Hallowell + Gardiner

48HRS, The Online-Only Edition - April 2014
Photographs + stories by Maine magazine staff:
Kelly Clinton, Online Editor 

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Maple Hill Farm Inn in Hallowell

 

Kelly Clinton, Online Editor

 

I drive to Hallowell on Friday evening with my friend, Renee, who has never been to Maine before. A native of Tennessee, my southern friend is intrigued by the stretch of Route 95 that is trailed with snow-covered pines. When she spots a bald eagle overhead, she swears it means that the next 48 hours will be amazing. As we arrive in Hallowell we are chasing the sun along the hilly, white landscape that is mostly untouched except for a few places where snowmobile riders have carved out their adventures.

 

4:00 p.m. @ Ladies Delight Light

Our first destination is the Ladies Delight Lighthouse on Cobbosseeconte Lake. The 25-foot tower built in 1908 was designed by Boston architect Frank Morse to prevent boats from running aground. When we arrive, the sun has just set, casting a blue glow across the buried lake while the miniature light flashes in the distance.

 

5:00 p.m. @ Maple Hill Farm Inn

Once upon a time, about 150 years ago, the Maple Hill Farm Inn was a farm owned by William Oliver Vaughn, and because of its location (precisely halfway between Hallowell and Cobbosseecontee Lake), it served as a stopping point for travelers by horse and carriage. For riders on the long stretch of dirt road, this was a welcoming place, and the knowledge that it was just around the next bend likely comforted many travelers. As a traveler from Portland with only a vague idea of what I hope to discover in Hallowell and Gardiner, I pull into Maple Hill Farm Inn and am welcomed with the same kind of comfort offered to previous travelers. Vince and Scott give us a brief tour, then show us to our room, where our names are written on the door. As we look out the window to the view of the fields, Scott tells us, “Make yourselves at home. This is your home while you are here.”

 

7:00 p.m. @ Joyce’s

A ten-minute drive takes us downhill and towards the Kennebec River where we find Hallowell’s Water Street. Following the advice of our Facebook fans, we stop into Joyce’s for a drink and an appetizer. Our friendly bartender, Cali, recommends the Baked Onion and Smoked Gouda Dip, which is warm and delicious. Cali tells us that she is a transplant who ended up in this small town. "It's a pocket of happiness between Augusta and Winthrop," she says. Our neighbors at the bar have to agree, and they chime in to talk about how special their town is.

 

9:00 p.m. @ The Liberal Cup

We walk five minutes down Water Street to the Liberal Cup. Inside it feels like a true pub: dark wooden beams hold the ceiling, locals fill benches and picnic tables, rows of mugs hang above the bar, and signs like “Please Turn Off Ye Olde Cell Phone” pledge the expected courtesy. We find spots at the bar and try a sampler of beers fresh from the brewery out back. We taste varieties from Ale Wife Ale to For Richer or For Poorter.

 

10:00 p.m. @ Maple Hill Farm Inn

We retreat back to the inn and are greeted by Scott. My friend sneaks into the guest kitchen refrigerator to help herself to the complimentary pie that Vince baked earlier that day. Afterward, we hit the hay and fall into the kind of deep sleep that only the quiet winter woods can provide.

 

SATURDAY

7:00 a.m. @ Maple Hill Farm Inn

We wake up to the smell of coffee brewing in the dining room downstairs. We help ourselves and meet other guests who talk about going cross-country skiing and snowshoeing through Hallowell’s woods. One couple tells us they were married on the farm last summer and they keep returning for extended honeymoon trips.

 

7:30 a.m. @ Vaughn's Woods a.k.a. Hobbit Land

Vaughn’s Woods is lovingly nicknamed Hobbit Land by the locals. Here trails take us over stone bridges and by icy streams. The snow crunches under our feet and after a few minutes of walking into the woods, we feel completely alone and are finally able catch up.

 

9:30 a.m. @ A1 Diner

We head to Gardiner to see what the highly recommended A1 Diner is all about. The classic 1946 Worchester diner car is full, and everyone is chatting with one another. We overhear conversations about how far two breakfast-goers’s family trees stretch back into Maine’s history. I order the breakfast sandwich and my friend goes all out with the “full house.” The waitress tells us that all of the meat used in the burgers and steaks is sourced from a farm down the way.

