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WHY GO: This Getaway, to Lubec and Eastport ME, and FDR’s summer cottage on Campobello Island, brings you to the easternmost land in the United States, with a short foray into Canada. Yes, it’s all the way up here. Or Down Here – to coin a “Downeast” phrase: a good ten hours from New York City or 7 from Boston. But so totally worth it. It’s beautiful and welcoming, but be sure to bring your Passport!
Things to Do in Lubec, Eastport and Campobello Island
BUT FIRST, STOP HERE: Ruggles House, Columbia Falls. About 45 minutes from Schoodic Peninsula and an hour from Lubec, Columbia Falls ME was a small town, even when Judge Thomas Ruggles moved here from Massachusetts in 1795. As a young man, Ruggles traveled to the Maine wilds, purchased thousands of acres of timberland, set up sawmills and grew his wealth from lumber and shipping. In 1816, Ruggles hired architect Aaron Sherman from Duxbury MA to design this home in neo-classical Adamesque-style, which would be impressive anywhere, but here, in a town of 600 souls, is absolutely incredible.
Ruggles moved into the home in 1820, and lived only another six months – dying at age 50 and leaving his wife to raise seven children. Frederick Ruggles, 19 at the time, stayed home to help his mother, and waited until he was 46 to marry. Frederick’s daughter, Lizzy, an artist who remained single, and whose elaborate charcoal and pencil drawings can be seen throughout the house, stayed in the home until her death in 1920. Poverty stricken, Lizzy could not keep the home from becoming Gray-Gardens-derelict, though she had the vision to leave it to the public. The Ruggles House Society was formed in 1920 to restore the house, and it’s done an incredible job over the years – so much so that this place is worth a one or two hour detour.
Most stunning is the 200-year-old flying double staircase, with no visible means of support, which has never needed repair, and the exquisite mahogany-inlayed fireplace in the parlor. There’s a warming cupboard” above another fireplace that held quilts and blankets, and an original 1796 burled wood chest upstairs. Tours are 45 minutes to an hour. Open Mid-June-Mid October, Mon-Sat 10-4, Sun 12-4, $5 adults, $3 kids.
GO – AT LEAST HALF DAY: Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, accessed through Lubec ME. There are several components to this New Brunswick, Canada Island: The Natural Area, the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, and the remainder of the island – including two iconic lighthouses. So plan to spend the good part of a day here, or at least 4 hours.
At the southern end of the Bay of Fundy, the tide swings 20-28 feet every day, an important fact, as you’ll see later. Also very important to know – the time here is an hour ahead of Maine. When it’s 9am on the East Coast USA (Eastern Standard Time), it’s 10am on Campobello Island (Atlantic Standard Time).
Crossing the bridge from Lubec, Maine onto Campobello Island takes two minutes (maybe a bit more at the manned border gate where you must present your Passport), but traveling here took more than two days in the 1880’s when wealthy families from Philly, New York and Boston came by train and steamer in order to escape the heat and grime of the disease-ridden cities. Grand hotels (no longer standing) were built to attract the well-to-do and where realtors wined and dined vacationers, urging them to construct private homes with resort benefits. Among those were James and Sara Roosevelt, who first brought their son, Franklin, here in 1883 when he was a year old.
Though James and Sara’s cottage is no longer standing, the belated wedding gift to Franklin and Eleanor next door, a summer home that Sara purchased for the already 4-year married couple in 1909 (Sara couldn’t pass up the $5000 deal from the owner), still is. FDR called Campobello, “My beloved island.” It’s where he made the decision to run for public office, the U.S. Senate, in 1910, and where polio found him in April 1921. FDR came to his beloved island only three more times after contracting the deadly virus.
Your visit to this part of the island should begin at the Visitor’s Center of the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, less then a mile past the bridge. Watch a 15-minute video, and peruse the exhibits about the Roosevelt’s and the island itself – an important overview.
After the film, you’re guided the few steps to FDR’s family cottage, left to look as it did in 1921, with Franklin’s hat on the dining room table, and Eleanor’s writing desk nearby. Tours are self-guided, with helpful docents to answer questions and move you along. It’s amazing how unpretentious and lived in the home looks – it was a true rustic getaway: bedrooms, for houseguests and family (and staff) were nothing fancy, electricity didn’t come to the island until 1948. The kitchen featured a kerosene stove and gravity fed water system from tanks on the 3rd floor. Most heartbreakingly poignant is imagining FRD, on that fateful night polio took away use of his legs, crawling across the upstairs hallway from his bedroom to the bathroom.
After President Franklin Roosevelt’s death in 1945, Eleanor still came to Campobello until just before she died in 1962. She had such a presence here and was so beloved, the Park Service has created an exceptional twice-daily event that allows visitors a chance to know her better: Tea With Eleanor, held in the much more elegant Queen Ann Style Hubbard Cottage next door (also open for self-guided tours).
