Downtown Ellsworth. Courtesy of city of Ellsworth.
If location is everything, it’s tough to beat Ellsworth. The “Gateway to Down East and Acadia” is just 15 miles from Acadia National Park but feels well removed from the crush of summertime traffic on Mount Desert Island. As of the last census, it was Maine’s fastest-growing city, with a 20 percent population gain over a decade. The downtown business strip is consistently vibrant, a new Jackson Laboratory facility just brought 300 jobs to town, and affordably priced housing units are springing up all over.
It’s quite a turnaround for a town that was decimated nearly a century ago by a “Great Flood” followed by a “Great Fire.” When Ruth Foster arrived in 1933, at 4 years old, the latter had just scorched the place. “There was nothing here,” she remembers. “It was all burned down.” Foster has lived in Ellsworth ever since, serving as mayor and running a kids’ clothing store downtown for decades before she retired late last year. “Here I am now in the midst of a complete rejuvenation of the city,” she says. “There are new buildings and houses, and it’s just energized. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this city for all these years.”