Historic and Prehistoric Overview
Earle Shettleworth, Director of the Maine Historic Preservation
Commission, cites Wiscasset as one of three architecturally significant
villages in the state, along with the towns of Paris Hill and Castine.
Samuel Chamberlain, in his book Towns of New England, chose Wiscasset
to represent the State of Maine. He noted that millions were spent
restoring Williamsburg, while Wiscasset remains essentially intact.
Today, its abundance of classical architecture is evidenced by the
inclusion of 10 structures in the Historic American Buildings Survey
(HABS) of 1936 and the subsequent inclusion of five buildings listed on
the National Register of Historic Buildings. In 1973, a large part of
the Village/Historic District became a part of the National Register.
In fact, much of the downtown area is a living field museum – and we
hold the keys to its future.
The first recorded settlement at Wiscasset was in 1660 by George and
John Davie. By 1740, there were 30 families at Wiscasset Point,
numbering about 150 people. Wiscasset Point was one of three parishes
incorporated in Pownalborough in 1760. It took the name of Wiscasset in
As Wiscasset prospered as a deep-harbor shipping port during the
late 18th and 19th century, grander homes were built beyond the initial
simple, smaller homes closer to the harbor. These include the
Nickels-Sortwell House, the Wood-Foote House and the Governor Smith
House. Other structures of note are the elegant brick courthouse, which
is home to the longest continuously operating courthouse in the
country; the Old Jail, in operation until the 1950s; the Wiscasset
Library; the Town Common; the Sunken Garden; the Ancient Cemetery, and
By the end of the Revolution to the Embargo of 1807, Wiscasset had
no equal in any part of Maine as the chief shipping port east of
Boston. It was a very prosperous era with so many ships registered
here, that it was said you could walk from deck to deck all the way
across the harbor and masts were everywhere the eye could see.
The Embargo, intended to prevent war with England, failed and
Wiscasset fortunes declined from that time, as shipping dried up and
creditors loomed. Now we find ourselves, generations later, again
seeking new fortunes and new avenues for our community to prosper. And,
as surveys have shown a number of times, the majority of townspeople
consider Wiscasset’s venerable history as unique and something to be
proud of – and something to preserve for those that will follow after
This same majority understand that our historic landscape and
heritage is as valuable an asset as are our schools; our still
protected, deep-harbor working waterfront; our developing airport; the
advent of air/rail/ferry travel with a stop in Wiscasset; and the
development potential at both the Mason Station and the Maine Yankee
In conclusion, it would be shortsighted at best to discount the
economic value of a preserved, nurtured “field museum” here in our
care. Thousands of tourists stop in Wiscasset each year, through at
least three seasons of the year. They used to come to see the Old Ships
– we failed to preserve those. Now we have a chance to step up to the
plate again - this time to preserve a greater prize – our overall
historic heritage, proud and unique.
We are past due to put safeguards in place to save our history from
disappearing. Just like the Old Ships, it will not be reclaimable once
lost. We need to install these safeguards and seek ways to best
showcase our historic heritage so that it takes its rightful place as
one of Wiscasset’s most valued cultural and economic assets.
The Maine Historic Preservation Commission has identified several
archaeological site-sensitive areas and known prehistoric
archaeological sites. The maps of these sites are on file in the Town
There are two types of marks on these maps - squiggles and cross
hatches. The squiggles represent archaeologically-sensitive sites. They
are meant to be about 50 meters wide along the shoreline. The squiggles
and areas associated with Montsweag Brook and Gardiner Pond are marked
because of “very high probability that there are sites within these
areas, although no archaeological survey work has been done.” The
crosshatched areas (marshland next to Montsweag Brook and Gardiner
Pond) may contain archaeological sites but are less probable than the
squiggly locations, according to Dr Arthur Spiess, Senior
Archaeologist, in a letter dated February 24, 2004.
The other marked shoreline areas (squiggles) contain known
archaeological sites. They are mostly Native American campsites of the
Ceramic period and/or Contact period (3000 years ago until about 1700
Sites 26.10 and 26.11 are located adjacent to the railroad line
north of Town. One of these is a large shell midden or shell heap.
Sites 16.212 and 16.213 are small shell midden remnants along the shore
near Maine Yankee and on Little Oak Island.
Sites 16.122 and 16.123 are small shell middens at the tip of Chewonki
Neck. Site 16.246 is near Cushman Cove and is a small shell midden of
prehistoric (undetermined) age.
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