History and Attractions of Southern Maine
Learn about the history and architecture of Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells, ME.
Sep 21, 2018 at 6:00 AM in Things to Do by
Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells, ME command attention for their natural and manmade beauty.
Here you find some of the first incorporated towns of Maine–if not the whole country– where architecture from as far back as the early 1700s catches your eye at most every turn.
First inhabited by Native Americans and later incorporated as Cape Porpoise in 1653, the lure of the region’s rich waters and bountiful coastal plains has drawn people to this part of southern Maine for eons. Fishing and shipbuilding became the primary industries until tourism took over toward the latter part of the 1800s. At this time, grand hotels were constructed along the coast in Kennebunkport. Wealthy tourists from New York, Boston and Canada began vacationing here, some of whom built their own summer “cottages”. These resplendent coastal homes more prized today than ever.
Take in a big whiff of ocean air and Old Maine grandeur on one of the many porches of The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport. If possible, sport your best casual–or dressed up–attire and settle into a nice, chilled plate of cherrystone clams on the half shell and a requisite gin & tonic. Gaze out upon the sea, the lush flowerbeds, the tony crowd surrounding you or into your love’s eyes, and you’re sure to taste the magic that so many have felt in this very spot since this historic resort opened in 1914.
In Kennebunk, book a room or grab a frosty ale at The Kennebunk Inn, an historic hotel, restaurant and tavern established in 1799. Their lobster pot pie is legendary.
Kennebunkport’s array of historic homes may best be appreciated on a Guided Village Walking Tour offered by the Kennebunkport Historical Society. During these one-hour walks back in time, you’ll see fine examples of Greek Revival, Federal, Colonial and Victorian architecture in the homes, many of which were built for wealthy ship builders and sea captains. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to take in the Wedding Cake House, a dreamy mansion built for a captain's bride in the early nineteenth century. Now wouldn’t you love to be loved like that?
Take note that the latter–along with a fleet of other stunning and magnificently preserved homes built for sea captains–is located on Summer Street, a great place for you to begin a history tour of your own. You’ll also find lots of other remarkable historic buildings, churches and other dwellings in Kennebunk Beach and Lower Village along with great shops and restaurants, too. Book a room in one of The Kennebunks and Wells many historic inns and B & Bs to experience firsthand the charm of these storied properties.
Dock Square in Kennebunkport, located along the Kennebunk River, is also made up of a delightful jumble of historic buildings, some of which are vestiges from a time when this area was a shipbuilding and fishing village. Today many of these old bones are filled with souvenir shops, art galleries, restaurants and bars.
Wells was more about farming and you can still discover remnants from this heritage throughout the region.
You can find a nice piece of history in some of the many antique shops in Wells and serious antique aficionados should also venture off to the Arundel Flea Market, Arundel Antique Village Group Shop and Antiques USA, all of which are located in Arundel–but of course. Keep your eyes out for yard and garage sales as you head out since you can unearth some real treasures in those locales as well.
Back in Kennebunk, hit Armada Antiques & Collectibles for all kinds of antiques, sport memorabilia, vintage advertising signs and lots of other cool stuff. If you want to find some great architectural salvage (from the 1730s through the 1940s), go to The Old House Parts Co. You’ll want to build a home just to accommodate some of these unique pieces!
Know that even if you’re not looking to buy, it’s just fun to poke around all these antique emporiums and go ahead and ask the vendors and store owners questions. These places are like living museums and here the history weaves a glorious tale.