48 Hours In…Blue Hill
August 2010 | By Melissa Coleman | Photographs by William Geisler | Illustration by Jennifer Judd-McGee
48 hours, and more, of our favorite places to eat, sleep, explore, play, and listen
Blue Hill Public Library’s sixth annual art show and fundraiser, Inside and Out (reception August 6), features a diverse selection of Maine artists, which has included Milton Avery and Fairfield Porter in past years. Also of note, there’s an opening August 1 with prints by Carroll Thayer Berry (1886–1978) at Liros Gallery and a trunk show August 14 at the Meadow of Blue Hill for local jewelry designer Basha Burwell’s unique silver-and-gold rings and necklaces.
Then as now, affluent city-dwelling Americans of previous centuries often yearned for the rustic life…if only for the summer. Blue Hill, with its ocean views and fertile land, was one of the places they went to find it.
These so-called “rusticators” left the heat and pollution of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia to spend a bucolic summer on Parker Point, near the original Blue Hill settlement founded a century earlier in 1762. They brought their money, culture, art, and music, and built many of the fine old houses that still line Blue Hill’s Main Street. When travel by automobile replaced the formerly arduous journey to Maine by boat, train, or buckboard, the increasing numbers of rusticators came to be called simply “summer folk” or people “from away.”
The Blue Hill Peninsula has retained much of the charm of earlier times, and Blue Hill is still the place where both visitors and residents of the smaller towns—Brooklin, Brooksville, Castine, Penobscot, and Sedgwick—find a vibrant cultural and artistic community, thanks in no small part to the legacy of those early rusticators.
Post office and library aside, the favored meeting places in town are primarily food oriented. You’ll bump into most everyone at the Blue Hill Co-op as they stock up on organic meat and vegetables or join friends for a quick bite in the cafe. Table, which is run by Rich Hanson, the James Beard Award–nominated chef behind Cleonice in Ellsworth, is another popular spot to see and be seen. The restaurant is also touted for its views of Mill Brook and use of local ingredients, many from Hanson’s own farm.
Yes, locally grown and raised edibles have long been de rigueur on the peninsula, as evidenced by the plein air markets in each town, the biggest being the Blue Hill Farmers’ Market, which is open 9 a.m. –11:30 p.m. on Saturday at the fairgrounds and 3 p.m.–5 p.m. on Wednesday at the First Congregational Church. There’s also Brooklin Farmers’ Market across from the Cave (3 p.m.–5 p.m. on Thursdays), the Brooksville Farmers’ Market in the community center parking lot (9:30 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays), and the Castine Farmers’ Market on the town green (9:30 a.m. to noon on Thursdays). Farm fever in this corner of Maine can be traced back in part to former residents Helen and Scott Nearing, the couple credited with inspiring the 1970s back-to-the-land movement, and Eliot Coleman, who makes organic gardening look so cool. (Full disclosure: I was born next door to the Nearings on Cape Rosier. My father is Eliot Coleman, and he and my stepmother, Barbara, run the Four Season Farm Stand today.)
Even the wood-fired pizza is topped with local ingredients at the Barncastle in the historic Kline Cottage, one of the largest surviving rusticator summer homes and now a lively place to meet friends for dinner. Day visitors can also grab a slice at the new downtown location across from the post office. Other good bets for a family outing are Marlintini’s Grill, which has a bar popular with the late-night crowd, and the humorously named El El Frijoles in Sedgwick for great Mexican dishes, outdoor seating, and a play area to entertain the kids. For a dressier dinner without the children, make a reservation at John Hikade’s Arborvine, located in a lovely double-chimney Cape on Tenney Hill. The Bagaduce River oysters and Four Season Farm salad continue the theme of locally inspired menus.
Morning cafe options include C Shells Coffee and the Pantry Restaurant, which share a brick building on Water Street. The Birdwatcher’s Store and Café provides yet another breakfast or lunch option, not to mention tools of the bird-watching trade. Back on Main Street, Blue Hill Hearth offers freshly baked artisan bread and coffee service in a book-lined cafe adjoining North Light Books.
Max’s Blue Hill Wine Shop is where everyone goes for wine, fine cheese, loose teas, tobacco, Tinder Hearth bread, and Max’s unvarnished opinions on just about everything. The recently added cafe means you don’t have to leave once your questions are answered. Merrill & Hinckley has been the town’s general store since forever, but a full-service supermarket, Tradewinds Marketplace, is up on South Street across from Mainescape, a plant nursery that also sells local vegetables, quiches, and fruit pies. If you forgot to pick up something at Max’s, the Cave in Brooklin stocks cheeses, chocolates, and wine.
August in Maine also means blueberries, of course. Blue Hill Mountain is no longer the undiscovered berry heaven popularized by Blueberries for Sal, but some local organic barrens, including Blue Sky Farm on Cape Rosier and Four Fields Farm in Blue Hill, offer a pick-your-own experience that comes complete with rake and winnower. If time is limited, you can call Peninsula Provisions instead, and ask them to deliver a cornucopia of local foods to your lodgings.
Most towns on the peninsula have their own classically historical namesake inns to make the traveler feel right at home. There’s the Brooklin Inn, the Castine Inn, and of course, the Blue Hill Inn, which has been hosting visitors since 1840. Its 11 rooms, traditional dining room, and two parlors have been recently and tastefully updated. Home rentals across the peninsula are available through Maine Vacation Rentals, or you can lease the impressive John Peters Estate. Hiram Blake Camp rents 14 rustic cottages on the coast of Cape Rosier. And after that pizza at the Barncastle Hotel & Restaurant, you can choose to retire upstairs to their beautifully decorated rooms.
