Port Clyde. The steady chug of lobster boats is as prevalent as the deeply hued sunlight, which is why so many artists call this place home. However, if you are neither a lobsterman nor an aspiring artist, do not panic, there are other activities and attractions around. Lighthouses are a huge tourist draw in this area. While the Marshal Point Lighthouse has a small museum as well as a scenic picnic area, there are several others to explore. Tenant’s Harbor Light, Whitehead Light and Two Bush Island Lighthouse are all nearby.
Nearby Towns and Islands
Exploring Maine is all about getting off-the-beaten-path, and while this Midcoast area is miles from the hurly-burly of city life, there are always satellite towns and remote villages to discover. Friendship, Union, Warren and Washington are all in the greater Rockland area, and each place has its own distinct charm and personality.
Friendship is regarded as the birthplace of the Friendships Sloop, a popular gaff-rigged sailboat that is modeled after the Gloucester schooner. The Friendship Sloop Society and the Friendship Museum are both popular attractions. Antique tractor pulls, goat shows and Meet Your Local Farmer are the type of traditional events that are held annually at the Union Fair. Washington is home to the Downtown Gallery, an art collective that formed fourteen years ago which promotes and exhibits Maine artists and artisans. Meanwhile, the history of the little town of Warren is well preserved and documented in its Historical Society and Museum.
Once you have seen the attractions, wandered the nooks and crannies of the coast and traversed the clapboard villages, a whole new set of authentic Maine adventures await. In Maine, when you run out of shoreline, you tune your compass and hoist the sails (metaphorically, of course). Maine has as many small islands as it has lobster shacks, and Monhegan, Matinicus, North Haven and Vinalhaven are all easily accessible by ferry. Happy sailing.
Rockland – Thomaston Area Directories
Visit the following directories to find lodging, dining, attractions, shops, services and recreational activities in the Rockland, Maine area.
Rockland, Maine Map