The Abenaki Indian sage who gave Wiscasset its name must have had a sense of humor. Or perhaps there was a heavy morning mist covering the tidal Sheepscot River that flows by when he dreamed up the name. For the literal translation of Wiscasset means “coming out from the harbor but you don’t see where.”
When European pioneers first settled the area in 1663 they discovered that the river had one of the deepest and protected harbors north of Boston. They could see the potential for lumbering, fishing, shipbuilding and establishing a prosperous community connected with sea life. It didn’t happen right away.
King Philip’s Wars in 1675, Indian raids and other hardships forced settlers to abandon the area until 1730 when it was re-settled.
Today, when you enter this charming town, you see the result of the vision and hard work that built it into a major seaport. Often considered the Gateway to Mid-coast Maine, see if you don’t agree it has reason enough to call itself “Maine’s Prettiest Village.”
Prosperous sea merchants during its shipbuilding heyday lined the curving streets with elegant homes, many built in the classic Federal style. Two excellent examples of this period have been turned into museums and will give you an idea of fashion and sophistication of that time. One is Castle Tucker. Built in 1807 on a hilltop with a glorious view of the Sheepscot River, it gives you a vivid picture of Wiscasset history.
The other is the Nickels-Sortwell House. Also built in 1807, you can’t miss its elegant façade as you pass along Main Street. Inside, sky lights on the third floor light up an elliptical staircase and period furnishings.
Many of the other homes have been converted to first class lodgings, shops and restaurants. Stroll the brick sidewalks among these elegant buildings and you’ll find antique and gift shops, art galleries, boutiques and historical landmarks.
For more background about Wiscasset visit the 1811 Lincoln County Museum & Old Jail. It’s the headquarters of the Lincoln County Historical Association and presents exhibits and displays of the area. There’s more history dating back to the Revolution recorded on the tombstones in the old graveyard. Other attractions that will add to your visit are the customs house, the 1812 Powder House, the botanical Sunken Garden and public library housed in the old bank building.
You can include a musical interlude into your holiday when you visit the Musical Wonder House. Guides will demonstrate antique music boxes from around the world and perform on grand player pianos and other instruments.
If you can’t resist cuddly things take a short drive north to visit an alpaca farm.
Also north of Wiscasset is Head Tide Village in Alna. It’s a captivating hamlet that has held the character of a prosperous 18th and 19th century mill town. Poet Edward Arlington Robinson was born here in 1869.
Across the river you’ll find Fort Edgecomb built in 1808 to protect the town harbor. Its octagon blockhouse built with hand-hewn beams shows the skillful engineering of the time.