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A Day in Kennebunk, Maine

Kennebunk, Maine, is the small town that molded my expectations for all small New England towns. It’s the type of town with a gazebo on the green, friendly locals that nod hello when you pass them on the cobblestone sidewalks, free downtown parking, and easy access to the beach. It’s also the kind of place where – if you happened to grow up there as I did – you might just wander into a shop and unknowingly strike up a conversation with your 8th grade science teacher.

Downtown Kennebunk

When my husband and I took a day trip to my hometown of Kennebunk, recently, Parsons Beach was our first destination. Unlike the better known Kennebunk beaches that have a public roadway running alongside them, Parsons – a  privately owned beach off the beaten path – is sheltered, making it the perfect place to take our four-legged traveling companion, Brewski, who had been confined to the car long enough to need to run. Dark clouds hung heavy in the sky suggesting our excursion might not be dry a one, but also worked in our favor as only a handful of people were out braving the weather, allowing us to snatch up a parking space.

The rules of the beach set forth on a large sign at the head of the path leading to the shore are quite simple: Respect. Respect the land, respect the wildlife, respect the landowners. With that in mind, we let Brewski romp in the surf, sprint across the long stretch of sand, and chomp on sticks until he was the wettest, dirtiest – and most likely, smelliest – dog on the beach. A wet, dirty dog is also a tired one, so with that task out of the way, we left him in the care of my parents and headed downtown.

Parsons Beach

Parsons Beach is the perfect place to take a dog in the off-season.

We weren’t going to shop – though there are many independently-owned stores worth checking out – but to take a leisurely stroll past some of the town’s stately homes. In 1963, Kennebunk became the first town in Maine to set up a historic district, and the streets are lined with stunning examples of architectural styles that date back to the 18th century. I’d seen them many times before, of course. They were part of my childhood landscape: I’d trundled past them on the school bus, whizzed by them on my bike, and barely noticed them by the time I was driving. Today I would really look at them.

Had this trip happened later in the season, we would have signed up for a walking tour at the Brick Store Museum. Instead, armed with a copy of their guidebook Windows on the Past, we walked up Main Street to Summer Street, equipped to identify which of the mansions that once housed Kennebunk’s merchants and sea captains were classified as Italianate, Federal, Greek Revival and Second Empire.

House styles clockwise from top left: Italianate, Second Empire, Greek Revival, and Second Empire

The most famous of Kennebunk’s historic homes is the Wedding Cake House. It sits further down Summer Street than we were planning to walk, but, if you’re in the area, it’s certainly worth a look. Legends surrounding the origin of its ornate trim are plentiful, but just that — legends. While ship builder George Washington Bourne did indeed build this house for his bride Jane Jefferds, it was not a replacement for a wedding cake they were unable to eat before their ship set sail. Nor did Jane die as a young bride at sea.

The Wedding Cake House

The Wedding Cake House

Once past the main cluster of historic homes, we were lured down Trackside Drive by the promise of finding treasure at Old House Parts, an architectural salvage company that specializes in parts dating from 1730 to 1930. Part retailer, part museum, there’s plenty to see there including – but certainly not limited to – myriad antique doors, doorknobs, windows, fireplace mantels, a cat with the word “joy” swirled in his fur, and one of my favorite finds – a 2000 Yankee placard from when Old House Parts Company had been featured in the article, “3 Ways to Love an Old House.”

Old House Parts Company

You never know what you’ll discover at Old House Parts

Old House Parts Company president Tom Joyal is a friendly guy with a ready smile and a crackerjack memory. As is the way with small towns, when chatting with Tom about how he got started in the salvage business, the conversation eventually turned to growing up in Kennebunk. When I told him the name of the street I grew up on, he thought for a moment, snapped his fingers, and came up with my last name. Impressive. Turns out he was a classmate of my sister’s, and that fellow with him behind the counter – my 8thgrade science teacher, Dick Beer.

Tom Joyal and Dick Beer

Tom Joyal and Dick Beer pause for a photo at Old House Parts Company

After poking around the freight house and touring the workshop to see the beautiful, custom pieces Tom was creating from salvage, it was time to grab a very late lunch. A trip to the coast wouldn’t be complete without a lobster roll, so we returned to the car and made our way to the Landing Store. I was pleased to see that their lightly grilled rolls are packed with fresh meat and no fillers – lettuce being optional. After adding a whoopie pie to our order, we moved on to Mother’s Beach to enjoy the most casual of seaside dining experiences.

Landing Store

Grab lunch at the Landing Store and head to one of Kennebunk’s scenic beaches.

