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11 Maine Towns With Fascinating Architecture & Historic Buildings

Maine is home to diverse architectural styles that reflect its long history. From stately Portland mansions to clapboard farmhouses dotting the countryside to the preserved Acadian village in Aroostook County, Maine’s historic buildings are as stunning as they are specialized for the unique environments of mountains to distant sea islands.

You truly cannot visit Maine and find a town that lacks mesmerizing architecture and history. Even modern works are setting trends of the best architecture in the nation. We’ll go through several of our favorites in this article.

Maine’s Fiery History Redefined Architecture

Peeling back the layers of history, there’s tragedy-turned-triumph in Maine’s unique buildings. You can stand around Portland and appreciate the finest works on historic tours. But, did you know Portland burned down four times? That’s why a Phoenix rising from the ashes is on the town seal.

THE YEAR MAINE BURNED: In 1947, massive wildfires covered large swathes of Maine. More than 200,000 acres burned and 1,248 structures destroyed made it one of the most damaging fire seasons in state history.

Bar Harbor burned the same year, with a stretch of luxury homes on Millionaire’s Row succumbing to the flames. Even the forests of Acadia National Park were gutted of many pine trees and replaced with aspen and birch as nature healed itself.

Bangor is another town reshaped by fire in 1911, like a modern-day biblical Sodom and Gomorrah through “Hell’s Half Acre.”

As you visit the architectural and historic wonders of Maine, remember that most of these cities lost to fire had to be rebuilt quickly, making the buildings and homes that much more impressive.

Acadian Village-Van Buren
Acadian Village | photo via weirdworldwithmartin

Van Buren

When Acadians were banished from Canada and sought refuge across the international border, they brought their traditions with them to what is now Aroostook County. A collection of history, including rebuilt and relocated historic homes and businesses, is now preserved in Van Buren’s Acadian Village.

The village aims to recreate an early 19th-century Acadian settlement with historic homes, a church, a schoolhouse, mills, and shops. The rustic architecture reflects traditional Acadian building styles using materials like wood, stone, and brick.

For the most immersive Acadian experience, visit during the Madawaska Acadian Festival just 30 minutes from Van Buren each August.

Mt. Battie at Camden Hills State Park-Brunswick
Mt. Battie at Camden Hills State Park | photo via xcellentadventures

Camden

Perched on Camden Harbor, the coastal town of Camden is known for its rich maritime history and idyllic New England architecture. The Norumbega Inn is a storied 1886 Queen Anne-style stone castle, now an unparalleled resort in Maine.

For sailing architecture, Camden is the port of call for a commercial schooner believed to be the oldest in the nation. The Lewis R. French still offers limited tours in the warm months after being on the water since 1871.

Other architectural gems include the Camden Public Library — housed in a graceful Romanesque Revival building rebuilt after the devastating Camden fire of 1892. Add a walk through the High Street Historic District.

Tate House Museum-Portland
Tate House Museum | photo via greatdancindinos

Portland

With 13 historic districts, you know that Portland can’t be left off this list. Walking tours or self-guided tours are available for all of the districts, with ghost tours mixed in.

The Tate House — built in 1755 — is the oldest in Portland and showcases Georgian architecture. The stately Wadsworth-Longfellow House — built in 1785 — was the childhood home of the famous poet.

Even strolling the Old Port district brings such a Maine essence that it’s hard to believe that in the 1970s, these historic properties were almost torn down for new development.

TIP: Visit the Portland Fire Museum to learn more about the devastating fires and brave firefighting tactics used by residents when the city was engulfed in flames several times.

Portland’s islands include Fort Gorges, a military fort that was outdated before it could even open. This architectural treasure takes up the entire island — like a floating fort now derelict but accessible by boat.

The Portland Museum of Art is undergoing a massive transformation, with modern architectural aspects expected to win design awards.

Stephen King's house-Bangor
Stephen King’s house | photo via arctictumbleweed

Bangor

While Bangor (“BANG-ore,” not “Banger”) is well known for being the home of Stephen King and the inspiration for the town of Derry in many of his writings, there’s so much more to see than the King House, with its foreboding gate and blood-red stately design.

Stephen King’s Bangor home is now a writer’s retreat under the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation. Tours are not available. You can visit the inspiration for the standpipe in “It” on Thomas Hill Road, where King reportedly wrote much of “It” sitting on a bench at the adjacent park.

Throughout Bangor, the breathtaking architecture was designed by the best designer of each era.

Eight historic tours ranging from Devil’s Half Acre — a section known for debauchery during the Prohibition Era that Bangor defied — to the stately homes of Lumber Barons take you through the reformation of town that was gutted by fire in 1911.

TIP: To get a greater sense of history in the waters of the Penobscot River and Bay from Bangor to Belfast, read about the Penobscot Expedition. It was one of the most disastrous moments in American military history and the worst naval disaster until Pearl Harbor.

Sabbathday Shaker Village-New Gloucester
Sabbathday Shaker Village | photo via donegal1950

New Gloucester

Just 24 miles from Portland, there’s a rural stretch of western Maine that doesn’t look like much at first glance.

However, the Sabbathday Shaker Village is the last active community for a pious and communal way of life that once had locations in seven states. Across 750 acres, you can explore the village, tour the museum, and shop at Shaker-owned stores.

