Boothbay Harbor is what many people imagine when they think of a Maine coastal town. Yes, there are plenty of rugged wooden wharves and working lobsterboats, but these days the harbor also sees its share of million-dollar luxury yachts. The shore is lined with big houses and hotels, many with expansive porches sporting colorful Adirondack chairs. It seems that every room in town has a harbor view. On higher ground, just a block inland, rows of shingled and whitewashed buildings house gift shops, restaurants and galleries. It wasn’t always so.
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Until the mid-1900s, Boothbay was a fishing town. Large sardine factories succeeded the codfish-drying racks that once covered the shoreline. If the men weren’t catching fish, they were building ships to carry the catch from the fishing grounds or out to markets in Boston and New York. (To read an interesting article on the Boothbay Region and its history, go to this article from DownEast.com.)
Yet Boothbay’s natural beauty was undeniable even in its fishing days. In the early 1900s, wealthy urban “rusticators” from “away” steamed into the harbor. A few grand hotels sprouted along the shore, and the summer population blossomed. When the fisheries failed, tourism hung on to became dominant industry, and so it remains.
While harbor today is packed with shops and restaurants, there’s more to see away from the waterfront. The town provides free trolley service to attractions such as Boothbay Railway Museum or the Maine Department of Marine Resources Aquarium at McKown Point. Three nearby rivers—the Kennebec, Sheepscot and Damariscotta—provide cruising, fishing and kayaking grounds in even the foggiest weather.
Perhaps the most popular activity in Boothbay Harbor is soaking in the area’s natural beauty. The combination of rocky coastline, rolling hills topped with towering spruce and pine, and clear, clean air that lends a special glow to the evening light makes Boothbay Harbor a heavenly spot for an evening boat drink on deck or at one of the town’s waterfront bars.