Maritime Communities: Twentieth Century and Present

By the late 19th century, railroads connected large east coast cities with plentiful natural resources, including lumber from the Great Lakes region and the Pacific Northwest. Refrigeration eliminated Maine’s ice industry; concrete and steel took the place of granite; and iron steamships built in England dominated shipping. As the 20th century dawned, Maine’s fisheries began to show the drastic consequences of over-harvesting and too-efficient technology. Some maritime communities lost population. Fishermen who wanted to continue their tradition of small, family-owned vessels turned from the large offshoreOffshore

In fisheries, fishing conducted futher than 3 miles from land. Offshore fishing generally requires larger vessels for overnight passages and work.
fisheries to inshoreInshore

Near shore. In fishing the area considered to be fishable in a day's trip from shore. Formal definitions have this as 6 nautical miles from land.
fishing, including lobstering. Today, lobster fishing is a major Maine industry.


Tourism began before the Civil War, and after the war it increased dramatically. Early tourists were called RusticatorsRusticators

Late nineteenth and early twentieth century name for vacationers to Maine, who came from big cities on the East Coast to experience a rustic life and healthful air.
. They came to Maine by stage coach or cargo schooner Schooner

A sailing vessel of two or more masts, all fore-and-aft rigged. The Thomas W. Lawson, built in 1902, had seven masts. In comparison to a square-rigged vessel of comparable tonnage, a schooner is better for coastwise sailing.
to enjoy the country life style and healthy air of the Maine coast. Artists discovered the scenic beauty of the Maine coast in the mid-19th century, and their paintings advertised Maine to wealthy clients in Boston and New York. After the Civil War, vacations became fashionable among middle and professional class citizens, who transformed the coast and islands with large hotels, some with as many as 400 rooms. Rusticators from large East Coast cities gravitated to specific Maine towns: New Yorkers to Mount Desert Island, Bostonians to North Haven, and Philadelphians to Camden.

The visitors were not always “from away.” Often they came from Maine’s major cities: Portland and Bangor. Passenger steamers Steamer steamboat, steamship

A mechanically-propelled vessel in which the principal motive power is steam, as opposed to a sailing vessel or motorship. Steamboats traditionally were the sometimes sizable coastal steamers, while steamship referred to ocean going vessels.
carried visitors from Boston to Bangor with stops at Belfast and other towns along the way. The railroad also linked Boston to Bangor, where summer visitors could then take a spur line to Bar Harbor. Eventually the wealthier tourists build their own cottages, many in planned developments, as the middle classes filled the hotels. Developers began to buy up oceanfront land from local families. By the 1880s, the nation’s ultra-wealthy—Rockefellers, Pulitzers, and Mellons—had begun to build their grand cottages.


The arrival of rusticators, middle class vacationers, and wealthy cottagers began the gradual displacement of maritime community families. Because Maine’s traditional industries were in decline, some families had no choice but to sell their land to summer people or developers. Others took jobs as cooks, gardeners, and servants for vacationers. In some towns, the summer population was larger than the year-round census. By 1920 tourism had become the most important source of revenue for many coastal towns.

Between 1860 and 1910 the year-round population declined in Maine’s midcoast communities. Industries were in a state of collapse. The Great Depression did not impact the Maine coast as obviously as it did many parts of America—the coast was already so depressed economically that it had nowhere to fall. As always, coastal Mainers had to be self-sufficient, taking care of themselves and their neighbors. The canneries continued to provide jobs until the 1950s.

Cars and Roads

Highways and family cars brought a 225% increase in tourism in Maine between 1946 and 1956. The Kennebec Bridge opened the midcoast to tourism. As larger cities became more crowded, Maine’s relative lack of development attracted more visitors. Tourism brought summer income to local people—the rest of the year Maine remained near bottom in income among the 50 states. Tourism created a basic conflict: while local residents wanted industrialization, jobs, and progress, vacationers from “away” wanted Maine to stay rural, scenic, and uncrowded. The working waterfront began to change as some traditional fish markets, wharves, and processing plants were slowly replaced by motels and gift shops.

New Residents

In the early 1970s, the Maine coast saw the first wave of “back-to-the-landers” who came to experience a rustic lifestyle. Others came, and still come, for Maine’s simpler lifestyle and less crowded living. New and old residents now live side-by-side in maritime communities, and both care about the future of their towns. Conflicts can arise, however, over land use, the environment, and zoning issues. New people sometimes feel that Mainers are not concerned enough about these issues, and long-time residents suspect new people of wanting to take over. Condominium developments, tourist services, and seasonal entertainment continue to expand, as Maine’s Office of Tourism promotes the coast as “Vacationland” and “The Way Life Should Be.” But even as Maine depends on tourists and new residents, the struggle continues for identity and independence in maritime communities.