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Camden: The Prettiest Fishing Village in Maine


Arguably the prettiest fishing village in Maine, Camden is a favored spot on the coastline, and you would never want to visit in the summer season without a reservation for accommodations.

Photography by the authors

Camden, arguably the prettiest fishing village in Maine, lies a mere 80 miles beyond Portland. The drive will take longer than expected because Highway 1 can be pokey slow even in the low season, plus there’s always a lot to see skirting those fingers of Maine land that jut out into the Atlantic.

Maine’s Maritime Museum in Bath shows the dimensions of the largest wooded ship ever built.

At 35 miles, for example, you are passing Bath with its historic Bath Iron Works and the Maine Maritime Museum. It’s just a mile detour off your journey and worth the stop. Don’t be put off by the clunky website that, surprisingly, is not all that useful for visitors; the one here at Maine “Things To Do at the Maritime Museum” is more helpful in listing the permanent collections.

The museum covers everything maritime from the whale trade itself to mariners’ pastimes such as scrimshandling and putting small ships in bottles (there’s probably a name for that too.)

The yard’s centerpiece is an “evocation” of the Wyoming, the largest—by virtue of its long jib boom—wooden sailing ship ever built (constructed in Bath in 1909). The outdoor exhibit shows the life-sized dimensions of this 6-masted gaff schooner, which had a total length of 449 feet. The HMS Victory measured 226 feet, the USS Constitution 204 feet and the Swedish Vasa (that we wrote about here) was 154 feet.

Noah’s Ark is purported to have been 450 feet from Genesis notations.

The Maine Maritime Museum has art showing ships large and small in the Great Days of Sail.

We’re now a bit behind schedule, but Camden, Maine, is only an hour away and a quiet ride as the day lengthens.

Camden is a favored spot on Maine’s coastline and you’d never want to come here in the summer season without a reservation for accommodations. The population is just under 5,000 in winter and rises to 15,000 to 20,000 in summer.

“The town’s summer colony is mostly wealthy Northeasterners from places like Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, DC,” according to a tourist publication.

The Conway House was the first house built here in 1770, near the mouth of the Megunticook River, and has become a museum of local history—it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 as the Conway Homestead & Cramer Museum. The town got a modicum of attention in the War of 1812, but since then has become the stereotypical sleepy Maine fishing village.

Camden Harbour Inn, its telescope and the view. As they say, “Location.” That’s it in the top of the lower picture.

The Camden Harbour Inn has a lot going for it apart from its preppy English spelling: location. The inn is perched above the harbor so it has the view and, within a one-minute drive, you’re at the waterside.

The inn offers complimentary tea and coffee and snacks all day and premium Belgian chocolates. It has a laptop available for complimentary use and its own acclaimed restaurant, Natalie’s. It has an ADA accessible room and ADA facilities on the first floor and has become one of the only 2 Maine members of the prestigious hotel association, the international Relais & Chateaux.

Relais & Chateaux began in 1941 and was established in France by 1954. However, the inn itself was built in Camden in 1874 for guests who came by steamer—with servants and steamer trunks to last the whole summer season. Dutch friends, now partners, Raymond Brunyanszki (pictured) and Oscar Verest saw the potential and became owners.

The Dutch are used to traveling, says Brunyanszki. It’s a small country and within an hour you’re in Germany or France. Plus, Dutch workers get 27 days of vacation every year, which gives them an opportunity to travel.

“We have 17 million people living in the Netherlands with a language that no one else speaks, so we have to adapt and our former Colonial empire translates into a multicultural community.” The 20 rooms and suites in the Camden Harbour Inn are named after former Dutch ports of call in the Dutch East Indies. “It’s New England with a touch of Europe,” he says with a smile.

Another thing that makes the partners smile are the 120 postcards received from former guests. Locals bring friends to admire the inn.

“We’re part of a local tour,” says Brunyanszki. “It shows they appreciate us. But they can be critical: they point out any typo we have on our website, because they care!”

