Wells ME is defined by its beaches and the Webhannet River (named for the Abenaki word for “at the clear stream”), which meanders through beautiful salt marshes between the barrier beaches and the mainland. Wells Beach in particular is a long white sand beach and most popular with the summer crowds.
Wells is a very old town, established in 1641 by Edward Littlefield, who built a home along with a grist mill and saw mill on the falls of the Webhannet River. He was followed by Reverend John Wheelright who established a church and a small settlement in 1642. Farms and more mills naturally followed, taking advantage of the many waterways. Businesses and infrastructure sprouted to support them. The community incorporated as a town in 1653, the third in Maine to do so (York and Kittery beat it by a hair, incorporating in 1652).
Life was not easy in those early days. Beyond the obvious hardships of colonial outposts, the fledgling town had to defend itself against the Abenaki and French during the French and Indian war beginning in 1675. And defend they did – in the battle of 1692 at the Storer Garrison, the colonists – insanely outnumbered – held off 400 Abenaki and their French instigators. This was an important battle, credited with keeping Britain’s foothold and dominance in the northeast. Else we might all be speaking French today.
The town continued to grow, with farming, fishing, shipbuilding and even granite quarrying filling out its industries. With the railroads in the mid-1800’s came beach resorts catering to wealthy industrialists, whose families spent the summers by the shore. After WWII, when the average family now owned a car, the boom of weekly vacations changed the landscape to include cabins, motels, restaurants and all the seasonal amenities we know today.
Indeed, the town is primarily a summer community, swelling in season with beachgoers and antique shoppers (remember, it’s an old town). Route 1 is the main thoroughfare and the town is strung out along it – there is no definable “downtown”. It might seem as if it were simply a passthrough between the posher towns of Ogunquit and Kennebunk. But let’s not forget those towns’ origins – they were once part of Wells, with Kennebunk incorporating in 1820, and Ogunquit not until 1980.
Wells is a great place to spend a summer vacation – you’ll find plenty to do, and it’s proximity to Ogunquit, Kennebunkport, Old Orchard Beach and even Portland means you’ll never be short of things to do.
About my self-guided tours
My Walk and Drive With Me tours are self-guided tours that include any number of attractions, but are designed to take no more than 2-3 hours. You can string these together to map out your own extended itineraries for a day or two or more. You can probably squeeze three of these into a single day, but my recommendation for the most enjoyable touring is to enjoy your breakfast, do a tour, have lunch, do another tour, then settle in for dinner and evening entertainment. Have fun with your touring!
Drive With Me
Other Excursions & Experiences
There is other fun to be had in town and nearby. These excursions and experiences will keep you occupied for 2-3 hours or more on their own. Some are in town and others are nearby.
Wells is a beach community, first and foremost, and the star of the show is Wells Beach, with over a mile of surf, sand and dunes. As a barrier beach, access points are limited and Mile Road is the only non-boat access unless you’re coming up Webhannet Drive from the south. At the end of Mile Road, at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue, you’ll find metered parking, restaurants, beachside shopping, an arcade and restroom facilities.
Driving north on Atlantic Avenue to the northern end of the beach, you’ll come to the harbor and the breakwater, marking the end of the road. There’s a metered public parking lot with access to the beach and the jetty that forms the southern wall of the breakwater connecting the harbor to the ocean. The jetty is a great place to take a walk out over the water – watch the boats come and go between the north and south jetties and anglers hoping for a striped bass or mackerel.
But the real draw is the beach – a wonderful white sandy stretch where you can have your fill of sun, swimming and even surfing.
Two other beaches worth noting in Wells are Crescent Beach, just south of Wells Beach, which offers a quieter experience, and Drakes Island Beach, north of the Harbor. Drakes is accessed via Drakes Island Road (of course) and further north by Laudholm Farm Road. Parking is at the harbor end, by the north jetty.
Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge
Established in 1966, the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge protects a 50 mile stretch – from Kittery to Cape Elizabeth – of tidal salt marshes, estuaries, barrier beaches, rocky coast and even forested upland, along with the wildlife that inhabit them. Its headquarters is in Wells, where you can learn more about the refuge.
Named for Rachel Carson, world renowned marine biologist, author, and environmentalist, her book Silent Spring woke America up to the interconnectedness of all living things and the danger of pesticides and other pollutants.
The Carson Loop trail, which begins and ends at the parking lot, is an easy one-mile trail of gravel and boardwalk through coastal forest and salt marsh, with 11 interpretive markers along the way.
Wells Reserve at Laudholm
The Wells Reserve at Laudholm, known also as Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, was once a prominent working farm, providing milk, eggs, chicken to the local community and even shipping to Boston. Today, the reserve and its restored buildings serve as a center for education, conservation and research.
Stop in at the Visitor Center for a map (or download it from their website) and choose from the network of easy to moderate trails. These offer beautiful views of old farm buildings, open grasslands, salt marsh, the Little River mouth, an abandoned apple orchard, an aspen grove and the beautiful little Laudholm barrier beach. None of the trails are very long, but plan to to spend a couple hours exploring.
As with eateries and watering holes, I invite you to search online for overall options and ratings. My focus here is to point out those places that have historic or iconic value.
Elmere House Bed & Breakfast
Moses Wheelwright, descended from Wells’ founders, built Elmere house (then Wheelwright Farm) on his return from serving in the Civil War. He was lost at sea in 1865 and the home passed into the Fenderson family, notably poet Buleah Fenderson Smith. Completely renovated in 2008, the home is now a beautiful and historic bed & breakfast – Elmere House Bed & Breakfast.
Holiday Guest House Bed & Breakfast
The Holiday Guest House Bed & Breakfast has been welcoming guests since 1931, when Mr. and Mrs. Henry Waak transformed the early 19th century farmstead into a guest house. The inn is beautifully preserved, retaining the charm and warmth of the original home while offering up to date amenities, including a pool. The rooms and common areas are beautifully furnished, with breakfast served on the bright closed in porch.