Downtown Eastport, Maine
The Scenic Byway runs between Cobscook Bay and Western Passage through Sipayik, traditionally a seasonal Passamaquoddy fishing village, now a Tribal Reservation. The Wapohahki Museum displays traditional tools, baskets, arts, artifacts, historic photos, and conducts preservation of the Passamaquoddy language. Life-size mannequins, modeled after actual Passamaquoddy Tribal members, are arranged in settings depicting their traditional day-to-day lifestyle.
Eastport is an island surrounded by Passamaquoddy and Cobscook Bays. The protected downtown harbor hosts cruise ships, tugs, Coast Guard, sailing, and fishing boats. A paved walkway along the bustling waterfront connects main street shops with two commercial piers. Anglers frequently fish from these piers, and whales surface just offshore. The “Old Sow” whirlpool, largest whirlpool in the western hemisphere, is accessible via tour boat.
A century ago, Eastport was called “sardine capital of America,” one of the busiest ports in the US. Three pearl essence factories produced cosmetic glitter from slime off fish scales. Eastport housed five ship chandleries; S. L. Wadsworth & Son, maintained by six generations of family proprietors, is now the oldest operating ship chandlery in the nation.
Wesley Raye began making mustard for tinned sardines over 120 years ago. Raye’s is the only mustard mill in North America still using the traditional cold grind process; their grinding stones are the original stones shipped from France in 1900. Raye’s Historic Old Stone Mill, a working museum with retail, commemorates the Raye family commitment to tradition.
Eastport declined rapidly after the herring industry disappeared, leaving empty storefronts, streets, and homes for decades. A heritage of stubborn grit and resourcefulness, along with changing demographics, slowly led to a renaissance of Eastport’s downtown through, mainly through the arts and in part due to the Fox TV series, Murder in Small Town X. Eastport’s empty storefronts and streets were temporarily converted into a lively, life-filled small-town village center staged for filming. Locals, inspired by the excitement of this instant downtown makeover, began refreshing and refilling storefronts, this time with galleries, boutiques, antiques, eateries, museums, and studios. Homes in the Historic District are restored and occupied. Eastport has gained international attention as “the Little Town that Could.”
The Tides Institute sponsors art exhibits, events, and arts education around the shared heritage of the 3 Bold Coast nations – the Passamaquoddy, Canadian, and US. Tides Institute has hosted the Great Sardine and Maple Leaf Drop on New Year’s Eve for 16 years. A giant red maple leaf is lowered to commemorate the Canadian new year at midnight, Atlantic time. At midnight Eastern time, an 8-foot sardine is dropped, which spectators kiss for good luck.