Camden: Maine's seaside idyll

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

So steeply do the Camden Hills rise from the blue waters of Penobscot Bay that yachts dropping anchor seem from a distance to ride in the heart of the business district.

Situated just 90 miles north of Portland, Maine, Camden in many ways seems untarnished by tourism. It can be reached easily by bus from Boston or New York.

Many visitors choose to stay at the historic Whitehall Inn, just a few blocks north of town. Here they find New England charm combined with a fine dining room. In August 1912 a local schoolgirl named Edna St. Vincent Millay read one of her poems for the entertainment of a small party of guests at the Whitehall. "Renascence" was later to be called one of the remarkable poems of the generation. One room at the inn is dedicated as a permanent place for keeping Millay pictures, original and unpublished manuscripts, and memorabilia. Millay was later to win a Pulitzer prize for her writing.

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But the best place to stay, in my opinion, is downtown on a side street away from the traffic. The Owl and Turtle Bookstore has converted its upper floors into four modern motel units, with balconies that almost overhang the harbor. Facing east, these four rooms catch the sunrise over Penobscot Bay and the cool ocean breezes. They are rented on a first-come, first-served basis, so make your reservation as early as possible. The number to call is (207) 236-2302. The four rooms are equally attractive, and a very light breakfast is included in the daily rate.

Camden has many restaurants open year round. One of the best is closed on weekends -- Yorkies -- which offers exceptionally fine food at very low prices. You will find the booths there filled with local people who appreciate a bargain. Desserts are a specialty, and the raspberry pie (in season) is mouthwateringly good. Just down the street you'll find the Camden Bakery, and I recommend its chocolate chip cookies.

During the day Camden offers a variety of shopping, including several used-book stores and craft and specialty shops. On sunny days you may take a leisurely cruise out into Penobscot Bay, some of the best sailing water in New England. The village also has its own Shakespeare Company, which performs on summer evenings at the Bok Amphitheater, behind the library on Main Street. This outdoor auditorium, donated by Mrs. Mary Louise Bok, seats 1,500 and is landscaped with native trees, shrubs, and plants.

Camden, first settled in 1768, was named after Lord Camden, a member of Parliament and a friend of the colonists. The village developed into a site for woolen mills, an iron foundry, and shipbuilding. In 1900 the first six-masted schooner in the world was built here. True to its Yankee tradition, it is still an economical vacation spot that truly deserves its reputation as one of the prettiest spots in Maine.

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