For an hour, and for FREE, you and 19 others will enjoy tea and Eleanor’s favorite Ginger Snap cookies while listening to docents (mine were the fantastic Carolyn Newman and Debbie Mitchell) talk about her life at Campobello and her legacy. (There are two ways to get tickets, which are snapped up quickly. Come to the Visitor’s Center the moment it opens at 10am Atlantic Time – 9am Eastern Standard Time – or pay $14 for online reservations ahead of time to make sure you get a seat for either the 11am or 3pm sitting, 20 seats each).
Every afternoon at 3, no matter where she was or what she was doing, Eleanor Roosevelt would take tea. It was her way of catching up with people – of all classes and corners of the world. While nibbling on cookies and being served cup after cup of tea, you’ll listen to stories about Eleanor, her relationship to “Uncle Teddy,” her courtship with Franklin, her island experiences, humanitarian work, Civil Rights, UN, and the ways she unwound. When the bridge from Lubec to Campobello Island was built in 1962, Eleanor was the first person (besides the workmen) to cross it. She died later that year at the age of 78.
Campobello Island as a whole is nine miles long and four miles wide – with Roosevelt-Campobello International Park (managed by both the USA and Canada) taking up a third of its southern end. After visiting the Roosevelt portion of the island, head back towards the bridge to the Campobello Island Adventure Center, which is the first building on a hill you saw to your right as you drove in.
From the front porch of the Center, you can see downtown Lubec, ME across the channel and the Mulholland Lighthouse below. Stop in for brochures, an island map and hiking ideas in the 2,800-acre Natural Area. Knowledgeable staff will point you in the right direction, and like most Canadians are incredibly friendly and patient.
Drive out to Cranberry Point, where locals dig for clams in the vast mudflats. Travel on old graveled carriage roads that take you through canopies of trees, to shore points with names like Raccoon Beach, Mink Point and Herring Cove, and out to the magnificent Liberty Point – with breathtaking views.
You can’t miss Liberty Point. A huge rock (what us downstaters would call a small island) designated Sugarloaf Rock, but referred to as Frog Rock due to its shape and green blanket of moss, sits just offshore, and almost close enough to a newly built observation deck to touch. You’re likely to see Bald Eagles here – it’s a favorite nesting site.
From the Natural Area, drive the one main road to the Northern end of the Island, passing (or stopping into) The Fireside Restaurant (named for FDR’s Fireside Chats), in a 100 year old building once owned by FDR’s cousin. On your way, you’ll pass through the sleepy Wilson Beach Community and a couple of Whale Watching operations; Island Cruises and Capt. Riddle’s Whale Watching. People on this island proclaim it to be the best place to see whales anywhere on the East Coast.
Your objective on this side of the island is the much-photographed Head Light – or East Quoddy Head Light (not to be confused with the candy-cane West Quoddy Head Light in Lubec ME). This one sports the Acadian Cross and sits just offshore, and is striking to see in the waning light. The brave and nimble might attempt to cross the rocky bottom at low tide to get to the Light, but must return just as quickly. Remember those 28-foot swing tides mentioned earlier? When the tide comes in, it does so with such force and so quickly – 5 ft. per hour – adventurers can get caught out there for 8 hours or more.
Roosevelt International Park Visitor’s Center open Sat. before Memorial Day to October 31, Cottage open until Sat after Labor Day, 9-5 Eastern Daylight Time (10-6 Atlantic Time). Natural Area open year round. Admission for all, FREE.
PHOTO OP: Quoddy Head State Park and the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Lubec. Best time to head out here is around sunset – the golden hour – the perfect time to photograph this Cat-In-The-Hat-like saltshaker lighthouse. Though Lubec itself is the easternmost town in the US, the Lighthouse grounds constitute the easternmost POINT in the country. Open May 15- Oct 15, 9am to sunset. $4.
SHOP: Monica’s Chocolates, Lubec. Monica Elliot’s story is incredible. 17 years ago, married a man who moved her to Lubec from Peru. She knew no English, and couldn’t drive. A short time later, Monica’s husband suffered a debilitating brain aneurysm and she was forced to both take care of him and pay the bills. Monica was a good businesswoman and had been in the clothing (wedding boutique) biz in Lima. Despite not knowing anything about chocolate, she believed it would be a simple food to make and sell.
