Nestled along riverbanks and drained by the Vaughan Brook, the small city of Hallowell is often referred to as the “New Orleans on the Kennebec.’’ Noted for its architecture and culture, it spans nearly 6.1 square miles with a population of 2,381. Haven’t been there? Here’s five reasons to check it out.
Hallowell was incorporated in 1771 and included Augusta, Chelsea, and part of Manchester. It was named for Benjamin Hallowell, a Boston merchant and one of the Kennebec Proprietors. The first settlers were Deacon Pease Clark and his family, who moved from Attleborough and, legend states, took shelter in their overturned cart near present-day Water Street. The picturesque village welcomed settlers from far and wide with a curving hillside of streets and terraces overlooking the little harbor. In its early years, the city boasted 71 shops along Water Street for its nearly 2,500 residents and thrived in the logging, trading, and shipbuilding industries. Two grist mills, five sawmills, and two slaughterhouses drew people in from across the state. In 1850, Hallowell was incorporated as a city. It continued to be successful within local industries, most prominently granite, cement, and ice. With easy access to the Kennebec River, the city was able to maintain a decent trade business with exports such as sandpaper, textiles, rope, wire, books, and shoes. As years went by, however, the businesses in the small central Maine city started to struggle and buildings began to fall apart. After the 1962 bicentennial celebration, a number of residents formed Row House to restore historic buildings. In the 1970s, the city started fixing up the downtown area and it started to flourish once again, becoming well-known at the time as an “antique town.’’ Today, it is a vibrant community, welcoming a wide range of tourists and residents alike to enjoy the local food, businesses, and charm.
Stroll down Water Street, the city’s main street, and discover dozens of top-notch dining options. If you’re in the mood for a beer and pub food, the Liberal Cup Public House and Brewery is the way to go. Sure, the beer is good but visitors say it’s the food that brings them back. Its twist on the traditional bar menu features savory dishes like the grilled Rueben, haddock napoleon, and shepherd’s pie. Stop by the Liberal Cup on Tuesdays and participate in weekly trivia night or pop in on the weekends and enjoy live music from local bands. Slate’s Restaurant and Bakery is another must. With regionally sourced, seasonal, and natural ingredients, the dishes are unique and full of flavor. Slate’s is not only home to good food but also houses a unique art display. The exposed brick walls feature works by local artists and pieces rotate monthly. Hand-painted murals also adorn the walls and tables. In the mood for something else? Not a problem. Hallowell is also home to the area’s best Thai food at Café de Bangkok; Chinese at the Lucky Garden; brunch at Joyce’s; and authentic Mexican at Bravo’s Southwest Bistro, to name a few.
Hallowell is famous for its beautiful architecture. Many of the buildings have been maintained or restored and feature marvelous carvings and decoration. “The Hillside of Hallowell,’’ is a National Register of Historic Places district known as the Hallowell Historic District. Here you’ll find over 260 acres with 446 participating buildings including the Hubbard Free Library (c. 1879), the Artemus Leonard House (c. 1811), the Capt. Samuel Watts House (c. 1820), the Old Fire Station (c. 1830), and more. Visit any of these sites to learn about how they were built and marvel at the many intricate structures.
From antiques to sweets, the shopping in downtown Hallowell offers something for everyone. Antique shops are especially popular, with multiple stores sprinkled throughout the main stretch. Brass and Friends is a quaint antique shop specializing in lighting fixtures, fireplace accessories, and other art. One of the largest stores is the Hallowell Antique Mall, a multi-building complex with a variety of unique objects, from furniture to décor. If antiques aren’t your thing, you’ll find a variety of cute gift shops and clothing stores, like Timeless Treasures, Earth Bound, and Dancewear House. The Harlow Gallery is a must for art lovers. You’ll also find an old-fashioned barber shop, a full-service candy store (think candy buffets), a fish market (actress Julia Stiles has been known to stop by in the summertime), a small grocery store, a floral shop, and even a juice bar if you need some mid-shopping refreshments. Visitors in town on Tuesday evenings should make a point to stop by the Hallowell Farmer’s Market. The market, situated along the waterfront, offers guests an array of artisan produce and other goodies.
Sure, the waterfront is fun. But to truly experience this great city, you need to get out of the hustle and bustle and get lost at one of the many local nature attractions. One of Maine’s natural treasures is the city’s Vaughan’s Woods, fondly known as Hobbit Land. For decades locals have called it the best place to go hiking. The trails are unmarked but easy to follow with wide, groomed walkways. The main trail passes the Vaughan Brook overlooking several waterfalls. The enchanting granite block bridges provide a picture-perfect view of the falls up to the scenic Cascade Pond. Dogs are not only allowed but encouraged. For easy access to the woods, park at Hall-Dale High School on Maple Street and follow the trail to the left of the tennis courts. Other natural sights include the Kennebec River Rail Trail and the Waterfront. Stroll along the river and take in the scenery. Local bands often perform at the bandstand on the water, too.