October 17, 2012

KENNEBEC TALES: Pretty? You know it when you see it

Welcome to central Maine's 10 prettiest villages

Kennebec Journal Staff

Pretty. It's hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Joe Phelan A pedestrian cross Water Street recently in downtown Hallowell.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

When the September issue of Down East magazine named Maine's 10 prettiest villages, as picked by readers, it probably didn't come as a surprise to most people west of U.S. Route 1 that they were all on the coast.

To be fair, it's a good bet that a lot of the readers who voted haven't been to central Maine. Still, there it was, "Maine's 10 Prettiest Villages."

To quote Down East: "Such a grand claim bears occasional examination."

And who better to do that than us? That said, my list isn't state-wide. That would just be silly. But I know our region.

Welcome to central Maine's 10 prettiest villages.

This list is arbitrary -- no reader vote, just lots of driving and eyeballing.

Readers will disagree, that's expected. After all, prettiness is in the eye of the beholder. Some will demand their village should have been included because of its restaurants or museums or the exceptional quality of its residents.

Sorry. This is only about pretty.

Think of it as a beauty pageant -- everyone knows it's not about what the contestant thinks about world peace or how she throws a baton -- it's all about how she looks in a swimsuit.

Forget museums and restaurants, this is all about how the villages look in their swimsuits.

1. Kingfield

Ski Magazine has called Kingfield "the most beautifully preserved ski town east of Aspen," but no one who sees it needs to be told. It's all right there on Route 27 at the gateway to the western mountains -- a Victorian fairytale downtown with a frontier feel set against the mountain backdrop of Sugarloaf, Mount Abram and Bigelow, and punctuated by the North and South Forks of the Carrabassett River.

It wears it well all four seasons.

Doug Marble, town administrative assistant, notes the mix of church steeples, classic New England pitched-roof homes, traditional bright Victorian colors, combined with that many of the century-old buildings are preserved and restored, contribute to the town's beauty.

It doesn't go unnoticed. It's praises have been sung in print and in cyberspace.

Kingfield pretty?

"Yeah, we get that a lot," Marble said.

2. Mount Vernon

Tucked into a nook at the tip of Minnehonk Lake, the village's collection of quirky, funky buildings is greeting-card cute. Being off the beaten path has its advantages -- it's unspoiled and unaffected.

"The village has a lot of character, like an interesting old person who may have beauty but who also is filled with a lifetime of interesting stuff," village resident Sarah McSorley said.

It's scenic setting helps, but McSorley noted "its charisma and charm come from the eclectic bunch of people who live there and who maintain the village's small businesses."

Outsiders get it. "Tourists go around snapping pictures," McSorley said. "It's not just another pretty face."

3. Hallowell

In the early 1970s, the state wanted to bulldoze the center of town to widen U.S. Route 201. The townspeople revolted and the road remained unchanged. Hallowell's brick and wood 19th century downtown would make it one of the state's prettiest villages no matter what, but the addition of the majestic Kennebec River makes it striking. Centuries-old, well-preserved homes and buildings on the city's steep streets add to the charm.

Writer Katy Perry has lived many places in her 92 years "but no place has made me so happy." Every corner of the town brings her pleasure, from the trails in the woods, the wildflowers, to the view from up the hill where "you can look down on the river and it's just gorgeous."

(Continued on page 2)

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