In March, while pushing my grocery cart towards the Food City registers, I caught a glimpse of Maine’s number one rusticator smiling at me from the April, 2017 cover of Down East magazine. A text-box said the issue was “guest-edited by Martha Stewart” and I picked up the $5.99 glossy publication and threw it in my cart. It was a lovely issue, with an interesting article about backyard chicken guru Lisa Steele, a garden party in Phippsburg, and a piece about Maine’s first commercial clam farm. Sprinkled throughout the issue were “Martha’s touches.”
“Nearly every story this month has its origins in our conversations with the lifestyle luminary, whose love of Maine is rooted in a carefree college trip from the 1960’s.”
Down East magazine first hit newsstands on July 15, 1954. Boothbay native Duane Doolittle, after living and working “away,” returned to Maine with his wife Katherine. In a February 5, 1955 Lewiston Journal Magazine feature, writer Faunce Pendexter interviewed the Doolittles and wrote of them “there were a number of years spent in wishing to get back to Maine other than for summer vacations. They were occupied in advertising and sales promotion work in New York City and in college teaching at Principia and Syracuse University.” According to Pendexter’s article, Duane Doolittle, before returning, “operated a summer seasonal business in Maine and had as his constant objective the goal of returning to the state on a permanent basis.”
When the Doolittles finally returned to Maine, they landed in Lincolnville and began publishing a magazine called American Design Forum which they wrote, bound, and mailed out of their home. This magazine reached a circulation of approximately 1,000. Noting the popularity of regional magazines like Vermont Life and Arizona Highways, the Doolittles decided a regional publication would have more appeal than their craft venture and in January, 1954, they began work on Down East and planned the first issue for the peak of summer. Taking advantage of Maine’s increased population, the July, 1954 issue sold out of the 7,500 printed copies at 25 cents each.
Many talented writers and artists from away who summered in Maine added their gifts to Doolittle’s vision in the early years. Time has diminished their stature, but readers of Pendexter’s 1955 article would have been familiar with writers Hodding Carter and Lew Dietz, as well as artists Carroll Thayer Berry and Warren Spaulding.
Lisbon’s own John Gould was an occasional contributor to Down East and the May, 1964 issue featured a dispatch from Gould about dairy farmer Anna Botma in the magazine’s “North by East” column. Gould had mistakenly called the Netherland-native a “she” in his own paper, the Enterprise, and the “stalwart young man” had visited Gould to demand a correction.
Magazines come and go; in 1955, Faunce Pendexter began his article musing whether the infant Down East would carry on successfully or be doomed to the fate of other magazines which published a few issues and then were “seen no more.” After his visit to Camden and his interview with Duane Doolittle, he concluded “There seems at the present every reason to think that Down East will prove valuable in promoting Maine, profitable to its owners, and pleasing to both State-of-Mainers and out-of-state visitors.”
63 years late Down East magazine is still going strong, proving Pendexter prophetically correct.