Trails to the Past-Kennebec County Maine-Index



  Kennebec County




Kennebec County occupies the most valuable section of Kennebec River. The surface, though hilly, is not mountainous. It contains a large number of ponds, and many fine water-powers. The territory is nearly that of the Kennebec Patent, but it somewhat overpasses the limits of that patent as finally settled. The indefinite description of those limits caused much litigation, but was finally settled in 1757, by reference to five eminent lawyers. By their decision, the southern boundary of the patent placed at the northern line of the town of Woolwich, in the present county of Sagadahoc, and the northern boundary at what is now the southern line of Cornville, in Somerset County. Briefly stated, the patent, as settled, covered territory 30 miles wide (15 miles wide on each side of the Kennebec River), and extended from Merry-meeting Bay to the falls below Norridgewock, and contained 1,500,000 acres. The tract was valuable in the early period of the country on account of the trade with the natives, and its fisheries. In 1640, the proprietors of the patent ceded it to the whole body of freemen of Plymouth Colony. Between 1648 and 1653, the colony obtained from the Indian sagamores (leeds of the land extending from Cushnoc (now Augusta), to the northern limit of the grant, built one or two small forts on the river, and sent magistrates into the region to protect their rights. Their monopoly was often intruded upon, and caused them so much annoyance that in 1661 they sold their entire right in the patent for 400 sterling to four men, Antipas Boies, Edward Tyng, Thomas Brattle and John Winslow.

The settlement of the river was very slow, so that in 1675, when the first Indian war broke out, there were scarcely 100 persons residing on or near the river. In 1676 the buildings northward of Swan Island were all destroyed, and the inhabitants driven away. Under an act passed by General Court in 1753, a new corporation was formed with the name of “The Proprietors of Kennebec Purchase from the late Colony of New Plymouth,” which was usually contracted to “Plymouth Company” in actual use. In 1818, the corporation, having disposed of all its interest in time territory, ceased to exist.

he Kennebec River, when first visited by the English, was occupied by a powerful tribe of Indians called Canibas. It numbered about 1,500 warriors at this time. Their various villages formed subtribes, all of which acknowledged allegiance to the great chief, Kennebis, who resided on Swan Island, opposite what is now the town of Richmond. The chief villages were Norridgewock, Taconet (at Waterville) and Cushnoc (Augusta). Sebastian Rasle, a Roman Catholic missionary, resided at Norridgewock for many years, exercised a powerful influence over the whole tribe.

The first trading-posts on the Kennebec were established at Augusta and Richmond in 1629, the same year that the patent was obtained by the New Plymouth proprietors. In 1754, in order to give security to the settlements in the region, the Plymouth Company built Fort Western at Cushnoc by agreement with the government of Massachusetts, which built in the same and following year Fort Halifax, in what is now the town of Winslow, and Fort Shirley in Dresden, opposite the other end of Swan Island. At about the same time, Dr. Sylvester Gardiner, agent of the Plymouth Company, made his residence on the Kennebec, the better to effect settlements. Soon after the above date he erected two saw-mills, a grist-mill and a fulling-mill, a wharf, stores and dwelling-houses in the town which now bears his name. Time downfall of the French power in the north brought security to the settlements of Maine, and those on the Kennebec soon greatly increased.

In 1760 two counties called Cumberland and Lincoln were organized from old York County. Lincoln County at that time included the territory of the Kennebec Patent, and the proprietary company erected buildings for the new county at Pownalborough, now Dresden. The old court-house has been changed into a dwelling-house, and is still in a good state of preservation. In 1799 the northern part of Lincoln County was erected into a new county by the name of Kennebec, with Augusta as the shire town. In 1809, Somerset County was organized, by which Kennebec County lost nearly four-fifths of its territory. Waldo County, formed in 1827, took from it four towns,—Unity, Freedom, Joy and Burnham. By the organization of Franklin County in 1838, Kennebec lost the towns of New Sharon, Chesterville, Wilton, Temple and Farmington; and at the incorporation of Androscoggin County, the towns of East Livermore, Greene, Leeds, and Wales, were dissevered from the County of the Kennebec. It is now made up of 24 towns and 3 cities. The last are Augusta, Hallowell and Gardiner, situated upon the Kennebec, the first and last only 6 miles apart, and. the second between them.

In 1787, Hallowell (then including Augusta), was made a halfshiretown with Pownalborough, the session being held at Fort Western. The judges were William Lithgow, James Howard and Nathaniel Thwing. In 1788, William Lithgow, jr., opened an office at Fort Western settlement, and was therefore the first lawyer resident in what is now Kennebac County. The first court-house was built in Augusta (then a part of Hallowell), in 1790, and stood in Market Square. In 1801, Kennebec County having been incorporated and Augusta set off from Hallowell, a new court-house was begun on the site of the present jail. In 1827, the present granite court-house was erected. A jail of wood was erected in 1793, but was burned in 1808. Another built at that time remained in use until 1859. In the latter year was completed a new jail of granite, iron and brick, at a cost of over $50,000. It is considered to be the finest building in the city, and the finest and most substantial building for its purpose in time State.

Kennebec, though one of the smallest counties in area, is one of time best, and at present the very best agricultural county in the State. The soil along time river on both sides is, to a great extent, of clay loam, and easily cultivated and productive; and probably a larger crop of hay is harvested in the river towns of this county than in any other equal area in New England. The underlying rock is chiefly granite, and quarries of fine quality are operated in Hallowell. The ice busiimess is also an important industry; amd probably no section of equal extent in the world yields a larger supply, or a superior quality, of this very useful article.

Kennebec County has several agricultural societies, all in a flourishing condition. It has three hundred and forty-nine schoolhouses, valued at $243,781,. Its real estate in 1870 was valued at $21,004,034. In 1880 it was $23,292,164. The population at the same date was 53,203. In 1880 it was 52,061; of these 26,423 are male and 26,638 females. The natives number 49,565, and foreign born 3,496. There are 123 colored inhabitants.
Source: Varney, George J., Gazetteer of the State of Maine.  Boston: B. B. Russell, 1886.


Cities and Towns

Mount Vernon
West Gardiner
The county also includes the unincorporated township of Unity.


Surrounding Counties
Somerset County, Maine - north
Waldo County, Maine - east
Sagadahoc County, Maine - south
Lincoln County, Maine - south
Androscoggin County, Maine - southwest
Franklin County, Maine - northwest


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