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New England by Heart

Antiquing in Wells Maine

Americana Workshop - Inside - Kennebunk ME

It was September, and it was unusually hot. Brimfield was expected to top 90 degrees and it was humid to boot. A heat advisory was soon to be issued. My friend was on her way up from South Carolina and our expectation was to spend a couple days deep in the fields of New England’s largest antiques fair.

So we did what any rational person would do (sorry Brimfield) and took the cooler option: an antiquing adventure to Wells, Maine.

Wells is sandwiched between better-known destinations along the southern Maine beachy coast – Ogunquit to the south and Kennebunk and Kennebunkport to the north. But before you dismiss it as a passthrough, I’d like to introduce you to its charms – namely, a river (Webhannet) that winds its way through beautiful salt marshes, a barrier beach that is long and wide and sandy, lots of seafood, and (the key point for this trip) a plethora of antique shops spread out along Route 1.

So off to Wells we went, arriving just in time to fortify ourselves with lobster rolls at Billy’s Chowder House. Billy’s is a casual seafood restaurant and one of Well’s oldest eateries (opened in 1979), overlooking the serene Webhannet River as it winds its way through the wide tidal marsh.

Billy’s claims that its clam chowder is so good you can’t leave the place without trying it. If I had a nickel for every seafood joint in New England that puts on airs about its chowder, I’d be able to afford a yacht.

Yes, it was very good.

I’ll also put it on record here that it’s hard to get a bad lobster roll in Maine if you’re at any kind of reputable place, and the rolls we had here did not disappoint. We also ordered cocktails (don’t judge), a sangria for Frani and a refreshing blueberry smash for me (it is Maine, after all).

We made a quick stop at Webhannet Falls Park to take in the site of the first mill (long gone) of Edmund Littlefield, Wells’ founder. Yes, there are falls here, right near the shore! They’re not easy to see through the growth, but it’s a pleasant site and worth a stop to contemplate the long history of the town.

Then it was off to the antique shops. We hit R Jorgensen’s first. This is an upscale shop in a stunning red antique building – a 1685 mill house – with gardens all around. We were greeted by the friendly snake (just a door handle!) and Rebecca Jorgensen. We chatted for a bit and sadly learned that she and her husband have the place up for sale so they can retire. Let’s hope the new owners will keep this as an antiques shop.

Though much here was beyond my wallet, we enjoyed admiring it all, and I did score two pewter finials. Now I’m searching for lamps that will suit them. Yes, that’s how it goes with antiquing. Though they do look nice on my mantel with my other pewter, right?

Our next two stops were at Anytime Antiques and Bo-Mar Hall Antiques & Collectibles, both multi-dealer centers that fill the other end of the spectrum from R Jorgensen’s – lots of flea market and vintage goods, collectibles, some antiques and definitely hidden treasures. These types of antique centers are so much fun – you find yourself saying “check this out” over and over again as you find the unusual, the funny and the downright weird.

I came out of this round with an intricate crewelwork piece (a treasure, which I’m willing to bet is a Charles Wisocki print gone crafty), a she-shed sign (which is clearly neither vintage nor antique, and yes, I do already have a she shed), and an upcycled pitchfork turned birdhouse (I am never happy if I don’t find something for my gardens).

By this time, it was late, and we headed over to Wells Beach for an end-of-day walk before dinner. Sunset and sunrise are my favorite times at beaches, with the sun worshippers absent and the sky and water painted with brushstrokes of pastel colors.

The water was cool on our bare feet and we lingered, taking photos that can never quite capture the essence of the place, and watching the sandpipers scurrying about at the edge of the surf like leaves blown about in the nearing autumn season.

By the time we made our way back to the car, it was almost eight o’clock and we discovered that most eateries were already closing. We managed to find Beachfire Bar & Grille, just over the Ogunquit line, and were saved from having granola bars for dinner. With more sangria, fish and chips and a haddock sandwich, we were able to fill our bellies. The food was good, but not exceptional.

We stayed the night at the Ogunquit River Inn. This is out of character as I would normally opt for B&Bs and historic inns, but the view here was marvelous, overlooking the Ogunquit River as it makes its way through marsh to the ocean.

The next morning we stopped to take a few photos of Holiday House and Elmere House B&Bs for my Wells profile. At Elmere, we were delighted to meet hosts Bill and Michael (and Bentley, the affectionate dachshund), who proceeded to give us a full tour of this delightful B&B. There is no doubt in my mind that this is where I will stay next time I’m back in Wells for some more antiquing.

We were hoping for famous Congdon’s Doughnuts for breakfast, but sadly found that this was one of its closed days. Likewise with our second choice, Maine Diner. We ended up in Kennebunk at Mornings in Paris, where we enjoyed breakfast crepes and by this time our much needed caffeine.

On the way back to Wells, we stopped in at Antiques on Nine and Bullfinch Antiques. Antiques on Nine is a large shop with a mix of new merchandise and upcycled vintage and antique wares. Bullfinch is a small spot with very nice nautical themed antiques.

After short visits to Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and The Wells Reserve at Laudholm for a few photos and a brief walk, we made our way to Americana Workshop. This was my favorite of our trip – I’m a nut about colonial style and this place had it in spades. I picked up chair pads and a beautiful antique butter mold. A local woman had collected these over the years, and her family turned the entire collection over to Americana Antiques. Let’s just say it was hard to choose.

Next up was Douglas Harding Old & Rare Books, a labyrinth of rooms filled floor to ceiling with books, books and more books. You could spend a good long time in this wonderful place. I scored a complete 15 volume set of Charles Dickens books. One of my all-time favorite writers (I’m thinking of you, Andrea, my fellow Bleak House aficionado).

Last on our trip (isn’t that a sad segue) was Wells Union Antique Center – an eclectic collection of small shops. We didn’t find much there to interest us, though we did enjoy poking around in Breakaway Design & Antiques and I bought a (new) table runner there.

Before waving a fond farewell to Wells, I wanted to visit a couple more historic places I had researched before our trip. So we meandered up to Chase Farms on Route 9, run by the same family since the 1600s. We picked up a few baked goods, including very delicious cider doughnuts, and some other provisions.

Back on Route 1, we parked at the Garrison Motel, which is about the only place to put your car if you want to visit the Storer Garrison Historic Site. We entered the site through a little covered bridge nearly overgrown with vines. The little park does not do justice to the magnitude of the battle that occurred here, with the garrison (long gone) holding off over 400 Abenaki and French troops. But it is well worth the stop to commemorate that event.

Our parting experience in Wells was at Mike’s Clam Shack for excellent baked haddock dinners and a chocolate martini for Frani and a blueberry one for me, followed by must-work-this-off-back-home desserts of chocolate coconut cream pie and bread pudding.

So there you have it – two wonderful days of antiquing and other fun by the beach in Wells, instead of heat exhaustion at Brimfield. But don’t worry, Brimfield. We’ll be back to you soon!

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