Down East - Late Summer 2011 travel blog



Park Row









We first became aware of the scenic communities left behind when the Methodists established summer prayer camps while we visited Martha's Vineyard. Apparently there are a number of such developments in New England that began in the 1850's. A large prayer tent would be erected in a grassy field. Worshippers would bring smaller tents to live in around it. Some folks who came were too poor to own a tent and would rent a "room" within the canvas walls. While religion provided the impetus for these summer migrations, getting away from the hot, big city and recreating outdoors was as enjoyable for our great grandparents as it is for us. Living in tents got a bit old, so people began to build or haul in preassembled homes on the site where their tent had stood. Because the tents were small, the typical home has a similar tiny footprint. After the invention of the band saw, there was a "keeping up with the Jones" effect as each summer resident added curlicues and facades to their home. At Oak Bluff on Martha's Vineyard, the homes were painted bright, pastel colors.

The Methodists who built a tent camp in Maine at Bayside Village, were a bit more subdued. Their zoning requirements are also a bit less strict and many of the homes today are festooned with satellite dishes, thermopane windows, and other modern developments that make the houses much more comfortable and pleasant to live in. A steady supply of running water only came to Bayside twenty years ago and since then residents have begun insulating their houses and making renovations that will make the homes comfortable year round. Many of the homes here have been added on to and it is not so obvious that they began as a campsite. Bayside Village has about sixty permanent residents and there are no stores, restaurants, or other retail establishments now although there used to be, but in the summer its population swells with home renters who flock to this picturesque bay for some boating, fishing and R&R. Altogether there are about 300 picturesque homes here on Penobscot Bay.

After a picnic lunch we wandered around the town taking pictures. The other tourists here did not seem to mind being part our shots. Some of the homes had cute names like "Squeezed In" or "Breaking Wind," while others simply reflected their owners' names. Some still had the names they must have had back in the day - Purity, Charity, Unity. American flags flew everywhere. Children played in the grassy circles that had once contained those prayer tents. Michelle Bachman would love this place -American as it used to be. Since few towns in Maine have sandy beaches, a floating platform provided access to swimmers tough enough to brave the frigid waters. Historical signs were posted here and there pointing out the origins of many of the homes. One had a lovely set of oval windows which had been appropriated after a more permanent prayer building had been taken down - Yankees have always been good at recycling.

In the evening we listened to a previous poet laureate of Maine read both her own poetry as well as poems written by Maine notables such as Edna St. Vincent Millay and Longfellow. She started with description of the Maine coast written by the John Smith of Pocohantas fame. He found the view awful and awesome. We have to agree. She read pieces by her contemporaries that captured the seafaring culture and fierce independence that exemplifies the locals here. Fish, the sea, and nature were regular themes in the pieces read.

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