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Arts & Culture

Maritime Museums in Maine

A ship's painting from the Maine Maritime Museum.

A ship's painting from the Maine Maritime Museum.


Two of Maine's biggest lures are lobster and lighthouses, but the state's maritime heritage goes far beyond these icons, as Maine's maritime museums aptly illustrate. It ranges from Native Americans, who paddled coastal nooks and crannies in birchbark canoes, to the early explorers, who mapped the state's 3,500 miles of coastline; from soldiers who built defensive forts to the lighthouse keepers who shined a beam on rockbound shores; from boat builders and sea captains to fishermen and cannery workers.

Maine is the site of the Popham Colony, a failed sister colony to Jamestown that predated the Plymouth Colony; the first vessel built by Englishmen on the mainland of North America; and it's where both the first Naval battle of the American Revolutionary War and the worst Naval disaster prior to Pearl Harbor took place.

As you'll learn by visiting Maine museums, the state is home to more than 60 lighthouses, including the oldest in the country; an impressive collection of forts; a fleet of windjammers that have traded their historic cargoes for human ones; and the only surviving maritime signal tower and the last extant herring smokehouse in the United States.

More than 125 Maine properties of maritime significance are listed in the National Register. These include lighthouses, sea captain's homes, shipyards, archeological sites, and forts. You can wander out a nearly mile-long breakwater and tour the lighthouse that caps it, explore seafaring villages filled with grand homes, tour forts, sail aboard historic vessels, even join a lobsterman on his daily rounds.