How Maine became Vacationland
The story was originally published in August.
Eleanor Roosevelt went on a history-making road trip in the summer of 1933. Franklin had only been president for four months when the first lady set out for Quebec in her car.
The 49-year-old Eleanor, initially awkward in the White House, had cut a deal with the Secret Service before escaping. She wouldn’t have to travel with an armed auto escort if she had a revolver in her handbag. Mrs. Roosevelt took shooting lessons while behind the wheel and kept a low profile.
The pair encountered dense fog on U.S. Route 2 south of Houlton after visiting the family cottage in Campobello. They were on their way to the theater to see a play. Unable to travel another mile, the women pulled into the Ellis Farm tourist court, where they spent the night like ordinary people.
Vacationland, a nickname that first appeared on license plates in 1936, is one of the many weird vacation stories that have come from Maine.
Essays written by E.B. White about Vacationland were published. The classic 10,000-mile chronicle, “Travels with Charley: In Search of America” was written in 1960 by John Steinbeck. When he became lost while searching for a friend’s home, Steinbeck took a police escort and arrived in Deer Isle with a standard poodle by his side.
He was told not to ask a Maine native for directions. He asked why ever not. We laugh at it because we think it is funny to misdirect people and we don’t smile when we do it. Our nature is our nature.
In the 16th and 17th century, explorers with foreign names such as Estevan Gomez and Samuel de Champlain explored our coastline and sailed up the Penobscot River to Bangor. They may have been too busy to fully enjoy the experience.
Maine, a state since 1820, became a place worth visiting during the 19th century. The beautiful and mysterious land that bordered two Canadian provinces and only one other state that had islands nobody had ever visited, was almost as large as the other five New England states combined, was promoted by entrepreneurs.
After the Civil War, tourism in Maine boomed, according to the author. steamboats were faster and rail lines were improved in the late 19th century. That drew people from all over the nation.
There was an era of expansion along the Maine coast. In 1982, he helped produce a video titled, “A Century of Summer”, which chronicles the mix of seasonal and full-time residents in his hometown of Hancock Point. A lot of people married each other.
The ancestors of future Maine governor, John R. McKernan, owned cottages here. It was a bustling place where millionaires and common folk passed through Mount Desert Ferry, a nearby steamboat hub that provided access to Bar Harbor, which lacked railway access to the mainland.
As he hung out in the engine room, Henry Ford scored points with the steamboat crew, while fellow millionaire and Mount Desert Island resident John D. Rockefeller sat stone-faced in first class, a sure way to rub rock-ribbed Yankees the wrong.
Summer rusticators built seaside cottages at The Point, Blue Hill, Bar Harbor, and Northport. The best way to make friends in Maine was not to flaunt one’s wealth, which is why many still stand as reminders.
Visitors from Boston and New York began to visit the hotels in Rockland and Poland Spring. Many people spent the summer playing golf and taking the air.
In 1940, Jim Harnedy traveled from his home in Massachusetts to Capen’s family farm and sporting camps on Deer Island.
Harnedy wrote in “Forgotten Tales of Down East Maine” that he went to Maine’s great north woods region for a two-day trek. The first part of the trip took us from Brookline to Augusta in about six hours. It was more than 150 miles from Augusta to the end of the road.
Kittery and Portland were linked in the first section of the Maine Turnpike. The highway to Augusta was extended in the mid-1950s by the Turnpike Authority. I-95 would go north.
By that time, Maine had two national parks, a growing network of mountain and seaside trails, and a twin gem, the Baxter State Park. State-operated picnic areas have disappeared from the landscape.
Travelers could visit the midcoast meccas of Wiscasset, Boothbay Harbor and Rockland as well as the Casco Bay islands, which have a seasonal Quebecois population. Joseph Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald were married in 1914.
In the 1998 book, “The Great Seal Pier: An Illustrated History of the Old Orchard Beach Pier”, Peter Dow Bachelder wrote about couples dancing to the music of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey on the beach.
Families wouldn’t spend the entire summer in one big hotel as their ancestors did in simpler times. There are cruise ships to board, time-share units to visit, and a lot of social media.
The Pine Tree State is stillVacationland. Governor Janet Mills inspired a new sign at the Kittery border. White water rafting at The Forks is one of the things that the Maine Tourism Association tries to get visitors to do. The legacy of George and Barbara Bush is always inspiring visitors to visit.
For generations to come, this is still “The Way Life Should Be.”
The story was published in Bangor Metro. You can subscribe to the magazine here.
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Leave them there, if you care.