Hallowell: the town that time forgot

The Thinker by Rodin

I am in Augusta, Maine on business. This is my first trip to our most northeastern state. In fact, until this week New England was largely unknown to me. Maine thus far has turned out to be about what I expected: rolling hills, verdant forests, seemingly as many boats as there are people, craggy coastlines, plentiful seafood, and a regional accent that is a bit peculiar. My name Mark, for example comes out “Mahk”.

I have been here about 48 hours. For much of it I have been working, or hanging around with the usual people that come on these trips. We chose Augusta, Maine to meet because one of the members of this group lives here and can host. Augusta though is a comparatively sleepy city by northeastern standards. I am not sure what it did to deserve being the state’s capital. Perhaps its somewhat central location made it a logical place for a state capital. If you are expecting a vibrant capital city, look elsewhere. It reached its prime long ago. Today, it feels more like a sleepy, backwater Southern city, just hillier.

Tonight we drove for dinner a few miles south of Augusta to the small town of Hallowell, on the west bank of the Kennebec River. The state capitol dome can be seen easily above the trees, for it cannot be much more than a mile away. We ate a leisurely dinner at an Italian restaurant, and then strolled through its business district. There was something very peculiar about Hallowell.

It could be peculiar in that it is old. It was founded in the 1762. The buildings look old too. Perhaps “quaint” is a better description. The buildings are solid and largely made of brick. They look a hundred years old or older. It is what passes for the town’s business district.

Aside from feeling quaint, the town mostly feels like it has not kept up with modern times. With the exception of the restaurants and a bar, everything was closed. The businesses generally closed by 5 PM. Some closed at 4 PM.

In Hallowell, they roll up the sidewalks awfully darn early. There is not even a 7 Eleven in this town. Indeed, the complete absence of anything that would resemble a commercial chain is its endearing aspect. There is no Wal-Mart. There is no Starbucks (although there is a coffee shop). There is no Target. There is no Applebees (although we passed one in Augusta). It is a town full of Mom and Pop businesses. It is a place from another time.

I am sure it is not unique but it still seems so very odd. We passed a bar. This was not a fern bar. This was not a bar that also served fish and chips. It was a bar: you came in, you drank and you left. There was not even a pool table.

The Kennebec River passed by peacefully. On the opposite side of the river was not more civilization, simply more woods.

The town is such a contrast to where I live in Northern Virginia. There life is in a constant state of flux, with continual growth being the only constant. In Hallowell, as in much of Maine, life moves at a more serene pace.

So we tarried. We looked at the high water flood marks on the side of one building, with a recent 1987 flood appearing to be the most devastating. We walked down to the boat ramp, watched the river waters pass silently by, and heard the sounds of the summer cicadas. Above us, the stars unfolded in a splendor impossible to see in our light polluted Northern Virginia skies. Mosquitoes occasionally danced along the surface of the water.

What was once so familiar though now seemed strange, and almost alien. Still, I wished for a week or so to keep tarrying in this small town, to get to know its people, and to see if maybe small town life was for me. This small town, like much of Maine, will be worth more of my time when I have more time for it.