ROCKPORT — Teamwork and a collective love for the town of Rockport made the first-ever community dinner on the Goose River Bridge a magical evening for those who came to eat, to serve, or just to watch from afar. As the perfect August afternoon settled into dusk, the light over Rockport Harbor was crystal clear, and the water was as blue as the Atlantic can get.
Christmas lights that had been strung overhead and across the tables twinkled, and the laughter spilled over the bridge, like it never has before.
The dinner was the culmination of a seven-month long celebration of Rockport’s Qausquicentennial (125th), and followed a series of ceremonies, dances and events that focused on the town’s roots, and its sense of place.
As soon as Jimmy Aldus and Mike Young, of Rockport Public Works, and Rockport Fire Chief Jason Peasley set the barricades in place at either end of the Goose River Bridge at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon and Rockport Police began diverting traffic, the guys from Wallace Tent began unloading 30 long tables, working in short order so that volunteers of the Rockport 125th Committee could get the table linen and 280 settings in place, and water glasses filled.
A brisk northwest breeze tempered the hot August afternoon, but it blew the plates off the table, until the special hand-painted rocks, courtesy of Rockport children, securely anchored the tablecloths. Pots of flowers, courtesy of Hoboken Gardens and the Green Thumb, crowned a floral elegance to the normally scruffy bridge.
The work had to move efficiently, because the bridge over the Goose River is a main traffic route through Rockport Village, and in order to serve dinner on it, the town had pledged to the Maine Department of Transportation that Old Route 1 would only be closed until 10 p.m.
But it all went seamlessly (more or less) as neighbors and friends, visitors and newcomers to Rockport broke bread together overlooking what Charles Kuralt once labeled the most “perfect small harbor in America.”
And, there was no sightings of the Goose River ghost, the “Pitcher Man,” that evening, either.
While there is nothing quaint or cute about Rockport Harbor, it does have a center and a colorful soul, a harbor where the fishing boats and boatyard, fishermen and sailors, locals and tourists, all share a waterfront that offers a clear line of sight out to Penobscot Bay and the Gulf of Maine.
The Goose River Bridge Dinner celebrated that, with tickets going on sale three weeks prior.
As popularity of the event grew, the Rockport 125th Committee increased the count, until it was finally capped at 280 people — when it was agreed that the bridge just might not hold anyone else.
Megunticook Market and Mainely Bartenders were commissioned to provide food and drink, and both companies did just that, with a menu that reflected summer’s bounty.
The signature drink of the evening, the Rockport 125th Goose (Grey Goose vodka, ginger beer, fresh ginger and lemon) sold out in a flash, and the desserts, donated by Offshore Restaurant, Laugh Loud Smile Big, Denny’s Restaurant, Hannaford and the Helm Restaurant.
Just prior to the dinner, Bay Chamber Concert held a free Jazz on the Water concert at Marine Park, in memory of Irene and Billy Wolf.
Featuring the Creative Ensemble Collective with saxophonist Donny McCaslin, the program featured a number of original compositions that have been developed over the past three years at workshops around the globe, with a selection of standards from the Great American Song Book. (See Rockport’s Jazz on the Water concert, for photos of that event)
The Goose River Bridge Dinner was an affair to remember, and after eating, many strolled up the hill to watch the last night of the Rockport historical slide show, which projected photos of Rockport over the last centuries onto the wall of Union Hall.
The slides, which can be seen here on the Rockport 125th Facebook page, evoked a town that has been industrial and gritty, with the limestone and shipbuilding industries dominating the harbor, as well as agricultural and bucolic.
Rockport’s 125th anniversary celebrations, from February to August, acknowledged the different threads of the town, and its affinity for the arts, for education, enterprise and industry, and for what it might be in the future.
The summer celebration week included a community dance at the Samoset, a Maine Pro Musica concert, a big and creative parade through Rockport Village, a free Bay Chamber Jazz Concert at Marine Park, bluegrass jam and sing-a-long with Miners Creek, a cardboard box boat race at Rockport Harbor, and community dinner on the Goose River Bridge.
As well, the town will be burying a time capsule to be unearthed at the 150th anniversary of its incorporation as a town. Citizens are invited to contribute thoughts, photos, recordings, etc., in small packages (thumb drives, DVDs, envelopes, and other smallish items). Take them by the end of August to the Rockport Town Office for inclusion.
Last February, Rockport marked the anniversary of its 1891 separation from Camden with pomp and ceremony, as well as three days of fun that included a Blood Feud Blood Drive, Fireside Chat with Elders, dinner, children's theater and dance.
When Camden and Rockport split, there was little goodwill toward each other.
Reuel Robinson wrote in his book,History of Camden and Rockport, that “sectional feelings ran high and sectional virulence became so acute that for a time it was hardly safe for a Rockport man to favor the proposition to ‘divide’ or a Camden man to oppose it.”
Those days are long over, and the towns are working together like never before, sharing visions — and sharing costs — in innovative ways.
Over the past year, Rockport celebrated its township, its community, but even more importantly, a sense of place.
As Granville Ames recounted, no matter where in the world he traveled, he always came home to Rockport.
And as Sen. Dave Miramant and Angus King pointed out, people across the globe know about Rockport, Maine. It's just that kind of place.
The Rockport 125th Committee included Lynda Clancy, Linda Greenlaw, Stacey Parra, Maggie Timmerman, Michelle Hannan, Keirstin Delano, Sarah Shepherd, Connie Russell, Lisa Farley, Michelle Heald and Gretchen Richards.
Thanks to photographers Terri Lea Smith, Isaac Remsen, Helen Shaw, Sarah Shepherd and Byron Haining for capturing the spirit of the Qausquicentennial!
For more about the Rockport Quasquicentennial, see the following stories.