Tannery Hill Studios, Dennis Griggs, Associated Press
BRUNSWICK, Maine — With connections to Harriet Beecher Stowe and Joshua Chamberlain, this town of 23,000 is sometimes called the place where the Civil War began and ended. But while Brunswick is a good destination for history buffs, it also has a lively restaurant scene, a first-rate art museum, and other attractions that earned it a spot on Smithsonian Magazine's 2012 list of America's best small towns.
As more proof that Brunswick may be having its moment in the spotlight, in November, Amtrak plans to extend the Downeaster route here, bringing regular passenger service to town for the first time in 52 years, with two daily round-trips from Boston and Portland. Lodging that's easy walking distance from the train and downtown include the newly opened Inn at Brunswick Station, with a restaurant, at 4 Noble St., and the Brunswick Inn, a B&B at 165 Park Row.
Brunswick owes much of its luster to Bowdoin College, which has brought many luminaries to this corner of Maine, from poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and "Scarlet Letter" author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who both graduated from Bowdoin in 1825, to artist William Wegman, who opened his new show, "Hello Nature," at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art on July 13.
JOSHUA CHAMBERLAIN AND THE CIVIL WAR
The town's Civil War history, which is getting renewed attention with the 150th anniversary of the war, also owes something to Bowdoin. Joshua Chamberlain, a Bowdoin graduate and professor, led the Union's defense of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg. But Chamberlain may have had his finest moment as the brigadier general who accepted the Confederacy's surrender at Appomattox in 1865.
"He insisted the Union soldiers treat the Southerners with respect and had them salute their fallen countrymen," said Bob Cecil, a volunteer docent who shows a painting of the surrender scene on tours of Chamberlain's Brunswick home.
Chamberlain's house, at 226 Maine St., is full of fascinating artifacts, from his leather boots, neatly patched from shrapnel at Gettysburg, to the lead ball extracted from his hip after he nearly died in a battle in Virginia, to the saddle worn by his beloved war horse Charlemagne.
Chamberlain was later elected Maine's governor, then served as Bowdoin president. Visitors to his home ranged from Helen Keller to Longfellow, who stayed there during his 50th Bowdoin class reunion and who'd also lived there years earlier. Those who drop by these days include Angus King, now a U.S. Senate candidate and former Maine governor who some say resembles Chamberlain.
FIRST PARISH CHURCH AND HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
Other Chamberlain landmarks include his grave at Pine Grove Cemetery and a black bronze statue near campus, across from the First Parish Church. The towering white Gothic Revival church, one of 14 Brunswick sites on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in the 1840s. The congregation, which dates to 1717, holds regular Sunday services, but those who want a peek inside other times can inquire at the church office, 9 Cleaveland St.
Prominent speakers at the church have included Martin Luther King Jr. and Eleanor Roosevelt, but visitors usually want to see where Stowe and Chamberlain sat. (Both pews are marked.) Chamberlain married the daughter of the church pastor, even though, according to Cecil, the minister "didn't think Chamberlain would amount to much."
Stowe's husband, a minister who taught at Bowdoin, sometimes preached at First Parish, which was a hotbed of abolitionism. Stowe was sitting in a pew in 1851 when she had a "vision" that became a scene in her novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The book so inflamed anti-slavery passions that when President Lincoln met Stowe, he reportedly called her the "little woman" who started the war.
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