The history of the 16 communities of the Southern Midcoast Maine Region is as old as our country. Indeed, 2007 marked the 400th anniversary of the building of the Virginia by the English at the Popham Colony, in what became the United States. Shipbuilding continues today at Bath Iron Works and numerous small boatyards.
But the English were not the first explorers. The French explorer Samuel de Champlain is believed to have mapped the lower reaches of the Kennebec River in 1605. A stone found at Popham Beach has been attributed to Norse Vikings.
Before the European explorers, Native Americans were well established: the Abenaki tribe including Pejepscots of Brunswick & Topsham, Sheepscots around Wiscasset and Sagadahocs of the Kennebec…their names live on today in rivers, counties, and even business names.
Initially settlements were based on the fur trade and then farming. Numerous "French and Indian" wars were fought with a profound effect on inhabitants. In the mid to late 1700's the power of the rivers were harnessed for a variety of mills and later factories. Maine became a State in 1820 as part of the Missouri Compromise and William King of Topsham and Bath became Maine's first governor. From the 18th into the 20th century, waves of Irish and then French-Canadian immigrants kept the mills running. Fort Andross and the Bowdoin Mill still stand on the banks of the Androscoggin, fresh with new economic activity.
Explore our history by walking through National Historic Districts, many of which include individual buildings that are National Register of Historic Places: Bath; Day's Ferry in Woolwich; Federal Street, Lincoln Street and Pennellville in Brunswick and the Brunswick Women's History Walking Trial; Auburn Colony in Harpswell; Old Union Hotel in Cundy's Harbor; Topsham; Richmond and downtown Wiscasset.
Special And Unique Places
Here are just a few of our special and unique places:
Androscoggin Swinging Bridge (c.1892) built by John A. Roebling Sons Co., is a steel and wood structure that was recently restored. Workers from Topsham Heights crossed it to get to work at the Cabot Mill (Fort Andross). National Register of Historic Places.
Bailey Island Cribstone Bridge (c.1926) Is one of a kind! It is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Consisting of granite blocks laid honeycomb fashion, it links Orr's Island and Bailey Island. National Register of Historic Places. Rebuilt 2010.
Bowdoin College was founded in 1794. Massachusetts Hall (c.1807) is on the National Register of Historic Places. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, U.S. President Franklin Pierce, and Nathanial Hawthorne attended in the 19th century. In the 20th century, US Senators William Cohen and George Mitchell and US Olympic Gold Medalist, Joan Benoit Samuelson, attended.
First Parish Church (c.1846) Harriet Beecher Stowe saw a vision while attending services and began "Uncle Tom's Cabin". Gen. Joshua Chamberlain was a long-time member. A number of other churches are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Harriet Beecher Stowe House. The author wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in this Brunswick home and in her husband's office at Bowdoin College. (Not open to the public.) National Register of Historic Places.
A natural highway for centuries between Quebec City, the St. Lawrence, and the Gulf of Maine. A portion of the corridor is the Arnold Trail to Quebec. Our region comprises the Tidewater Kennebec River section.
Libraries and Historical Societies
Are you ready to delve further into the history of our communities or gather information for family genealogy? Use these resources:
Albert F. Totman Library (serves Phippsburg)
Bowdoin College's Hawthorne-Longfellow Library
Bridge Academy Public Library (serves Dresden)
Curtis Memorial Library (serves Brunswick and Harpswell)
Laura E. Richards Library (serves Georgetown)
Patten Free Library (serves Bath, Arrowsic, Georgetown, Phippsburg, West Bath, and Woolwich. Also the home of Bath Historical Society)
Pejepscot Historical Society (serves Brunswick, Harpswell and Topsham. Contact for walking and driving tours.)
Sagadahoc Preservation Inc. (Contact for walking and driving tours.)
Wiscasset Public Library (serves Wiscasset, Edgecomb, Westport Island)
Experience the majesty and mystery of our lighthouses, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, that continue to shine on our seafaring heritage.
Squirrel Point. Bald Head Rd., Arrowsic, accessible by hiking on land.
Doubling Point (1898) Octagonal tower on a granite pier connected to shore by walkway. Doubling Pt. Rd., Arrowsic. Privately owned, access allowed.
Doubling Point Range Lights. East bank of Kennebec River, Arrowsic. National Register of Historic Places. Line up the two lights as you pass Ram Island and follow them up the Kennebec River channel until the Doubling Point Light is in view and swing to the west for Bath.
Fuller Rock Light. Off of Rte. 209, Small Point, Phippsburg.
Halfway Rock Light Station. Off Bailey Island in Casco Bay.
Perkins Island Light (1898). Features an octagonal light tower, keeper's house, storage building, and oil shed. National Register of Historic Places. Viewed from Parker Head Rd., Phippsburg.
Pond Island Lighthouse. A white stone tower overlooking the mouth of the Kennebec River. Viewed from Popham Beach State Park, Phippsburg.
Seguin Island Light Station (1795) Commissioned in 1795 by George Washington. National Register of Historic Places. The granite tower contains the only 1st Order Fresnel Lens in Maine. Viewed from Popham Beach State Park, Phippsburg or visit by boat.
Maine Maritime Museum. Be awestruck at the life-size sculptural representation of the Wyoming, the largest wooden commercial sailing vessel ever constructed. Step aboard a replica of a diesel tug boat pilot-house and lots more.
Browse through exhibits detailing the history of Brunswick, Topsham and Harpswell at the Pejepscot Museum. Explore three generations of a prominent Brunswick family with careers in seafaring, medicine and education at the Skolfield Whittier House. Tour the home of the hero of Little Round Top at Gettysburg during the Civil War, Governor of Maine, and President of Bowdoin College at the The Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum.
On the campus of Bowdoin College learn about cultures and natural environments of the Arctic and subarctic at the Peary-MacMillan Artic Museum. Included are photos and artifacts from Peary’s expedition to reach the North Pole. A few steps away are outstanding collections from the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world to artwork created in the first years of the 21st century at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
Venture off of Route #1 in Woolwich to Rt. 128 to the Dresden Brick School House Museum (c.1816) and then picnic on the grounds of the only remaining pre-Revolutionary War court building in Maine, the Pownalborough Courthouse (c.1761).
Old Stone Schoolhouse Museum (c.1820)
Off the coast of Harpswell sail to Admiral Robert E. Peary’s summer home on Eagle Island (and bring a picnic!)
Harpswell Center contains a small cluster of historic buildings and grounds including the Tarr-Hackett House, the Elijah Kellogg Church, the old Harpswell Meeting House and graveyard.
Trace life in Phippsburg from Native Americans through World War II, in an 1859 one-room schoolhouse.
Tour one of the grandest homes on Main St., the T.J. Southard House (c.1870).
Imagine living in a rural farmhouse (c.1810) when you tour the Woolwich Historical Society. The Museum contains several restored rooms of items dating from the late 18th through the early 20th centuries.
Castle Tucker (c.1807) will remind you of a time when the village was the busiest port east of Boston. And the impressive facade of the Nickels-Sortwell House (c.1807) recalls the prosperity brought by shipbuilding. Marvel at the collection of 5000 mechanical musical instruments at the Musical Wonder House (c. 1852). Discover what kinds of prisoners inhabited the Old Lincoln County Jail (1811-1954).
Culture And The Arts
Southern Midcoast Maine boasts an extraordinary number of artists and craftspeople, galleries, antique dealers, studios, live theater, music, museums and history. Explore downtown arts scenes, scenic peninsulas and side trips along river roads, to find out of the way art studios, community festivals, historic towns and new landscapes to capture your imagination as they do the artists who live and create here.
Search our Events section for a complete list of what is happening in the arts, or call Five Rivers Arts Alliance, your resource for in-depth information about arts, culture, and heritage, at 207-798-6964.
Friday Night Art Walks
Friday Night Art Walks are back, starting in May (in Brunswick) and June (in Bath). Spend a relaxing evening strolling down the scenic streets of Bath and Brunswick and explore the galleries, shops, and studios of local artists. Discover new works by fiberartists, painters, jewelers, woodworkers, sculptures and more!
Brunswick and Topsham hold Second Friday Artwalks, on the second Friday of the month, from 5pm - 8pm, May to December.
Bath holds Third Friday Artwalks each month, on the third Friday of the month, 5:00pm - 7:30pm, June through September.
Downtown Art And Cultural Venues
Brunswick’s Maine Street links Bowdoin College at one end to Fort Andross and the Androscoggin River at the other. The college offers student and premiere performances and speakers throughout the academic year. In the summer Maine State Music Theatre brings Broadway to Brunswick with four fully staged professional musicals at the college’s historic Pickard Theater. Also on campus each summer, Bowdoin International Music Festival runs a world-class music school with two artists’ concert series and the Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music.
From the college, a walk downtown takes you past the stately homes of Park Row and The Mall, our town green. You can find jewelry designed and forged right in town, and galleries that feature pottery, fiber, craft and fine arts.
The Theater Project offers performances and classes in an intimate community theater. Fort Andross anchors Maine Street’s northern end. The renovated 19th century woolen mill is home to antique and flea markets, artists’ studios, fine woodworkers, and more.
Across the Androscoggin River stands the landmark Bowdoin Mill in Topsham. Just up the street is Maine Fiberarts, your link to fiber artists in the Maine. Pick up a tour map, and list of gallery shows, by the state’s finest fiber artists. Topsham’s Orion Performing Arts Center hosts performances by local and national acts including The Midcoast Symphony Orchestra.
Bath, the City of Ships, is also home to a lively arts and cultural community. The Chocolate Church Arts Center brings American and international musicians to its renovated theater and hosts fine arts exhibitions in its gallery. Bath’s downtown offers galleries, antique shops, artists and dance studios.
Art On The Road
We hope you have time to take a trip off the highway. You will find art galleries, studios and views that inspire. Here woodworkers create furniture in traditional, rustic and contemporary styles. Boat builders, potters, quilters, papermakers, jewelers, painters and photographers create and sell their work in studios and shops across the region.
Check out the The Merrymeeting Arts Center, located in the village of Bowdoinham. The center has a gallery exhibiting work by local artists and emerging artists. There is a gallery shop selling local art, crafts, books, and local gift items. The Brycework Museum hosts rotating exhibitions of Bryce Muir's whimsical wooden sculptures and amusing work.
Find artists and studio listings at Five Rivers Arts