Ellsworth (Maine)

Ellsworth is a small city in Maine, located on the Union River, the county seat of Hancock County, with a population of about 6500 people. It was settled in 1763 and became a large lumber port and ship building center during the 19th century. Today it's the increasingly prosperous shopping center for Hancock County and the gateway for many tourists visiting Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island and the Bar Harbor region. However, Ellsworth itself has many historic buildings, beautiful spots and points of interest. Maine Coast Memorial Hospital is located there. From May until September Ellsworth is busy with lots of visitors from all over the United States and Canada.


This is a blue-collar, low-income area that has a very large influx of tourists for four months of every year. Ellsworth, Maine people - perhaps like most people living outside of urban areas -- are somewhat reserved until they get to know you, but are almost invariably kind and helpful. Patience goes a long way in getting along in Maine. Remember that the hectic summer tourist season can at times be an abnormal and somewhat stressful experience for both locals and visitors, and that a smile and a kind word go a long way. Visit Ellsworth from late fall through early spring to see what it's really like, when the crowds have gone home!

There is a local weekly newspaper, The Ellsworth American and more information can be found on the city's web site or via the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce.


According to the history of the Passamaquoddy Indians, the Ellsworth area was originally inhabited by members of the Passamaquoddy and/or Penobscot tribes. In 1773 the first schooner was built at Ellsworth. This was the 'Susan and Abigail,' named after the daughters of the two most prominent citizens and original 1763 settlers from southern Maine, Benjamin Milliken and Benjamin Joy. The vessel carried pine shingles and oak staves in annual voyages to the West Indies. In the years that followed, up to the beginning of the 20th century, a great many schooners of various sizes were built in Ellsworth shipyards along the Union River.

Historian Albert Davis records that in the latter part of the 18th century, Ellsworth was known as the 'Union River Settlement' and was adjacent to the settlements of Surry (to the east) and Trenton (to the south). In 1798 the local inhabitants petitioned to be formally incorporated under the name 'Sumner.' That name having been already taken by a settlement in Oxford County, Maine, the town was finally incorporated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1800 as Ellsworth, named for Oliver Ellsworth, 3rd Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court and thought to be the person who first suggested the name "United States of America" for the newly formed country.

Davis also reports that in the late 1770s there were British raids on the Union River Settlement, with attempts to appropriate the local cattle. However, there were no formal battles in the Ellsworth area during the Revolutionary War.

In 1838 Ellsworth became the county seat of Hancock County, replacing Castine in that role. The original 1838 county buildings still stand, west of the Union River, on Bridge Hill.

Between 1860 and 1865 Ellsworth sent 653 soldiers to fight in the Civil War, according to historian Albert Davis. This was at a time when there were only 847 (male) voters in the area. Military training was held in front of the old county buildings on Bridge Hill, west of the Union River, at the triangular park site of the present Civil War Monument.

In 1869 Ellsworth was incorporated as a city by the Maine Legislature. The first City Hall was Hancock Hall, which stood at the corner of Main Street and School Street. It was destroyed by the Great Ellsworth Fire of 1933.

Work on the famous Ellsworth hydro-electric dam was begun in 1907, at the site of one of the original Benjamin Milliken Union River dams at the 'lower falls.' This led to the creation of the present Leonard's Lake just to the north of the city.

Ellsworth's first great disaster of the 20th century was the Great Flood of 1923. A spring freshet rushed over the dam and carried off the metal Union River Bridge, along with many buildings located along the river, such as the well-known Dirigo Theater, the Foundry and many wharves and warehouses. This event marked the end of Ellsworth's prominence as a shipping center. The present concrete bridge was finished in 1924.

The Great Fire of 1933 destroyed most of Ellsworth's Downtown commercial district, on the east side of the Union River. New buildings were re-built in brick, mainly in the Art Deco style. The unique Ellsworth City Hall dates from this period. Fortunately, many of the old houses outside the business district survived the conflagration.

The 1960s and 70s saw the development of a new Ellsworth business district on High Street, which is the direct route to and from Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. This area is now the largest shopping district in Hancock County, with several shopping centers and many large stores, stretching nearly to the Ellsworth-Trenton boundary. Congested traffic during the summer months has led to attempts in recent years to change the road network, especially at the busy intersection of Route 1 and Route 3, known as "The Triangle."

Get in

By car

Travel north up I-95 towards Bangor until Exit 182A, then briefly follow I-395 until Exit 6A leads you on to Route 1A and south 22 miles to Ellsworth. Alternatively, drive the old but much more scenic Route 1 all the way up the Maine coast. A common compromise route by locals returning home from southern Maine is to take I-95 to just beyond Augusta, and then pick up Route 3, which leads to Belfast and then joins Route 1 up the coast to Ellsworth. This latter may be the fastest route to Ellsworth from points south, though the stretch along Route 3 lacks the charm of the coastal drive.

By plane

By sea

There is no longer long-distance ferry service into the Acadia region. The Cat, a high speed car ferry which previously operated between Bar Harbor, Portland (Maine) and Yarmouth (Canada) ceased operations at the end of the 2009 season.

By bus

By train

There are no longer any trains traveling to Ellsworth and points Downeast. However, plans are afoot in Hancock County to redevelop the old railway right-of-way for tourist excursions. The railway tracks still intersect West Main Street, just beyond the meeting point of High Street and Oak Street.

Get around




Apart from Ellsworth's older, picturesque 'downtown' Main Street commercial area, near the Union River and original 'waterfront' district, there are many, many more stores along the busy High Street "strip" heading towards Bar Harbor, including the large Maine Coast Mall at 250 High Street. Tel: +1 207-667-9905 and the Ellsworth Shopping Center next door at 185 High Street. There's also a Wal-Mart at 461 High Street. Tel: +1 207-667-6780. (The much smaller Mill Mall at 240 State Street, out towards Ellsworth High School and Ellsworth Falls on Route 1A to Bangor, houses the University of Maine Education Center and the Maine Coast Memorial Hospital Wellness Center as well as a number of other businesses.)




Stay safe

Ellsworth is a very safe place, with relatively little crime. However, petty theft is possible anywhere in the United States, especially in large shopping centers and during the busy summer tourist season. Realistically, your biggest risk is in driving your car. Don't drive if you drink, and always drive carefully and defensively, here and everywhere else. Ellsworth drivers are generally polite, careful drivers, but the summer season can be a crazy time on the Maine roads. If visiting Ellsworth in the winter, take special care on the slippery, snowy roads, especially if you're unfamiliar with winter driving conditions.


Wireless internet service covers the Downtown area and Ellsworth Public Library.

Go next

Routes through Ellsworth

HoultonCalais Jct E  N  S  Orland Brunswick
Augusta Orland  W  E  Trenton Bar Harbor
END  N  S  Surry Sedgwick

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, January 31, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.