48 Hours in…Brunswick
By Melissa Coleman | Illustration by Josh Brill
48 Hours of our favorite places to view, eat, play, shop, and stay
“There is a most busy and important round of eating, drinking, dressing, walking, visiting, buying, selling, talking, reading, and all that makes up what is commonly called living…”
These words from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe when she lived in Brunswick in the 1850s, apply as aptly to the whirl of activities in the town today. The charm of Brunswick comes from many elements—a history of wealthy shipbuilders and manufacturers, a prestigous college, an active main street, and a dynamic natural landscape—that converge to create its vibrant liveability. For me, domiciled 15 minutes away in Freeport, Brunswick turns out to be more than a cool neighboring town. It becomes an engaging 48-hour escape during which my husband and I find ourselves in the good company of friendly locals and vacationers and discover a dynamic mix of interesting historical icons and great eateries.
It’s due to Bowdoin College that Brunswick can claim Harriet Beecher Stowe as a former resident (her husband was a professor there), as well as poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (he was both a professor and student) and his 1825 classmate Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter. Okay, maybe I’m a literary nerd, but our daytime walking tour of town had to include the Federal-style house at 63 Federal Street (not open to the public) where Stowe hosted readings of the Uncle Tom’s Cabin manuscript while it was still in progress. Given that the book would help incite opposition to slavery and lead our nation into the Civil War, the historical import of those readings is profound. Just down the street at 25 Federal we visit the since-renovated home where Longfellow boarded during his years as a Bowdoin professor. Next we walk Cleaveland Street to visit the First Parish Church, where, during a communion service, Stowe first envisioned a key scene in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Bowdoin is also the alma mater of our fourteenth president, Franklin Pierce, who was friendly with Hawthorne and Longfellow. Class of 1877 alum Robert Peary would later claim to be the first man to reach the geographic North Pole, and fellow Bowdoinite Donald MacMillan assisted him on his expeditions and led several of his own. Today, the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum in Hubbard Hall on the Bowdoin campus is the place to learn more about these intrepid explorers and to view Inuit art. Next door, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art features Where hath fleeting beauty led? Selections of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Art through January 22, with works by John Singer Sargent, Fairfield Porter, Winslow Homer, John Sloan, Alex Katz, and other renowned artists. The Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum preserves the former home of the Civil War hero, governor of Maine, and Bowdoin student and president. While the house is closed during the winter, his statue presides across Maine Street.
Pointing our walking shoes downtown, we strolled along the Mall (the name for the town green), which features an ice-skating rink in winter. The Pejepscot Historical Society is housed across Park Row in the Italiante brick Skolfield-Whittier House (the museum is open seasonally from June to October).
We try to decide between a movie at Eveningstar Cinema, which has been playing independent films in the Tontine Mall since 1979, and a film at Frontier Cafe, our favorite place for entertainment (film, music, performances, art) and eats, which overlooks the Androscoggin River in the high-ceilinged, tall-windowed Fort Andross Mill. The fact that Brunswick has two excellent film venues is evidence of its cultural character. Luckily, we even figure out a way to do both.
Bowdoin’s dance performances and athletic games are also worth viewing; check the Bowdoin website for schedules. And make sure to come back in the summer for six weeks of chamber music performances by 250 acclaimed visiting musicians at the Bowdoin International Music Festival.
Like any good college town, coffee hangouts, bistros, and watering holes abound and are frequented by locals and students alike. Begin the day at Little Dog Coffee Shop, the Bohemian Coffee House, Frontier Cafe, or Wild Oats Bakery and Cafe. For the wheat intolerant, look for local Wildflours gluten-free baked goods. Move on to lunch at Big Top Deli or Scarlet Begonias.
For dinner, you can’t go wrong with Henry and Marty, Clementine Restaurant, or the Great Impasta. If you’re looking for something more exotic, you’re in luck. Somehow this small town of 22,000 people manages to sustain four Japanese restaurants, four Chinese, three Thai, two Indian, one Greek, and four Mexican (and I’m probably overlooking a few). You can start in the Far East with Japanese at the tried and true Little Tokyo. Or head west for Chinese at Golden Chopsticks. Keep going for Thai at Bangkok Garden, Indian at Shere Punjab or Bombay Mahal, Greek at Trattoria Athena, or stay in the Americas for Mexican at El Camino or Lola’s Taqueria, the summertime-only food truck on the Mall. Then tip one back at Joshua’s Restaurant and Tavern, Back Street Bistro and Wine Bar, Lilee’s Public House, or Sea Dog Brewing Company, over the bridge in Topsham.
