VINALHAVEN ISLAND, Maine -- Take a ferry to picturesque Vinalhaven Island in Penobscot Bay off the Maine coast for great biking, good food, beautiful coastal scenery and a few surprises: the eye-catching home of a famous artist, a connection to the beloved children's book "Goodnight Moon" and old granite quarries now used as quiet swimming spots.
Famous folks and island history
The scenic ferry ride from Rockland on the mainland takes 75 minutes and drops you off on Vinalhaven, about a 10-minute walk from the downtown area. Walking along Main Street, you can't help but notice a large Victorian home with gabled, arched windows and four massive American flags with undulating stripes painted on the exterior. This is the home of renowned pop artist Robert Indiana.
But he's not Vinalhaven's only claim to fame. Margaret Wise Brown, author of "Goodnight Moon," "The Runaway Bunny" and other children's classics, had a summer home on Vinalhaven that she called "The Only House" because at night, she couldn't see any other lights. There was no plumbing, no electricity and no road in; she brought guests to the house in a rowboat and kept white wine chilling in a well.
Brown died in 1952 and "The Only House" property is not open to the public, but the Vinalhaven Historical Society maintains a small exhibit about her. And if you ask at the desk, the staff generously offers additional articles about Brown's life and times here. The Historical Society, at 41 High St., is walking distance from the ferry and houses many other artifacts and displays about island history. The society is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Free admission, donations welcome. vinalhavenhistoricalsociety.org.
The granite legacy
Vinalhaven was named for an attorney, John Vinal, who represented land claims for island settlers in the late 1700s. A large granite industry developed on the island in the early 19th century and for 100 years provided high-quality stone for monuments, bridges, buildings and city streets around the country, including for Civil War forts, the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Washington Monument and New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
The industry died out as granite was replaced by steel and concrete, but don't miss the fantastic granite urns and other carved, polished stones adorning grave sites at John Carver Cemetery overlooking Carver's Pond, a short distance from the historical society.
Touring the island by bike or motorcycle is a nice way to experience the magic that captivated Margaret Wise Brown. You'll find quiet coves framed by evergreens and rocky shores for beachcombing. The ocean water is chilly, but plan a dip in one of the old granite quarries, which now serve as irresistible freshwater swimming spots.
Vinalhaven was in the news a few years ago when three tall windmills were installed to provide low-cost electricity; some locals complained about the whoosh-whoosh sound disturbing the island's peace and quiet. You can glimpse the turbines from the ferry, but you won't see or hear them from Main Street; they're about 5 miles away.
Getting there, getting around and getting fed
Ferries for the 15-mile trip between Rockland and Vinalhaven depart six times daily from either side between 7 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ($17.50 round-trip), maine.gov/mdot/msfs/vinalhaven.htm. Each ferry carries 16 cars but getting a spot for a vehicle is complicated -- details at vinalhaven.org/getting-here. If you're not bringing your car onboard, you must park it in Rockland; don't panic if the main lot appears full as there are other reasonably priced options nearby.
Day trips to the island are doable if you take an early ferry over and the last one back, but overnights are better -- especially if you want to try some of the island's good food. For a spectacular dinner, try The Haven on Main Street, where menu standouts have included sweet potato soup with mango, a smoked fish plate, salmon with beet dressing and blackberry crisp. For a hearty breakfast with a great view of the harbor, try Surfside.
If you don't have a bike to bring on the boat, you can rent one at Sidecountry Sports in Rockland. Or rent one on Vinalhaven at the Tidewater Motel, which offers bikes free to guests. The Tidewater also rents kayaks, canoes and cars.
Rooms at the Tidewater are $175-$199 through Labor Day; tidewatermotel.com/. You'll get excellent advice at the motel about everything on Vinalhaven, from where to bike to where to eat. And though the bikes lying around the motel's yard are a bit beat up, they'll get you to the quarry for a swim.