When the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) made its move from the small town of Rockport to a bright and shiny new facility in nearby downtown Rockland, the once gritty fishing town found itself to be the new hub of MidCoast Maine’s growing art scene, unseating Portland for the title of the “Arts Capital of Maine.” Making it even more of a we-should-go-there destination, downtown Rockland is also home to the venerable Farnsworth Art Museum, considered to be one of the finest small museums in the country; the restored historic Strand Theatre; over two dozen commercial art galleries; numerous specialty shops; and a flourishing culinary scene.
|Rockland Ferry Terminal|
Rockland is situated alongside Penobscot Bay putting it in the only region of the East Coast where the coastal mountains meet the sea. Known for its scenic beauty and dotted with a wealth of islands and small harbors, Penobscot Bay is roughly 40 miles long by 30 miles wide. Three of the major islands - Vinalhaven, North Haven and Matinicus - can be reached via the Maine State Ferry Service which departs regularly from the Rockland Ferry Terminal
With its deep, protected harbor, Rockland was once a major shipbuilding port as well as a center for granite quarrying, lime kilns, commercial fishing and lobstering. The town became a popular seaside tourist destination in the early 1900s for those arriving via train or boat but tourism began tapering off following the devastating effects of the Great Depression and he advent of the automobile as a more popular means of travel. A resurgence in tourism began in the early 1990s following the transformation of Rockland’s downtown area but one of the most popular reasons visitors flock to the area comes in the form of a red-shelled crustacean that tastes best with drawn butter!
Rockland was proclaimed "The Lobster Capital of the World" not just due to the fact that more lobsters were shipped by rail from Rockland than from any other city in the country in the 1920s but because the lobster roll was invented at Sim's Lunch on Park Street in 1927. It only makes sense then that the annual Maine Lobster Festival
which began in nearby Camden in 1947, was moved to Rockland in 1948. Celebrating 70+ years, the festival draws thousands of visitors from all over the world to the Rockland Public Landing
to enjoy fresh-caught local lobster dinners, nationally-renowned entertainers, cooking contests, carnival rides and Maine craftsmen during the first weekend in August.
Of course if you don't wait to wait until August to enjoy some lobster, there are numerous places in town where you can sit down and feast on the sweet, tender meat served in a variety of ways but more on that later!
So, you may ask, what's there to do in Rockland to help build up an appetite to eat lobster? Lots!
Officially opening in August of 1948 in the former general store of William A. Farnsworth, the Farnsworth Art Museum has over 20,000 square feet of gallery space to showcase the 15,000 works in its collection. When Farnsworth’s daughter Lucy died, she left her entire estate to Rockland to establish a library and museum in memory of her father. Focusing on the art of Maine, the museum's collection includes art of local artists and summer artists from the islands: Fitz Hugh Lane, Robert Henri, John Sloan, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, Robert Indiana, and, of course, the Wyeths: N.C., Andrew, and Jamie. In addition to the Wyeth Center, which boasts one of the nation’s largest collections of art by the three generations of the Wyeth family, the museum is the steward of the Olson House, a late 19th-century saltwater farm and National Historic Landmark in nearby Cushing. The house was the inspiration for over 300 works by Andrew Wyeth, including his 1948 painting Christina’s World.
|LOVE, Blue Outside Red Inside by Robert Indiana, 1996|
|Sea Running by Andrew Wyeth, 1978|
|Waveform, Johanna Moore and Tim Finefrock, 2018|
|The Olson House in Cushing, about 14 miles from the museum|
|The Wyeth Center located behind the Farnsworth Museum|
Originally established as an artists’ cooperative in Rockport known as Maine Coast Artists, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art was founded in 1952 with a year-round program of changing exhibitions featuring the work of artists with ties to Maine. Moving to downtown Rockland in 2016, CMCA has become a vibrant part of the community offering exhibitions, educational programs and professional development workshops. CMCA is a participant in Rockland’s “First Friday Art Walks” offering free admission throughout the day. The art walks are a collaborative effort between multiple organizations including the Farnsworth, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, the Strand Theater, multiple independent art galleries and the downtown group Rockland Main Street, Inc.
