Waterville Maine Vacation Guide
Waterville is aptly named. It sits along the shore of the Kennebec River and is in the water and wildlife rich Kennebec & Moose River Valleys Region. Outdoor lovers flock to the area for the fishing, white water rafting and the camping. Shoppers descend on Waterville and surrounding areas in search of antiques and locally made artwork. An abundance of culture, a large helping of local hospitality and Maine’s scenic backcountry make Waterville a family friendly vacation choice.
This is one part of Maine where there is no evidence of a prehistoric culture, or aboriginal finds after the early 18thcentury. The area around the Kennebec River was, and still is, the domain of creatures of the wild. Early Europeans settled here in the mid 1700s, close to Fort Halifax near Ticonic Falls. The land was rugged and not suited for farming so people hunted, fished and lived off the land.
The town of Waterville was founded in 1802, and became a shipping hub for local lumber, salmon and other fish products that went south to Boston. During the spring, the Kennebec River was deep enough to accommodate larger ships, encouraging locals to start ship-building companies. Other industries included a sleigh and carriage factory, a gristmill, several sawmills, a shovel handle factory, tannery, brickyard and furniture factory.
The water from the Kennebec and Messalonskee Rivers provided power for this highly industrialized area. Waterville soon attracted the attention of the Androscoggin and Kennebec Railroad and they opened a station in 1849. By 1870 railroad car and locomotive repair shops were established. The era of the passenger train in Waterville would end in 1949, unable to compete with the automobile. Today Waterville is a mixture of suburbia, small town ambiance and industrial areas.
Main Street Waterville
Downtown Waterville is the town’s cultural hub. It is home to the First Baptist Church, built in 1826, fully restored and added to the National Historic Register in 1976. It is the oldest public building and Waterville’s first church. Samuel Francis Smith, a pastor here from 1832 until 1842, was the author of “America” set to the tune of England’s “God Save the King.”
The church and 42 other buildings of note are part of downtown’s Historic Walking Tour. The Old Post Office, resembling a many columned Athens monument, City Hall which did double duty as The Opera House and a number of old-time department store structures are all on the tour. Walk across the Two-Cent Bridge on Temple Street, named so because at one time you had to pay two cent to cross it. It was a pay footbridge up until 1960 when the owners deeded the bridge to the city. By then the toll had increased to 50 cents.
The Maine International Film Festival is held downtown each July. The ten day festival screens productions in the Waterville Opera House and the Railroad Square Cinema. The Common Street Gallery, a combination art gallery and art school, frequently exhibits works of local and international artists. The Lebanese Heritage Mural, at 51 Main Street, depicts local life from early days until the present.
Things to do in Waterville
The Waterville Historical Society and Redington Museum is in an old Federal-style home on Silver Street, built in 1814 by Asa Redington. The museum houses 200 years worth of war memorabilia, toys, furniture and other historic documents and papers, all related to Waterville’s past. Another treasure for lovers of the past is the Colby College Museum of Art, on the campus of Colby College. It has art displays dating back to the 18th century.
Golfers can try their luck on the Pine Ridge Golf Course, It is only nine-holes, but three have challenging water hazards and all are surrounded by groves of trees. In the heart of downtown Waterville is the Apollo Day Spa, offering not only the latest in massages and body treatments, but an onsite bistro and gift shop.
Winslow, on the opposite side of the Kennebunk River, is home to Fort Halifax Park. It holds the last building left of the original Fort Halifax. Along with Waterville, Oakland and Fairfield, Winslow makes up the Central Maine Growth Area. Pattee Pond offers fishing and paddling opportunities. These municipalities, along with Benton share the Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, municipally cared for pathways that are used for walking, biking, jogging and cross-country skiing.
Waterville Lodging and Dining
Most of Waterville’s trendier restaurants are in the revamped Main Street or Downtown areas. Find Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Lebanese and old fashioned American style diners and pizza parlors. Head north on Maine Street or College Avenue, or east into Winslow and restaurants are farther apart but no less eclectic. Fast food outlets also make an appearance, but more often on the fringes of town or along major highways. Even Tim Horton’s, Canada’s legendary coffee shop chain, has an outlet on the northern end of Main Street.
Finding a place to stay is just as easy. Major hotel and motel chains are found along Interstate 95 and on the northern end of Main Street, mostly away from the city core. Cottage rentals and quaint B&Bs like the Pressey House are found in nearby Oakland, on the shores of Messalonskee Lake. The Pressey House, built sometime in the 1850s is on the National Registry of Historic Place. The owners have added modern amenities, but kept the look and feel of the property as it was over a century and a half ago. A number of campgrounds are also nearby.
Belgrade Lakes – West of Waterville
The Belgrade Lakes area is west of Waterville and offers seven freshwater lakes and countless ponds and streams. Towns in this area include Belgrade, Oakland, Rome, Sidney and Smithfield. Boating, swimming and picnics along the shore are favored summer pastimes. Fishing is available year-round. In the winter it is of the ice-fishing variety. The lakes have large populations of Brown Trout, White Perch and Smallmouth Bass. Each year the Belgrade Lakes Golf Clubs invites guest to challenge the 18-hole championship course. In winter, hiking boots are exchanged for snowshoes, skis and snowmobiles, allowing even more fun during the snowy season.
China Lakes – East of Waterville
China Lakes, east of downtown Waterville is similarly blessed in the nature department. The biggest lake is China Lake, home to a number of vacation homes and cabin rentals. The town of China, sitting on land that was once the Jones’ Plantation circa 1774, includes parts of Winslow, Harlem and Albion. Other nearby towns include Burnham, Clinton, Hinckley, Shawmut, Thorndike, Unity, and Vassalboro. The eastern end of the lake itself is actually in Vassalboro. There are limited services, other than the cabin rentals, shops and a few local restaurants.
Waterville Area Directories
Visit the following directories to find lodging, dining, attractions, shops, services and recreational activities in the Waterville, Maine area.
- Albion Maine
- Belgrade Lakes Maine
- Belgrade Maine
- Benton Maine
- Burnham Maine
- China Maine
- Clinton Maine
- Fairfield Maine
- Hinckley Maine
- Oakland Maine
- Rome Maine
- Shawmut Maine
- Sidney Maine
- Thorndike Maine
- Unity Maine
- Vassalboro Maine
- Waterville Maine
- Winslow Maine