I often head for the Crystal Springs Farmers’ Market during the summer, the Brunswick Winter Market at Fort Andross from November to April, and Morning Glory Natural Foods all year long. Among these three markets, foodies will find a bounty of fresh local produce and quality bulk and prepared foods. And I always like to stop at Frontier Cafe to enjoy a local microbrew with a French or Middle Eastern “market plate.”
A trip to Brunswick is not complete without a scoop of one of the ever-changing homemade flavors at the Gelato Fiasco. Heirloom Tomato anyone? Or how about Dark Chocolate Coconut Sorbetto? Be mindful of the forecast: prices go down 1 percent for each degree below freezing, and there are even deeper discounts in February. Come summer, just to buck my healthy inclinations, I might head to the Happy Days–style Fat Boy Drive-In to get a mocha frappe delivered to my car.
For more info on many of the above, look for Joe Ricchio’s trusty Eat Maine reviews.
“Thou river, widening through the meadows green / To the vast sea, so near and yet unseen,” Longfellow wrote in “Morituri Salutamus,” an ode to his Bowdoin classmates. He’s referring to the Androscoggin River, which now makes a dramatic drop over a dam (at the site of the pejepscot, or long stretch of rocky rapids, for which the town was originally named) before heading on to Merrymeeting Bay.
The Androscoggin River Bicycle and Pedestrian Path follows the river for 2.63 miles from Water Street in downtown to Grover Lane in Cooks Corner, which makes for a great round-trip walk, run, rollerblade, or bike ride. There’s also a 1.25-mile loop: the Androscoggin Brunswick-Topsham Riverwalk, which runs between the green Frank J. Wood Bridge in town and the Androscoggin Pedestrian Swinging Bridge, which was built in 1892 so workers from Topsham could walk across the river to the Cabot Mill.
This morning, I wake early and walk from my inn to a prebreakfast class at Jai Yoga’s wood-floored studio on the third floor of Fort Andross. The Kripalu-trained teachers offer a full schedule of drop-in classes, from laughter yoga to anasura flow and vinyasa. I meet Alicia Heyburn, who tells me she loves to ride her bike to yoga on Saturdays, weather permitting, then head downstairs after class for the winter Brunswick Farmers’ Market. She’s also proud that Brunswick is “designated and awarded as a bicycle-friendly community with three long-distance, mapped bike routes, a local bike shop (Center Street Cycles), racks in useful places, ample shoulders on most roads, and great scenery.” In winter, Alicia recommends cross-country skiing at the 100-acre Brunswick Town Commons. There’s also great walking or snowshoeing to be had in the 33 acres of old-growth forest on the Bowdoin Pines, the 160-acre Crystal Spring Farm, and the Cathance River Nature Preserve in Topsham, and it’s possible to view the White Mountains from the Cox Pinnacle.
Since Brunswick is a kid-friendly town, I’ve been known to head here with the twins for the great playgrounds or the Rumpus Room, a space with indoor playsets, ball pit, an imaginative playroom, and arts and crafts classes. And, because my daughter loves the fiddle, we’ve marked our calendar for the Saltwater Celtic Music Festival at Thomas Point Beach next July.
The Brunswick shops I already tend to visit are the same places I find myself strolling to on Saturday morning after an extended breakfast at our inn. My first stop: Gulf of Maine Books, which opened in 1979, the same year as Eveningstar Cinema. White-bearded, Longfellow-esque co-owner Gary Lawless is also a poet and runs a small press. The bookstore hosts occasional events with local authors—recent highlights include memoirist Susan Conley, children’s book author Chris Van Dusen, and former governor Angus King.
Nest is next. The antique tin-ceilinged space is packed with unique home decorations, many of which are bird and nature themed. The Find, which opened its second Maine location for “new and recycled goods” next door, boasts impressive “finds” that include a Vera Wang wedding dress. Bayview Gallery’s 40-some artists, including Charles Movalli, specialize in New England landscapes, plus there are occasional works by Neil Welliver, Robert Indiana, and Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. Shift is the green-products shop that replaced F.W. Horch at 56 Maine. The new owners, Rob Schulz and Corie Washow, are excited to bring their personal touch to a selection of “sustainable home goods,” including cheese-making kits, stoneware crocks for pickling, and stainless-steel compost pails. Maine Running Co., located where Midcoast Multisport used to be, has expanded here from its Portland hub for all things running related. While you’re there, you might even see Bowdoin alum and Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson. Although we have a Cool as a Moose in Freeport, I like the new Brunswick location even better (maybe it’s the college vibe and slackline video).
