It was settled in 1763 and became a large lumber port and ship building center during the 19th century. Today it's the increasingly prosperous shopping center for Hancock County and the gateway for many tourists visiting Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island and the Bar Harbor region.
Ellsworth has many historic buildings, beautiful spots and points of interest. Maine Coast Memorial Hospital is there. From May until September Ellsworth is busy with lots of visitors from all over the United States and Canada.
This is a blue-collar, low-income area that has a very large influx of tourists for four months of every year. Ellsworth, Maine people — perhaps like most people living outside of urban areas — are somewhat reserved until they get to know you, but are almost invariably kind and helpful. Patience goes a long way in getting along in Maine. The hectic summer tourist season can at times be an abnormal and somewhat stressful experience for locals and for visitors, and that a smile and a kind word go a long way. Visit Ellsworth from late fall through early spring to see what it's really like, when the crowds have gone home!
According to the history of the Passamaquoddy Indians, the Ellsworth area was first inhabited by members of the Passamaquoddy and/or Penobscot tribes. In 1773 the first schooner was built at Ellsworth. This was the Susan and Abigail, named after the daughters of the two most prominent citizens and original 1763 settlers from southern Maine, Benjamin Milliken and Benjamin Joy. The vessel carried pine shingles and oak staves in annual voyages to the West Indies. In the years that followed, up to the beginning of the 20th century, a great many schooners of various sizes were built in Ellsworth shipyards along the Union River.
Historian Albert Davis records that in the latter part of the 18th century, Ellsworth was known as the 'Union River Settlement' and was adjacent to the settlements of Surry (to the east) and Trenton (to the south). In 1798 the local inhabitants petitioned to be incorporated under the name 'Sumner.' That name having been already taken by a settlement in Oxford County, Maine, the town was incorporated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1800 as Ellsworth, named for Oliver Ellsworth, 3rd Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court and thought to be the person who first suggested the name "United States of America" for the newly formed country.
Davis also reports that in the late 1770s there were British raids on the Union River Settlement, with attempts to appropriate the local cattle. However, there were no formal battles in the Ellsworth area during the Revolutionary War.
In 1838 Ellsworth became the county seat of Hancock County, replacing Castine in that role. The original 1838 county buildings still stand, west of the Union River, on Bridge Hill.
Between 1860 and 1865 Ellsworth sent 653 soldiers to fight in the Civil War, according to historian Albert Davis. This was at a time when there were only 847 (male) voters in the area. Military training was held in front of the old county buildings on Bridge Hill, west of the Union River, at the triangular park site of the present Civil War Monument.
In 1869 Ellsworth was incorporated as a city by the Maine Legislature. The first City Hall was Hancock Hall, which stood at the corner of Main Street and School Street. It was destroyed by the Great Ellsworth Fire of 1933.
Work on the famous Ellsworth hydro-electric dam was begun in 1907, at the site of one of the original Benjamin Milliken Union River dams at the 'lower falls.' This led to the creation of the present Leonard's Lake just to the north of the city.
Ellsworth's first great disaster of the 20th century was the Great Flood of 1923. A spring freshet rushed over the dam and carried off the metal Union River Bridge, along with many buildings located along the river, such as the well-known Dirigo Theater, the Foundry and many wharves and warehouses. This event marked the end of Ellsworth's prominence as a shipping center. The present concrete bridge was finished in 1924.
The Great Fire of 1933 destroyed most of Ellsworth's Downtown commercial district, on the east side of the Union River. New buildings were re-built in brick, mainly in the Art Deco style. The unique Ellsworth City Hall dates from this period. Fortunately, many of the old houses outside the business district survived the conflagration.
In the 1960s and 70s, a new Ellsworth business district developed on High Street, which is the direct route to and from Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. This area is now the largest shopping district in Hancock County, with several shopping centers and many large stores, stretching nearly to the Ellsworth-Trenton boundary. Congested traffic during the summer months has led to attempts to change the road network, especially at the busy intersection of Route 1 and Route 3, known as "The Triangle."
Travel north up I-95 towards Bangor until Exit 182A, then briefly follow I-395 until Exit 6A leads you on to Route 1A and south 22 miles to Ellsworth. Alternatively, drive the old but much more scenic Route 1 all the way up the Maine coast. A common compromise route by locals returning home from southern Maine is to take I-95 to just beyond Augusta, and then pick up Route 3, which leads to Belfast and then joins Route 1 up the coast to Ellsworth. This latter may be the fastest route to Ellsworth from points south, though the stretch along Route 3 lacks the charm of the coastal drive.
- Hancock County - Bar Harbor Airport. Located in Trenton, 5 miles outside Ellsworth, near Acadia National Park
- Bangor International Airport. 30 miles away in Bangor.
There is no long-distance ferry service into the Acadia region.
- Vermont Transit Lines. Connects Bangor with southern Maine and Boston. The bus also travels from Bangor via St. Stephen into New Brunswick, the Canadian Maritimes and Atlantic Canada.
