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Boothbay Harbor, Maine

A picturesque seaport, Boothbay Harbor preserves the atmosphere of an old New England sea village. Boaters, artists and families began summering in the area in the early 1890's for genuine summer rest and recreation. News soon spread of her natural beauty, pristine, rural quality and ease of transportation by rail and steamer. By the early 1900's, Boothbay Harbor began her quiet transition from boat building and merchant shipping and to a quintessential coastal destination.


The History of Boothbay

As members of the Boothbay Harbor Chamber of Commerce and the Boothbay Harbor Historical Society The Helm House is dedicated to supporting, preserving, and enhancing our town's working waterfront. 

(Courtesy of the Boothbay Harbor Chamber of Commerce)

 During the early and mid-1600s, English fishermen and farmers settled in the Boothbay region. When Pilgrims were low on food, in 1622, a few sailed “down east” from Plymouth to resupply at Damariscove Island. These island and mainland settlements hung on until the Indian Wars of the late 1600s forced them out. The Scotch-Irish families who resettled the area in 1729 engaged in subsistence farming. They principally exported lumber, firewood, and fish for cash to buy what they could not create themselves. Eventually, shipbuilding and fishing were the area’s lead industries.

The Helm House Vintage Fisherman Boothbay Harbor History Maine

Boothbay men fought in the many wars during the nearly 300 years of permanent settlement. Aside from the usual commercial and recreational boatbuilding, naval vessels were built for World War I, World War II, and Korean War service. Boothbay shipbuilders were much in demand at seaports all over New England when those contracts were given out. That tradition of excellence continues today with luxury yachts, tugs, and daysailers, as well as the classic lobster boats that work our waters.

Clam Bake Boothbay Harbor Helm House_edited.jpg
The Helm House Boothbay Harbor Maine History Yacht Club

In the 1860s, regular steamer service brought reliable transport to Bath, Portland, and Boston. With the first summer tourist boom in the 1880s, the many steamers brought vacationers and summer colonists to the region. Hotels and cottages for those “rusticators” sprang up throughout the area. Also in the late 1880s, industrial-sized businesses were set up in the region for the first time, bringing year-round work for many. Ice works were set up on many local ponds to turn frozen surfaces into large saleable blocks of ice for shipment to southern ports. Sardine and lobster canneries also provided a flood of new jobs. The region experienced true prosperity in that turn-of-the-century era.

The Helm House Boothbay Harbor Townsend Ave Vacation History Maine
Yachting Boothbay Harbor History Maine The Helm House History

Today, the working population’s main sources of income are shipyards, fishing, tourism, and providing services for summer residents and retirees. Popularity as a vacation and retirement destination has helped the region remain vital.

For more on our rich history, we invite you to visit the Boothbay Region Historical Society to see the many artifacts, photos, and documents that bring the past to life. Or take a historic walking tour with Red Cloak Tours {Maine’s largest walking tour company}, offering several types of tours, all historically based and fun and interesting for tourists and locals alike.  They will cover everything from ghosts, and legends, to sightseeing, mysteries and folklore. Tours are child and pet friendly, handicap accessible and offered daily and nightly by reservation."  Interested in looking at old photos of Boothbay Harbor? Visit @BoothbayHarborBBH on Instagram for a large collection of historical photography. 

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