Before our day wound down, we managed to cram in a few more stops: to the Franciscan Monastery to walk the trails, Federal Jack’s for a beer, then to Cummings Market to pick up an Italian sandwich – don’t call it a sub – for dinner later that night.

A busy day in all – one that left us completely satisfied and blissfully dry. We’ll return to Kennebunk in summer to hit the bike trails, drop our kayaks in the water, lounge on the beach, and explore the other summer offerings.

Brenda Darroch

Author:

Brenda Darroch

Biography:

Digital Editor Brenda Darroch creates and manages content for YankeeMagazine.com, YankeeFoliage.com, e-newsletters, and Yankee's search and social media initiatives. Follow Brenda Darroch on !
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16 Responses to A Day in Kennebunk, Maine

  1. Heather A April 13, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

    You’ve shared such a lovely visit with us.
    HeathA

  2. Aimee April 16, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    Wonderful post, Brenda! It’s so neat reading the perspective of a true local, and I especially love how you featured the different kinds of architecture. Brewski looked like he had fun, too.

  3. Janet Bowers April 16, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for this lovely post. I still call Kennebunk my hometown even though I left 50 plus years ago. I spent 8 years in the Kennebunk and Kennebunkport area from age 6 to 13 and it was a town that as a child we had free rein to go anywhere on our own. Mom worked as Associate Director of the Brick Store Museum. I was allowed to dress the models in antique dresses from the collection in the attic. Mother’s Beach was called Kennebunk Beach then and Parson’s Beach was my family’s favorite beach to walk on anytime of the year except the dead of winter. I could go on with the my memories, but they would take up too much space. As you can tell, I’m having major nostalgia issues :)

  4. Brenda Darroch April 16, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    Thanks, HeathA and Aimee.

    Janet, I would love to hear more of your memories.

    • Janet Bowers April 18, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

      Thank you, Brenda :) I have so many they would take up too much space. I lived at 29 Park Street from 1952 to July 1959. In Kennebunkport, we lived in the Perkins house on Main Street. As children, we had the run of both towns because the times were more trusting. The era of walking to school the whole school year. We lived so close to all schools. Hmm! Our first home was the Arundel Apartments I think it’s Ocean Dr. I could hear the water swooshing under our bedroom floor. My parents owned a gift shop for one year on Ocean near the Old Lobster Roll that was owned by friends of their. The shop fell into the river, I believe in the Perfect Storm of ’93 or maybe before :) No one was hurt. Fun times working in the shop, and poaching Christmas trees from Booth Tarkington’s land, wondering who lived on Walker’s Point and thinking the home would make a perfect setting for a Nancy Drew Mystery:)

  5. Sue Boltin April 16, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

    Thanks for such a wonderful post.I love Kennebunkport. Have visited there many times.

  6. pj April 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    Beautiful Springer! What fun!

  7. Kathy Wagner April 24, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    I loved this! Just a little visual vacation after a hard day at work. Thanks.

    • Brenda Darroch May 1, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

      Thanks, Kathy. That’s the best compliment I could ever imagine receiving.

  8. Norma Bailey Theobald April 25, 2012 at 12:48 am #

    This really stirred up memories. I was raised in Kennebunkport and graduated from Kennebunk High school in 1957. I walked home from school many, many times after basketball practice and vividly remember deciding each time weather to go via the “Sheep Pasture Rd.” or through the ‘Port as I meandered up to the Town House district. I loved looking at all those old homes along the way and appreciated you pointing out so many of them.
    Thank you for causing an old Mainer to have a fit of nostalgia here in the sunny south. Well written. Wicked good.

    • Brenda Darroch May 1, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

      Thanks, Norma. We’ll be featuring Kennebunkport here when it gets a bit warmer.

  9. amanda estrada April 25, 2012 at 5:43 am #

    I visited in Oct. 2011, and this was such a wonderful visit. The weather was great and the area is so beautiful. I can;t wait to go back.

  10. Tiffany A. Hirst April 25, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    Hi Brenda!!

    Tom had mentioned that you were in the store a short while ago. I wish I had been there, it would have been great to see you! Great writing….and of course, great content!! Stop by again, and maybe we can say ‘hi’.

    Tiffany

    • Brenda Darroch May 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

      Hi Tiffany — I’m so disappointed you weren’t there, too. It was fun to meet Tom, and it would have been great to see you! Maybe next time.

  11. Betz April 26, 2012 at 12:22 am #

    Ssssh, been going to Parsons for 30 plus years. It’s kind of like a secret garden and unchanged!

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