- Bar Harbor-Bangor Shuttle, ☏ . Connects Bar Harbor and Ellsworth with Bangor.
There are no trains traveling to Ellsworth and points Downeast. However, plans are afoot in Hancock County to redevelop the old railway right-of-way for tourist excursions. The railway tracks still intersect West Main Street, just beyond the meeting point of High Street and Oak Street.
- Woodlawn Museum, ☏ . May through September. the famous Black House, built in 1824. Original furniture, carriage house, outbuildings, public park.
- 1 Ellsworth Public Library, 20 State St (near the city center), ☏ . Built in 1817 by Colonel Meltiah Jordan, listed on the National Register of Historic Houses, also known as the Tisdale House. Houses an excellent genealogical collection. Also a Wi-Fi hot spot.
- Old Hancock County Jail, State St (next to the Ellsworth Public Library). Home of the Hancock County Historical Society. Ask at the Ellsworth Public Library for more information.
- Stanwood Homestead Museum and Birdsacre Sanctuary, High St (on the way to Bar Harbor), ☏ . Look for the sign after you drive past all the shopping centers.
- Congregational Church, State St (near the Ellsworth City Hall and Public Library). With historical cemetery. One of the most photographed churches in Maine.
- 2 Ellsworth City Hall, ☏ . Just behind the Downtown stores, near the Congregational Church and Public Library. Unique Art Deco construction, built after the Great Ellsworth Fire of 1933. Includes the Police and Fire departments.
- Agassiz Outcrop. In Ellsworth Falls on Route 1A going towards Bangor, on the left just before the turn off to Route 179 An obscure but apparently important National Historical Landmark, on private property, notable as evidence of glaciation.
- The Grand Auditorium, 150 Main St, ☏ (box office), (main). A not-for-profit cultural arts center, with distinctive Art Deco architecture. Concerts, movies, international acts and local performers.
- Ellsworth Waterfront, Water St (just off Main Street). Have a picnic at the Union River marina and watch for bald eagles and diving osprey.
- The Courthouse Gallery, ☏ . On the west side of the Union River, on Bridge Hill, halfway between the Union River Bridge and the famous Black House. It's in the renovated 1838 Hancock County Court House, near the Grand Old Republic Civil War statue and memorial park. Exhibits by local and other artists.
- WDEA-AM, 93 Main St, ☏ . Listen to Ellsworth's original radio station on 1370 kHz for 'timeless classics' plus local news, weather and Red Sox baseball.
- D'Amanda's, 25 Eastward Ln (Off the Downeast Highway, near "The Triangle"), ☏ . bowling alley.
Apart from Ellsworth's older, picturesque 'downtown' Main Street commercial area, near the Union River and original 'waterfront' district, there are many, many more stores along the busy High Street "strip" heading towards Bar Harbor, including the large Maine Coast Mall at 250 High Street. Tel: +1 207-667-9905 and the Ellsworth Shopping Center next door at 185 High Street. (The much smaller Mill Mall at 240 State Street, out towards Ellsworth High School and Ellsworth Falls on Route 1A to Bangor, houses the University of Maine Education Center and the Maine Coast Memorial Hospital Wellness Center as well as a number of other businesses.)
- L.L. Bean Merchandise, 150 High St, ☏ . Located on Ellsworth's less-than-attractive (but very useful) strip of malls and shopping centers heading down Route 1 towards Bar Harbor, at selling genuine L.L. Bean merchandise at discounted prices.
- John Edwards Markets, 158 Main St, ☏ . Located in the old Downtown area of Ellsworth, near the Grand Auditorium, John Edwards has been selling organic food, special coffees, health and organic products, homeopathic remedies, organic cosmetics and similar merchandise since 1970.
- Pyramid Studios, 10 State St, ☏ . Near the Public Library. Jewelry.
- The Old Creamery Art and Antiques Mall, 13 Hancock St, ☏ . Just off Main Street.
- Union River Gallery, 17 School St, ☏ . Fine art and crafts.
- Big Chicken Barn, ☏ . Far out on Route 1, going south towards Bucksport. Famous for its books and antiques and actually sited in a very large, renovated chicken barn, you can spend hours browsing here.
- Maine Holiday Wreaths, Main St, ☏ .
- Mike's Country Store, 90 Water St, ☏ . Small but famous local general store, in operation since 1897, seven days a week, with the slogan 'Your Grandparents Shopped Here.'
- Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop, 193 Main St, ☏ . In Ellsworth.
- Tree Stump Leather, ☏ . Route 3 towards Bar Harbor. Locally made leather work, such as knife sheaths and holsters.
- Maine's Own Treats, 68 Bar Harbor Rd, ☏ . Trenton, just outside of Ellsworth, on the way to the airport, Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor. Maine jams, etc.
- Riverside Café, 151 Main St (in the old Downtown section of Ellsworth), ☏ . Great place for breakfast or lunch, but be prepared to wait during the peak summer season, unless there is room at the counter. Good coffee.
