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Gardiner, Maine was once a monarch of the inland waters. As merchants constructed prosperous mills and factories on tumbling Cobbossee Stream, they shipped their newly made goods out from stores and warehouses that lined the banks of the Kennebec River. Soon, it was the busiest port on the Kennebec. Water Street was a glittering wonder of elaborate brick and stone businesses and the hills above glowed with the mansions of rich traders and manufacturers.
Things to Do in Gardiner
Gardiner’s manufacturing heyday is over, the mills mostly shuttered and gone. Today, its grand brick downtown – manifested on Water Street – is a national historic district. Gardiner is also a Designated Main Street community, acknowledging its work in revitalizing its downtown. Stroll down the brick-lined streets and enjoy a bevy of new shops, restaurants, pubs and stores. Drop into the elaborate Gardiner Public Library – at the end of Water Street – and enjoy the stained-glass windows and soaring ceilings. Or climb up from the river basin to Gardiner’s Common and see the stern Christ Church, built in 1820 and the first ‘Gothic’ style church built in New England. For more immersive historical tours, check out Gardiner’s Historic Walking Trail or the route that highlights the life of Edwin Arlington Robinson, a Gardiner native and Pulitzer-prize winning poet.
If you’re in the mood for more walking, stroll the Kennebec River Rail Trail, a 6.5-mile route that follows the rail line and links Gardiner with Augusta. The trail is very popular with walkers, runners and cyclists. It crosses through the towns of Hallowell and Farmingdale and steers close to the Kennebec.
To enjoy the arts in Gardiner, step inside Johnson Hall, the state’s oldest opera house (opened in 1864). It holds performances in both the historic hall itself and at the city’s Waterfront Park during the summer. For visual art, visit the Artdogs Studios and Monkitree, two galleries on Water Street.
Gardiner offers plenty of ways to have fun. Each October, stop by downtown for the annual Swine and Stein Oktoberfest. There’s food, there’s beer (natch) and there’s music to celebrate autumn. Speaking of high spirits, Gardiner hosts Two Gramps Brewing on Water Street, featuring locally brewed beer, and Sebago Lake Distillery, makers of bespoke rum (call for information about tours).
Outside of the downtown in West Gardiner, you can see the newest work by Maine artisans at the Center for Maine Craft. It includes works by hundreds of crafters including baskets, ceramics, fiber, furniture, glass and jewelry.
Where to Stay in Gardiner
Some accommodations to consider include The Stone Turret, Gardiner; Second Street Bed & Breakfast, Hallowell; Maple Hill Farm Inn, Hallowell; Foggy Bottom Campground and Marina, Farmingdale; and these suggestions. Also, scroll down through the list of regional businesses below.