The gateway to Mount Desert Island and one of the last major towns on the way to Lubec, Ellsworth can hold its own with any other spot along Maine’s mid-coast. Originally inhabited by the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes of Native Americans the small town is now a popular tourist destination busy during spring and summer. The area where the town of Ellsworth lies now was once a disputed area between the French and English during the 17th and early 18th century; the period of time which encompassed the French and Indian Wars.
I stopped to have lunch at the Ellsworth Waterford Park and Marina on Washington Street. The small marina is located on the Union River and is perfect for having a scenic lunch such as I did, or for launching your boats. There were many smaller boats floating and drifting in the calm waters which made for a beautiful sight, they dotted the river all the way up toward where West Main Street crosses over the water. The best view of the Union River came by walking out onto a dock where several rowboats were huddled in the corner of the T-shaped wooden dock.
|City Hall with the Seal of Maine at the top.| In order to explore Ellsworth’s Main Street I decided to park my car at City Hall Plaza and take a walk. The City Hall though was something to be seen. A large brick building built in 1935 it sits on a grassy knoll overlooking Main Street. There is an amazing golden sculpture near the crest of the roof of the Seal of Maine. It consists of a sailor with an anchor and a farmer with a scythe standing on either side of a moose kneeling beneath a pine tree. The Latin word ‘dirigo’ is above them which means ‘I lead.’ The reason for this is that at one time Maine was the only state to hold its elections in September. The reason why City Hall is such a recently built spot in comparison to most towns I visit is because the original and 130 other homes and buildings were destroyed in the Great Ellsworth Fire on May 7, 1933. Sadly the fires were the work of an arsonist named Norman Moore, a mentally unstable dishwasher, who was later apprehended and punished appropriately. Folks from as far away as Bangor had to be called in to help put out the many blazes and in another bit of sad irony the banks had been closed due to the Great Depression a few weeks earlier. This meant that people had to borrow money from friends and family on good faith to attempt to rebuild.
|The Grand Theatre under repair.|
To the left of City Hall on State Street sits the Ellsworth Historical Society building. This was once home to the old Hancock County Jail and Sheriff’s House. Built in 1886 it is unassuming from the front as it is in a bit of disrepair, but from the side you can see where the brick building ends and the old wooden jail begins. Not coincidentally this old jail sits next to the Hancock County Courthouse which sits imposingly on another knoll. This building was erected in 1838 and after learning of the Great Ellsworth Fire I was more impressed that it was in great condition and is still in use.
Continuing on the stretch of State Street nearest City Hall there is the historic First Congregational Church. One of the most photographed churches in all of Maine this amazing spot was built in 1847 with the church being organized in 1812. There is a really unique view of this church from the side lawn of City Hall as the white steeple stretches up above the perfectly set row of arborvitae trees. I took several photos of the white church steeple sitting seemingly right next to the rounded dome of City Hall, it is a great scene.
|The steeple of the First Congregational Church poking up behind City Hall.|Out on Main Street there is another institution which got its start out of the ashes of the Great Ellsworth Fire. The Grand Theatre opened in 1938 with Opening Night showcasing the film Holiday starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. With the advent of television The Grand took to having semipro boxing matches among other things to stave off closing. Now there is some sort of entertainment going on at The Grand over 330 days a year. While I was in Ellsworth the seventy-plus year old theatre was undergoing some minor façade work thanks to local donations. Even in that state there was a feel to the place like a time warp a simpler America.
Even though a fire wiped out much of the history of Ellsworth in 1933 there still is that same feeling of a simpler time like what I felt standing before The Grand Theatre. It maybe a gateway to many other places in Downeast Maine but I enjoyed exploring this beautiful small town. There are many spots along the Union River to see and other areas to swim at like the immense Graham Lake to the north. A walk along Main Street after checking out City Hall will truly give you a feel for what Ellsworth is all about. After that you will definitely think of it as more than just a gateway to other places. Have fun and happy traveling!
Directions: Ellsworth Waterford Park and Marina: Take Rt. 1 into Ellsworth heading east. After crossing over Union River take 1st right onto Water St. Follow it .5 miles and turn right.
City Hall: Take Rt. 1 into Ellsworth heading east. After crossing over Union River take 1st left onto State St., 1st right into City Hall Plaza. Old Hancock Jail, Courthouse, and Congregational Church are all visible from parking lot. Grand Theatre is straight out onto Main St.