Best Places: Hallowell

The Little Easy.

Photo by Mark Fleming

Population: 2,366
Median household income: $54,536
Percent of families below poverty level: 7.5%
Median home sale price: $155,000
Median age: 51
Hallowell is a city in name only. Among Maine’s 23 incorporated cities, only Eastport (population 1,331) is smaller. But its size is only a small part of Hallowell’s charm.

Hallowell promotes itself as “Maine’s Antique Riverport,” as the three-story, 19th-century mercantile blocks along Water Street were once lined with antique and book shops. These days, however, its other nickname, “The Little Easy,” might be more appropriate, as restaurants and bars have proliferated downtown, and with them a live music scene.

In many ways, Hallowell is defined by its proximity to Augusta. Many residents are involved with state government, and its location just down the Kennebec from the capital casts Hallowell somewhat in the role of Augusta’s Georgetown, Washington, D.C.’s historic entertainment district. The downtown is chock full of restaurants, among them Slate’s Restaurant & Bakery, the Liberal Cup brew pub, Café de Bangkok, Hattie’s Chowder House, Joyce’s, and Kennebec Pizza.

In fact, Hallowell boasts one of the most entertaining downtowns of any Maine city. A major attraction is the Harlow Gallery, the cooperative art gallery operated by the Kennebec Valley Art Association since the 1950s. The Harlow mounts exhibitions of contemporary art year-round and is especially fun to visit on nights when local bars are featuring live music.

“Sometimes there are four or five places featuring live music on any given night. There’s no cover and you can walk from place to place.” — Deb Fahy, Harlow Gallery director

Music venues downtown include Slate’s (which has had live music on Monday nights for more than 30 years), Liberal Cup, Easy Street Lounge, Kennebec Wharf, and the Maine House. The prevalence of music in Hallowell also has an Augusta link, as many of the musicians have connections to the excellent music department at the University of Maine at Augusta.

Perry McCourtney, a Hallowell native and real estate broker, moved back to his hometown three years ago after living for many years in the lively university town of Madison, Wisconsin, and he was pleased with what he found.

“Hallowell has a great ‘livability,’” he says “It’s chock full of cultural offerings, has a thriving and interesting downtown, and a cast of colorful characters as residents. It’s got the culture and sophistication of a much larger city with the charm and quaintness of a village.” Exactly.

Next up: The Kennebunks: Sisters by the Sea.
Previous: Camden: On vacation every day.
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