Monica asked her father for some recipes and thought she’d sell perhaps two or three bonbons or truffles a day. She sent a few pieces from an early batch to her clothing buyer friends in NYC who raved about Monica’s Chocolates and ordered more. And then more orders started pouring in. Thirteen years later, Monica’s is not only a local sensation, but a global one, shipping all over the world. Amazingly – all of her delectable chocolates are still made by hand, with natural ingredients (e.g. fruit fillings fermented in wine for one year) in the basement of her beautiful showroom in tiny Lubec Maine. A true immigrant success story. Open daily 8am-8pm
WALK: Downtown Lubec. It’s just a couple of blocks, and a small harborside park, but for the “Easternmost Town in the United States,” it’s got some good restaurants, a Brew Pub (Lubec Brewery), and lots of charm.
SUMMERKEYS/LUBEC: If you’ve heard of Lubec at all, its probably due to Summerkeys – when the whole town becomes a music and art workshop from June till September, with week-long classes in almost every instrument, including voice, and performances by Bold Face Names in the industry.
DRIVE: Eastport. Though you can almost see it across the bay from Lubec, it will take you about 50 minutes to drive up and around to get to the Easternmost CITY on in the USA (Lubec is the easternmost TOWN), though it’s hardly a city. What Eastport is, is artsy and open to new ideas, and it’s got Raye’s Mustard and the Tides Institute (see below), worth a stop from anywhere.
SHOP/PHOTO OP: Raye’s Mustard, Eastport. In 1900, when sardines were packed in mustard as a preservative, there were 18 sardine canneries in Eastport. The canneries are gone, but Raye’s remains, and is the only mustard mill in the USA that still grinds it own seeds that have been soaked overnight in vinegar and water. Now run by 4th generation Kevin and Karen Raye, you can purchase pure “Off The Stone” Mustard – as well as other aged and flavored varieties in the original 1903 building. Come in to buy or to sample. Open M-F 10:30-5, Sat/Sun 10-5, closed weekends in winter.
VISIT: Tides Institute & Museum of Art. The name is a bit confusing. This is not a Maritime Institute focusing on tidal charts or swing tides or any kind of tide, except perhaps the Changing Tides of Fortune and Industry in these remote coastal towns. In this case, the change has a lot to do with the Creative Tide that has swept over this tiny place – as evidenced by this three-pronged organization. Directed by Hugh French and his wife, Kristin McKinlay, Tides Institute has become a “cultural anchor” for the city of Eastport.
The Tides (Art) Institute is made up of three buildings. The Tides Gallery, situated in a threatened old bank building in the process of restoration, exhibits Maine artists intent on preserving Maine’s heritage, whose work was likely to leave the state if it weren’t for this institution.
StudioWorks, a shop-front on Main Street, invites an annual artist in residence to create his/her own art in real time and interact with the community. This summer (2016), visitors can watch L.A. stop-action artist, Kate Hoffman, at work on her dreamy, surreal videos and create their own stop-action sets.
The Free Will North Church features site-specific art installations, such as this summer’s cool dynamic projection of fish swimming on the walls and ceiling of the sanctuary: Sardinia, by Canadian artist, Janice Wright Cheney. Gallery open Wed-Sat 10-4, Spring to Fall, check website for event times.
WANDER: Downtown Eastport. It’s got its own Playboy version of The Little Mermaid, as well as a gnomish Fisherman, and several worthwhile art galleries including The Eastport Gallery – showcasing eclectic ceramic, wood and other crafts and paintings, Breakwater Gallery – which features local artists with a whimsical, colorful bent, and The Commons – 100 artists, mostly from Maine. These are not typical tourist souvenir emporiums. You’ll find things here you won’t see anywhere else.
SHOP: S.L. Wadsworth & Sons, Eastport. Founded in 1818, SL Wadsworth is the Oldest Ships Chandlery in the USA, relocated to this Main St. address after the Ground Hog Gale in 1976 collapsed its wharf and buildings.
Where to Eat in Lubec and Eastport
EAT/LUBEC: Though there’s no real “foodie find” in Lubec, locals recommend Lubec Brewing Company for pub food and brew, Franks – the quintessential crab and lobster shack, Waterstreet Tavern, and the far-from-downtown Inn at the Wharf Fisherman’s Restaurant, with incredible bay views, especially early evening.
EAT: Quoddy Bay Lobster, Eastport. Get your lobster roll any way you’d like at this cute, bare-bones lobster-your-way place. It’s where everyone tells visitors to go.
HEALTHY SNACKS: Eastport Co-Op. This tiny farmer’s market supports farms in Maine, and just got its beer license! Top items: Greenhouse-grown produce, organic meat, day boat scallops and goat cheese and yogurts.
Where to Stay in Lubec ME
STAY: Peacock House B&B. This 1860’s Captain’s House sits atop a hill in the tiny town of Lubec. Surrounded by flowers in the spring, with birds chirping and coffee brewing in the morning – it’s a quiet, tranquil, and beautifully decorated haven. When all 7 rooms are full, mornings become a happy, social, “small world” time for conversation over a hot gourmet breakfast. A Maven Favorite – read lots more about it HERE.