Maine Road Trip: Miles 452 to 527

Southern Maine

Running parallel to Interstate 295 from Brunswick to South Portland and then alongside Interstate 95 until it reaches the New Hampshire border in Kittery, Route 1 is now the slow road. Indeed, in some places, such as Brunswick and Yarmouth, Route 1 seems to want to rid itself of traffic through counterintuitive shifts in direction; drivers who aren’t paying close attention find themselves merging with the fast-moving cars on I-295. And in Portland, which seems like a major metropolis after nearly five hundred miles of small towns, farmland, and wilderness, Route 1 and I-295 are the same road. With the exception of a few miles here and there, these last (or first) seventy-five miles of Route 1 are a string of fast-food restaurants, car dealerships, and big box stores. It is not always a pretty road, but it is an essential one, the lifeblood of the communities that have grown up around it.

A forty-foot tall Indian in full headdress (page 68) has been welcoming people to Freeport since 1969, when Julian and Bill Leslie had him installed to lure customers into their Casco Bay Trading Post, which sold leather and sheepskin goods, hand-sewn moccasins, and souvenirs. The Leslies named him Chief Passamaquoddy, but most people know him as the Big Indian or the BFI (you figure it out).

Made of fiberglass, plywood, and steel rods, the Big Indian is the work of Pennsylvania artist Rodman Shutt, who has made dozens of roadside statues, including Boothbay Harbor’s giant Old Lobster Fisherman. Shutt’s Charlemont Indian in Charlemont, Massachusetts, could be the BFI’s little brother — he’s only twenty feet tall, but he bears a striking resemblance. According to some published accounts, the Big Indian was such a distraction when it was shipped to Maine aboard a flatbed truck that part of the New Jersey Turnpike was shut down.

The Casco Bay Trading Post closed years ago, and in its place have been a succession of businesses, including Levinsky’s, American Skiing Company, Winter People, and today, Conundrum Wine Bistro. The Big Indian has weathered all the changes handsomely. You might say he’s a stand-up guy.
Philip Wagner owner, Derosier’s Market, 120 Main Street, Freeport:
“My great, great grandfather, Augustus Derosier, opened Derosier’s Market in 1904, so we were here eight years before L.L. Bean. Since then, their sales have broken the $2 billion mark; ours are not quite there yet! We’ve had multiple offers to sell; I always say the business has supported five generations, so any offers would have to support the next five, which tends to thin the herd very quickly.

“In 1904, it was all grocery. My grandmother, Alice Wagner, introduced pizzas and sandwiches sometime in the fifties. When I was a kid — I was born in 1969 — there were multiple shoe factories in town, and noontime was chaos. The workers would line up all the way around the corner for their sandwiches. I remember the wall of sandwiches on the counter. We made ham Italians, and you could get them either with onions or without. Those were the options. There was no light this or extra that.

“I worked here when I was a teenager, and I couldn’t wait to get away from my hometown. But one day in 2001 I quit my job in a huff, and I asked my dad if I could work for him here for the summer. He said, ‘I’m ready to go if you want it.’

“Under my dad’s ownership, it was more of a convenience store than a grocery. Now every gas station is a convenience store, so we’ve adjusted again — we’re more food, more restaurant.

“We get a lot of tourists in summer, but the locals are my bread and butter even though there are a lot fewer of them living downtown — all that used to be housing is now parking lots. When people who were born and raised in Freeport come back for a visit, they always come here because they don’t recognize anything else in town.”
Linda Woodard director, Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center, Scarborough:
“At 3,100 acres, Scarborough Marsh is the largest salt marsh in Maine. Salt marshes are formed by barrier beaches, and since pretty much everything north of Portland is rocky coast, there is no other place like it in the state. Scarborough Marsh also is special because it has been preserved. Forty years ago, Dick Parks, of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W), and Dick Anderson, who was the executive director of Maine Audubon at the time, had a lot of foresight. They went around and figured out who owned all the little pieces of it and they pulled it all altogether. It is now owned and managed by IF&W.

“The marsh is an important stopover for migratory birds flying north to breed. It also is habitat for some endangered species like roseate and least terns, who nest off the coast on Stratton Island and come to the mouth of the marsh to feed. Nelson’s and Saltmarsh sparrows breed in the marsh. It is a nursery — 70 percent of the fish species we eat depend on the marsh as either a place to nest or spawn or feed. And it’s important for flood control. A lot of places have filled in their marshes and paid the price — look at New Orleans — but a marsh as big as Scarborough Marsh can absorb a lot of water.

“One of the things that is fun about working at the Scarborough Marsh nature center is that so many people don’t plan their visit — they stop in because they’re driving by and they see our canoes and wonder what is going on. I see that a-ha moment when they realize, ‘This is beautiful.’ “
The five-story brick B&M plant in Portland’s East Deering neighborhood has been making baked beans on the shores of Casco Bay since 1927 (the factory itself was built in 1913, when B&M made codfish cakes and fish flakes). Founded by George Burnham and Charles S. Morrill, B&M is now owned by New Jersey-based food giant B&G, whose many brands include Cream of Wheat, Underwood, and Ortega, but it still makes beans the way it always has, in enormous cast-iron pots inside brick ovens. On some days, drivers on Route 1 (merged here with I-295) are treated to the fragrance of molasses and sugar as they drive past.
Fitzpatrick Stadium, which sits alongside Route 1 in Portland, is the site of one of Maine’s oldest football traditions, the Thanksgiving Day matchup of cross-town rivals Deering and Portland High schools. The Rams (Deering) and the Bulldogs (Portland) played their first Turkey Day game in 1911 and have missed only one since — that was in 1920 due to bad weather. The now defunct Bayside Park was the original setting for the game. In 1931, the event was moved to 6,300-seat Fitzpatrick, where it has been played ever since. Although Deering won the hundredth Thanksgiving game last November with a score of 33-0, Portland can take consolation in the fact that it has the historical edge, having won fifty-four of the standoffs to Deering’s thirty-nine (seven games ended as ties).
Ira Rosenberg
Philanthropist and owner of Prime Motor Group, which has six car dealerships in Saco and one in Scarborough, all on Route 1
“I was one of those kids who joined the navy the day they turn seventeen. I went in to catch the end of the Korean G.I. Bill, and when I came out, I worked part-time changing tires in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while I went to school. After a year and a half of college, I couldn’t stand it, so I quit and went to work full time, first in the service department, then in sales at a Cadillac dealership in Lynn. With $140, I bought a used car operation in Salem. I stayed with that for seven years. Then I bought a Toyota store in Danvers that was going bust. I put it out on the highway and built several other dealerships after that. I had seven or eight dealerships in Danvers alone.

