Connecting state and local government leaders

Route Fifty Roadmap: Memorial Day in a Small Maine Town

Boston Public Library


Connecting state and local government leaders

Despite the influx of tax dollars from wealthy seasonal residents, tiny Northeast Harbor has been struggling to stay alive.

Route Fifty Roadmap is an ongoing series of dispatches from the semi-regular travels of the Route Fifty staff around the United States. | PREVIOUSLY: Coldwater, Michigan

NORTHEAST HARBOR, Maine — In this tiny, no-stoplight town, on a rainy Memorial Day, around 200 people turned out to honor citizens who had died in World War I and the wars America has fought in the following 100 years.

This town, about a three-hour drive from Portland, has been struggling to stay alive. According to stats from 2014, Northeast Harbor’s population numbered 442 residents. Its median age was 65, and household size averaged 1.56. Unemployment hovers near 8 percent. Businesses have closed on Main Street.

Nonetheless, the town does not have a down-and-out ambiance. Two new businesses are opening this summer. And the town boasts a large, new state-of-the-art library, a good elementary school, a Neighborhood House that provides services year-round, and a deep-water port that’s a regular destination for yachts belonging to the 1-percent.

The 1-percent pay millions in taxes to support the town—levies on old and new shorefront properties whose values have reached into the stratosphere in the past two decades.

Some of these “summer people,” as they are called by “locals,” turned out for the Memorial Day parade and ceremony. It featured an invocation, a lovely rendition of “God Bless America,” readings of the Gettysburg Address and the World War I poem “On Flanders Field,” a recitation of citizens who had died in wars we have fought, and a speech by a local classicist focusing on “agápē love,” the most selfless kind of love soldiers share as they sacrifice life and limb.

(Photo by Timothy B. Clark /

The marching band and the orchestra from Mount Desert Island High School played patriotic tunes. A solo trumpeter played “Taps” as a wreath was laid by the head of Lurvey Wright Post 103 of the American Legion, organizer of the event. And then, people lined up to buy hamburgers and hot dogs to consume at long communal tables in a tent on the seaside village green.

(Photo by Timothy B. Clark /

Next Stop: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Timothy B. Clark is Editor-at-Large at Government Executive's Route Fifty.

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