Monday, November 22, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 86: Camden, Maine

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 86:  Camden, Maine
October 2, 2010

            Called the ‘Jewel of the Maine Coast’ Camden is simply spectacular.  It has pretty much everything a person could want in a small town.  There is the ocean, mountains only a short distance from the shore, and the amazing Elm Street portion of Rt. 1 which is filled with small shops and restaurants.  Despite doing my research before hitting Camden I was still blown away by what I saw.
Laite Memorial Beach
            Camden is a popular summer destination for visitors similar to Nantucket.  I first decided to head to the beach and I chose a spot with an amazing view, Laite Beach.  What makes this spot special is the fact that it is a sandy beach; these are not all that common along Maine’s rocky coast.  The view is amazing from the parking area as it is a good thirty feet above the beach.  I had hoped to be able to catch a view of Curtis Island Lighthouse but unfortunately from Laite Beach it is impossible to see since it resides on the other side of the small island and is obscured by trees.      
            Curtis Island is to the right as you stand at Laite Beach while to the left is an incredible view of the homes along the water on Wayfarer Drive along with the Camden Hills which loom over the entire town.  Seeing them reminded me of what was to come later in my trip.
Camden Opera House
            After leaving the beautiful beach I ventured down to Elm Street, the main drag of Camden.  I parked in a lot alongside the Post Office which was very close to a spot I wanted to check out.  The Camden Opera House is something unexpected in a small, summer tourist town.  It is the sort of place more likely to be found in a place like Boston or New York City.
            When it was built in 1894 this brick building was the tallest in Knox County.  I found that surprising considering that it is only three stories tall.  On opening night, June 6, 1894 the Camden Opera House featured a performance of William Vincent Wallace’s Maritana by the Boston Opera Company.
            As I had seen in other towns like Brockton, and Newport and Manchester, New Hampshire there were some really nice hundred-plus year old brick buildings known as ‘blocks.’  The stretch of Elm Street where I parked and walked was quintessential small town U.S.A.  Even on a Thursday in early-October the streets were packed with cars and people.  I believe that most folks that visit Camden will partake in this amazing stretch of shops and restaurants but I must recommend it anyway.
Norumbega Inn
            A short drive up the road from Elm Street is the Norumbega Inn, known as Maine’s ‘Castle by the Sea.’  It is named for an alleged wondrous 16th century city which resided on the banks of the Penobscot River.  The stories of this city were supposedly told by European explorers after they returned home.  The castle itself was built in 1886 for Joseph Sterns who used money he had amassed by inventing a duplex telegraphy system in the 1860’s.  The design was the brainchild of famed New York City architect Arthur Bates Jennings.  The home became a Bed & Breakfast in 1984.
            It is hard to miss this lavish mansion as it sits down a very slight hill from the High Street section of Rt. 1.  I parked in a little gravel area and was able to take a nice walk on the grounds.  Behind a few bushes I found a really nice engraving of the word Norumbega intertwined with vines and surrounded on one side by ‘18’ and the other by ’86.’  The building is an incredible piece of 19th century architecture and the grounds are wide open.  With many rooms facing the nearby Sherman Cove it is a hugely popular place to stay for visitors.
View of Camden from Mt. Battie
            My final stop during my time in Camden was one I will not soon forget.  The 5,700 acre Camden Hills State Park is only a mile away from Norumbega on the Belfast Road stretch of Rt. 1 and it is simply spectacular.  The only way to truly appreciate what Camden Hills is all about is to take a drive, or hike if you’re daring, up Mount Battie.  There is an auto road that winds its way up to the summit and that is the way I chose to go.
            Mt. Battie is a small mountain, standing only 780 feet tall; the neighboring Mount Megunticook is the tallest mainland mountain on the Atlantic coast standing 1,385 feet tall.  The relatively small size of Mt. Battie meant that I was still able to clearly make out homes and buildings in the surrounding area below; this made for a series of amazing photos.
            The panoramic view at the summit allowed me to see from Owl’s Head to the south all the way up to Acadia National Park to the north.  From here I was also finally able to catch a glimpse of the elusive Curtis Island Lighthouse which I had failed to see at Laite Beach.  I was astounded by how many people were cluttered around the summit taking photos, there were more arriving every second. 
World War I memorial tower atop Mt. Battie
            Another surprise for me at the top of Mt. Battie was a stone tower which looks like Scargo Tower in Dennis; it is a World War I memorial and holds the best views this side of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia.  I was in awe of the view I got of Camden from the top of the tower.  It was something out of a painting.  I did not want to move or even breathe for fear of losing the moment.
            I spent a good part of my day walking back and forth from point to point checking out every square inch of scenery, making sure that I would always remember it.  Mt. Battie is only a small part of the enormous Camden Hills State Park but for me that small part made the biggest impression.  I cannot stress enough how incredible the views are from Mt. Battie, get there early and spend some time enjoying all of it.  Then after you can catch lunch and do a little shopping on Elm Street and if an overnight stay is needed you can rest your head at the Norumbega Inn.  Have fun and happy traveling!

For a short video featuring the amazing Camden Hills State Park click here:  You Tube – Mt. Battie

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DirectionsCamden Hills State Park:  From the south or north take Rt. 1, at this point called Belfast Road, into Camden.  Follow signs for the park which is #280.  There is another parking lot directly across the street from the entrance.
            Norumbega Inn:  From the south or north take Rt. 1, at this point called High Street, into Camden.  Inn is #63
            Laite Memorial Beach:  From the south or north take Rt. 1 into Camden.  Once on the Elm Street stretch of Rt. 1 turn south onto Bayview Street.  Beach entrance is ½ mile down on left.


1 comment:

Jenka said...

I really liked your blog about Camden, I can see that you actually enjoyed the city and explored its beauty. Just one little thing, next time you come to Camden, on Bayview St., where Laite Beach is at, drive a little bit further you'll see a sharp left with 2 little spots to park your car, get off the car and cross the road there's a Curtis Island Overlook. The view is great.