Saturday, December 4, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 88: Gardiner, Maine

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 88:  Gardiner, Maine
October 3, 2010

            A beautifully classic small town, Gardiner is rich in history that spans across New England.  This is due to the man for whom the town is named, the 16th century physician and land developer of Maine Dr. Silvester Gardiner.  Born in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, Dr. Gardiner studied medicine in New York City before opening a practice in Boston.  He made his fortune importing drugs for distribution and sale.  Dr. Gardiner also heavily promoted inoculation in regards to small pox; he also established a hospital for the treatment of small pox in 1761.  The good doctor founded what is currently Gardiner under the name Gardinerstown Plantation in 1754.
E.A. Robinson House
            I headed into Gardiner on a Sunday morning which ended up being a perfect time.  With much of the small town’s inhabitants at church the roads were virtually deserted and I was allowed to take my time as I drove through to enjoy the beautiful sun, scenery, and foliage.  The route I took through the town was dictated by a series of historic homes located all over.
            The first such home I stopped at was the home of American poet and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Edwin Arlington Robinson.  His family had wanted a girl when he was born and thus Robinson was not named until he was six months old.  His middle name comes from the fact that a man from Arlington, Massachusetts was asked to draw the baby’s first name from a hat.  I found this to be fascinating and a little bit sad.  Robinson’s poetry was so beloved by Kermit Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, that the President secured him a job at the New York Customs Office which he held during Roosevelt’s tenure in office.
Christ Episcopal Church
The home, on Lincoln Avenue, is set back a bit from the road and slightly elevated.  It was an impressive sight with the yard filled with downed leaves, a classic autumn scene.  I enjoyed the fact that these historic homes sit rather unsuspecting in normal rural neighborhoods.  The same can be said for the home of another poet and Pulitzer Prize winner, Laura E. Richards, located on Dennis Street.  Her best known work is a children’s poem entitled ‘Eletelephony’ which needs to be read to be appreciated.  Ironically the sign on the white picket fence in front of the home labels it as the ‘Yellow House,’ built in 1814.  While the house is indeed that very color I thought maybe there would have been a sign alerting passers-by that a famous poet had lived there.  Or, perhaps there was and I simply missed it?
The town common in Gardiner was actually the place where I found much of the town’s people.  Bordered by Dresden Avenue and School Street the common is a beautiful spot matching the rest of the town.  In the northeast corner of the common is a really nice marble drinking fountain.  Inscribed on the front is a message alerting you that the fountain was erected by Ellen Stinson in 1906.  Who is Ellen Stinson?  I am not sure but for the fact that she is the wife of someone important to Gardiner since the inscription says ‘Erected by his wife,’ on it.  I have been researching to find out who the Mr. Stinson is but to no avail yet.
Gardiner Public Library c. 1881
Directly across the street from this mysterious drinking fountain is the Christ Episcopal Church which is the oldest continuously running Episcopal Church in Maine.  It was originally known as St. Ann’s when it was built in 1771.  The name was changed to Christ Church in 1820 and the steeple’s bell was cast by famous American patriot Paul Revere.  When I arrived at the common and saw the church in the distance it had a remarkable presence that told me it was important to Gardiner’s history.  
Before the people exited church I headed down to Water Street, the main street of Gardiner.  It was basically barren of traffic which allowed me to get a lot of great photos of the shops, foliage, and wide shots of the empty street.  I parked across from the Gardiner Public Library which had several impressive views.  The front of the brick building, built in 1881, was a beautiful color and was bordered on the left by a tree with bright yellow leaves.
There is an iron gate to the left which houses the Peg Shaw Memorial Garden.  Although my visit coincided with the time when the leaves had fallen and flowers were no longer in peak bloom it was still a nice setup.  The back edge of the garden is a small side building of the library that acts as a wall.  There is a nice armillary sphere to the left of the door of the small building, it has been quite weathered but that adds to its charm.
Gardiner's beautiful Water Street
I walked north on Water Street from there and saw more of the ‘Blocks’ which I have described in my Brockton and Manchester articles for example.  They are the hundred year old buildings with the rectangular granite squares near the top containing a name, most likely of the person responsible for paying for it.  There were a mass of pumpkins for sale in front of Reny’s Department Store; this combined with the pots of colorful flowers in front of most stores made a walk on the brick sidewalks of Water Street a slice of heaven.
I finished up with a walk down where the waterfront along the Kennebec River is being restored to attract locals and visitors alike down to the area.  There are some railroad tracks and the Kennebec River Rail Trail which run along the river.  The bike path is probably the better suggestion for seeing the sites of the town and neighboring Farmingdale.  Underneath the bridge which crosses the Kennebec there is some adorable art from local schools, this will no doubt make you smile.
Gardiner in the fall is everything that you could want in a classic small Maine town.  From being able to drive through all of the quaint neighborhoods searching for historic homes to walking the Gardiner common, to exploring the shops and restaurants on Water Street, there will be a fun day in store for any visitor who comes here.  Definitely make Gardiner a stop during your time in Maine.  Have fun and happy traveling!

     My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available at,, and, soon to be in stores everywhere!  Follow me on Twitter!

DirectionsGardiner Town Common:  From I-95 take Exit 102, turn left at Rt. 126, take a slight left at Central Street, slight left at Water Street.  Take a sharp right at Church Street, take 3rd left onto Dresden Avenue, the common will be on the left.
            Kennebec River Rail Trail:  From I-95 take Exit 102, turn left at Rt. 126, take a slight left at Central Street, slight left at Water Street.  Turn left at Bridge Street, turn right at Maine Avenue, parking lot for bike path is on right at Hannaford’s.
            Public Library/Peg Shaw Garden:  From I-95 take Exit 102, turn left at Rt. 126, take a slight left at Central Street, slight left at Water Street.  Follow Water Street, library and garden are on right, #155.

            Kennebec Historical Society

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