The Red Paint People first inhabited Maine from 3,000 B.C. to 1,000 B.C. and were followed by several later Native American groups, each with its own distinct culture. European explorers sailed to Maine in 1525 before establishing its first settlement in 1604. The colony was a vital player in the colonial period and American Revolution as well as the War of 1812, Industrial Revolution, and Civil War. These centuries of cultural and military history shaped the state and left remarkable sites of interest to modern visitors. Maine has 17 designated State Historic Sites, ranging from Native American sites to key military forts. The sites are open to the public, although some charge small entrance fees.
Bible Point State Historic Site
In 1878, Teddy Roosevelt first visited Mattawamkeag Lake as a young man. He camped, hunted, and fished in the area with Bill Sewall, a guide and the future president’s lifelong friend. The historical site got its name because Roosevelt would hike each day to the confluence of First Brook and the West Branch of the Mattawamkeag River to read his Bible. Bible Point, located off of Merriman Road in Island Falls, is unstaffed and open to the public free of charge. Visitors often fish in the lake and hike the local trail network. Look for the plaque that commemorates the spot where Roosevelt read his Bible each day.
Fort Kent State Historic Site
In addition to being a state historic site, Fort Kent is a National Historic Landmark because of its important role in U.S. history. The fort was established in 1839 to defend the northern American border against Great Britain. Fort Kent was a key outpost during the Aroostook War, a bloodless dispute over the Maine-New Brunswick border. Daniel Webster and 1st Baron Ashburton settled the dispute with an 1842 treaty that delineated the current border between the U.S. and Canada. The 1839 blockhouse still stands and can be viewed by visitors to the site from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The entrance fee is $2 for residents and $3 for non-residents.
The Maine Highlands
Katahdin Iron Works State Historic Site
Although relatively remote, the Katahdin Iron Works was a key player in Maine’s industrial activity between 1843 and 1890. The facility was Maine’s only iron works operation during the 19th century, supplying the state with iron goods. Of its original 16 charcoal kilns, only one remains today. Visitors can view this kiln and an original blast furnace used to purify iron ore. There are hiking trails surrounding the site, which is located in the midst of Maine’s beautiful hills and mountains. The site is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, free of charge.
Kennebec and Moose River Valleys
Colburn House State Historic Site
Colburn House was built in 1765 by Reuben Colburn, an early settler in the Kennebec River region. Colburn built a brickyard, board yard, sawmill, and gristmill near the home to provide for the frontier community. In addition to its age, the house is of historic significance because of its role in the American Revolution. Benedict Arnold slept in the house and used it as his headquarters before launching an offensive campaign to capture Quebec in 1775. Colburn and a crew of men accompanied Arnold on the Quebec campaign. His descendants lived in the house for more than 100 years after his death. Today, the Colburn house, located just south of Gardiner on Route 27, is open for tours in July and August on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. If you wish to arrive on another day, call 207-287-4975 to make an appointment.
Fort Halifax State Historic Site
Fort Halifax is the older blockhouse in the United States, built in 1754 by the English to defend the Kennebec River Valley from attack from the French or Native Americans. Although floodwaters swept the blockhouse away in 1987, the log timbers were recovered and used to restore the building. Visitors can visit the site from Memorial Day until Labor Day, free of charge. There are picnic areas on-site. The property is best accessed from Route 201, south of Winslow.
Colonial Pemaquid State Historic Site
Pemaquid was the site of an early English outpost and fishing station during the colonial period. Today, the site hosts numerous structures of historical interest. Visitors enjoy Fort William Henry, a replica of the 1692 version of the fort, which was a site of great strategic importance for the English. The property also features Fort House, a restored Federal-style house from 1790; original stone building foundations from the former village; a burial ground dating from the 17th century; and an excellent museum with local artifacts. Colonial Pemaquid is several miles from Damariscotta on Route 130. The site is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. A fee of $2 for residents and $3 for non-residents is charged at the entrance.
Fort Baldwin State Historic Site
Fort Baldwin was constructed between 1905 and 1912. Named for Jeduthan Baldwin, an army engineer during the American Revolution, the fort originally had three batteries. An intact observation tower still remains. Fort Baldwin garrisoned 200 soldiers from the 13th and 29th Coast Artillery during World War I. In 1924, all of the fort’s remaining guns were removed. The fort again housed soldiers during World War II, when the 8th Coast Artillery manned the property until 1943. Today, the fort is open year-round to visitors, free of charge. The property is accessible from Fort Baldwin Road in Phippsburg.
