BikeMaine 2015 begins and ends in Kittery, Maine’s gateway town. Kittery was incorporated in 1647, making it the oldest incorporated town in Maine. Fort Foster, located on Gerrish Island at the end of Pocahontas Road, was a fortress manned during World War II to guard the mouth of the Piscataqua River. With its amazing views of the ocean and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Fort Foster is now a public recreation and beach facility. Riders will set their tents here and be welcomed to BikeMaine with a traditional Maine lobster bake, festive music by Seagrass, and an entertaining evening orientation hosted by Michael Miclon.
Today downtown Kittery, sometimes known as Kittery Foreside, has become a gathering place for artists, specialty shops, and fine dining. The Kittery Outlets, located along the Route 1 corridor, provide a variety of shopping experiences. Either upon arriving in Kittery or after completing BikeMaine, make it a point to explore downtown Kittery. There truly is something for everyone.
Day 1: Kittery to Old Orchard Beach
Distance: 61 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,389 feet
We roll out of Fort Foster and make our way from Kittery Point along scenic Route 103 past Fort McClary, a Revolutionary War fort built in 1690 and now a state park. Along the road are dozens of homes dating back to colonial days, including the historic Lady Pepperrell House, built in the 1760s by skilled English carpenters for the widow of Sir William Pepperell.
Along with the beautiful homes and gardens, there are remnants of the fishing, shipbuilding, and other marine-related industries that were once the center of Kittery’s economy.
The ride takes us along the Piscataqua River, named by the Abenaki people. The word “piscataqua” is thought to be a combination of peske (branch) and tegwe (a river with a strong current, possibly tidal). The 12 mile long Piscataqua is formed by the confluence of the Salmon Falls and Cocheco rivers and marks a section of the border between Maine and New Hampshire. The Piscataqua River flows into Portsmouth Harbor and surrounds Seavey Island, home to the 200-year-old Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. For decades, the ownership of Seavey Island was disputed by New Hampshire and Maine. The issue was resolved in 2002, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state border was at the center of the Piscataqua’s navigable channel, establishing Maine’s ownership of the island.
Route 103 in Kittery becomes part of the Eastern Trail, a 65-mile transportation-recreation greenway connecting Kittery, in southernmost Maine, to Casco Bay in South Portland. The Eastern Trail is a part of the East Coast Greenway, a developing 2,900-mile trail system linking many of the major cities of the Eastern Seaboard between Canada and Key West, Florida. We follow the Trail through Eliot, South and North Berwick, Wells, Kennebunk, Biddeford and Saco into Old Orchard Beach.
After Kittery, we enter Eliot. Eliot was originally part of Kittery and became a town in 1810. Shem Drowne (1683 -1774), a coppersmith and the country’s first documented weathervane maker, is from Eliot. He is most famous for the grasshopper weathervane made for Faneuil Hall in Boston.
At Mile 16, we turn onto Oldfields Road. Here, Native Americans used fire to manage wildlife habitat and to clear land for corn, beans, and squash. When the soil lost its fertility, they cleared another area for farming and let this land grow up to berry bushes, brush, and finally trees, thus maintaining good farming, berrying, and hunting areas all close by. This area has been known as “oldfields” since colonial times.
We pass Vaughn Woods Memorial State Park, a 250 acre forested tract along the scenic Salmon Falls River. The park includes picnic facilities and hiking trails through old-growth stands of pine and hemlock. On the
north side of Vaughn Woods is the entrance to the Hamilton House , a National Historic Landmark managed by Historic New England. Shipping merchant Jonathan Hamilton built this striking Georgian mansion in 1785. Its picturesque situation on a bluff overlooking the Salmon Falls River made it an ideal location for Hamilton’s shipping business and, more than a hundred years later, for the summer retreat of Emily Tyson and her stepdaughter Elise.
Today, Hamilton House reflects the occupancy of the Tysons in the early twentieth century and is recognized as one of the region’s quintessential Colonial Revival-style country estates. The house features two whimsical murals commissioned by the women as well as antique furnishings and handcrafted decorative arts they collected. The elaborate perennial garden, with its charming garden cottage, provides visitors with a place to stroll and picnic overlooking the river.
Upon entering South Berwick, we pass Berwick Academy, the oldest educational institution in Maine. In 1791, the citizens of Berwick, York, Kittery, Rollinsford, Portsmouth and Wells raised 500 pounds to better educate the “deplorable youth in this part of the country.” Incorporated by the Massachusetts Legislature and with a charter signed by Governor John Hancock for the purpose of “promoting true piety and virtue and useful knowledge among the rising generation,” Berwick Academy was established to teach languages, liberal arts, and sciences. It is now an independent Pre-K to 12th grade preparatory day school for 575 students.
