People like to forget it now, but there was always a fierce rivalry between Rockland and Camden. In those days it was “Camden by the sea, Rockland by the smell.”

For those who forgot, Rockland prospered from the offshore fishing industry and suffered the accompanying fish meal plant. The waterfront business created a few jobs at the cost of a horrible smell which was often compared to baked vomit. The city once boasted one of the highest crime rates in the state. When I once interviewed independent Gov. James Longley, he claimed the first question. “What the hell is going on in Rockland?” he asked.

The fish plant went the way of the fishing industry, and Rockland finds itself as an art community, of all things, featuring the Wyeth family works at the Farnsworth Art Museum, which is surrounded by numerous small galleries. As Camden rents soared, many small shops moved to Rockland. Rockland now has its own windjammer fleet, once a Camden trademark.

Rockland always had the better harbor and the 2,500-passenger cruise ship Jewel of the Sea stopped in Rockland, not Camden, this month. The vessel sent only some of the overflow to Camden for shopping.

Camden has traditionally been included on national top 10 lists as the place to visit and settle down. Now, Rockland seems to be catching on, as well. In its wild and woolly days, Rockland would not have been considered “sophisticated.”

Times have changed.

Last week, conducted a nationwide search for the “coolest small towns” with “great coffee, food with character, shop owners with purpose, in perfectly small doses.” Rockland made the cut. reporter Carol Braden said, “You’ll find just enough sophistication to balance the saltiness of midcoast Maine in Rockland, where regional mainstays are reinvented every day.

“After honing her skills working for Perry Ellis in New York City, Beth Bowley was lured back to Maine four years ago. Rockland is filled with folks who’ve seen what the world has to offer and want to be here,” said Bowley, who opened the boutique FourTwelve, which she stocks with clothing and accessories like Sea Bags, made from recycled sails (412 Main St.,, bags from $110).

“Down the street at Suzuki’s Sushi Bar, Japanese-born chef Keiko Suzuki Steinberger infuses freshly caught lobster, shrimp, and crab with modern Japanese flavors (419 Main St., entrees from $12). Steinberger first came to Rockland to visit a second cousin but stayed after falling for her now husband.

“As pleasant as a short visit can be, the real risk of visiting Rockland is that you’ll do the same and need to move here for good. It’s worth testing the waters by renting a house, on, where you can find 19th-century Capes going for $125 a night,” the report stated.

Not bad, huh?

Before you get too excited, you had better check out the competition, the other “coolest towns” to visit.

Mt. Vernon, Iowa, only 20 miles east of Cedar Rapids, offers that annual sidewalk chalk festival. I know you want to put that one on your calendar for next year. And you must stop at Saugerties, N.Y., which bills itself as the “book capital of the Hudson Valley.”

I am going to Wallace, Idaho, not only to see the Oasis Bordello Museum but also to see the former mining town where every single building is on the national registry. Including, one would assume, the bordello museum. I wonder if they sell T-shirts.

No wonder chose Tubac, Ariz., which not only had “no traffic but no traffic lights.” It’s only 25 miles north of Mexico, if that does anything for you.

Then there is Breaux Bridge, La., the “crawfish capital of the world.” Lexington, Va., was added for its historic effort to save the town drive-in theater and its “Norman Rockwell” setting between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountain ranges.

Cayucos, Calif., was chosen, apparently for its location halfway between LA and San Francisco, plus its coffee shops and surfing. What about Whitefish, Mont., which boasts proximity to Glacier National Park? Or Jacksonville, Ore. (not Florida), which has 17 wineries to visit?

Sorry, Camden. Your coffee shops, mountains, windjammers and restaurants did not measure up. Not to Rockland. Not according to

Not like Wallace, Idaho.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at