“About ten years ago, my wife, Judith, got sick so we decided to retire to Florida. After four years, I told her, ‘Either give me a lobotomy or let me go back to work.’ She opted for the lobotomy! So I bought this little Toyota store in Saco in 2004. It was a small store selling very few cars, and we took it over and grew it like crazy. We took back our market share and whatever else was available. Four or five years later we built a brand new dealership across the street. It is one of the most exciting dealerships in Maine. I’ve put in features other dealerships don’t have, like a full café, a pool table, and a fish tank that kids can put their hands in to touch the turtles and fishes.

“I believe in taking care of customers personally. My whole life is on the floor and talking to customers. I love doing the television commercials. The camera doesn’t scare me. I’m the same person on camera as I am off camera. I did commercials when I was in Massachusetts, but not as much as I have here. I was younger with a family growing up and I thought differently then. Now money isn’t my overall reason for being in business. I’m here because I want to have a good time.

“My father was too poor to be a philanthropist, but early on I became friendly with some people who became successful and they taught me philanthropy. My wife and I have become involved in many different charities. Sweetser is one of my favorites because they do so much for children. I believe I have to continue giving because if I don’t the guy upstairs is going to take everything away from me. I’ll tell you the truth: The more you give, the more you get. You feel that good stuff in your heart.”
Vince Brazen
Wheels N Waves, 579 Post Road, Wells:
“People started surfing around here sometime in the late sixties. The most common places to surf are the Ogunquit River mouth and the Wells jetty, with these big beaches and parking, but there are a lot of good places. With Google maps and everything else, there are no secret spots anymore.

“Interest has exploded in the last six to eight years. Surfing is cool again. Hollywood helps. They made the movie last year about Bethany Hamilton, the girl who lost her arm in a shark attack, and we saw a little bump of interest among young girls. The scene here used to be guy-dominated, but now it’s getting close to fifty-fifty. Another reason surfing has become popular again is that while it’s not the easiest thing in the world, it’s not the hardest thing, either. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it, and most of the local surf shops offer lessons.

“We’re the oldest surf shop in Maine by a mile, but all shops have been here for a while. We’re all real civil — we’re not calling each other to go out to dinner, but we get along because we have something in common. The local surfing community, from York to Kennebunk, is very tight. We lost a good friend from the surfing community in a car accident a few months back. We did a traditional Hawaiian Paddle Out, where we all paddled out and threw flowers and gave some speeches. You really get to see the love of the community with something like that.”
The best view of the Memorial Bridge demolition, which started February 8, is from Back Channel Canvas Shop, the very last (or very first) business on Route 1 in Maine. The maker of boat covers, awnings, and others things canvas is perched on the southern bank of Badgers Island in Kittery. Its big picture windows face the bridge and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the opposite shore of the Piscataqua River. “It’s going to be fascinating to watch,” says employee Liz Thurston of the bridge removal process.

Even without the bridge drama, the Piscataqua offers plenty of entertainment. “A lot of traffic goes up and down that river,” says Guy Sinclair, Thurston’s colleague. “There is a steady stream of fishing boats, gypsum ships, salt ships, and oil barges.” Tourists often stop to snap photographs of their entry into Maine.

Badgers Island has taken on a new personality since the rusty eighty-nine-year-old bridge was closed to vehicle traffic last July, Thurston says. Route 1, named Island Avenue here, became a dead-end street overnight. “I have to admit I kind of like the quiet,” she says. The bridge became a favorite walking and bicycling route for area residents, but on January 9, even they were banned as preparations for the demolition began.

The Memorial Bridge will be completely dismantled by the end of April. Construction of a new Memorial Bridge is scheduled to be completed by July 2013.

Peter Iordanou, owner, Badgers Island Pizzeria, 3 Island Avenue, Kittery (Mile 527)
“I’ve been in this part of the country for forty-one years. I grew up over the bridge in Portsmouth. I live in New Hampshire now, but I lived in this building for eight or nine years. They call this the seacoast area, and it is a unique place. It’s safe, and the people are better here than any other place that I’ve traveled to in America.
“We’re only two hundred yards from the coast. We’re connected by bridges to the mainland, but you still feel like you’re on an island. You see seabirds and, except for Route 1, the island is quiet and secluded. It’s mostly residential, but there are a couple of big businesses, GreenPages, a technology business, and Weathervane, which has its lobster warehouse here. Lately people are putting really expensive luxury apartments here. Portsmouth is the only port in New Hampshire, so there are big boats going through drawbridges all the time. Portsmouth and Kittery were established in 1653. The communities are very close — it’s like one town.”