|Hubris Atë Nemesis, Wade Kavamaugh + Stephen B. Nguyen, 2018. Former exhibition.|
|Hoax, Heroic: Egocentric Magics Creepin’ On Your Socials in Blue (Frozen Networks) |
or How a Place Thinks about Another Place, Justin Levesque, 2019. Former exhibition.
|Coal Landscape, Five Panel Mural Installation, Shoshannah White, 2019. Former exhibition.|
Not an art museum but certainly a museum worth visiting if you’re a lighthouse enthusiast like so many of us in New England are happy to be called, the Maine Lighthouse Museum was founded by Ken Black - aka “Mr. Lighthouse” - a decorated Coast Guard Officer and, later, one of the leading lighthouse preservationists in the country. The museum exhibits the largest collection of Coast Guard and lighthouse artifacts in the country including a spectacular, one-of-a-kind assemblage of radiating lighthouse lenses.
|Oversized map of the lighthouses of Maine includes a photo of each lighthouse.|
|2nd Order Fixed Flashing Fresnel Lens, installed in the Petit Manan Lighthouse in 1855 |
and removed when automated in 1972.
|An assortment of fixed and flashing lenses|
Riddle me this: What do you get when you combine an eclectic lifetime collection of marine artifacts, boats, engines, and sails then add interesting and historical pieces from other collections? The Sail, Power and Steam Museum
A "must-see" for sailors or anyone who has an interest in the seafaring history of New England, visitors can take a self-guided tour of the museum, narrated by founder Captain Jim Sharp, through the museum's extensive collection of early engines, tools, ship models, a working kiln and so much more! If by chance Captain Sharp is on the property, he'll be more than happy to answer any questions!
There are lots of lighthouse in the MidCoast Maine area but one of the coolest is the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse
which sits almost a mile out in Rockland Harbor. From 1881 to 1899 the federal government built the breakwater in order to keep Rockland Harbor - the fourth busiest port along the East Coast at the turn of the 20th century - safe from nor'easters. Upon completion of the breakwater, construction began on a lighthouse in order to keep ships from running into the breakwater.
The lighthouse with its 25-foot tower was completed in 1902 and originally lit with a Fourth Order Fresnel Lens. Automated in 1965 and still an active aid to navigation maintained by the US Coast Guard, the original lens has been replaced by a modern optic. The Friends of Rockland Harbor Lights, a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF)
, care for the preservation of the lighthouse through a lease agreement between the City of Rockland and ALF.
If you're up for it, I highly recommend a walk out to the lighthouse if the weather is good. Just remember to wear a good pair of shoes and use caution while being sure to keep an eye on your feet as there are gaps between the blocks and some are uneven. Out on the breakwater is NOT the place you want to twist an ankle or worse!
Back on the mainland, a sweet place to visit is Bixby & Co.
- Maine's first bean to bar factory. Located on Rockland's working waterfront in a 125-year old former ice plant, this craft chocolate confectionery company produces non-gmo, organic, gluten-free and vegan chocolate candy products using chocolate that's made directly from traded cacao beans. As of this writing, Bixby & Co. is currently operating as curbside only due to Covid restrictions, so visitors don't get the chance to see the chocolate making process or try out some free samples, but orders can be placed on-line and they'll email you when your chocolate is ready for contactless pickup outside.
A historic performing arts venue on Main Street in downtown Rockland, The Strand
was built in 1923 in the wake of a fire on June 16, 1922 that destroyed four entire business blocks of the downtown. A rare example of Egyptian Revival architecture, it is the only one of three theaters built in Rockland in that period to survive.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Strand Theatre is a multi-use venue offering the best of current first-run and independent films, live musical concerts and comedy, simulcasts, educational programs, conferences, and other special events on their stage and screen. It also has an awesome concession stand!
