Best Places: The Kennebunks

Sisters by the sea.

Photo by Dave Cleaveland

Kennbunk
Population: 10,971
Median household income: $75,122
Percent of families below poverty level: 2.2%
Median home sale price: $255,500
Median age: 48

Kennebunkport
Population: 3,506
Median household income: $65,814
Percent of families below poverty level: 2%
Median home sale price: $396,500
Median age: 52

The Kennebunks are a nice place to visit — and you would want to live there. The two towns share with Arundel one of the top five high schools in Maine (according to U.S. News & World Report). Kennebunk in particular has a diverse local economy that goes beyond tourism. The Old House Parts Company specializes in “architectural salvage from 1730 to 1930.” Building contractor Tom Joyal founded the company in 1996 so he could recycle such vintage building materials as claw-foot tubs, leaded windows, and old wood flooring. He stores his massive inventory in a building that is itself a reclamation project, a freight warehouse built in 1872. Joyal’s company continues Kennebunk’s tradition of nontraditional, eco-friendly businesses that dates to 1970, when Tom and Kate Chappell founded Tom’s of Maine.

A green theme runs through much of both towns’ outdoor recreation. Kennebunk boasts nine hiking trails, including the Kennebunk Wildlife Management Area — where you’ll find the world’s largest population of northern blazing star, a threatened flowering plant — as well as easy access to the nearby Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. The Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, meanwhile, has preserved 2,200 acres, including 15 miles of trails, islands, and a lighthouse. Both towns are famed for their white sand beaches — a rarity in Maine. Beachgoers be advised: Kennebunk’s Dog Advisory Committee strikes a balance between maintaining the town’s canine-friendly reputation and monitoring potential problems from pet waste.

Kennebunk offers year-round village life with a Norman Rockwell atmosphere peopled by the most generous citizens I’ve ever met — and  I’ve lived in eight other states!” —Jean Macaulay, Kennebunk resident and the town’s Festival Committee chair

Maybe the best example of the Kennebunks’ distinctive sense of community involvement is the Waterhouse Center, a covered, open-air skating rink that opened last November. That property, an abandoned gas station, was once a blight on Kennebunk’s revitalized Main Street. The town acquired it and obtained a grant for the necessary cleanup. Figuring they could put the lot to good winter use, town employees fashioned a modest skating rink. That inspired Geraldine Waterhouse, a Montreal native who moved to Kennebunk in 1964, to provide a $1.5 million endowment to build a permanent structure that would also serve as a year-round community center.

The skating rink — which is right across the street from 50 Local, cornerstone of a vibrant dining scene that includes everything from The Clam Shack to the world-famous White Barn Inn — has been a huge hit. And in turning an eyesore into an asset, Kennebunk has provided its youngest citizens with a valuable life lesson. “If they fall,” Geraldine says, “they just get right back up and keep skating.”

Next up: Norway: Oxford Hills comeback.
Previous: Hallowell: The Little Easy.
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