NORTHPORT, Maine — Even for casual visitors, there’s something special about Bayside, where packs of children roam the narrow streets and dart past the Gothic revival cottages bedecked with flowers and elaborate gingerbread trim.
But for those who come back year after year, what’s special about Bayside village is that it simply feels like home.
“I love it,” Joy Sherman of Gainesville, Florida, a seasonal resident for 31 years, said. “I love leaving Florida and coming here. It’s because of the people. It’s sort of like an extended family.”
This summer, the Bayside family is throwing a big party to mark the 100th birthday of the village they love, with events steeped in tradition and the spirit of the community.
“I never went to a sleepaway camp, but Bayside filled that need,” Alexa Lightner, who now lives in Boston but grew up spending summers in the village, said recently. “Everything was so much about tradition. It was really an old-fashioned kind of experience. There were no modern distractions, really. It was a really simple way to spend a summer.”
In 1915, Bayside formally became known as the Northport Village Corp., an independent entity within the town of Northport. More than a half-century before that, the 30-acre piece of land on Penobscot Bay had been developed as the Northport Wesleyan Grove Camp Meeting grounds. Steamships would chug up and down the coast, unloading thousands of passengers at the Bayside wharf on the weekends. The faithful would camp in canvas tents named for the towns from which they hailed and would pray and socialize together at open-air revival meetings.
During the years after the Civil War, the Bayside property was enlarged and built up, with the addition of roads, parks, hotels, a wharf, an auditorium, theater and summer cottages to replace all those tents, according to the website for the Cultural Landscape Foundation. Even though religious fervor waned in the early 20th century, people remained eager to leave hot cities for the refreshing sea breezes and scenery of the coast of Maine.
Denis Wang, chairman of the Bayside centennial committee, said today’s residents are careful to maintain the essence of the village, which features nearly 160 original cottages and buildings. The Bayside Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
“It’s small, it’s friendly, it’s quiet. It’s the kind of place you can let your kids out in the morning and expect them home in the evening, and they can be safe,” he said. “It’s maintained the way it has been since forever.”
Wang is a retired teacher who said he has a “very typical story” when it comes to how he settled in Bayside. He had been looking for a place to spend his summers and drove all around Maine and New Hampshire to find it. Then a real estate agent brought him to Bayside, and it was love at first sight.
“I told her I didn’t care which cottage it is,” Wang said. “This was it. This was where I wanted to be.”
One of the selling points for him is the fact that it is a close community, because the houses are so cozily packed together and because the people who live in them know one another. Although many of the cottages are rented out by the week or by the month, those short-term folks also are invited to join in village activities, including the active historical society and the Northport Yacht Club.
That might sound fancy, Wang said, but it’s not.
“It’s probably one of the smallest yacht clubs in the state, and dues are, I think, $35. A lot of the members don’t even have boats. They join for the social aspect of it,” he said. “Other yacht clubs in the state don’t really think we’re much of anything. We’re laid back. We don’t win a lot of races. But we enjoy what we are.”
For Wang and many others, that sums up the community’s charm.
“We’re a summer community, but we’re a middle-class community,” he said. “We have a lot of retired teachers, college and university professors, artists of all kinds. Just regular folks who want to relax and not necessarily show off anything. Just to be who they are.”
Some upcoming centennial events that showcase that spirit include a cottage and garden tour from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 19; an old-fashioned lobster bake and community potluck in Ruggles Park on Sunday, Aug. 9; and “illumination Saturdays,” when public buildings and participating cottages will be adorned with lanterns from July 18 through the month of August.
For information about the event schedule in Bayside, visit the website at bayside100.org.