Wiscasset once featured among “Nine Happy Places”

Posted:  Wednesday, July 12, 2017 - 8:15am

Forty-seven years ago, Wiscasset was picked as one of the nine happiest towns in America. In 1970, Esquire magazine featured Maine’s Prettiest Village in an article called, “Nine Happy Places,” small towns “where the kids look like the ones Norman Rockwell used to paint” and “where the grass really is greener.”

All of this came to light after town employee Steve Christiansen found a framed certificate from the magazine tucked away in the town office attic.

“I tried to find a copy of the original Esquire article; when I couldn’t, I wrote to their office in New York City,” said Christiansen. Much to Christiansen’s surprise, he got both a reply and a photocopy of the article.

“Thank you for your thoughtful note about Wiscasset’s place in our story on nine happy towns in America. How encouraging to see that something Esquire did so long ago can still mean so much,” replied Adrienne Westenfeld, assistant to Esquire’s editor-in-chief.

The person or persons who researched and compiled the article isn’t named. The part that features Wiscasset quotes an unnamed university professor from Wisconsin who said he moved to: “tiny, tree-shaded Wiscasset to get away from it all.”

Wiscasset’s population is given as 2,000 residents who, the article states, “revel in the unmistakable changes of the seasons. In the summers they sail from their protected harbor out to the spectacular Maine shoreline, the local yacht club charges only $25 for a family membership. Autumn colors blaze out against a deep-green background of spruce and pine…”

It goes on to say the community’s principle industry is marine worms “prized among worm users all over the country” — although Christiansen thinks they really meant to say, “prized by fishermen.” Marine worms, i.e., blood and sand worms are popular bait among saltwater anglers. Few people recall in those days Wiscasset was also known as the “Marine Worm Capital of the World” because more bait worms were shipped from here than anywhere else.

Wiscasset in 1970 was also the beneficiary of both jobs and property taxes provided by the now-defunct Mason Station power plant on Birch Point. It was owned and operated then by Central Maine Power Co.

“The advantage of having one such well-heeled taxpayer in the community is that no one else has to pay much to keep up the elementary and high schools which one lady calls ‘pretty good, not the greatest’ and other public services,” continues the article.

Also mentioned is the coming in 1972 of Maine’s first nuclear-powered generating station, Maine Yankee Atomic Power Co. which closed in 1996.

Christiansen was raised in Wiscasset and lives on tree-shaded Willow Lane. The way the article describes his hometown is pretty much how he remembers it.

“In 1970, I was a freshman at Wiscasset High School. I was happy to be living here then and I’m still happy to be living here now,” he said.

The certificate from the magazine now hangs on the wall outside the town manager’s office. Christiansen hopes visitors and residents alike will take notice. At least now they’ll know the story behind it, he added.

Besides Wiscasset, the other “happy towns” named by were Brookings, South Dakota; Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Cooperstown, New York; Cedar City, Utah; Geneseo, Illinois; Martin, Tennessee; Asland, Oregon; and Prescott, Arizona.