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Historic and Prehistoric Overview

Historic 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

1802.

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

much more.

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

us.

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

site.

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.

Prehistoric Archaeology

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

Office.

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

A.D.).

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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