Fort Edgecomb State Historic Site
Fort Edgecomb was constructed in 1808 to guard Wiscasset, an important port at the time. It stood on the coast to prevent ships from breaking the trade embargo against France and Great Britain. During the War of 1812, Fort Edgecomb held many British prisoners of War and defended against British attack on Midcoast Maine. The fort was manned until 1818 before housing Union soldiers during the Civil War. Today, visitors enjoy the views from the octagonal Blockhouse’s musket ports. There are interpretive panels describing the history of the fort and its use during U.S. wars. Guided tours are available during the summer, and the park is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. A small fee is charged at entry; the charge is $2 for residents and $3 for non-residents.
Fort Knox State Historic Site
Fort Knox was constructed between 1844 and 1864; it was Maine’s first granite fort. The fort is considered an excellent example of unaltered mid-19th century granite coastal fortification. Although the fort was never fully completed, it was garrisoned during the Civil War and Spanish-American Wars. It was designed to protect the Penobscot River from naval attack. Today, Fort Knox is Maine’s largest historic fort with a rich tradition of military history. There is a self-guided trail and picnic area for visitors. The site is open from May 1 to October 1; the cost is $3 for residents and $4.50 for non-residents.
Fort Popham State Historic Site
Wooden fortifications were established on the site of Fort Popham to protect settlements on the lower Kennebec River during the American Revolution and War of 1812. In 1862, construction began on a semi-circular granite fort for use in the Civil War. Although the fort was never completed, Fort Popham was active during the Spanish-American War and World War I. After touring the fort, the nearby beach is an excellent area for beachcombing and fishing. The park is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day for no charge.
Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site
Native Americans in the Midcoast region of Maine created enormous heaps of shells over a period of several centuries, between 2,200 and 1,000 years ago. These large piles of oyster shells remain in the upper Damariscotta River. Today, the eastern bank of the river contains the remains of the spectacular Whaleback Shell Midden, although many of the shells were removed in the late 1880s to use as chicken feed. The site features the large shell heaps, a scenic walking trail through an old orchard, and excellent bird-watching opportunities. The site is free and open year-round, although the roads are not plowed in the winter months.
Greater Portland and Casco Bay
Eagle Island State Historic Site
Nearly 6,000 visitors come to Eagle Island each year to explore the summer home of famous North Pole explorer Admiral Robert Peary. The island is located a few miles off the coast of Harpswell, a town just north of Portland. Peary purchased the island in 1881 for just $200 and used it as a summer getaway for himself and his wife Josephine. Modern visitors enjoy the panoramic ocean views, the calls of seagulls, and fragrant flowers from gardens first cultivated by Josephine Peary. There is a small fee to enter this state historic site, and the property is only open from June 15 through Labor Day. Call 207-624-6080 for more information about fees and accessibility.
Mayall Mills State Historic Site
Although Mayall Mills is not officially considered a State Historic Site, the Bureau of Parks and Lands operates the property similarly to other historic sites. The mill was established in 1791 in a tiny wooden building. Owner Samuel Mayall expanded the operation to include two large brick mills on the Collyer River. At its peak production, the mill manufactured 30,000 yards of woolen cloth per year. Mayall Mill shut down in 1903. Today, the site is open to the public year-round, free of charge. There are no staff members, but visitors may take self-guided tours of the remaining mill structures.
Fort McClary State Historic Site
For the past 275, a fort has guarded the mouth of the Piscataqua River, protecting the southern entrance to Kittery. Fort McClary is the most recent fort, built in 1808 and named after Major Andrew McClary, a New Hampshire man who was the highest-ranking officer killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Fort McClary has been manned during five U.S. wars — the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War I. Visitors may access the site from Kittery Point Road from Memorial Day through September 30. The fee is $2 for residents and $3 for non-residents.
John Paul Jones State Historic Site
The John Paul Jones State Historic Site, located near Kittery on Route 1, is home to the Maine Sailors and Soldiers Memorial. This memorial was created by Bashka Paeff from 1924 to 1926. Paeff was a sculptor who worked in the Boston area during the early 20th century. Her work features a woman and child as the central figures. This site serves as a gateway from New Hampshire to Maine on Route 1. It is open year-round free of charge.
Storer Garrison State Historic Site
During the early colonial period, the British settlers were involved in constant conflicts with the French, who allied with Native American tribes. To protect themselves from attack, villages fortified the largest house as a garrison to use as a safe house. The home of Joseph Storer was used as a garrison during an attack by French commander Labocree and over 500 Native Americans. Despite the overwhelming odds against the villagers, they fought off the attack with just 15 soldiers, 15 male civilians, and a few local women. The site is free and open to the public year-round.
Downeast and Acadia
Fort O’Brien State Historic Site
Fort O’Brien, located near Machiasport, is sometimes termed the birthplace of the U.S. Navy. The first naval battle of the Revolutionary War took place a few miles offshore from Fort O’Brien in June of 1775. The fort was destroyed in 1775, rebuilt in 1777, and destroyed again by the British in 1814. Fort O’Brien was active during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. The site is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, free of charge. There is a picnic area on-site for visitors to relax after touring the fort.