Down East

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For other uses, see Down East (disambiguation).
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In New England, the term Down East is applied in several different ways. In the narrowest sense, Down East refers to the coast of the U.S. state of Maine from Penobscot Bay to the Canadian border, but it is sometimes used as a loose term for the entire eastern portion of the state. Scores, perhaps hundreds, of companies and organizations in Maine have "Down East" as part of their name, ranging from a hospital [1] to a magazine [2] to a company making hard cider.[3]

Down East, The Magazine of Maine explains the origin of the term in New England: "When ships sailed from Boston to ports in Maine (which were to the east of Boston), the wind was at their backs, so they were sailing downwind, hence the term 'Down East.' And it follows that when they returned to Boston they were sailing upwind; many Mainers still speak of going 'up to Boston,' despite the fact that the city lies approximately 50 miles to the south of Maine’s southern border."[4] Now a renowned Maine historian, Jeff Duncan's career began with the study of this inverted use of direction in Maine linguistics.

As a cultural region, Downeast Maine encompasses the rural communities of Hancock and Washington counties.[5] Principal Downeast towns include Bucksport, Lubec, Calais, Eastport, and Machias. Bar Harbor, Blue Hill, and Ellsworth can also be considered Downeast communities. The term generally excludes Mount Desert Island, although usage varies. Villages in the Schoodic area include Gouldsboro, Winter Harbor, Prospect Harbor, Steuben, and Milbridge.

The term Downeast is also used by Canadians, in reference to traveling to, or in discussion of topics about the Canadian Maritime Provinces including: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. The often cited "downwind" origin of the term "down east" is not universally accepted and it presumes our forbears were fair-weather sailors. The prevailing summer breezes do follow a southwesterly course from Boston, for example, to Maine. But the prevailing winter winds roar down to the Bay State out of the northwest. An explanation of the term's origin that bears up throughout the year can be traced to the permanent factor of longitude. In the early years of the country when communications and commerce relied on the seas, concepts frequently were framed in nautical ways and, in this case, the mariners' focus on maps and their longitudes and latitudes. East-west travel referenced longitudinal considerations. Movement to the east was "down" the longitudinal scale toward zero in Greenwich, England. Trips to the west, were "up" the scale. This usage prevails in several places with maritime pasts. To travel to the east on Martha's Vineyard is to go down island. Travel to the west is up island. The same pattern can be seen on Cape Cod. The western section of the peninsula is called the Upper Cape, and the eastern end has been known as the Lower Cape.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Down East Community Hospital
  2. ^ Down East magazine
  3. ^ Downeast Cider House
  4. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Down East. Archived from the original on 2001-10-21. 
  5. ^ Woodard, Colin. The Lobster Coast. New York: Viking/Penguin, 2004, pp. 27–32 (for full discussion of the term and the cultural region). ISBN 0-670-03324-3.