HARPSWELL — Cundy’s Harbor, situated on the west side of the New Meadows River within the Town of Harpswell, is aptly described as a “community within a community.” This beautiful little niche is home to the oldest continuously working waterfront in Maine and where old-timers and returning summer people alike march to the beat of their own drum. There’s a comfortability that comes from being removed from the fray of the more popular, populated locales tourists flock to.

First and foremost, Cundy’s Harbor, settled in 1733, is a fishing village. Always has been, and God willing, always will be. You’ll find lobster boats, off-shore fishing vessels, and a seaweed harvesting industry.

One comes to understand this on any morning about 4 a.m., give or take. There’s a bit of a clamor: Boots stomping on the wharf. Greetings tossed about. Engines coaxed to life. The temporary kerfuffle dies down quickly, however, and is followed by nothing but the wake of the last boat out before complete silence ensues and one can return to Dreamland.

If you’re looking for high adventure, big excitement, or fancy coffee, this is not the place. However, you’ll discover some of the best views in the Midcoast, a pleasant route for a paddle, history galore, and an iconic working wharf with a summer seafood eatery.

For those who live here year-round, whether they fish, support fishing, commute, or are retired, it’s a commitment and not to be taken lightly. When I brought a friend down to the harbor one day, she described the 11-mile distance to town perfectly: “It’s a little far to drive for a lemon.” Well, we’re okay with that.

In the summertime, visitors often come by boat or take the pretty drive from Route 1. From Cook’s Corner in Brunswick, head south on Route 24. Once you’re on Sebascodegan (Great) Island, you’ll go just a few miles and take the left onto Cundy’s Harbor Road. This leads you on a 4.5 mile winding drive off the beaten path that would take you to the more visited Orr’s and Bailey Islands.

You’ll go past the pond, the homes built “two by each,” and the newer, bigger houses.

There’s the Community Hall whose walls have witnessed gatherings of both joy and mourning; where neighbors come to share one another’s home cooking. Every summer there’s a book and bake sale and a holiday fair there. There’s also the community church, art gallery, Watson’s General Store, the B&B, the well-loved library, and Holbrook’s Wharf.

Everywhere you look are incredible vistas worthy of photographing, painting, and burning into your brain for those moments when you need to call upon real beauty. Hubs of activity are Watson’s Store, Holbrook’s Wharf, the library, and the church. Each place offers its own brand of charm and industry.

For example, the church offers Sunday night movies, as well as 9 a.m. Sunday school sessions for the kiddos, complete with breakfast.

Watson’s Store, owned by the same family for five generations, is a Cundy’s Harbor institution that has been serving the fishermen since, well, forever. Anyone else who wants a cozy place to land, grab a straight-forward cup of coffee, and shoot the breeze with Robert Watson (who knows everything important about the harbor) is most welcome.

Wander down the road to the library park. Picnic tables and chairs perched to overlook the harbor are meant to be enjoyed. Inside, you’ll discover a robust Maine collection, classics, mysteries, and beach reading. Over the summer, there’s a reading program for youngsters and many special events including Pirate Day, author nights, and nature programs.

Walk just a bit further to Holbrook’s Wharf, definitely a highlight. At the gift shop, perhaps you’ll meet Sue Hawkes, a full encyclopedia of local information. You can purchase live lobsters, jewelry, T-shirts and other souvenirs.

Yes, there’s one-stop shopping in Cundy’s Harbor! Grab a bottle of wine at the general store and have yourself a delicious meal on the wharf. The Grille offers traditional Maine seafood meals, along with some yummy surprises. If you have room in your dessert box afterwards, there are ice cream cones, blueberry pie, and other treats for your sweet tooth.

Want an eagle’s eye view of all the goings-on in the harbor? Reserve a room at the historic Captain’s Watch and climb to the cupola where you can observe all the comings and goings, as well as the gorgeous panoramic view of the New Meadows River and beyond. Built during the Civil War as the Union Hotel, the building has the distinction of being Maine’s “oldest known hotel structure.”

View of the New Meadows River from the cupola of The Captain’s Watch B&B Photo by Karen Schneider

To really get into the spirit of the harbor, you must take part in Cundy’s Harbor Days on Aug. 4-5. Plans include an ice cream social complete with cannon-firing on Friday evening, a parade on Saturday morning, the Blessing of the Fleet, lobster crate races, and more. This is as exciting as it gets around here, and we like it.

For more information, call Cundy’s Harbor Library at 725-1461.

filed under: