I grew up in Rockland in the 1940s and ’50s, graduating from Rockland High School in 1955. Rockland and the surrounding towns were, for the most part, bustling and prosperous communities at that time. The prosperity was built around industries that had anchored the area’s economy for many years — most notably fishing and other marine-related activities, lime, cement, and ship building and repair. My youth was framed by World War II, the post-war baby boom and the Korean War, a period that ended the Depression of the 1930s and unleashed a lengthy period of broadly based economic growth and optimism about the future.

Following graduation from Bowdoin College in 1959, I left Maine for 30 years, returning with my family for a few weeks each summer. In 1989, with our three children launched on their own adult trajectories, my wife, Mary Alice, and I moved back to Maine.

In those three decades of summer visits, we had noticed a gradual change in Rockland, beginning in the late ‘60s. The downtown looked increasingly frayed. Business turnover on Main Street accelerated. More vacant storefronts appeared. Deferred maintenance accumulated. Commercial activity around the harbor diminished. This trend was fed by the decline of the industries that had anchored the local economy for so many years. The lime industry collapsed. Ship building occupied a smaller foot print. Sardine factories and other fish processing plants closed. The commercial fishing fleet shrank. And the forms of pollution that had plagued the community for many years, especially the odor emitted by the fish plants, persisted and with it the slogan “Camden by the sea; Rockland by the smell.” To casual visitors, which we were in those days, this trend seemed to reach its peak in the mid ‘80s.

Then something happened. Rockland’s fortunes slowly began to change. By the time we were fully settled in our Spruce Head home in the fall of 1990, we could sense a positive shift of momentum in my hometown. That feeling of resurgence has persisted to the present day and been reinforced by the judgment of others, such as the readers of Budget Travel Magazine who selected Rockland as the second “coolest small town” in America. “This quintessential northeastern harbor town has experienced a sort of renaissance in the past decade,” it said. The magazine’s patrons perceive Rockland as one of those places “that’s gotten everything right — great coffee, food with character, shop owners with purpose … As pleasant as a short visit can be, the real risk of visiting Rockland is that you’ll … need to move [there] for good.” Also, it was recently announced that Rockland has been named one of 12 “distinctive destinations” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In making the announcement, the organization’s president said “Rockland was selected for its authentic preservation of a rich history and its wide range of unique attractions, including a picturesque working waterfront that packs alluring cultural heritage with prized fresh seafood and world famous festivals.”

What caused this tidal turn in Rockland (excuse the pun) and what has sustained it? This column will endeavor to answer this question in the coming months through the voices of many of the men and women who played significant roles in turning that tide — people whose families have lived in Midcoast Maine for generations as well as more recent arrivals (i.e., those people “from away”). We will also probe the newer arrivals on what attracted them to Rockland and why they have stayed.

The Midcoast resurgence is not limited to Rockland. The long-term goal is to tell the story of people in other area communities who have also made a substantial difference in the lives of their friends and neighbors. But as the place I know best, we will start with the Rockland story. The first column will appear in about two weeks. I hope you will “tune in.”

John Bird is a retired teacher, school director and educational consultant who grew up in Rockland and now lives in Spruce Head. He has served on several area nonprofit boards, including the Penobscot School and the Farnsworth Art Museum.