My wife and I recently took a short road trip through parts of Maine. Maine attracts visitors, mostly to the southern part of the coast and mostly in summer. The northern coast, northeast of Acadia National Park, attracts fewer visitors and is much less populated; this is the coastline of Down East Maine. In winter the roads are mostly empty, the coast is windy and solitude is available almost everywhere.
Maine can boast about money along its southern coast. We might call it the natural habitat of the “one percenters.” The Bushes have a large compound at Kennebunkport. Other prominent American families have properties in Bar Harbor and elsewhere on Mt. Desert Island (home of Acadia National Park). Henry Ford visited the area. The Rockerfellers, Vanderbilts, Morgans and Asters, now along with Martha Stewart, all had or have family properties there. Besides beautiful, the Maine coast is cool in summer, remote and private. The dense forests keep prying eyes away.
The southern Maine coast hosts several coastal parks, local, state and federal, and it is the home of LL Bean and related businesses, many of which moved near LL Bean in Freeport for access to its customers.
Wealth peters out fast as one travels up the coast from Acadia and as one goes inland. In 2014, Maine’s median household income was 96% of the U.S. median, but if the income of the southwestern coastal area were excluded, the median for the remaining parts of the state would be much less.
Maine has vast forests, and they did support a robust pulp and paper industry, but that industry is no longer a center of growth in Maine or in the U.S. generally. Forest products are still important, but they don’t promise a bright future. Fishing is important along the coast, but it doesn’t drive as much economic well-being as do summer people in the southern coast. Farther north is Aroostook County and the potato farms of Maine. Again, however, potatoes don’t drive much economic development. As we drove through Down East Maine, we found plenty of abandoned properties and collapsing houses and barns, all signaling broken dreams and lives. Surprisingly, we saw properties right on the coast that were abandoned, which is something we didn’t remember seeing anywhere else in the U.S.
The people we met were friendly and seemingly content, though we met people who provided retail services—waitresses, store clerks, park officials, motel workers—whose jobs require friendly service to strangers. Our interpretation was that they lived a less frenetic life than is often found in regions with dense populations and higher economic growth. They acted settled and relaxed, probably knowing their region was not on the cusp of rapid growth or change.
What follows are a few photographs of our Down East Maine road trip. Click on the first photo to enter a gallery that you can scroll through.