The Saco Museum near the holiday season — Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik
Just under 30 minutes outside of Portland, you'll find Saco, ME. This intriguing and historical spot offers visitors a charming glimpse into a mill town's past. Start your day with a trip to the Saco Museum in the morning or early afternoon. For history buffs, this destination is one of the finest community history museums in Maine.
Visitors enter the museum’s stately brick building, located near Route 1, with an introduction to the area’s earliest inhabitants. Exhibits depict the industriousness of Native Americans who fished, hunted and grew crops along the shores of the nearby Saco River.
Successive presentations trace the illustrious history of the area. For instance, Saco’s reputation as one of America’s earliest ship-building centers is explored with model ships, portraits of ship-building company founders, and an excellent collection of custom-made furniture from well-to-do homes of the early 1800s.
The exhibits then trace the industrial past of the area with a look at the many clothing and textiles factories that once occupied the shoreline (did you know that the predecessor to clothing manufacturer Nike once had a Saco address?). Youngsters will enjoy the second floor exhibits that feature real antique toys and a model dormitory for female mill workers.
Saco's mill basin — Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik
Following a tour of the museum, it’s possible to get up close and personal with the now closed mill buildings thanks to a kayak tour of the Saco River basin.
Bring your own kayak or rent one from several outfitters such as Bare Knee Point Kayak Rentals. A popular launch point for kayaks is the town boat launch near the Saco Yacht Club.
Here you can immediately enter the Saco River and, bearing right, enter the basin that contains the massive mill factories that once dominated the area. It’s a fascinating journey as you quietly paddle by towering smokestacks and warehouses that are now eerily silent. Take the opportunity to peak into the tunnels that once directed water for cooling factory machinery. The yawning darkness of these man-made caverns is quite compelling.
One of the now silent water tunnels in the basin — Photo courtesy of Mark Pechenik
Turning away from the basin, kayakers can enjoy the Saco River’s reclaimed shoreline with its abundance of sea birds, towering trees and aquatic life such as turtles.
After a satisfying afternoon on the river, there are many restaurant options in the area. Among the best is the nearby Run of the Mill Public House and Brewery featuring a hearty mix of delicious pub food and craft beers that are brewed on the premises. It’s a great way to end your day experiencing Saco’s past and present.