The Prouts Neck’s cliff walk off season, scene of many a painting by Winslow Homer.
If you were to set out to establish an upscale 19th-century summer colony, Prouts Neck would be a perfect spot. The bold, stony peninsula juts due south into Saco Bay, providing high, breeze-cooled ocean vistas reminiscent of similar settlements farther downeast, but with easy access to the flatter, sandier charms of southern Maine.
Then, as now, a resident could play golf or tennis at the Prouts Neck Country Club (1), swim and sun at the Prouts Neck Bathing Association (2), walk the glorious cliff walk from there almost all the way around to the Prouts Neck Yacht Club (3) for an afternoon sail, and finally wander the boardwalks of the verdant Prouts Neck Sanctuary (4) en route back to a “cottage.”
All this is still possible, but maintaining the natural privacy of the neck has become alarmingly difficult. Portland, once a six-mile carriage ride to the north, now sprawls ever closer, and the rock ’n’ roll neon of Old Orchard Beach, glittering just two miles away across the bay, tempts Prouts Neck teens. Ferry Beach Park (5) and Scarborough Beach State Park (6) bring the summer hordes even closer. The fame of painter Winslow Homer, who created many an iconic image here, tempts some to wander along the cliff walk, past Homer’s studio (7). They are not welcomed warmly.
Click on the image above to visit NYTimes.com and view an interactive map.
Even the very short trail from the south end of Ferry Beach up to Black Point Road is marked “No Trespassing,” and the public portion of that road ends with a privacy gate and firm signage just past the west end of the cliff walk, with no public parking available anywhere nearby.
There is, however, a way to visit Prouts Neck comfortably, and that’s via the very fine Black Point Inn (8) (207-883-2500). While the recently renovated establishment maintains two substantial guest moorings for lunch and dinner guests, their location (9) looks like an uncomfortable overnight berth in anything but the flattest of conditions. I think the best way to enjoy Prouts Neck is to treat yourself to an overnight at the inn.
We did just that on a wet, windy weekend in October, and thus were treated to dramatic cliff-walk scenes similar to those that kept Homer here after the “season” ended. As a guide, we used a recent New York Times article that suggested there’s nowhere in America where you can experience an artist’s inspiration so vividly as here. It was accompanied by an online interactive map, which paired particular spots with Homer paintings. There’s a link to that map at maineboats.com, along with more photos of our somewhat soggy adventures along the walk, the beaches, and in the sanctuary.
It felt right in a way not to intrude on summer rusticators trying to maintain 19th-century family traditions. The weather also made the inn’s cozy quarters and excellent fare all the more enjoyable. Perhaps Prouts Neck is best visited during the shoulder seasons. For high summer visitation, nearby Pine Point (10) and the expansive Scarborough Marsh beyond are entirely different in geology and ambience, and quite suited to small-boat adventures. I’ll talk about them in my next column.
1) Prouts Neck Country Club
2) Prouts Neck Bathing Association
3) Prouts Neck Yacht Club
4) Prouts Neck Sanctuary
5) Ferry Beach Park
6) Scarborough Beach State Park
7) Winslow Homer's Studio
Chart: courtesy Google Earth, adapted by Ben Ellison.