I find my husband nose deep in the employee picks at Bull Moose, which he says tend to be pretty good. The used CDs in this iconic music store are particularly great in the spring, when college students are unloading for summer. I purchased a number of movie DVDs at ridiculously low prices, thanks in part (I’m guessing) to the success of Bowdoin alum Reed Hastings, the CEO of NetFlix.
It suddenly struck me why it’s always easy to find parking in downtown Brunswick: people who live here do errands on foot. “Downtown has everything I need,” says Julie Isbill, a self-proclaimed Brunswick booster I met at Frontier Cafe. “And it’s all within walking distance—the post office, library, haircuts, bank, books, used and new sports equipment, restaurants, coffee shops, a cobbler, groceries, consignment clothing, photocopies, UPS, gifts, gelato, gas, drug store, etc. I rarely shop outside of downtown.”
While we were fortunate to stay at the Inn at Brunswick Station (see Lodging), there are a number of other comfortable accommodations in town. The Brunswick Inn is an 1848 Federal-style home near the Skolfield-Whittier House on Park Row. With 15 rooms outfitted with Frette linens, a cottage, a restaurant and bar, and complimentary breakfast, the inn provides easy access to ice skating on the Mall and is centrally located between downtown and the Bowdoin campus. The Captain Daniel Stone Inn sits at the far side of town on Water Street near the Androscoggin River and boasts 24 rooms, a fitness center, the No. 10 Water restaurant, and the Riverstone Day Spa. Another such spot in town for a little hair, nail, and body pampering is Pura Vida Day Spa.
For a more rural setting a few minutes outside of town, the Middle Bay Farm Bed and Breakfast on Pennellville Road has four guest rooms and a hearty morning meal. Once a boarding house where Helen Keller is purported to have lodged, it’s now a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle. But if an indoor pool and hotel-style facilities are what you’re looking for, try the Parkwood Inn Magnuson Grand on Gurnet Road near the old air force base. While the Naval Air Station is no longer Brunswick’s biggest economic hub, it takes less than 48 hours to realize the town is alive and well without it. More than that, businesses at the Brunswick Landing on the old base are already up and running. Between the new Brunswick Executive Airport and the Amtrak train coming soon to Brunswick Station in town, the area is making itself more than easy to visit.
Brunswick Downtown Association
85 Maine St. | 207.729.4439 | brunswickdowntown.com
5000 College Station | 207.725.3000 | bowdoin.edu
Bowdoin College Museum of Art
9400 College Station | Walker Art Building | 207.725.3275 | bowdoin.edu/art-museum
Bowdoin International Music Festival
Box office: 12 Cleaveland St. | 207.373-1400 | bowdoinfestival.org
149 Maine St. | 207.729.5486 | eveningstarcinema.com
First Parish Church
9 Cleaveland St. | 207.729.7331 | firstparish.net
14 Maine St. | Fort Andross | 207.725.5222 | explorefrontier.com
Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum
226 Maine St. | 207.729.6606 | community.curtislibrary.com/pejepscot/jlchouse.htm
Maine State Music Theatre*
22 Elm St. | 207.725.8769 | msmt.org
Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum
9500 College Station | Hubbard Hall | 207.725.3416 | bowdoin.edu/arctic-museum
Pejepscot Historical Society
159 Park Row | 207.729.6606 | community.curtislibrary.com/pejepscot.htm
161 Park Row | 207.729.6606 | community.curtislibrary.com/pejepscot/skhse.htm
Back Street Bistro + Wine Bar
11 Town Hall Pl. | 207.725.4060 | backstreetbistro.net
Bangkok Garden Restaurant
14 Maine St. | 207.725.9708 | bangkokgardenrestaurant.com
Big Top Deli
70 Maine St. | 207.721.8900 | bigtopdeli.com
Bohemian Coffee House + Gelateria
4 Railroad Ave. | 207.725.9095 | bohemiancoffeehouse.com
99 Maine St. | 207.729.5260 | bombaymahal.net
