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An upscale air

Once rough-and-tumble fishing town now boasts artsy presence

Email|Print| Text size + By Letitia Baldwin
Globe Correspondent / March 19, 2007

Carrie Shores can walk Zorba on Main Street. The 31-year-old architect and her dog won't get busted on their daily stroll past century-old buildings. Repeal of a 1983 municipal ordinance banning canines on Main Street, imposed to keep a motorcycle gang and its Dobermans, Rottweilers, and German shepherds from terrorizing pedestrians, speaks volumes about the ongoing transformation of this mid-coast city into an artsy, upscale hub. Once dubbed "Rockland by the Smell" for the stink produced by a fish rendering plant, this is no longer the tough fishing port where 20 years ago barroom brawls occurred daily. "It was a wild town. You'd go to get the court news, there were women beating up women," says Emmet Meara , a columnist for the Bangor Daily News . But "Shore Village," as Rockland was known historically, hasn't lost its salty soul. The city still has a working waterfront, where fishing trawlers have been replaced by sloops, cruisers, lobster yachts, and other pleasure craft.

Do

Abbie Burgess, the eldest daughter of Matinicus Rock Lighthouse keeper Sam Burgess, helped her father tend the lamps on the treacherous pile of granite 25 miles from Rockland. A photo of Burgess, who lighted the whale oil lamps and performed other duties from 1856 to 1875, is on display at the Maine Lighthouse Museum (1 Park Drive, 207-594-3301, mainelighthousemuseum.com ). Captain Kenneth Black, a former commander of the US Coast Guard Station in Rockland, amassed the collection, which includes a surf boat, fog bell, buoy lanterns, Fresnel lenses, and other lighthouse-related artifacts.

A few blocks away, another Maine woman, Lucy C. Farnsworth, distinguished herself by putting Rockland on the art world's radar. The reclusive spinster and second daughter and heir of lime baron William A. Farnsworth was considered an eccentric miser. But the canny 97-year-old, who hid thousands of dollars behind picture frames and under stair treads, astonished locals in 1935 by leaving her entire $1.3 million estate to the city to build a library and art museum in her father's memory. The Wyeth family have further enriched the Farnsworth Art Museum (16 Museum St., 207-596-6457, farnsworthmuseum.org ) with works by N.C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth.

Play

Ride to Vinalhaven island on the Maine State Ferry Service's Governor Curtis or Captain Charles Philbrook (517A Main St., 800-491-4883, maine.gov ). Before catching the ferry, get fresh almond croissants or turkey focaccia sandwiches to go from Atlantic Baking Co. (351 Main St., 207-596-0505, atlanticbakingco.com ).

Motorheads should head 2 miles south to the Owls Head Transportation Museum (Route 73, 207-594-4418, ohtm.org ). Check out the 1903 Mercedes Simplex Tourer, 1912 Woods Electric Brougham, and other treasures.

In the evening, sit back and enjoy movies or listen to wry stand-up Paula Poundstone, urban folk artist Eliza Gilkyson, and other live performers at the elegant Strand Theatre (Main Street, 207-594-0070, rocklandstrand.com ).

Party

Sample a Bar Harbor Real Ale or other Maine brews at the WaterWorks Pub (7 Lindsey St., 207-596-2753 ), a former eight-bay garage. Raise a glass at other watering holes like The Black Bull Tavern (420 Main St., 207-593-9060, blackbulltavern.com ), and Portside Lounge in the Navigator Motor Inn (520 Main St., 207-594-2131, navigatorinn.com ).

In Maine, it's not uncommon for working folks to be in bed by 8 p.m. and up well before dawn. Still, Time Out Pub (275 Main St., 207-593-9336, northatlanticbluesfestival.com ), home of the town's annual North Atlantic Blues Festival, offers some after-dark action. Guitar Shorty, Smokin' Joe Kubek, Monster Mike Welch, and Toni Lynn Washington are among those who play Monday nights.

Rest

Samoset Resort in Rockport (220 Warrenton St., 800-341-1650, 207-594-2511, samosetresort.com , rooms $137-$179 without breakfast), with its sweeping view of Penobscot Bay and the Camden hills, is the best off-season option for families with children. The rambling complex features an indoor pool and extensive fitness facilities.

For singles and couples, Rockland offers many bed-and-breakfasts within easy walking distance of Main Street. The Berry Manor Inn (81 Talbot Ave., 800-774-5692, 207-596-7696, berrymanorinn.com, doubles $115-$175) prides itself on its homemade pies.

At the LimeRock Inn (96 Limerock St., 800-546-3762, 207-594-2257, limerockinn.com, doubles $110-$145), a turreted Victorian with a wraparound verandah, the rooms have working fireplaces.

Fuel

Starting at 5 a.m. daily, fishermen, tradesmen, and other locals can be found at The Brass Compass Cafe (305 Main St., 207-596-5960, brasscompasscafe.com , full breakfasts $4.75-$8.99).

Get a mid morning recharge over a double espresso with whipped cream ($2.50) at Rock City Books & Coffee (328 Main St., 207-594-4123, rockcitycoffee.com/secondread.htm).

A visit to Rockland would be incomplete without a grilled hot dog and onions from Wasses Hot Dogs (2 North Main St., 207-594-7472, midcoastmaine.net , hot dogs $1.90-$2).

"We do not serve the food of cowards" is the motto of Cafe Miranda (15 Oak St., 207-594-2034, cafemiranda.com, entrees $15-$26), serving an eclectic dinner menu ranging from pierogies to house-smoked haddock cakes with chorizo. Wine and microbrews are served.

Spend

At the southern end of Main Street, get coffee and a snowflake cookie from The Pastry Garden (313 Main St., 207-594-3663, pastry-garden.com ).

For hipsters with deep pockets, Black Parrot (328 Main St., 207-593-9370, blackparrotonline.com ) is a must. Check out the Lisa Nading fuchsia suede wedges ($180), black silk tie camisole ($88), and other funky, but pricey stuff.

At Archipelago (386 Main St., 207-596-0701, thearchipelago.net ), try on a pair of Cranberry Isles ( jeweler Lisa Hall's seaglass earrings ) , and other Maine-made jewlery and clothing.

Eye the oars, dinghies, and other marine-related items at Hamilton Marine (20 Park Drive, 207-594-8181, hamiltonmarine.com ), a leading marine hardware store.

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