A Guide to Stephen King’s Maine

Stephen King in Pet Sematary.
Stephen King in Pet Sematary.Everett Collection

One of the main reasons Stephen King is our modern master of horror is because he understands how important setting is to a good story. He lures readers into a false sense of security by setting so many of his best stories in idyllic small towns where things are supposed to be perfect, and then lets things happen from there. The lifelong Maine resident has used his home state and the region as inspiration for some of his most terrifying books, from It to Salem’s Lot, and filmmakers adapting his stories understand just how important a part the setting plays to whatever King tale they might be putting to film. That’s why even if the movie based on one of King’s stories is set in but isn’t filmed in New England, you’d probably have a hard time telling the difference.

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From “The Loveliest Town in Canada” to “The Fun Center of Ohio,” here are some of the best real-life spots you can visit, some of which are in Maine, others were picked because they looked like it. Whether you’ve never actually read Stephen King, are a casual fan, or have read every book 20 times and named your first-born Cujo, there’s something perfect for everyone.

Orrington, ME
Relevance: Where King was inspired to write Pet Sematary. There was indeed a pet cemetery—it was behind the house the Kings were renting. The house used in the film version is a little ways away, in Hancock, ME (and looks a lot like the one he rented).
About: Orrington has a population of about 4,000. It is minutes away from the busier town of Ellsworth, where a few parts of the film version were shot.
Lodging: Orrington itself does not have any hotels, but you can stay four miles away in Bangor for as little as $52 a night.
Of note: It was the birthplace of Edward A. Pierce, one of the founders of Merrill Lynch, as well as home to the first American-born Methodist minister and the first female master mariner in North America.

New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada
Relevance: The town where they filmed It. See the pretty places where Tim Curry dressed up as Pennywise and cemented himself in your nightmares forever.
About: New Westminster is located in the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia, with a population of about 40,000 people. It’s about 30 minutes away from downtown Vancouver.
Lodging: A night at a B&B starts at $82, a night, depending on the season; hotels start at $70.
Of note: The New Westminster Salmonbellies are one of the oldest professional lacrosse teams in Canada. New Westminster is also the location of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Portland, ME
Relevance: The birthplace of Stephen King.
About: Portland is Maine’s largest city, with a population of over 66,000 residents.
Lodging: A motel room can cost as little as $80 a night, but if you want to stay in the historic waterfront section of the city, you’re looking at $200 or more for a room.
Of note: With about 230 restaurants, Portland is believed to have more restaurants per capita than any other city in the country. The city of Portland, OR, was named for Portland, ME. The list of notable people from Portland is pretty long.

SK Tours of Maine, LLC, Bangor, ME
Relevance: Tours of locations in Bangor, ME, made famous by Stephen King.
About: Bangor serves as the fictional town of Derry in many of King’s works, including It, Insomnia, and 11/22/63.
Lodging: Rooms in Bangor start at about $76 a night.
Of note: SK Tours is run by Penney and Stu Tinker, who also owned and operated a King-centric bookshop for 20 years. Each tour is approximately three hours long and highlights about 30 spots that pertain to Stephen King. King still owns a home in Bangor.
Bonus: The remaining car used in the filming of Christine resides in Pensacola, FL. You can’t visit her, but she’s available for events.

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
Relevance: Filming location of the film adaptation of King’s novel The Dead Zone. Also filmed here: Trapped in Paradise, The Ref, and Canadian Bacon.
About: Niagara-on-the-Lake is a Canadian town located in Southern Ontario. Nicknamed “The Loveliest Town in Canada,” it has a population of about 16,000 residents, but looks deceptively like New England.
Lodging: Motel rooms are as cheap as $71 a night, depending on the time of year.
Of note: It is the only municipality in Canada whose elected leader is designated as Lord Mayor. And the town is home to the Shaw Festival, a series of theatrical productions featuring the works of George Bernard Shaw.

The Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield, OH
Relevance: The filming location of The Shawshank Redemption. The book and film are both set in Maine, but this old prison fit the bill.
About: The prison, located in Mansfield, OH, was built between 1886 and 1910 and remained in operation until 1990. Since the filming in 1994, several sections of the prison have been torn down, and the building is undergoing renovations. There are still sections of the prison available for guided or self-guided tours in April through August.
Lodging: Hotel rooms start for as little as $49.
Of note: The prison has been used for several films, television shows, and videos, including Air Force One, Tango & Cash, and Ghost Asylum. The town’s nickname is “The Fun Center of Ohio” and is home to about 50,000 people.

Brownsville, OR
Relevance: It is the setting for the fictional Castle Rock, Oregon, in the film Stand by Me.
About: Located in Linn County, the quaint little town is home to just over 2,000 people. It is the county’s oldest town.
Lodging: The town itself doesn’t appear to have any hotels, but you can stay close by, in Halsey, for as little as $64 a night.
Of note: In the novella the film is based on, The Body, Castle Rock is located in Maine (and is used in several other of King’s works), but director Rob Reiner changed it to Oregon for the movie.

The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, CO
Relevance: This one has no connection to New England, but makes the list because it served as King’s influence for The Overlook Hotel in The Shining, after he stayed there for one night in 1974 (in Room 217), so we couldn’t not put it on a list like this.
About: Opened in 1909, this 140-room hotel is located at 333 Wonder View Avenue, Estes Park, CO. It offers a panoramic view of the Rockies, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lodging: Depending on what time of year you go, a night at the hotel can start as low as $148.
Of note: Rumors of paranormal activity at the hotel existed before King made the hotel famous. The television show Ghost Hunters filmed at the hotel twice in 2006, and it was also featured on an episode of Ghost Adventures in 2010.

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