More than 400 years ago the first settlers from England and Scotland landed in York, Maine, settling at the mouth of the York River. For the most part they were farmers, fishermen, and merchants who supported themselves through maritime commerce. In fact, it was in 1632 that the first incorporated city in America and one of New England's earliest colonial settlements was established at the coastal site of York, Maine. Gradually, as American society underwent tremendous changes during the latter part of the 19th century, the tourist industry began to emerge as one of the primary means of support for the inhabitants of the area.
It was during this era that many new hotels and guest houses were built to accommodate the ever expanding number of visitors in and around York Harbor, as it became a summer escape for many a literary and cultural notable, including the affluent, or as they were often referred to as "the old settlers". One of these summer lodging establishments was the Hillcroft Inn, the forerunner of the present day York Harbor Inn.
The Inn's tavern, initially a horse stable, became part of a restaurant and was named The Cellar. Gary Dominguez, the present owner of The York Harbor Inn, pointed out to us the hitching post that still exits outside of present day Ship's Cellar Pub located in the lower level of the Inn. By the way, we recommend lunching or dining here; the atmosphere and food will blow you away! The haddock battered in beer with French fries and the seafood are especially delicious. It is as if we were below deck in a well-appointed sailing vessel with stunning displays of fine woodwork and carpentry.
Check out the Cabin Room located in the center of the Inn where you will find a post and beam cabin that was once located eight miles out to sea on the Isles of Shoals. This prize piece of history dates back to 1637 when it was used as a sail loft room. Sailors would wrap their sails over its huge beams in order to work on them, and dry them next to the roaring large fieldstone fireplace. In the 1800s it was taken apart and floated by barge to the mainland. In 1978 the Dominguez brothers, George, Joe and Gary, came on the scene when the York Harbor Inn was in a dilapidated state. The brothers commenced their operation with one building and 12 rooms. Today it has expanded to five buildings comprising fifty-four rooms, all with private bathrooms – something that was lacking when they purchased their first building.
In 1983 the Yorkshire House (circa 1783), an historic building adjacent to the Inn, was purchased and in 1997, the Harbor Cliffs located on the east side of the Inn became part of the complex. The Harbor Hill Inn, next to the Yorkshire House, was opened in 2001 with its seven spacious rooms. It resembles a grand New England cottage: each of the rooms features ocean views, gas fireplaces, Jacuzzi spa tubs, king beds and more amenities. In 2005, the 1730 Harbor Crest Inn was added with its beautiful seven rooms that are comparable to the charm and intimacy of a private home. This addition is located about half a mile from the York Harbor Inn along scenic route 1A.
The Dominguez brothers started on a shoestring budget with little capital, but an abundance of enthusiasm and perseverance. Today, Gary is the Innkeeper and Manager, Joe is a silent partner and consultant, while George is no longer involved. The brothers' 89-year-old father also helps out.
My wife and I were impressed with the Inn's view over York Harbor. What most intrigued us, though, was that this view was not always there. Gary indicated the view was obstructed by several run down cottages that were owned by a well to-do businessman, Hartland Mason, whose last will and testament directed that upon the death of his last descendant, the cottages were to be removed and the area turned into a park. That occurred in 1998 amidst objections from some individuals. This was quite a bonanza for the York Harbor Inn when you consider that couples can now celebrate their marriage ceremonies in the park known as the Hartland Mason Reservation Park within an historic seaside setting, and follow up with their reception at the Inn – setting the stage for a perfect wedding venue.
Gary mentioned that up until 2006, weddings were not permitted in the park, however, after he met with one of the trustees and suggested to him that it would be nice for couples to have their ceremonies in the park, approval was granted. The use of the park is restricted to wedding ceremonies only – wedding receptions are not allowed. Furthermore, there are specific rules in place; the trustees must approve any wedding ceremonies that are booked in the park.
Gary and his staff can point you in the right direction for all the formalities. If you prefer to start your marriage in the soft Maine sand, there is Harbor Beach; a short walk from the Inn. For the reception, The York Harbor Inn distinguishes itself with having over 5,000 square feet of banquet and dining space to accommodate weddings of all sizes, from intimate to extravagant. Seven private and elegantly decorated function rooms are available – some with fireplaces and fantastic ocean views.
The crown jewel is the Yorkshire Ballroom with 3,000 square feet, a 35-foot cathedral ceiling and a dramatic skylight atrium. Your guests can entertain themselves by enjoying many of the attractions the area is known for: boating, fishing, swimming, golf, visiting lighthouses and historical attractions, shopping in Kittery, strolling on the many beaches located in and around York Harbor. Guests will find in their rooms directions for walks to Wiggly Bridge, the Marginal Way and the Harbor, as well as other hidden gems in the area. At the end of the day, the Inn's Ocean View Restaurant provides the right atmosphere for relaxation and culinary indulgence.
The restaurant's Chef, Bonsey, who has been with the Inn for twenty-six years, was recently selected as one of the top chefs in Maine by Portland Magazine, and he has been featured in Food & Wine Magazine. Chef Bonsey's innovative cuisine introduces guests to the pleasures of Maine dining. Regional entrées range from local seafood to various meats. The Inn's wine cellar comprises about 85 to 90 bottles; California and International choices. Like the beautiful state of Maine, the warm and cozy atmosphere of the Inn and its restaurants are unhurried, unspoiled and unassuming.
Norm and Lily Goldman are a husband and wife team who meld words with art focusing on romantic and wedding destinations. You can view more of their articles at Sketch and Travel.