Back when I was a kid growing up in Topsham, THE beach to visit on steamy summer days was Popham Beach State Park. But when my friends and I piled into someone’s beat up Datsun or their mother’s station wagon and headed to the coast we never took the time to check out the sights along the way. It was the sand and waves we were after.
Many decades later, I can appreciate all the great views and interesting stops that dot Route 209 before the road reaches an endpoint at Fort Popham.
First there are the views – of marsh land, rising ocean tides, quaint cottages and extravagant summer homes. Then there is the history: The town of Phippsburg is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year.
No doubt I’m still anxious to get to the water’s edge on hot summer days, but as an adult, I’ve learned that when traveling through most of Maine’s coastal towns there’s no reason to rush to get from here to there. Often the best part of the trip is when you pull a U-turn on a whim and make an unexpected discovery.
The proper question here is not what you’ll find but what you won’t find. And the answer to your question will come with a proper accent since the owners, Maggie and David Cooke, hail from Scotland. Once upon a time this was the site for Munsey’s Garage. These days it’s the site of treasures to be found. Drive up and you won’t know where to look first – at the old wooden and canvas folding chairs, the bird houses hanging off the front porch or the Little Bo Peep leaning against a stack of cement blocks. The feast for the eyes continues inside; we found dishware of all kinds, hats new and old, a well-worn pair of golf shoes, an extra large selection of wooden duck decoys, a display case filled with costume jewelry and oil lamps in every size, shape and color. The find of the day was a pair of woman’s reading glasses from 1935, still in the box they were mailed in. A helpful optometrist in Sanford sent them along in the post to Mrs. Louise Bulmer in Jackman. I handed over $15 for them and left with an early Christmas present for a sister who collects antique eyewear.
Maggies Bygones, 165 Main Road, Phippsburg | 207-386-1094 | Open Noon to 6 p.m. daily (for summer season)
The company has been known around the midcoast for 20 years now and has several locations, including at Sebasco Harbor Resort in Phippsburg. Daily tours cost $50 for adults and go out at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. We signed up for the afternoon tour with Glenn and got our money’s worth. We started with some paddling instruction on land, then were suited up in life jackets and shown how to get settled into our boats from the Sebasco dock. A caution for those who have only paddled on calm bodies of fresh water: sea kayaking on a windy day means lots of work for your arms and lots of spray in your face. Despite the waves, we had an awesome paddle around some of the islands just off the coast. Glenn gave us a history lesson on the way over to the infamous Malaga Island, where we pulled up to shore, had a snack and admired some of the artifacts left on the shore as part of archaeological digs. After our break we made our way back by paddling between Malaga and the mainland, moving around lobster buoys and watching the cormorants and gulls. Our tour lasted 3.5 hours, which was just enough of the sea and sun.
If you’re not familiar with the island’s sad history, here is the short version. In 1912, the 45 people that made up Malaga’s mixed-race community was kicked off their island. Eight people were committed to the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded; the others were expected to integrate into the mainland community. After the island was cleared, the graves of previous Malaga residents were dug up and the remains were moved to the graveyard on the feeble-minded school grounds.
Seaspray Kayaking at Sebasco Harbor Resort, 29 Kenyon Road, Phippsburg | Tours daily at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. | $50 adults, $25 kids under 17 | www.seaspraykayaking.com
It would be hard to imagine a lunch spot with a better view than The Ledges, which gets its name from the fact that patrons are served at outdoor tables that are literally steps from ledges of rock that create the only barrier between a basket of fries and the sea. There are views of islands in the harbor, sailboats at anchor and lobster buoys dotting the waves. The menu offers items such as Maine lobster poutine, clam chowder, mussels, calamari, sandwiches, seafood baskets, flatbread pizza and salads. Prices range from $4 for onion rings to $23 for the captain’s platter. Any of it sounds good after a morning kayaking, paddleboarding or playing golf at or around Sebasco Harbor Resort. And while you’re on the grounds of the resort, be sure to take a walk around. The original Sebasco was built in 1930, and though much of it has changed, there’s still plenty to see including the Lighthouse, built by former owner Nate Cushman in 1945.
The Ledges Pub, Sebasco Harbor Resort, 29 Kenyon Road, Phippsburg | Open daily for lunch and dinner | 207-389-1161 | www.sebasco.com/dining/the-ledges.htm
Fort Popham, found at the mouth of the Kennebec River, dates to 1861 and was built with granite blocks quarried from nearby islands. The fort is just two miles from Popham Beach State Park and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. It is open free to the public from dawn to dusk. There’s plenty to explore in and around the fort, which once was armed with Rodman guns, Parrott rifles and a cannon. There is a parking lot in front of the fort as well as picnic areas on site, bathroom facilities and a beach nearby for sunbathing or swimming. Also nearby is Spinney’s Restaurant, open May through October for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Fort Popham, 10 Perkins Farm Lane, Phippsburg. Open dawn to dusk.
Spinney’s Restaurant, 987 Popham Road, Phippsburg | Open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. | 207-389-1122 | www.spinneysonpophambeach.com
Get out of dodge (at least for a little while) with a mini adventure. These excursions can be done in a day – sometimes an afternoon – and will hopefully lead you to places you’ve never been. This is Maine, after all, and we all need some adventuring.