Brunswick Farmers’ Market
The Mall | Tuesdays + Fridays (April-October), 8 a.m.–2 p.m. | brunswickfarmersmarket.com
Brunswick Winter Market
Fort Andross, 14 Main St. | Saturdays (November–April), 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m. | brunswickwintermarket.webs.com
44 Maine St. | 207.721.9800 | clementinemaine.com
Crystal Spring Farmers’ Market
Saturdays (April–October), 8:30 a.m–12:30 p.m. | 207.729.7694 | btlt.org/default.cfm?Pledge
15 Cushing St. | 207.725.8228
Fat Boy Drive-In
111 Bath Rd. | 207.729.9431
14 Maine St. | Fort Andross | 207.725.5222 | explorefrontier.com
The Gelato Fiasco
74 Maine St. | 207.607.4002 | gelatofiasco.com
182 Bath Rd. | 207.729.3388
The Great Impasta
42 Maine St. | 207.729.5858
Henry + Marty
61 Maine St. | 207.721.9141 | henryandmarty.com
Joshua’s Restaurant + Tavern
123 Maine St. | 207.725.7981 | joshuastavern.com
Lilee’s Public House
148 Maine St. | 207.729.9482 | lileespub.com
Little Dog Coffee Shop
87 Maine St. | 207.721.9500 | littledogcoffeeshop.com
72 Maine St. | 207.798.6888 | littletokyomaine.com
165 Maine St. | 207.751.1884 | lolastacos.com
Morning Glory Natural Foods
60 Maine St. | 207.729.0546 | moglonf.com
No. 10 Water
10 Water St. | 207.373.9299 | captaindanielstoneinn.com/dining.html
16 Station Ave., Ste. 101 | 207.721.0403 | scarletbegoniasmaine.com
Sea Dog Brewing Company
1 Bowdoin Mill Island | Topsham | 207.725.0162 | seadogbrewing.com
46 Maine St. | 207.373.0422
The Tavern at Brunswick Station*
4 Noble St. | 207.837.6565innatbrunswickstation.com
25 Mill St. | 207.721.0700 | trattoriaathena.com
Wild Oats Bakery + Cafe
Tontine Mall | 149 Maine St. | 207.725.6287 | wildoatsbakery.com
Wildflours Gluten-Free Market + Bakery
Androscoggin River Bicycle + Pedestrian Path
Office: Brunswick Parks + Recreation Department
30 Federal St. | 207.725.6656 | brunswickme.org
Androscoggin Brunswick-Topsham Riverwalk
Office: 2 Main St., Ste. 708 | Topsham | 207.837.6187 | androscogginriverwalk.org
Federal St. | 207.725.3396 | bowdoin.edu
Brunswick Town Commons
Route 123, Harpswell Rd. | 207.725.6659 | brunswickme.org/commons/index.html
Cathance River Nature Preserve, Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust
108 Maine St. | 207.729.7694 | btlt.org
Center Street Cycles
11 Center St. | 207.729.5309 | centerstreetcycles.com
Friends of Cox Pinnacle
PO Box 475 | community.curtis | library.com/pinnacle/index.htm
Hart Yoga *
25 Stanwood St., Ste. B | 207.729.9273 | hartyogame.com
Fort Andross | 14 Maine St., Ste. 314 | 207.725.7874 | jaiyogahome.com
The Rumpus Room
9 Cumberland St. | 207.729.0123 | rumpus-room.com
Thomas Point Beach
29 Meadow Rd. | 207.725.6009 | thomaspointbeach.com
58 Maine St. | 207.729.5500 | bayviewgallery.com
151 Maine St. | 207.725.1289 | bullmoose.com
Cool As A Moose
128 Maine St. | 207.373.9920 | coolasamoose.com
97 Maine St. | 207.729.2700
Gulf of Maine Books
134 Maine St. | 207.729.5083 | gulfofmainebooks.blogspot.com
Maine Running Co.
89 Maine St. | 207.721.9299 | mainerunning.com
100 Maine St. | 207.729.5599 | mainenest.com
Penobscot Bay Porch Swings*
4 Pleasant St. | 207.729.1616 | penobscotbayporchswings.com
56 Maine St. | 207.729.4050 | shiftofmaine.com
7 Lincoln St. | 207.725.8820 | spindleworks.org
T.P. Perkins + Co.*
53 Maine St. | 207.373.0300 | vintageperkins.com
Brunswick Executive Airport
4 Admiral Fitch Ave. | 207.798.6512 | mrra.us
165 Park Row | 207.729.4914 | thebrunswickinn.com
16 Station Ave., Ste. 103A | 207.729.0166 | brunswick-station.com
Captain Daniel Stone Inn + Riverstone Day Spa
10 Water St. | 877.373.2374 | captaindanielstone.com
Inn at Brunswick Station
4 Noble St. | 207.837.6565 | innatbrunswickstation.com
Middle Bay Farm Bed + Breakfast
287 Pennellville Rd. | 207.373.1375 | middlebayfarm.com
Parkwood Inn Magnuson Grand
71 Gurnet Rd. | 800.349.7181 | parkwoodinn.com
Pura Vida Day Spa
138 Maine St. | 207.725.1233 | puravida-dayspa.com
*not mentioned in the article