Blue Hill has long attracted art galleries—and perhaps that is why many of the shops feel like galleries as well. Try Rackliffe Pottery and Rowantrees Pottery for the clay arts, and North Country Textiles and String Theory for fiber arts. Find a little of everything at the Handworks Gallery on Main Street, or take a field trip out to see the paintings and sculpture at the Cape Rosier Artist Collective. Try Blue Hill Antiques and Red Gap Books for rare books or treasures for the home dating from 1750 to 1950, many purchased in France. Visit the Woodenboat Store in Brooklin for nautical paraphernalia, and don’t forget to pick up that hostess gift at the Meadow of Blue Hill, a shop full of soaps, candles, and sachets with gorgeous complimentary wrappings.
Liros Gallery features 19th– and 20th–century art, while Leighton Gallery hosts the artists of the 21st. Located near each other on Parker Point Road, Liros and Leighton are worth a peek on your way to the one of the few non-food-oriented meeting places in town: the Blue Hill Public Library. The library hosts a number of events, including story hour for kids Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m. While in town, check out Blue Hill Books in the classic pillared building just off the main drag on Pleasant Street. The owners take pride in featuring many of the area’s local writers, including Peter Behrens and Susan Hand Shetterly, as well as regular summer visitors such as Heidi Julavits, Jonathan Lethem, and Pulitzer Prize winner–Michael Chabon and his wife, Ayelet Waldman. Deceased authors E. B. White and Robert McCloskey remain the perennial bestsellers, in part because you can drive past Condon’s Garage in Brooksville and the White farmhouse in Brooklin after reading One Morning in Maine and Charlotte’s Web.
The playful tone set by the famous children’s books penned in the area means it’s a toss up as to whether there’s more fun to be had by kids or adults in and around Blue Hill. For young and old alike, the favorite hike is up Blue Hill Mountain, conserved for the community by the Blue Hill Heritage Trust. Just don’t forget to bring along your Buggle, a locally made bug spray. There’s also sailing from the Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club or aboard Perelandra, a 44-foot cruising ketch out of Bucks Harbor. Join the Blue Hill Country Club for tennis and golf, or go surfing with a standup paddleboard or kayak on Blue Hill Falls, a reversing tidal wave under the bridge by Parker Point. Rent kayaks and bikes from Rocky Coast Outfitters or swim from the beach by the Blue Hill Town Park and Playground. To take the edge off, A Quiet Moment Day Spa offers massage and body treatments, and you can join daily yoga classes at Blue Hill Center for Yoga and Community Health Alliance.
Outdoor educational activities are plentiful at Marine Environmental Research Institute, which offers eco camps for kids and coastal science excursions for the whole family. Peninsula Metamorphic Arts & Learning has art and science day camps, including Super Hero School and a monthly Friday-night drop-off program where kids can do art projects (5:30 p.m.–9:30 p.m. on August 6) while parents head off to enjoy dinner or a concert.
Founded by rusticator and musician Franz Kneisel, Kneisel Hall Chamber Music School and Festival, has been called the cradle of chamber-music teaching in America. Summer brings fifty young violinists, violists, cellists, and pianists to train under creative director and pianist Seymour Lipkin of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School. The concert series runs June 25 to August 29, with performances in the Franz Kneisel Concert Hall on Fridays and Sundays by distinguished chamber musicians. And don’t miss the young artists on August 11, 12, and 14 and the faculty concerts on August 13 and 15.
For music you can get up and dance to, Flash in the Pans’s steel-band concerts have been a community tradition since the first performance on the steps of the Brooksville post office in 1975. Head to the Blue Hill Town Park from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on August 16 and 23 to shake your booty at benefits for Blue Hill’s animal shelter and New Year’s celebration, respectively.
Inspired to pick up an instrument yourself? Stop by the Bagaduce Music Lending Library, which was conceived in part by folk singer Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary, where you can browse a collection of some 200,000 sheet-music titles. WERU FM 89.9, the volunteer radio station, is another local institution founded by Stookey (See Noel Paul Stookey page 56), who made the first broadcast in 1988 from his renovated chicken coop. WERU’s spirited music programming captures the eclectic nature of Blue Hill’s cultural smorgasbord.
After such a jam-packed 48 hours of food, art, outdoors, and music, you might just decide to become a full-time rusticator yourself.
Our Facebook fans speak up about their favorite spots in Blue Hill:
— Paula Leavitt
Blue Hill Co-op—the hub of the town!
Blue Hill Wine Shop! WERU-FM. Fishnet is great, as is Bagaduce Lunch. Barncastle for a beer and a slice of pizza. We’re up there all the time, we love it!
Handworks Gallery and the Leighton Gallery. The sculpture garden is a great escape.
Hiking Blue Hill Mountain. Bird watching via the Sanctuary. The George Stevens speaker series. Perusing Merrill & Hinckley. Watching the lobster boats at Eggemoggin Reach.
Blue Hill Fair Skillet toss!
Don’t miss the ‘doughboys’ at the Blue Hill Fair, so yummy with cinnamon and sugar.
— Anna Dohey
Great town park on the water, Blue Hill Books, The Turnstyle Thrift Shop and the Ark thrift shop. The First Congregational Church—gorgeous stained glass.
The Library gets my vote as hub of the town, hosting over 250 meetings and events a year, providing exceptional service, wireless internet, art exhibits.
The Blue Hill Historical Society in the 1815 Holt House on Water Street.