My wife and I first discovered Deer Isle, Maine,about twenty five years ago. I had friends who recommended it and we were interested in experiencing the “real” Maine, not the “tourist” Maine. We drove most of two days from Philadelphia staying overnight along the way. When we reached Portland, we thought we were almost there. When we reached Elsworth, we were certain it was close by, but it was still an hour’s drive before we crossed the high green bridge to the island and another 30 minutes before we reached Stonington the largest community at the southern most tip of Deer Isle. You might say it’s “off the beaten path.”
Nevertheless, Stonington is a charming little town with much to offer visitors and permanent residents. Deer Isle is home to 2,500 people year-round and the number more than doubles in the summer. The 28 mile-long island was once a major center for quarrying granite (some is still done) and many of New York City’s early skyscrapers and the Brooklyn Bridge are of stone from Deer Isle. Lobster fishing is now the main business here and like much of rural Maine people often have more than one job.
Stonington’s block long main street, next to the harbor, has a food market at one end and the century old Opera House at the other (now an arts center and movie theater). There are a couple of restaurants, a hardware store, several art galleries, an antique shop, two small motels, and a real estate office. Summer rentals are big on the island. Our favorite restaurant is Fisherman’s Friend where they serve a delicious lobster stew. Lots of lobster without all the work. Its wild blueberry pie is the best I’ve ever eaten.
But its hard to beat Eaton’s Pier at the north end of Little Deer Isle (there are actually two islands connected by a twisting causeway). They unload some of the lobster catch from boats here and will boil them for you in 50 gallon steel barrels with propane burners. You eat them at wooden picnic tables on the dock. There are no fancy tools to help you get to the lobster meat, just some grapefruit size rocks to crack the shells. A roll of paper towels helps keep you neat. Nothing fancy, just great taste.
Every Christmas we buy fresh pine wreaths (handmade by Deer Isle women) for family and friends from Harbor Farm, a lovely retail business on the island. See www. harborfarm.com Also see Nervous Nellie’s Jams & Jellies at www.nervousnellies.com and help support the local economy.
We were on Deer Isle over the July 4th and got to see the holiday parade at the island’s other
little community Deer IsleVillage. It’s less than half the size of Stonington and has two streets each about a block long. The parade begins at the fire house and marches to the point where the streets intersect and makes a left turn. In another hundred yards, it turns around and heads back to the fire house. You see the whole parade twice, but don’t be late for its over in about ten minutes.
The parade “Band” a ragtag group of various musical instruments and ages does not march, but sits at intersection of the two streets so the music can be heard the full length of the march. There were fire trucks, kids with decorated bikes, scout troops, and old veterans. The Haystack School of Crafts here attracts artists from across the country each summer and they always take part in the parade. This year a dozen artists were dressed as giant misquotes in handmade costumes. It was a big summer for pesky insects and the small crowd of spectators laughed and cheered loudly.
Haystack is one of the treasures on Deer Isle. Although its only open to the public for its
craft auctions, which occur in the evenings near the end of each two week workshop session, its well worth visiting. Fine crafts (in various craft media) from workshop participants and faculty are auctioned off to benefit the scholarship program. There are many excellent bargains to be had by craft enthusiasts and lots of fun for all.
Back in Stonington, a popular activity is taking the mail boat to Isle of Haut, a few miles away.
A portion of the Isle is now part of Arcadia National Park and great for nature walks, bird watching, and hiking. There’s a lovely inn on the island where you can enjoy a delicious meal, but don’t miss the mail boat back to Stonington or you’ll be an overnight guest.
There is golfing near Stonington at the Island Country Club. Rental clubs are available at this
nine hole, 2,400 yard, par 34 course, open to the public. Stay on the fairway, however, since the rough is pretty much impossible to navigate. Tee times are first come, first served.
Near Fisherman’s Friend Restaurant is a sandlotball field where locals of all ages play
ball. After dinner one evening we watched a pickup game of young kids (both boys and girls of various ages and skill levels, who shared ball gloves playing field) who were too few for full teams. It was a delightful throwback to the past and a reminder of my own youth.
Deer Isle has a new high school and each Spring graduating seniors (about two dozen) paint the first names of their classmates on foot long pieces of wood and nail them to the telephone poles along the road into town. No need for last names, everyone here knows who they are. Its like that in Stonington, Maine.
Senior Travel Editor
Senior Travel Editor