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The Best Towns in Maine for Young Families

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When young families buy a home, they look for more than four walls and a nice view. They invest in a community and all it has to offer, both in the local economy and school district. We wanted to find towns in Maine with the best of the best in those categories, so we asked the following questions as we analyzed cities and towns across the state:

  1. Does the town have good public schools? We measured schools’ academic performance with ratings from GreatSchools. This non-profit compares a given school’s standardized test scores to the state average to obtain a rating on a 1 to 10 scale (10 representing the highest score). Higher ratings led to a higher overall score.
  2. Can you afford to live there? We looked at both median home values in each town and ongoing monthly home costs, including mortgage payments, real estate taxes, insurance costs, utilities, fuel and other bills. Lower costs led to a higher overall score.
  3. Is the town growing and prospering? We assessed a town’s economy by looking at average household income and income growth over the last decade. Higher income and greater growth led to a higher overall score.

Check out our cost of living calculator here as well as our mortgage rates calculator for more information.

What makes these towns great? Let us know in the comments below.

The Best Towns for Young Families 

1. Hampden

Hampden is just outside Bangor, in Penobscot County. Its school district, Regional School Unit #22, has a high graduation rate of 97.7 percent, and over two thirds of students go on to higher education. The high school, Hampden Academy, recently traded in its 26-acre wares for a 65-acre plot of land – a property swap funded mostly by the Maine Department of Education – in order to accommodate future growth.

2. Gorham

Gorham is just outside Portland, in Cumberland County, and it is the fastest-growing community in the entire state. Last decade, its population grew by 65.3 percent. Unemployment in the community is low, at 5.1 percent, over two points lower than the state rate. Residents of Gorham have a lot to enjoy, with over 2,000 art events each year, and over half of those are free of charge.

3. Winthrop

Winthrop is a town in Kennebec County, near Augusta and Lewiston. The community is at the center of several lakes, including the 5,500-acre Cobbosseecontee Lake, home to some of the largest bass in the state. Residents can also enjoy easy access to Mt. Pisgah, which offers plenty of space for hikers, cross-country skiers and hunters.

4. Scarborough

Scarborough sits on the southern border of Portland. The community is on the waterfront and includes three unique coastal areas: summer cottages on Higgins Beach, a rocky coastline and sandy beaches. Scarborough is also home to 1,600 businesses, which are so technologically savvy that Google named it Maine’s eCity – an award given to the digital capital of each state.

5. Yarmouth

Yarmouth is a town in Cumberland County, about 10 miles north of Portland. The local elementary school was one of just three Maine schools last year to be nominated for a National Blue Ribbon. Students there rank in the top 15 percent in the state in reading and math. Quite a few Maine residents have flocked to the town in recent years, too – Yarmouth is the second-fastest growing community in the state, after Gorham.

6. Topsham

Topsham is a town in Sagadahoc County, near Portland. The community is part of Maine’s Southern Midcoast Region, which offers the lowest cost of doing business in all of New England. For fun, residents can enjoy the Merrymeeting Bay, the largest freshwater estuary system north of the Chesapeake Bay, and a place to hike, swim and more. One of the local schools, Williams-Cone, won a National Blue Ribbon earlier this year.

7. Bangor

Bangor is one of the largest cities in Maine and the seat of Penobscot County. The 32,817-person community is home to great schools, two of which have earned National Blue Ribbons: Bangor High School in 2002 and, more recently, James F. Doughty School in 2010. The city also boasts more National Merit Semi-Finalists than any other community in the state.

8. Fort Kent

Fort Kent is a town in Aroostook County, on the U.S.-Canada border. Originally founded as an outpost for the lumber industry, Fort Kent continues to be a big part of that industry as well as farming and outdoor recreation. The community is the last major town before the North Maine Woods, which the Chamber of Commerce calls an “outdoor recreationist’s dream.” Indeed, the area is extremely vast, at 3.5 million acres – the largest tract of undeveloped land east of the Mississippi.

9. Gardiner

Gardiner is six miles south of Augusta, in Kennebec County. The local school district, Maine School Administrative District #11, has made great strides in recent years. Student achievement in reading and math has steadily surpassed the state average over the last six years, from scoring approximately four points below the state to one point above.

10. Bar Harbor

In the summer, Bar Harbor is a big tourist destination, as the gateway to Acadia National Park. Beyond its tourism industry, Bar Harbor is supported by an active healthcare industry, with the Jackson Laboratory’s 43-acre campus one mile from Downtown. The lab employs nearly 1,300 Ph.D.s, physicians and vets, making it the largest employer in Downeast Maine. 

