Most visitors start their holiday in Maine by crossing the Piscataqua River on one of three bridges that lead into Kittery. From each bridge you get a panoramic view of the natural beauty of Kittery’s coastal communities and lush woodland areas.
Settled in 1623, Kittery has the distinction of being the most southern and oldest town in Maine. In its early years Kittery played a vital part in the nation’s ship building industry. During the Revolution the demand for new ships became critical. Kittery responded with warships like the Range, built in 1777, that would go into battle under the command of John Paul Jones.
While you’ll come upon history around every curve in the road, modern day shoppers have added to Kittery’s reputation as a fun place to visit. Concentrated along a stretch of Route 1 you’ll find more than 120 brand name outlet stores and the famous Kittery Trading Post. You’ll have a grand time shopping on your way to discovering great restaurants, inns, B & B’s, galleries, boating, beaches and scenic attractions in the “Gateway to Maine.”
The area’s long tradition of shipbuilding led to the establishment of the Portsmouth Navy Yard in 1800. It is the oldest U.S. Navy shipyard in continuous operation. Don’t be puzzled that the yard has the name of our neighboring city in New Hampshire across the river basin. It’s just one of the quirks that adds to the folklore of the area. Today the yard’s mission is to overhaul, repair and modernize submarines.
Another piece of history and geography that Kittery shares with New Hampshire is the Isles of Shoals. It is a group of nine small islands about 10 miles off the coast and a great place for sailing excursions.
Visit the Kittery Historical and Naval Museums to see artifacts and exhibits that portray Kittery’s historical and maritime past.
You’ll find more testaments of Kittery’s rich history when you veer off the major highways. Tucked along narrow winding roads like Route 103 dwell a cluster of vintage cottages, charming river coves and examples of imposing colonial architecture.
For an excellent representation of this by-gone era visit the Lady Pepperell House built in 1760. She was the widow of Sir William Pepperell a hero of the French and Indian War, who became the richest man in New England. You’ll find more history at the First Congregational Church built in 1730 and The John Bray House, built in 1662, believed to be the oldest surviving house in Maine.
From adjacent cemeteries take tombstone rubbings for an uncommon approach to record family histories.
Take time to enjoy a picnic, spectacular water view and brush with the past at Fort McClary and Fort Foster on Kittery Point. Fort McClary, on 27 acres, started as a fortification to protect the harbor in 1689. It was upgraded as the need to safeguard our shores grew. Kids will love roaming the fort’s octagon blockhouse, granite walls and earthworks
Fort Foster on Gerrish Island was established in 1872 and expanded in following years. It’s the site of the summer Seaside Festival.
Another Kittery first is Frisbee’s, started in 1828, and claims to be the oldest family run general store.
Neighboring rural Eliot was part of Kittery until 1810 and shares a great deal of Kittery history. Clipper ships and crafts of all sizes were launched from Eliot’s piers.
Buildings of historical interest in Eliot include the William Fogg House and Library, the Dr. Willis Homestead built in 1725 and the 1768 Libby Home, a former roadside tavern.