The story of Hallowell is the story of America, with science and industry–and not infrequently the weather–dictating the pace of growth, the accumulation of great wealth, and the loss of vast fortunes. The city is named for Benjamin Hallowell, a Boston merchant and one of the Kennebec Proprietors, holders of land originally granted to the Plymouth Company by the British monarchy in the 1620s. First to settle here was Deacon Pease Clark, who emigrated with his wife and son Peter from Attleborough, Mass., in the spring of 1762. On a riverfront lot measuring 50 rods (about 275 yards), the Clark family raised corn, rye and other crops; land on which the fire department now stands was first to be cleared.
Today, the city’s population is only slightly smaller than it was in 1820, the year Maine seceded from Massachusetts and became a state in its own right. Hallowell’s inhabitants enjoyed the services of 71 stores along Water Street (by contrast, Augusta had a population of 1,000 and just 20 merchants). Thriving industries included ship building, trading, publishing and logging. Two gristmills, five sawmills and two slaughterhouses served the needs of residents near and far.
In 1815 the first granite quarried near the Manchester town line signaled the birth of an industry that would support Hallowell until 1908, when cement displaced stone as the construction material of choice.
In 1826 the ice business began in earnest, employing thousands over the next 75 years; frozen blocks loaded onto Hallowell schooners traveled as far as Cuba and the West Indies. Other local products exported via the Kennebec (and, after the 1850’s, by train) from Hallowell included sandpaper, textiles, rope, linseed oil, oilcloth, wire, books and shoes.
While the Kennebec River sustained the city from its inception, this mighty freeway also inspired fear. Spring floods terrorized shopkeepers and sometimes brought commerce to a standstill.
Through good times and bad, however, Hallowell remained a center of learning and intellectual accomplishment. Private academies and music conservatories attracted students from across the state, and publishers eager to join the city’s lucrative book trade migrated here, as did chemists, physicians, politicians, artists and inventors.
Maine’s first automobile came from Hallowell, as did the first practical threshing machine.
In the 1960’s an urban renewal proposal and a highway construction plan threatened to demolish many historic buildings in the downtown area. The City then applied to the National Park Service for recognition of a 205 acre parcel as a National Historic District. The application was accepted, the buildings were saved, and the Hallowell National Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 28, 1970.
Today a walk along Hallowell’s mansion-studded streets, through the
vibrant business district and along the restored waterfront provides clues to America’s past, and to a world all but vanished.
Photos from Hubbard Free Library Collection