If you arrive late there’s still time for a look around, a cocktail in the inn’s bar and, of course, your bed is waiting.

Brunyanszki had been a tour leader on upscale trips throughout the Far East and a manager for one of the largest travel companies in the Netherlands. He speaks Dutch, English, French, and German, and his partner Verest, who used to be a pharmacist who owned a large pharmaceutical company, speaks all except French. Since they will be hosting Americans more than any other group, they will find it hard to find such fluency in such monolingual guests. (We have written about the Dutch here.)

When did you last (or ever) have Eggs Benedict with lobster? Ten miles away in Rockland. Maine, lies the now famous Maine Media Workshop. It has become famous for its summer semesters, although on a rather bleak April morning there were few signs of life in what appeared to be more farmhouse than college.

Asked if they ever compare Americans to Europeans, Brunyanszki nods wisely, like a schoolteacher and says, “In the United States, persons have such limited travel time they feel they want the best for their vacation—and are prepared to pay for it.”

The most expensive suite in the inn is the Royal Dutch Suite; it is $1,200 a night in high season and is almost 100% occupied then.

“It is the most expensive suite in Maine—and the most beautiful,” Brunyanszki says.

Owls Head Transportation Museum is a tribute to land and air transportation “focusing how Mainers moved goods, service and themselves at the dawn of the aviation age.”

Just beyond Rockland, however, and with more to show for itself, is the Transportation Museum in Owls Head.

The museum “demonstrates pre-1920 landmark aircraft, ground vehicles, engines and related technologies significant to the evolution of transportation in the State of Maine” including an 1850 Concord stage coach, a magnificent Bentley and the 1929 Rolls-Royce Springfield Phantom once owned by “It Girl” actress Clara Bow.

Owls Head Transportation Museum has a replica of the original Wright Flyer and a collection of original bicycles including an 1868 CA Velocipede Boneshaker and an 1879 Harvard Highwheeler.

Ransom Eli Olds had developed his own company in the decade 1895 to 1905 helped by a businessman, Samuel Smith, who wanted the company to produce big, powerful cars, whereas Olds felt the future lay in the mass market that favored lighter, less expensive cars.

Top to Bottom: 1909 De Dion Bouton Voiture, an MG, and a REO Motor Car from the company few people today remember, although the carmaker Ransom Eli Olds was once a famous name in automobile history.

Olds had exported the first American car to a foreign country (India 1891) and at the turn of the century the first car to go a mile in a minute. Because of Smith’s interference, Olds left Oldsmobile and started the REO (his initials) Motor Car Company in 1904. REO built cars until 1936 and trucks until 1957 when they were bought out by White Truck.

We never would have thought to ask the museum to recommend a local restaurant for a light lunch but it’s been some time since breakfast and the sea air seems to give tourists an appetite.

We follow the museum’s easy directions for about a mile to the Rockland Café. What a great seafood chowder—we still remember it.

Ten minutes away from the Owls Head museum stands the Farnsworth Museum. It has such acclaim but we found it incredibly protective of its art even that in the permanent collections.

We wandered past a multitude of paintings, only a few of which carried the Farnsworth camera icon that signified photography permitted. What photography was forbidden in this museum (that stands a long 190 miles from big city Boston and represents quite an effort for visitors to attend) were mostly Andrew Wyeth paintings, those by Maine artists, the art of the nude, and all artifacts in the library.

Statues at the water’s edge in Camden include one to poet Edna St. Vincent Millay of Renascence fame looking out to sea from her home port—and one inscribed to the soldiers who “gave their lives in defence [sic] of their country during the Great Rebellion 1861-65.” Yachts, even in April, are mothballed for winter protection.

And at the end of a busy day the Camden Harbour Inn casts a warm glow over a dark inky blue sky. Welcome home it seems to say.

For this series of articles the Andersons, resident travel and cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest, drove 1,300 miles in 14 days across northern New England to review 7 B&Bs for Physician’s Money Digest.

The Andersons live in San Diego. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written 5 books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.

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