 

11:00 a.m. @ Founding Farmers Community Market

We stop into the Founding Farmers Community Market where everything in the store is made by local craftsmen, farmers, and cooks. We look at wooden toys, knit hats for both kids and adults. I buy some organic berry-vanilla soap while a mother behind me picks up some eggs and granola.

 

12:00 p.m. @ Maple Hill Farm Inn

It’s back to the inn to refresh. We wish that we brought our bathing suits to enjoy the outdoor Jacuzzi. Instead we relax in the living room, where I browse through a book that tells the history of the inn.

 

2:30 pm on Water Street in Gardiner

We drive back to Gardiner where on this particular afternoon the town is hosting a cash mob. Everyone is encouraged to spend $20 on items in local stores—it’s an attempt to help out the local businesses in what is a tough stretch for retail in winter. I find it easy to do my part, buying earrings from Monkitree, a shirt from GirlTrend, and an outfit for my friend’s baby from Funky Fashions.

 

5:00 p.m. @ the Vintage Wine Bar

The Vintage Wine Bar has a classy vibe. The staff is friendly, approachable, and helps us choose wines that we’ve never tried before. We enjoy a cheese plate and $5 glasses of wine.

 

6:30 p.m. @ Pastaz

This family owned authentic Italian restaurant has exposed brick walls and an open kitchen. Our pasta dishes are served in a skillet and we savor every bite.

 

7:30 p.m. @ Johnson Hall

Johnson Hall is packed with locals looking to enjoy some live acoustic music and funny stories supplied by “Guitar Man” Samuel James. Inside the intimate space, Samuel encourages audience participation with his banter and stories, and at the end of the show, they talk him into not one, but two encores.

 

10:00 p.m. @ Easy Street Lounge

On our way home from the concert, there are a number of people out in Hallowell (even on this chilly night). We descend into the bar that was described to me as “your dad’s friend’s awesome man cave basement.” He’s pretty on, there are pool tables, couches, grape lights hung from the ceiling, and an amazing local band that everyone in the bar ends up dancing to.

 

 

SUNDAY

7:00 a.m. on the back roads of Hallowell

I sneak out before Renee wakes up to go for a run through hilly Hallowell. The frozen air feels fresh and for two miles down the road, I pass only a handful of homes, each one with woods as their backyard.

 

8:00 a.m. @ Maple Hill Farm Inn

We enjoy what now, thanks to the kindness and hospitality of our hosts, genuinely feels like a home-cooked breakfast at Maple Hill Farm Inn. I get an omelet and Renee tries the pancakes with Maine blueberries.

 

11:00 a.m. @ the Hallowell Antique Mall

The antique store takes us back to a time before our time. We find old, dusty books of spells, matching china sets, old telephones, and I try on a pair of old snowshoes. I stop to admire some complicated older cameras and an older couple laughs with me as I take a picture of them with my iPhone.

 

12:30 p.m. @ Lux Hair Salon and Products

Lux Hair Salon and Products feels upscale, but is affordably priced. I stop in to get an eyebrow wax and I chat with the owner, Nathan, about his shop and life in Hallowell. He tells me that this small town with a great nightlife provides the perfect balance.

 

2:00 p.m. @ Scrummy Afters Candy Shoppe

We regress to our childlike selves when we open Scrummy Afters’s door. The room, decorated by the owner’s daughter, is a palette of purples and greens. And with a Lion King soundtrack playing through the speakers, Renee and I reminisce and drool over the assortment: Jawbreakers, Bon-Bons, Grapefruit chews, Jelly Beans of every flavor, and a collection of truffles from raspberry to champagne. In the back, an Alice in Wonderland-themed area, complete with a table setting for tea, is available for birthday parties and events (the owner tells us that both kids and adults have had their birthdays here).

 

4:00 p.m. on I-95

With a bag full of goodies, we hit the highway, leaving with lots of memories from our adventures through the small riverside towns of Hallowell and Gardiner. We promise to revisit every place we’ve stopped when the temperatures are up and the Kennebec is, once again, a rushing waterway.