In the mood for a little shopping? Downtown Rockland has an array of stores to browse through so that you can bring something special home from your vacation.
is the retail component of the Island Institute
, Rockland's 38-year-old nonprofit organization that works to sustain Maine’s island and coastal communities. The store showcases Maine artists and craftspeople whose work reflects the beauty and endurance of Maine's islands and coast. Since opening in 2000, Archipelago has advanced the careers of more than 1,500 Maine residents through their store exhibits and gallery - both online and in person.
The photos below show a a few of the wonderful array of gifts that you can buy for yourself, your family and your friends from downtown Rockland's many eclectic shops and art galleries. There's a lot more where this came from as you'll see when you visit for yourself!
Okay, then who's hungry? Running the gamut from hot dogs to sushi, downtown Rockland has more options for dining than you might believe for a town with a population of less than 8,000. Along with plenty of traditional boiled and fried seafood, you can also find artisanal farm-to-table cooking, gastropub fare, handmade pasta and lots more. Included here are just a few of Rockland’s edible offerings - trust me, there are lots more!
Located on the northern end of Main Street, Wasses
is a local landmark that's a must-do in Rockland if you're a fan of the simple hot dog. The prices are very reasonable but keep in mind, they're a cash-only operation so you'll need to have some folding money on you!
Further north of downtown along Main Street aka Route One which originates in Key West, Florida and follows the coastline all the way into Canada, is a quintessential-looking roadside seafood shack called Claws
. Decked out in kitchy nautical décor and offering a panoramic view of the working Rockland waterfront from their casual outdoor seating area, Claws serves only the freshest seafood available sourced from the area's local fishermen.
|Fried scallops and shrimp baskets ready for take-out from Claws. |
Back in the downtown area, you'll find the Rockland Cafe
which has been owned and operated by Wayne and Carlene Steeves since 1992. Boasting the "Best You'll Ever Eat" Seafood Chowder, the café menu is filled with some of Maine’s classic entrees and offers guests the quintessential Maine diner experience.
For really awesome sushi and Japanese rice and noodle dishes, be sure to visit Suzuki's Sushi Bar
. The restaurant is tiny but the flavors are huge! Due to Covid, as of this writing they are currently only offering take-out.
If you're craving Italian then be sure to visit Ada's Kitchen
where they also have some pretty cool artwork like the whale sculpture above! The menu is all about homey classic Italian dishes and though you can chose from a variety of delicious thin-crust pizzas, you're really going to want to try the fresh pasta! At the bar in the lounge beneath a mirrored disco ball, they have on-tap prosecco, Campari spritzes, negronis and a lineup of Maine craft beers. For the late-night crowd, Ada's hosts frequent live music and monthly dance parties that are deejayed by Siddharta Rumma - Ada's very talented chef!
|Squid Ink Pasta with Shrimp and Speck. Delicious! |The Brass Compass Café
is owned and operated by Lynn Archer who beat chef Bobby Flay in September of 2009 with her "King of Clubs" triple-decker lobster sandwich. Made simply with fresh Maine lobster, crisp slab bacon, lettuce and tomato on thick slabs of toasted white bread, this ginormous sandwich is definitely more than enough for two to share! I had my half with a side of delicious potato salad and could definitely taste why this sandwich threw Bobby Flay down! The café is only open from 7 am to 2 pm Wednesday through Sunday so come early and come hungry as there are lots of great choices on the menu for both breakfast and lunch.
For a meal with a view of Rockland Harbor, Archer's on the Pier
is owned and operated by the same Lynn Archer of The Brass Compass Café. Here you can dine on some of the freshest seafood in town taken straight from the very waters that you're looking at! An added bonus is if you missed the "King of Clubs" at the café, you can also get it here!
|Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail and Bacon-Wrapped Diver Sea Scallops|
|The star of a Boiled Lobster Dinner fresh from the "Lobster Capital of the World!" |
|Lobster Roll on a toasted bun with hand-cut fries and coleslaw|
Finally, to finish things off, how about enjoying a beer flight or pint or two at the Rock Harbor Brewing Co.
? They have 16 craft beers on tap with generally 5-7 on them brewed in-house. If beer isn't your thing, they also have a selection of wines and make a mean margarita! The perfect way to end your perfect trip to Rockland! Cheers!
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