History of Gardiner, Maine

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Picture of Gardiner Public Library on Water Street in Gardiner, Maine 2

We’ve been busy updating our archives as our new WordPress Theme allows us to use larger images, to have a front-page post list (with thumbnails), and other improvements. As such, the architectural beauty of Northern New England is now easier to see for all of our visitors!

Please share us with all of your friends and family.

However, not all of our changes were positive as it seems that some of older posts have been erased (at least partially). So we’ve been reconstructing them and adding new content where we have it.

One post missing (which appears to be entirely our fault) is the one introducing our Gardiner, Maine picture gallery. In our defense, this was one of our first posts on the website and we were still very much in a learning mode.

This post not only rectifies this problem but we are also able to add some historical background . . . enjoy!

Within one mile of its confluence from the west with the Kennebec River, Cobbessee Stream descends 126 feet to the high tide level of the river. This stretch includes eight natural waterfalls. This topographical accident exerted an enormous influence on the development of the City of Gardiner.

Originally part of the Town of Pittston and known as Cobbessee Plantation, virtually all of the land comprising present day Gardiner was early acquired by Dr. Sylvester Gardiner, a wealthy minister and land speculator from Boston.

In the late 1750’s Dr. Gardiner became resident agent of the Plymouth Proprietors and established himself in the area. He erected a saw-mill on Cobbossee Stream and began settlement. In 1803 his grandson, Robert Hallowell Gardiner inherited the property and the following year the Plantation was set off from Pittston and incorporated as the Town of Gardiner. The population of the community was then 650.

R. H. Gardiner, who built the great stone Tudor Revival mansion “Oaklands” (N.R. 7/27/73), devoted his not inconsiderable talents to the development of the town and, aided by its natural endowments, it grew rapidly and prospered. In 1850 Gardiner was chartered as a city and had become the most important river port on the Kennebec.

Varney’s Gazetteer of the State of Maine cites Gardiner as having a population of 4,440 in 1880 and describes the industrial development along the Cobbossee Stream. There were then six large stone dams which provided power for a variety of enterprises: 5 saw-mills, sash, blind and door factories, cabinet, water wheel, and fancy woodwork factories; 2 corn and grain mills, 2 machine shops, 3 millwright shops; a woolen factory, washing machine factory, carriage spring factory, axe factory, and 3 large paper mills. The total annual production was estimated at over $2,000.000.00. By the turn of the century a large shoe manufacturing industry had also developed.

It is against this thriving, burgeoning economic background that Gardiner’s business district along Water Street developed. In its heighday [sic], ships and barges in large numbers were tied up to the docks and piers at the rear of Water Street warehouses and chops on the stream and river side. The railroad put through along the river in the 1860’s added further stimulus to the city’s economy.

By the end of the century the prosperity of the city was firmly established and the development of cultural interests and taste had begun as reflected by Gardiner Public Library, a handsome structure designed by Henry Richards, a Boston trained Gardiner resident. The impressive Patten Block was executed in the Romanesque Revival Style by Edwin E. Lewis, also of Gardiner, who designed many of the early buildings at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers at Togus, Maine.

Although Gardiner no longer ranks as an important industrial center, and commerce on the river has ended, Water Street remains, largely intact, as a reminder of the city when it was queen of the river. Buildings representing virtually every stage of development stand as chronological signposts along the community’s remarkable historical road.

Source: National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form (pdf)

P.S. See also our updated historical post on Hallowell, Maine.

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