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Cherryfield: A Fine Day Out
Written by Alice Wilkinson — Special to The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander  
Thursday, 27 July 2006
 

This fine view of Cherryfield includes the Route 1 bridge.—PHOTO BY ALICE WILKINSON

Cherryfield’s 75-acre historic district, which encompasses the downtown, can sneak up on you.  There you are, driving around, looking at the river, when you notice that there is a wonderful house over there.  Then you spot another, and another.

There’s something wonderful about old houses.  Sometimes the upper part of a house, particularly a Second Empire , will have three different kinds of shingles. 

The houses have porches, columns, balconies, ornate frames over the windows, fancy moldings.  At least two have matching barns, noticeable because of their color.  One, a Queen Anne house in a pastel shade of pink, has a pink barn.  The other, the Nash House, a huge maroon building that looks like a private school, has a barn the same color.

Although the current obsessively large houses lack charm, these Victorian and Edwardian buildings, some of which are very large and ostentatious, embody a certain joy in their very outrageousness.  They’re so over-the-top, they are beyond taste.

Looking at the buildings, it appears that Cherryfield is much like it was in the 19th century, but there have been significant changes. In the 1800s, the navigable head of the Narraguagus River , located in Cherryfield, was used for rafting logs.  There were several mills in town; the first was built by Ichabod Willey in 1757.

E.A. Gutwill founded a furniture factory in Cherryfield, which did wood turning, made stairwells, mantels and moldings. Bicycles were repaired and sold at the same site. The building burned down on July 16, 1921, in the

same fire that destroyed a planing mill, which had been founded by George Washington Wingate in 1856.

There was also a foundry and even an electric light company with 600 lights in use and four miles of string wire. (The history is courtesy of Phil Harriman.)

Cherryfield is now home to Cherryfield Food and Wyman’s Blueberries.

Still, “Blueberry Capital of the World” doesn’t exactly say it all.  Sure, once you drive on 193 north out of Cherryfield what seems like the world’s largest blueberry barren stretch out all around you, but Cherryfield might also be the “Second Empire/Mansard Roof Capital of the world” — excepting some places like Paris.

Cherryfield is a town now enlivened by one grocery store and a pizza place, with a population of around 1,200. Fifty-two buildings from the 19th century remain intact. And original. Unlike Sturbridge Village , for example, Cherryfield is really the way it happened to be.  The buildings weren’t gathered there by a historical museum; that’s where they were.  And most of them are restored, buffed, polished and cherished — only a few look deserted, and none look derelict. 

The best way to see the village is on foot.  Park on the east side of the Narraguagus River , turning south after crossing into Cherryfield on Route 1.  Get out of the car and walk around the block.  Walk up another street.  Come back toward the car and set off up Main Street , past the historical society, itself in a charming, ornate and somewhat tilted building.

You could stop at the antique shop across the street.  On the other side of the river are more houses.  The best way to see them is to drive around, get a feel for what you’re looking for, and then park and walk.

There are a couple of different ways to go to Cherryfield from Ellsworth.  The longest is right along Route 1and 1A, over the non-singing bridge and on to Milbridge.  After the bustle of Ellsworth, it’s surprising how quiet and empty the road is.  There are some wonderful views of Taunton and Frenchman bays.  It’s a little out of the way, but it’s worth it. 

Stop at Manos Market in Hancock or the Bayside Supermarket in Milbridge to pick up supplies for a picnic.  If you can’t wait to get to Cherryfield, go right up Route 1 and have a picnic at the picnic table by the river on the east side of town — just turn left after the bridge. 

Or you could swing through Milbridge on 1A, go over the bridge and make the first right.  There’s a public boat launch with a couple of benches and a dynamite view.

The third choice takes you out of Milbridge on Route 1A toward Harrington (you might want to look at the Maine atlas at this point). When you come to Harrington (look for a sign and a gas station), turn left onto Route 1. About a half-mile (maybe more, maybe less) into Harrington on Route 1, there’s a Mexican restaurant and grocery store — look for the Dollar Store sign.  The walls in the restaurant are decorated with flags of Latin American countries; there’s even a picture of Pancho Villa. The grocery store is separated from the restaurant with a beaded curtain and the waitress might or might not speak English. It’s wonderful. 

To get to Cherryfield, you just continue on Route 1. It’s about five miles.

Another wonderful ride is 182 out of Cherryfield, through Franklin , and then on to Ellsworth (of course you could do it the other way).  It’s shorter than Route 1, because it avoids the coast, instead picking up wonderful hilly-forested views of real emptiness, with fire roads going off to Tunk Lake and Donnell Pond.  If you’re very alert, you can find the public launch at Tunk Lake .  In early September, the water is still warm.

Both approaches to Cherryfield make what you find there more surprising.  It’s not as if there’s a gradual build-up; the landscape is pretty empty for long stretches.  It’s a good day out.

All the house details came from the Cherryfield-Narraguagus Historical Society, which publishes a Guide to the Cherryfield Historic District. Their address is PO Box 96 Cherryfield , ME 04622