Spotlight on Bailey Island, Maine


2012-11-22 09.32.57My family likes to travel for Thanksgiving, but this year my mom decided that she also wanted to cook a turkey, so we needed to rent a place that had an oven. We eventually settled on Bailey Island on the coast of Maine. Though this place is a little bit different from most of the ones I’ve spotlighted so far, its place character is very interesting and a great example of a very small settlement.
USA_Maine_location_map-01Bailey Island is about an hours drive from Portland, but a lot of that is spent driving north to Brunswick and then back south to Portland. It is the furthest south of a series of islands that make up about half of the municipality of Harpswell, Maine, the other half being a point to the west of the islands that is connected to the mainland. Harpswell largely has a very rural character, with homes on their own or clustered branching off of the main roads and nestled between dense pine groves. From my casual observation, it seemed that the most densely developed part of the community were Bailey Island and the southern tip of neighboring Orr’s Island. Despite this comparatively high level of development, Bailey Island lacks certain necessities such as a full-scale grocery store, with the closest being in Brunswick. Because of this, the low population of about 400 permanent residents, and the still largely rural character of the place, I would classify Bailey Island as a suburban hamlet.

Bailey Island does have a concentration of services near its center. These include a graveyard (which on narrow islands it is very important to have at one of the highest points on the island), fire station, restaurant, post office, general store (which includes another restaurant), church, and “library hall,” which from my observation seemed more like a social hall than a library. These are all located along Harswell Islands Road, the main road on the island that connects it to the other islands and eventually to the mainland, and that all other roads branch off of. None of the roads on Bailey Island have sidewalks, but traffic is so light that I could walk on the edge of the road and feel safe.


Bailey Island has horizontal mixed uses across the island in an almost casual arrangement. Mixed into the houses are churches, stores, restaurants, offices, and even a flower nursery. It just seems like it’s no big deal for people there to live next to a season ice cream stand, which may cause a real stir in other parts of the country (think of the traffic!).

One of the most important uses mixed into the hamlet are work spaces. The two main industries on the island seem to be hospitality (mostly based around renting cabins, although there are a few motels) and fishing, especially lobstering. Evidence of this industry could be seen all up and down the island, from lobster pots stacked up in people’s yards to the lobsterman monument at Land’s End, the southern tip of the island. The main piers were concentrated on Mackerel Cove to the south and near Cook’s Restaurant to the north. There were even signs warning people transporting boats about their rigging coming in contact with overhead power lines.2012-11-23 08.49.34Another interesting point is that there was good wayfinding signage all along the island. Virtually everything–restaurants, gift shops, churches, boat rentals–had a wayfinding sign along the main road. Although the signage is definitely auto-oriented in its height and size, it made getting around very easy.

Bailey Island is a great place. Even though it is not an urban place, it has a strong sense of character that makes it very distinct and lovely. Urban environments aren’t for everyone, but not all rural environments are created equal, and Bailey Island is one of the best small places I have been to.

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About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

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