SOUTHPORT ISLAND, Maine -- Lawnmere, the oldest continuously operating inn in the Boothbay Harbor region, is getting a face-lift. When it opened in 1898 as a summer hotel, room and board was a reasonable $7-$10 a week. Now the new owners, only the sixth in 104 years, are sprucing up this picturesque site on the Sheepscot River just two miles from Boothbay Harbor, and yes, the price has gone up.
The sprawling campus, with its white-clapboard buildings and bright yellow shutters, has 34 guest rooms, 31 of which have water views and porches from which to observe the comings and goings of the boats below. The inn's gracious lawns sloping down to the river are sprinkled with Adirondack chairs.
For the more active, free bicycles await on the large front porch, and soon kayaks will be available, although several guests had brought their own the weekend we were there. The region offers a range of activities, including whale watching, fishing, hiking, and cycling on quiet side roads. A boat trip to nearby Monhegan Island, an artists' colony for more than 100 years, for birding during migratory season or walking the trails along the ocean, is a highlight. Maine's rocky coast is at your beck and call, as are the shops and galleries in Boothbay Harbor.
A "swing" bridge joins Boothbay, on the mainland, to Southport. The middle of this unusual bridge rotates to permit the passage of ships. Cars waiting to cross see the bridge as perpendicular to the road they are on when it is open. Once across the bridge, Lawnmere is a quarter-mile away.
The inn's front desk staff is impressively knowledgeable. We couldn't stump them with our questions ranging from where to find the nearest Internet access to what time the next mackerel fishing trip was leaving. Equally impressive was the number of almost-locals who frequent the inn. One couple told us that although they live only 45 minutes away, they regularly come to dine and spend the night. We eavesdropped on another conversation between Marlene, the front desk attendant, and a couple of guests reminiscing about what they did the last time they stayed here. Clearly, Lawnmere attracts repeat business.
The public rooms in the main building are painted in warm beiges, greens, and yellows. They have plenty of reading material, good reading lights, comfortable sofas and chairs, and coffee available on a sideboard all day.
The dining room has a length of picture windows overlooking the water. Every table has a view, and reportedly, the food is quite good. We happened to choose a weekend when Lawnmere was hosting a wedding, and the dining room was closed for a private party Saturday night. We had eaten at a lobster pound on Friday, and so were unable to sample the dinner menu. However, while browsing in Boothbay's shops that rainy Saturday, we bumped into a Boston friend who had enjoyed dinner at Lawnmere the night before, and especially recommended the Key lime pie. Main courses at dinner range from $18-$25; not surprisingly, about half the items are seafood. We did enjoy a Saturday breakfast with many choices, Maine blueberry pancakes and crusty French bread toast among them, and a Sunday brunch with even more options. The inn's highly touted red hash, however, was disappointingly dry. Room prices include breakfast and Sunday brunch.
The water that Lawnmere overlooks is called Townsend's Gut, a "gut" being a narrow waterway that leads eventually to open water. Because of Maine's rocky shorelines, all the docks in the gut are built high above the water, and guests descend the steps to the water at their own risk.
Rooms in the main building are charming. Two new deluxe suites have been part of the renovation. Bathrooms have been updated, and each room has original artwork. We had made a reservation in the main building, but because of the wedding, the inn called and advised us to take a room in the annex to escape the noise. Unfortunately, although larger, the rooms in the annex resemble motel rooms, and are not at all charming, except for balconies overlooking the water. Our advice would be to check with Lawnmere and choose a weekend sans wedding, if possible.
The inn shuts down between late October and May. You might want to reserve for next season, however, before the locals fill up the place.
Judy Kugel is a freelance writer based in Cambridge.