Our morning rest stop is at the Sarah Orne Jewett House and Museum, built in South Berwick in 1774. Sarah Orne Jewett was born in 1849 in South Berwick, where she lived most of her life. Her father was a doctor, and Jewett often accompanied him on his rounds, instilling in her an interest in the region and its people. Jewett graduated Berwick Academy in 1865 and supplemented her education through an extensive family library. During her childhood, she began to write about the plight of the farms and harbors around her. She published her first story, “Jenny Garrow’s Lover” in the Flag of Our Union in 1868 and followed it with “Mr. Bruce” in The Atlantic Monthly in 1869. Her early pieces were signed “Alice Eliot” or “A.C. Eliot.” Numerous later sketches of a fictional New England town, “Deephaven,” that resembled South Berwick, were published in The Atlantic Monthly and were collected in Deephaven (1877), her first book. Jewett’s most notable book, The Country of Pointed Firs (1896), like Deephaven, portrayed the isolation and loneliness of a declining seaport town and the unique humor of its people. Her writing career ended after a disabling accident in 1902. Her collected poems were published posthumously as Verses (1916).
The Sarah Orne Jewett House was built by John Haggens, a successful merchant and veteran of the French and Indian War. Captain Theodore F. Jewett, a merchant and ship owner, began renting the Georgian style house until he bought it from the estate of John Haggens in 1839. The captain’s son and his wife moved into the house, where Sarah was born, until they built and moved into a Greek Revival style house next door in 1854. Sarah, who never married, moved back into her grandfather’s house after he died, and decorated it to suit her tastes. After Sarah died in 1909, her bedroom and many of the rooms she had decorated were preserved. Both houses were bequeathed to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) in 1931.
We turn east to North Berwick. The town, originally a part of Kittery called Kittery Commons, was first settled in 1693 and became home to a variety of mills powered by Doughty Falls in the Great Works River. It was set off and incorporated as North Berwick, named after Berwick, England, on March 22, 1831. Development was spurred by the arrival of the railroads: first, the Portland, Saco & Portsmouth Railroad in 1842, and then the Boston & Maine Railroad in 1873. While many manufacturers shipped a variety goods out of North Berwick, the 2 biggest businesses in town during the 19th-century made woolens and farm implements. The North Berwick Company, which produced blankets for Civil War troops, had 40 looms turning out 1,500 yards of flannel daily, in addition to blankets. In 1955, the North Berwick Company closed. Its landmark Greek Revival building was used as the Parrish Shoes factory in the 1995 movie Jumanji, and has since been renovated and adapted as housing.
Lunch is at Mile 43, put on by the West Kennebunk Fire Department.
We pass through Arundel, which was called North Kennebunkport until renamed for the Chronicles of Arundel (1929) by Kenneth Roberts, following his death in 1957. Roberts was born in Kennebunk, educated at Cornell University, where he wrote the Cornell Fight song, then became nationally known as a journalist for his work with the Saturday Evening Post from 1919 to 1928. He turned to writing novels, specializing in regional historical fiction, and authored such popular works as Rabble in Arms (1933), Northwest Passage (1937), and Oliver Wiswell (1940). Two months before his death, Roberts received a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation “for his historical novels which have long contributed to the creation of greater interest in our early American history.”
Abenaki Indians, whose main village was upriver at Pequawket (now Fryeburg), once hunted and fished in this area. The first European to settle in the region now known as Biddeford Pool was physician Richard Vines, who arrived in the winter of 1616-1617 and called the area Winter Harbor. This 1616 landing by a European predates the Mayflower landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts (located 100 miles to the south), by approximately four years. The town was reorganized in 1718 as Biddeford, after Bideford, a town in Devon, England, from which some settlers had emigrated. Periodic skirmishes the Abenaki over fishing and hunting rights occasionally flared until 1759.
In 1762, the land northeast of the river was set off as Pepperellborough, which in 1805 was renamed Saco. The first bridge to Saco was built in 1767. The river divides into two falls that drop 40 feet, providing waterpower for mills on both sides of the river. Factories were established to make boots and shoes. Major textile manufacturing facilities were constructed along the riverbanks, including the Pepperell Company in 1850. Biddeford was incorporated as a city in 1855.
The mills attracted waves of immigrants from Ireland, Albania and Quebec. At one time the textile mills employed as many as 12,000 people before the industry entered a long period of decline. In 2009, the last remaining textile company in the city, WestPoint Home, closed. The property occupying the mill has been sold and is being redeveloped into housing and new retail, manufacturing and art related businesses.
Biddeford is also home to the Community Bicycle Center, a non-profit organization that provides youth enrichment opportunities for personal growth through bicycling-related activities. CBC members will join BikeMaine riders, riding from Biddeford to Old Orchard Beach.