Rank City Nearest big city GreatSchools rating Median home value Monthly owner costs Median household income Growth,’99-’11 Overall score for young families
1 Hampden Bangor 10 $167,000 $1,501 $81,250 52.3% 81.2
2 Gorham Portland 9 $241,500 $1,594 $67,557 67.4% 74.8
3 Winthrop Augusta, Lewiston 8 $168,000 $1,202 $57,083 48.6% 70.0
4 Scarborough Portland 9 $245,900 $1,589 $64,167 37.4% 67.3
5 Yarmouth Portland 10 $296,600 $2,105 $68,052 32.7% 65.2
6 Topsham Brunswick 7 $207,500 $1,546 $64,253 40.8% 61.4
7 Bangor 8 $149,400 $1,361 $37,707 26.8% 60.6
8 Fort Kent 6 $105,100 $1,056 $31,111 48.8% 59.9
9 Gardiner Augusta 6 $151,200 $1,258 $51,036 45.4% 59.9
10 Bar Harbor 9 $246,700 $1,788 $43,293 28.8% 59.6
11 Lisbon Falls Lewiston, Brunswick 7 $135,800 $1,176 $46,273 18.0% 58.1
12 Presque Isle 6 $110,000 $1,131 $39,018 33.1% 57.1
13 Pittsfield Waterville, Bangor 5 $98,200 $1,102 $43,542 32.2% 54.3
14 South Portland Portland 7 $224,800 $1,637 $52,907 23.7% 54.0
15 Kittery Portsmouth, NH 8 $292,000 $1,734 $47,571 17.4% 52.9

Methodology

The overall score for each city was derived from the following measures:

  1. GreatSchools city rating. GreatSchools city ratings are calculated by averaging the weighted overall rating for each school in the city (weighted by the number of students enrolled at the school)
  2. Median home value from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  3. Monthly homeowner costs from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP04, half-weighted)
  4. Median household income from the U.S. Census (2011 ACS, data set DP03, half-weighted)
  5. Income change between 1999 and 2011 from the U.S. Census (data sets P053 and DP03, half-weighted)

59 Maine cities and towns designated as places by the U.S. Census were included in this analysis. Only places with a population greater than 2,500 were considered.

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  • Rhyno Stinchfield

    I grew up in Winthrop (actually East Winthrop). Swam every summer day in Cobbossee Lake with my friends back in the day when we didn’t have to have adults with us. There were 4 lakes within miles of us plus several large ponds. We owned half of Little Kezar Pond which may support record small mouth bass in its depths – or at least used to. I’m not sure what it’s like now – I’ve been Out West for 40 years. When I visit it still seems fairly laid back and friendly.

  • illegalsout

    Presque Isle SHRANK during the time period scored (you said it grew by 33%). As a native of the town who has lived there most of my life, I can say that my wife and I didn’t even consider it when we were choosing a place to settle and raise a family. It has the single worst recreation/community center of any town in Maine with a population over 5,000 people…….by far. And that’s just one of many reasons to not like it.

    • Patagonia157

      You do know that Presque Isle also voted on and passed a 20 million dollar brand new rec/community center project? If your ignorant self hasn’t taken the time to look into the many brochures and flyers that were passed around town you should do so. So with your one argument gone out to window what else is so bad about it?

      • illegalsout

        That new center will be lucky if it’s ever built (and they are already scaling back plans, due to the economy/existing high tax rate). They’ll be lucky if ANYTHING is built within the next five years; meanwhile, it has an absolute joke of a recreation center and they even had to close their outdoor swimming pool for good last year! (Even Fort Fairfield and Mapleton have outdoor pools!) Presque Isle has five major slum areas despite being a small town, has a four-lane race track for a Main Street which is deadly for cars and pedestrians alike, a broken city government, bad schools, ugly sprawl, a lousy hospital, empty downtown, drugs galore, and on and on and on. Shall I continue??

    • http://www.nerdwallet.com/ NerdWallet

      Hello,

      Thanks for your comment.

      We measure growth not in population but by change in income. We looked at that variable because, if median household income has grown over a significant period of time, it suggests a community is stable and prospering.

      • illegalsout

        There’s NO WAY it’s income grew anywhere near that level. I know the town very, very well and it is far from prospering.

        • Jeremy

          Yeah someone was fudging the figures locally or something; Presque Isle is dying quick

  • Patrick Garrett

    brunswick is not a city its a town