York Maine: The First Stop for History and Seafood in Maine
By Daryl Popper
Looking to get away this summer without increasing the size of your carbon footprint? Just an hour north of Boston on Coastal Route 1A, you can relax on the deck overlooking the Atlantic, stroll on the cliff walk and sample New England’s finest seafood at historic York Harbor Inn, just a few steps from the beach.
York was the second town incorporated in what is now the State of Maine, after Kittery, which was incorporated two days earlier, in the early 1600s, and it has some of the finest and best preserved historical buildings in the state, including the “Old Gaol,” the first jailhouse built in America. It was constructed in 1719 as the King’s prison.
York’s Old School House, built in 1745, is a perfectly restored one-room schoolhouse, and the Jefferds Tavern, a saltbox built in 1750 has a restored taproom decorated with historic murals.
Other important stops are the the Emerson-Wilcox House, built in 1740 as a private home, which later served as a tavern and post office, and the George A. Marshall Store Building – a general store on the Hancock Wharf, once owned by John Hancock himself, where you can see exhibits about the history of York.
The Old York Historical Society Museum also offers a tour of historic buildings from the 1700s and 1800s, including the 1718 Sayward-Wheeler House and the 1740 Elizabeth Perkins House.
York is made up of four villages, Old York, York Harbor, York Beach and Cape Neddick. Most of the city’s historic buildings are downtown in Old York and most of the resorts are in York Harbor while the famous boardwalk and most of the stores and shops are in York Beach. On Nubble Island, just off Cape Neddick, is the Nubble Lighthouse, said to be the most photographed lighthouse in America.
The history of the Inn
The history of the York Harbor Inn begins in the early 1800s, when a cabin, originally built in 1637 as a workshop for refitting ships, was transported from the Isle of Shoals and set up in York Harbor. This “Cabin Room” is now the centerpiece of the Inn.
During an economic boom in the 1870s, more than 100 guest houses and hotels and 550 summer homes were built in town, including the Hillcroft Inn (now the York Harbor Inn) with guest rooms, a dining room and a popular tavern, known, then and now, as “The Cellar.”
Vacationers came by trolley and train from all over New England. The trolley ran right by the Inn and original trolley lamps still hang from the beams of the Cabin Room.
In 1979 the Inn was purchased by the current owners, the Dominguez family. The Dominguez’ added a major addition to the rear in 1988 and refurbished all of the major mechanical and electrical systems, as well as adding a professional kitchen and redecorating all the guestrooms.
In 1983 they purchased the historic building on the west side of the Inn, known as the Yorkshire House (built around 1783) adding eleven more guestrooms.
They subsequently purchased three more buildings, the Harbor Cliffs, the Harbor Hill Inn and the Harbor Crest Inn, throroughly refurbishing them all and adding jacuzzi spa tubs, king beds, internet connections and many other amenties.
The York Harbor Inn now provides luxury accomodations in 54 unique guest rooms in five separate lodges.
The Main Inn’s most popular and highly reserved guest room is the “L.L. Bean” room. Designed by L.L. Bean and featured in the company’s annual catalog, this luxurious unit, like most of the rooms, includes a fireplace, a jacuzzi and a private deck with ocean views.
Then there’s the food…
While there are many top-notch restaurants in York, one of the first stops should be the York Harbor Inn’s ocean-view restaurant “1637,” and the Ship’s Cellar Pub, where you can sample the creations of Chef Gerald Bonsey.
These include Lobster Stuffed Breast of Chicken, one of the Inn’s signature dishes, Seafood Martini, Lobster Avocado Salad, and The Yorkshire Lobster Supreme,Truffle Scented Gnocchi and Baked Stuffed Haddock.
Chef Bonsey, who has been executive chef at the Inn for more than 25 years, has been honored by the American Culinary Federation and the American Academy of Chefs, and his creations have been featured in Portland Magazine, Food & Wine Magazine, Gourmet, Taste, Country Living and many other publications.
Lots to do
There’s a lot to do in and around York Harbor. Besides touring museums and historic buildings, and strolling among the roses on the world-famous cliffwalk, there are the popular Long Sands and Short Sands Beachers, and the more secluded Passaconaway and Harbor Beaches.
There are three 18-hole golf courses in the area, as well as opportunities for deep-sea fishing, horseback riding, kayaking and mountain biking.
Visitors can also enjoy Maine’s largest zoo and amusement park, Wild Kingdom, which features exotic animals from around the world, including Maine’s only White Tiger, a butterfly garden, apetting zoo, a miniature golf course a haunted house and a carousel.
Five minutes down the road, the Kittery Outlet Mall Area and the Kittery Trading Post have 110 stores and shops.
A number of family-oriented festivals are held every year including York Days, a celebration of summer, the Celebrate Maine Festival in August, and the Harvestfest in Autumn.
Daryl Popper works for a winery in Southern New Hampshire.
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