Downeast Maine is usually reached via U.S. Route 1, coming northeast from Ellsworth. You can also take a more direct, less congested route via Route 9 from Brewer (across the river from Bangor), connecting to Route 1 via Route 193 or Route 192.
For information on the Machias area and other parts of Downeast Maine, contact the Machias Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, 85 Main St., suite 2 (www.machiaschamber.org; tel. 207/255-4402), on Route 1. It’s open 10am to 3pm on weekdays. For more information on the Eastport area, contact the Eastport Chamber of Commerce (www.eastport.net; tel. 207/853-4644).
Eastport celebrates the Fourth of July in extravagant fashion each year, a tradition that began in 1820 after the British gave up possession of the city (they captured it during the War of 1812). Some 15,000 New Englanders pour into this little city of 1,900 for the 4-day event, which includes pie-eating competitions, codfish racing (that’s a relay while holding a dead fish, in case you didn’t know), a flotilla of boats and ships in the harbor, a huge torch-lit parade (Maine’s largest), parachutes, pipe bands, and the like. They go over-the-top, culminating in impressive (for the town’s size) fireworks.
The popular Machias Wild Blueberry Festival, operated by the local Congregation Church, celebrates the local cash crop each summer. Washington County claims to produce an astonishing 85% of the world’s wild blueberry harvest, so there’s bound to be some for the tasting when you show up. The festivities typically begin with a children’s parade and fish fry, continue with a Saturday blueberry pancake breakfast (of course) and road race, then move on to lobster feeds, the raffling of a blueberry quilt, a book sale, a masquerade ball in an old Grange Hall, and (of course) a blueberry-pie-eating contest. There are also performances and the sales of blueberry-theme gift items. Stamp collectors should plan to drop by the local post office for special-issue cancellation stamps, uniquely themed to blueberries each year. Check the festival website (www.machiasblueberry.com) or contact the Machias chamber of commerce (see above) for the exact dates of the festival; it’s usually in mid- to late August.
The Eastport Salmon Festival (tel. 207/853-6122; www.eastportsalmonfestival.com) takes over town each year during the first weekend after Labor Day, with a very full weekend of arts, crafts, a road race, a sailboat race, a walking tour, and plenty of seafood.