Venture along Maine’s famed coastal Route 1 to the northern Penobscot Bay and you will pleasantly find the charming town of Belfast. Perched on the sea and flanked by forests the town has been shaped by shipbuilders and seafarers, farmers and foodies, and bankers and tourists. With a long history dating back to 1765, the tides of change are evident in the preserved downtown where old bank buildings are now white table cloth restaurants and clapboard wharf buildings are breweries.
The town was abandoned during the War of 1812 while the British occupied Belfast and then burned it upon departure. But the seaport town rebuilt and thrived as a shipbuilding center producing hundreds of schooners. Materials for the ships came just up the river from Bangor where there was a continuous supply of wood. As the shipbuilders business thrived, they built large Federal and Greek Revival mansions and shops which have been lovingly restored and stand proud today. Fast forward to WWII and you would have found Belfast as a poultry producing mecca where the most popular festival was the Broiler Festival. A national recession and collapse of the poultry industry left a devastated economy and saw people moving away. As they left a different crowd of artists and young people were attracted to Belfast’s beauty and cheap property. In the 1990’s credit card giant MBNA moved in, built two large facilities, put people back to work, and was instrumental in establishing an arm of the University of Maine there. Today you find a mix of people attracted to Belfast for its charm and beauty.
We scored three days off from work and made the hour and a half drive south from Bar Harbor to spend time with New Orleans friends (who have a house in Belfast) and enjoy the immense beauty and vibrance of the area. After parking the RV at the Moorings Oceanfront RV Park, we hit the ground running. Almost literally. Just a couple miles down the road is Moose Point State Park which served as a great place to get out in nature with Spirit. Manicured trails wind through the dense forest and open to ocean vistas luring you to the rocky coast on the edge of the sea.
Next, it was back home for a quick rest and change of clothes before our friends Angela and Irwin came for cocktails, appetizers, and a tour of our new rig. Angela (a retired news anchor) and Irwin (a psychiatrist) have been dear friends for many years and hugely applauded our decision to hit the road five years ago so we were glad they got a chance to see our new home. Our evening continued at Nautilus Seafood and Grill where a sea inspired menu is well executed. Lobster mac n’ cheese, maple glazed salmon, prime rib and a seafood extravaganza satiated our palates and filled our bellies. Did I mention the delicious peach martinis?
Sunday reared its head with gloomy damp weather but could not make Belfast any less beautiful or alluring. Low tide in the morning translated into a walk with Spirit on the beach conveniently located in front of the campground. While she was intrigued by the smells in the seaweed and lapping waves, we looked for sea glass and watched schooners hoist their sails. Soon the mist dried up, the skies cleared, and we were on our way downtown for lunch at the recently opened, and highly touted, restaurant entitled Meanwhile in Belfast. The restaurant serves up authentic Neapolitan style pizza with fresh ingredients in a warm comfortable atmosphere.
After lunch we strolled along the Harbor Walk. Spirit was back in the water to cool off while we admired the harbor and contemplated coming back to Belfast next year and spending more time. Belfast’s downtown is well preserved, vibrant and eclectic. A number of years ago a bypass around the downtown was built and many feared that people would pass the town up and it would hurt the economy. The reality was that the bypass helped preserve downtown buildings and its pleasant atmosphere without the congestion caused by the busy Route 1.
For our last night’s dinner it seemed a visit to Young’s Lobster Pound would be a perfect ending to a great, albeit too short, trip. A warm evening overlooking the harbor with good friends and sweet lobster was sure to leave us with more great memories.
Belfast is certainly worth a visit if you are traveling Maine’s coastal Route 1. Whether you come for the shopping, sailing, history, arts, or by accident it is easy to see why this town attracted our friends and is a place we love to visit.