USAFamily Travel

Stepping back in time at Maine's Diamond Cove

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The ferry to Diamond Cove, where a former Army base is now private homes and an inn.
The ferry to Diamond Cove, where a former Army base is now private homes and an inn. Photo Credit: Jim Raycroft

There was a nostalgic feeling in the summer air when my brother, my twin teen girls and I arrived at Diamond Cove on Maine's Great Diamond Island.

The former Fort McKinley Army base is now a private family association with 60 homes and condos in carefully renovated officers' quarters. It felt sort of like entering the simpler life of a Norman Rockwell painting but with updated amenities.

We'd just taken a 30-minute ferry ride with my tween nephews and their father from Portland up Casco Bay to the Diamond Cove marina. The lovely restored fort administration buildings by the harbor now house the Diamond's Edge restaurant, General Store and the new Crown Jewel bistro.

We followed the car-free road to the former parade grounds surrounded by stately Colonial Revival brick homes built for the base from 1891 to 1907 and restored for the Diamond Cove Homeowner's Association beginning in the 1980s. There was a pickup soccer game on the green, with players ranging in age from 3 to 50, and the voices of excited children emanated from the community's outdoor pool.

We stayed at the Inn at Diamond Cove, housed in the former Army barracks at the head of the parade grounds. Opened in 2015 by Hart Hotels, it's been charmingly restored and amended with 44 rooms, many with balconies and decks; a ground-floor restaurant and bar serving breakfast, lunch and dinner; and a gated pool and cabana.

Breakfast on a balcony at the Inn at Diamond Cove, which also features a pool, marina and fitness center.
Breakfast on a balcony at the Inn at Diamond Cove, which also features a pool, marina and fitness center. Photo Credit: Jim Raycroft

The friendly staff welcomed us to the island and made us feel right at home in a king suite with kitchen, fireplace, deck and living area with foldout couch. We changed into bathing suits and took the cousins directly to the inn's pool, where we ordered lunch and drinks as the kids swam. Fellow guests included families with children in a range of ages, and couples came and went on the selection of complimentary bikes parked near the pool.

After lunch and swimming, we walked the kids down to the marina for shaved ice at the General Store. We found the incoming tide perfect for dock jumping, though it may not be recommended. The cousins plunged into the cold Maine ocean until their lips turned blue, competing for the best and last jump.

Finally, we headed back to our suite, where the swimmers took showers to warm up. The adults hung out on the deck with drinks and watched teenagers trying their luck on a slackline on the green. Residents and hotel guests passed us on the way to the nearby fitness center, which boasts a workout room, basketball court and even a duckpin bowling alley. 

Eventually we caught a ride in one of the inn's golf carts down to the ferry with my nephews and their father for their trip back to the mainland. My brother, the girls and I returned to the inn's Lobby Bar and Cafe for dinner. Seated on the outdoor patio along with other families from the pool, we were happily full by 8 p.m., but the midsummer sun had yet to set.

Selecting bikes from the rack, we headed out for a ride along the quiet roads and caught a brilliant sunset at Seal Cove. As we pedaled back to the inn past the brick homes surrounding the parade grounds, lights illuminated the widows in the dusk and families sat on porches talking in relaxed voices.

That sense of stepping back in history hit me again, as if we'd been here long ago and were simply returning now through a secret passageway in time.

Inn at Diamond Cove rates start at $199. See www.innatdiamondcove.com.

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