The Lobster Capital
Have you visited Rockland lately? Knox County’s only city boasts a delightful potpourri of galleries, festivals, museums and harbor views worthy of an Andrew Wyeth seascape. Year-round shopping and dining are always a treat on a historic main street that escaped urban renewal’s wrecking ball. The gritty lobster capital-turned-tourist-town has seen its economic ups and downs, but thanks to its reputation as Route 1’s midcoast jewel, its future looks bright.
“You can’t write about Rockland without coming for coffee at Rock City or supper at Rustica Cucina Italiana,” said Ann Morris, curator of the Rockland Historical Society, “or visiting the Farnsworth Art Museum or the Sail Power and Steam Museum, or walking along the boardwalk or the Rockland Breakwater.”
March may be off-season in the tourist trade, but there is still plenty to do here. The Strand Theatre offers high-definition Metropolitan Opera broadcasts and four live performances, highlighted by an appearance by Cape Breton fiddle virtuoso Natalie MacMaster. Across the street, at the Farnsworth, a Rockland mainstay for more than 65 years, among several exhibits is “Art of Disaster,” featuring paintings of natural and manmade disasters.
The Center for Maine Contemporary Art, opened in 2016, has three exhibition galleries, a gift shop, an art laboratory classroom and a spacious courtyard. Current exhibits include artwork by David Driskell and Sam Cady, and a life-sized model of a Piper Cub aircraft designed by Mark Wethli. Just a 10 minute drive from downtown Rockland, the Owls Head Transportation Museum is open daily.
“What makes Rockland unique is its ability to adapt,” said historian and former mayor Brian Harden. “You often hear people talk about a renaissance when writing about the city, but actually we adapt. We have progressed from lime manufacturing and shipbuilding to commercial fishing and now to creative gallery-based art and cultural activity.”
Harden cites the Rockland Historical Society museum, based in the public library, and the 1976 book “The Shore Village Story” as history sources. There is also The Courier-Gazette, published by Village Soup. The original village of Lermond’s Cove, first settled around 1769, was renamed Shore Village in 1777 when Thomaston was incorporated. It was set off as the town of East Thomaston in 1848, renamed Rockland in 1850, and chartered as a city in 1854. Lime kilns, ships, hotels and a Coast Guard base put the place on the map.
“This past year [the Historical Society] did something daring and different,” Morris said. “With the help of philanthropist Roxanne Quimby, we purchased the birthplace of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, to save it from destruction. We are restoring the landmark and plan to foster a literary arts organization to operate from the Millay House to bring school curricula and field trips, writing workshops, publishing help, and an annual poetry festival to children and adults along the midcoast.”
Should you want to spend the night, one choice is the new $2.9 million five-story 250 Main Hotel. The “boutique hotel,” housed in the city’s tallest building, has 26 rooms overlooking Rockland Harbor and the downtown. Other inns and motels also offer accommodations.
Returning for a warm-weather visit has its own rewards, such as a visit to the Samoset Resort and Breakwater Lighthouse, a stop at the Maine Lighthouse Museum, and a ferry ride out to Vinalhaven, North Haven and Matinicus islands.
The North Atlantic Blues Festival, held July 15 and 16, and the 70th Annual Maine Lobster Festival, Aug. 2-6, are family-friendly events. The Owls Head Museum’s Wings and Wheels Spectacular, Aug. 5 and 6, and the Maine Antiques Festival at Union Fairgrounds, Aug. 4-6, also draw crowds.
The Lime City, Lobster Capital of the World—whatever name you choose to call Rockland, it will always await your visit.