Following my own advice to “explore just outside your front door,” last week was devoted to poking around the peninsulas of mid-coast Maine. Hitting what’s been the best weather of the year so far, it’s easy to love this area … sunshine or not. But sunshine we had and I’m here to report on one of my favorite places anywhere.
I learned about Bayside years ago, when my husband and I traveled the coast and happened to hear about it from a local. It isn’t marked on the main road; we were simply advised to turn at the Mexican restaurant and follow the road to the water. We did, we followed, we discovered. This is a charming little piece of the history of Maine.
Bayside was founded in 1849 by the Methodist Episcopal Church in Maine. The first purchase of land was only 25 acres; the intent of the church was to have a summer recreational area where they could gather once a year for worship and spend time socially in this beautiful area of Penobscot Bay. And for 25 years these pioneer churchmen and farmers pitched their tents under the oaks and birches and worshipped God with sermons, songs and old fashioned religious fervor.
As years passed, the tents gradually gave way to wooden cottages, the first being built in 1869. In 1875 the Wesleyan Grove House was built, launching the campground to its fate as a summer resort in addition to its religious mission. Building lots were being sold at prices from $5 to $15 and more acreage was being purchased all the time. By the end of 1879, 40 cottages had been built – ultimately over 300 cottages were constructed and most of them are still here today.
By the 1880s Bayside was in full swing as a summer resort. Steamships came from as far away as Boston. One report mentions as many as seven steamers coming to the landing dock (still here today) in a single day. The report goes on to say that “250 Hampden belles and their beaux came down Tuesday on the steamer Clifford.” Bayside was the place to be!
In the 1890’s more cottages had been built along with several retail shops to handle the needs of hundreds of visitors. This was the era of clam bakes, picnics, hay rides, firemen’s musters, band concerts and excursions. The first hotel had burned down but a new and larger one was put up. Even a bowling alley was constructed, along with parks, a ball field, and tennis courts.
The glory of the late 1800’s is no longer present in Bayside, but the character of that old community still lies in the architecture and the people who come here year after year. Many cottages have been owned by the same families for generations and there is a strong community involvement by those owners to keep Bayside as a place preserved in time.
While wandering the quiet, narrow roads we met a man walking his dog who described his experience living here. In 1989 he bought his cottage for $5800; today it’s worth approximately $400,000 even though it’s on a 60×60′ lot. The original structure had a basement that was hand-dug, the cottage wide open, and you had to go outside for a toilet, but it had a wonderful old parlor stove, double mantel, and nice woodwork. Over the years he and his wife fixed it up; talking to us he lamented the taxes and the snowplow driver (who he claimed hated Bayside) but did show pride in the fact that his cottage was one of the nicest.
What Bayside offers today are walks along the shore roads, with loons swimming nearby and the occasional seal looking for breakfast. Sailboats moored on the bay offer a beautiful backdrop to the island in the distance and Blue Hill on the horizon. On clear days the mountains of Acadia are the distant shadows. Come here to hunt for beach glass. Swing on the swingset. Admire the charming architecture and clever cottage names (“Sqeezed Inn”). Sleep. Rest. Restore. Bayside is rare, untouched, and safe and sound in the 21st century.