The fishing village of Stonington on beautiful Deer Isle is one of the more beloved and often frequented stops on many windjammer cruises. Some of the schooners visit Stonington on almost every trip during their season. Because there is a lobster cooperative in town, it is a popular spot to purchase lobsters just before sailing to an island for a beach-side lobster bake.
Although lobstering is the primary source of income for the community and, indeed, all of Deer Isle, guests who go ashore to visit Stonington will discover an eclectic combination of shops, houses, and galleries. The multi-faceted nature of the village is unique, and its charming, “back- in-the-day” atmosphere envelops visitors quickly. One will not find a Walmart or a Burger King or a Home Depot near Stonington; the diverse shops, eateries, and businesses are small, independent for the most part, and offer vacationers a “you’re welcome here” feeling. There’s no Christmas Tree Shop, either, nor avant-garde boutiques; but for souvenir hounds, Stonington’s various gift shops are treasure troves of authentic Maine-crafted items. Deer Isle is home to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts; artists, artisans, and craftsmen who attend or teach at the internationally renowned arts center sell many of their pieces through the local shops. Shipmates who visit Stonington will find hand-thrown pottery, sculptures, paintings, as well as knitted items, specialty jams and jellies, or glass ornaments. Whether potholders or pottery, hand-painted bookmarks or wrought-iron bookends, the items you’ll find on Deer Isle are locally hand crafted, unique to this area where lobstermen and artists live and work side-by-side. Wherever you visit in Stonington, you’ll find shop keepers and artisans who have such a welcoming presence that you’ll feel like an invited neighbor rather than just another “shopper.”
One jewel in the treasure chest that is Stonington is a quaint little shop called the Purple Fish, owned by Evelyn and Jan Kok. Evelyn and Jan have been greeting schooner guests with warmth and song for forty-one years, in a cozy shop filled with antique books, a variety of unrelated bits and pieces, and Evelyn’s artwork. Evelyn is a gifted artist; she paints bookmarks that depict the schooners of the windjammer fleet and are a delightful gift purchase for those who are patient and want to watch her paint one. The shop resides in a building that has been—at one time or another—a stable, a forge, a church, and a garage for Model T Fords. Evelyn says “guests often remark that the shop reminds them of their great uncle’s barn.” The building was made with hand-hewn nails, and still has an original, genuine, manure chute—which has been cleaned of course!
Stonington also boasts an Opera House, now celebrating its tenth year of rebirth after having been closed for a while. Those of you who wonder what folks on the Maine islands do in the winter months may be surprised to learn that the Opera House has gained national recognition as a year-round performing arts center. Movies, plays, concerts, workshops, and guest performers make for an Opera House calendar that’s as busy in the winter as it is in the summer.
Granite is still quarried near Stonington, on Crotch Island. The granite works has a long history and was at one time a cornerstone—pardon the play on words—of the local economy. Granite from the area was used to build Union Station in Chicago and the Library of Congress building in Washington, D.C., among other well-known and historic structures. There is a small museum in Stonington where one can learn more about the history of the granite quarrying and also see exhibits detailing maritime history and learn other interesting facts about the area’s past.
We hope you’ll have an opportunity to visit the one-of-a-kind shops, galleries, and markets that make up enchanting Stonington on Deer Isle, Maine. You will be glad you walked its few streets, peered at houses with window boxes and gardens over flowing with summer blooms, and spent a leisurely couple of hours poking about in craft shops and bookstores. You will return to your vessel with the feeling that you were welcomed and blessed by the neighborliness of a community that incongruously harbors the rough style of a lobsterman’s trade together with the fine quality of gifted artisans and musicians. It’s not too early to plan your cruise for 2010; and if your captain decides to visit Stonington, be sure to go ashore to visit a town that has retained the quality of New England village life of 50 years ago: “The Way Life Used to Be.”