- Sylvia's Café, 240 State St, ☏ . At Mill Mall, out towards Ellsworth High School and Ellsworth Falls. Popular with locals.
- The Union River Lobster Pot, 8 South St, ☏ . Centrally located quite near the Union River Bridge, with excellent seafood and close-up views of the Union River.
- Finelli Pizza, 12 Downeast Highway (Route 1) (near "The Triangle"), ☏ . Reputedly the best pizza in eastern Maine, New York style.
- Helen's Restaurant of Ellsworth, 55 Downeast Highway, ☏ . Out on Route 1, heading downeast.
- Jordan's Snack Bar, 200 Downeast Highway (Route 1), ☏ . Popular, high-quality roadside stand with indoor and outdoor seating. Fried seafood, ice cream.
- Friends and Family Market, Rte 1A Ellsworth Falls. Family run market with a variety of offering, including excellent butter rolls.
- Josie's Country Store and Cafe, 126 Surry Rd, ☏ . 5AM - 8PM, closed Sundays. Great breakfast, lunch and dinner. Local craft beer on tap.
- Shinbashi, 139 High St (at Washington St., about 1/2 mi. south of Main St.), ☏ . Spin-off of Bangor's "Green Tea," serving Asian food (Chinese, Japanese, Thai) with an extensive sushi selection. Highly authentic food for Ellsworth -- the food marked "spicy" is actually pretty darned hot!
- Rooster Brother, 29 Main St. At the Union River Bridge at the foot of Bridge Hill, in the historic Victorian Odd Fellows Hall Building. Specialty food, wine, cheese and coffee roasting. Breakfast from 7:30AM M-F with various excellent coffee choices, plus muffins and croissants.
- Pepper's Pub, 20 Water St.
- Homestead Motel. Historic 1810 building plus new units, on the west side of Ellsworth, on Route 1.
- Eagle's Lodge Motel, 278 High St. Just past "The Triangle," on the way to Bar Harbor.
- Comfort Inn, 130 High St, ☏ .
- Colonial Inn, 321 High St, ☏ .
- Lakeside Cedar Cabins, 397 Mariaville Rd (Route 180 just beyond Ellsworth Falls), ☏ . Nine housekeeping cedar cabins along ten-mile long Graham Lake, a warm water lake with bass fishing and swimming. Each cottage accommodates five persons and include two bedrooms with double beds, bathroom with shower, and kitchen/living area with double futon. Screened porches as well as decks overlooking the lake, plus wood stoves.
- Acadia Sunrise Motel, 952 Bar Harbor Rd, Trenton, ☏ . Just outside Ellsworth, in Trenton, near the airport and Acadia National Park.
- Open Hearth Inn. Just outside Ellsworth, in Trenton, near the airport and Acadia National Park.
- Isleview Motel and Cottages, 1169 Bar Harbor Rd, ☏ . Cabins, motels rooms and budget rooms available. Located just outside of Ellsworth in Trenton, 7.5 miles from Acadia National Park.
- Ramada Ellsworth, 215 High St., ☏ . 100% smoke free. Services, attractions, and accommodations. 9 miles from the Hancock County- Bar Harbor Airport
Ellsworth is a very safe place, with relatively little crime. However, petty theft is possible anywhere in the United States, especially in large shopping centers and during the busy summer tourist season. Realistically, your biggest risk is in driving your car. Don't drive if you drink, and always drive carefully and defensively, here and everywhere else. Ellsworth drivers are generally polite, careful drivers, but the summer season can be a crazy time on the Maine roads. If visiting Ellsworth in the winter, take special care on the slippery, snowy roads, especially if you're unfamiliar with winter driving conditions.
Wireless internet service covers the Downtown area and Ellsworth Public Library.
- Downeast.net, Main Street, ☏ . Internet services.
- Acadia National Park - the first National Park east of the Mississippi. Busy during tourist season but one of the most beautiful parts of the Maine coast. Approximately 30 minutes south of Ellsworth via Route 3.
- Acadia Information Center - located on Route 3 in Trenton, just outside Ellsworth, with free assistance in planning your visit to the Acadia National Park region.
- Blue Hill - beautiful, quaint village about 14 miles southwest of Ellsworth via Route 172, located on Blue Hill Bay. Historic houses, antiques, harbor with boats. Well worth the visit.
- Mount Desert Island
- Bar Harbor
- Acadia Air Tours[dead link] at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton, about 10 minutes from Ellsworth on the way to Bar Harbor, offers scenic flights with both gliders and old-fashioned biplanes that allow you to see Ellsworth, Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park from a unique perspective.
|Routes through Ellsworth|
|Houlton ← Calais ← Jct E ←||N S||→ Orland → Brunswick|
|Augusta ← Orland ←||W E||→ Trenton → Bar Harbor|
|END ←||N S||→ Surry → Sedgwick|