New Gloucester has a town hall and public library — both part of the New Gloucester Historic District — where you can find a full list of places to visit that represent the best rural Maine lifestyle throughout the centuries.

Brunswick

The most notable Brunswick feat of architecture is Bowdoin College — meant to compete with Harvard and Yale when it was founded in 1802. Literary greats like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne walked these halls in 1825. More recently, the founder of Netflix was a Bowdoin College graduate in 1983.

Bowdoin College has architecture spanning nearly 200 years. The oldest college building in Maine is Massachusetts Hall, built in 1802 in the Federal style. Other early buildings were built in Gothic Revival. Later in the 19th century, Richardsonian Romanesque buildings were added, followed by Collegiate Gothic in the 20th century.

Brunswick celebrates more historical buildings through three museums, one of which is home to the Pejepscot History Center.

Wedding Cake House-Kennebunk
Wedding Cake House | photo via lizthenerd

Kennebunk

The most photographed home in Maine sits on the famed Summer Street of Kennebunk. It’s known as the Wedding Cake House for its intricate embellishments that reflect the original owner’s artistic flair. In 2023, the owners finished an elaborate restoration project.

The surrounding homes on Summer Street reflect the regal nature of sea captains’ homes with evolving architectural trends throughout the shipbuilding era.

Traditional New England historic and architectural flair can be found in downtown Kennebunk, with the Brick Store Museum being the focal point. The Lower Village on the way to the famed Kennebunk beaches also gives early Colonial vibes.

Another must-see design in Kennebunk is at the St. Anthony Monastery. Built in 1915, it exemplifies Gothic Revival with locally quarried granite construction, imposing vertical towers, pointed arches over doors and windows, and a steep roof.

Post Office-Augusta
Post Office | photo via 1fatduc

Augusta

Four historic districts spread across Augusta, the state capital. While the capitol building of any state is sure to be impressive, it was the post office that opened here in 1890 that was called, “One of the most picturesque public buildings that the government has bestowed upon any city in the Union.”

Augusta’s Museum in the Streets program includes three dozen historic stops — from homes to businesses to industry locations.

Across the Kennebec River, Old Fort Western is the oldest wooden garrison from the French & Indian War. Seasonal events make this a living history museum with hands-on activities and soldiers marching. Additionally, tours of the state house and Blaine House Governor’s Mansion are available.

Wood Island Life Saving Station -Kittery
Wood Island Life Saving Station | photo via green.man.photo

Kittery

As the oldest incorporated town in Maine, Kittery is rich with history — including two military forts, a naval shipyard, a lighthouse among some of the most treacherous coastal waters of Maine, a life-saving station offshore, and the historic homes of Kittery Point.

Many of these architectural gems get lost in the shopping district of Kittery’s outlet malls, but head to Pepperrell Cove for a group of historic buildings, fresh lobster, and stunning water views.

Tour the waterside icons of Fort McClary and Fort Foster — with the latter having views of Whaleback Lighthouse — and Wood Island Life Saving Station (the precursor to the Coast Guard) is opening as a maritime museum.

Bucksport

Bucksport’s location along the Penobscot River and its maritime history have shaped its growth and identity over the centuries. In a unique twist, Bucksport Maine is known as much for the history that you can’t see as the things you can see.

This land was once home to an Indigenous tribe known as the “Red Paint People,” who flourished for up to 5,000 years before disappearing 2 millennia later. The dead were buried with red ochre, which is not found naturally in Maine. Early settlers mixed the ochre with fluids to create paint.

Bucksport’s granite library was built in 1887 with Blue Hill granite and wood from the town founder’s home state of South Carolina.

Fort Knox is an impressive granite fortress constructed in the mid-1850s overlooking the Penobscot River and Bucksport. Designed in the popular mid-19th century style of fortification, it boasts intricate masonry work along with underground tunnels and circular stairs.

Old Orchard Beach, Maine
Old Orchard Beach

Old Orchard Beach

OOB — as the locals call it — has been a summer recreation haven since the 1800s. This stretch of coast was the city escape for New Englanders once the railroad came to town.

While much of the nostalgic magic was lost to fire — with five major fires between 1903 and 1947 — this resilient town rebuilt what was lost and renovated what could be saved to offer this amusement park beachfront playground for years to come.

Old Orchard Beach still whispers of its past grandeur, and it’s one of the top destinations for Canadian visitors in the summer. The Harmon Museum holds much history to be explored and expert guidance to the most famous structures still standing.

Maine’s Natural Architecture

While each Maine town brings its own essence to the collective assortment, there are majesties of nature waiting to be explored too. From towering waterfalls to riverways that once flowed thick with logs to the ocean-churned smoothness of stone on Jasper Beach, Maine truly is exemplary with its construction and evolution no matter the challenges it faces.

One more travel tip for you: If you’re looking for the oldest standing house in all of Maine, head to the countryside of York for the McIntire-Garrison House.

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3 Comments

  1. As a graduate of Bowdoin in 1961, I must suggest that Bowdoin was founded in 1794. The president, James S. Coles had the license plate number 1794, during my attendance period The first class graduated in 1802.
    As I recall, Monmouth possessed a classic Victorian opera house in which Gilbert and Sullivan operettas were presented back in the 1950s. In my opinion, if the opera house still exists the architecture would likely qualify for this list.

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