Maine: An Encyclopedia
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Bowdoinham

Bowdoinham Location Map

Bowdoinham Location Map

Year Population
1970 1,294
1980 1,828
1990 2,192
2000 2,612
2010 2,889
Geographic Data
N. Latitude 44:01:53
W. Latitude 69:52:00
Maine House District 55
Maine Senate District 23
Congress District 1
Area sq. mi. (total) 39.1
Area sq. mi. (land) 34.4
Population/sq.mi. (land) 84.0
County: Sagadahoc

Total=land+water; Land=land only
Bowdoinham Population Chart 1790-2010

Population Trend 1790-2010

Bowdoinham Village (2001)

Bowdoinham Village (2001)

General Store on Route 24 (2001)

General Store on Route 24 (2001)

Old School Baptist Church (2003)

Old School Baptist Church (2003)

Sign: Old School Baptist Church (2003)

Sign: Old School Baptist Church (2003)

Merrymeeting Grange #128 (2003)

Merrymeeting Grange #128 (2003)

[BOW-dun-ham] was settled originally as early as 1623, but Indian raids precluded a permanent presence. Reportedly named for Dr. Peter Bowdoin, an early proprietor, this Sagadahoc County town incorporated on September 18, 1762 from Cathance Neck and Abagadussett.

The village is typical of the small riverside town centers in Maine with its business district nearest the water and its residential area located behind.

The town was ravaged by the floods, high tides, and ice jams accompanying the “Great Freshet of 1770″ on January 8th of that year.

Second Bowdoinham Baptist Church (2003)

Second Bowdoinham Baptist Church (2003)

In 1779, Bowdoinham and Pittston both annexed land from Gardinerstown Plantation, thus ending that plantations existence. After trading various pieces of land with Litchfield, Richmond, and Topsham, the town’s boundaries were set by the last annexation from Topsham on March 16, 1830.

3200 acres of land located in Bowdoinham, Lincoln County, owned by James Bowdoin II at his death, were considered to be worth 960 pounds. The property was willed directly to Bowdoin’s son, James III in 1790. (In 1854 Bowdoinham became part of the newly created Sagadahoc County, carved from a portion of Lincoln County.)

Coombs Municipal Building (2014)

John C. Coombs Municipal Building (2014) @

Fire Department and EMS (2014)

Fire Department and EMS (2014) @

R. B. Hall, composer and musician, was born into a musical family in, 1858 in Bowdoinham and was known as a cornet virtuoso, bandmaster and composer of marches.

Occupying virtually the whole western shore of Merrymeeting Bay, the town is pleasantly sited with the Cathance River running through it and into the Bay. The River is the site of smelt shacks in winter, and small boats in summer.

Bowdoinham Village, or Cathance Landing was settled about 1800, after a need for salt water access by nearby towns resulted in a group of Bowdoin residents building a road (the first major road in Bowdoinham) from the Bowdoin town line to the Cathance River.

According to a brief history on the Bowdoinham Community School’s Internet web site,

The Landing boomed around the new road. Wharves and warehouses were built on the river’s edge, while private homes, boarding houses stores and shops fanned out above the river and up the hill.

Cathance River Below the Town Landing (2003)

Cathance River Below the Town Landing (2003)

Vessels were built and launched at the Landing for about 75 years. More than 150 craft of all classes were launched at this early shopping complex, beginning about 1800. The Purington Company constructed at least 20 vessels here, their largest being the NEPTUNE, an 1183 ton ship built in 1864.

J. Madison Kendall’s novel [new] waterwheel turned under that bridge for many years. Adam’s History says the wheel was installed about 1860, and said that it, “has sufficient power to drive the immense plant for the Fertilizer Company”. The big wheel was ingeniously geared using both incoming and outgoing tides.

Kendall’s Fertilizer Manufacturing plant became Sagadahoc Fertilizer in 1865, and a division of Corenco Corporation in 1966.

Bowdoinham is the birthplace of baseball pitcher Walter Merrill “Pop” Williams born in 1874, served with the Washington Senators in 1898, and the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies in 1902 and 1903.

Office Building Near the River (2014)

Office Building Near the River (2014) @

Bridge over the Cathance River (2014) @

General Store in the Village (2014)

General Store in the Village (2014) @

At the crest of the hill leading away from the river (Route 125) one finds the old Town Hall, the Church of the Nazarene, and two impressive houses. The Baptist Church and the Grange are nearby.

Bowdoinham Town Hall (2014)

Bowdoinham Town Hall (’14)@

Church of the Nazarene (2014)

Church of the Nazarene (’14)@

A fast growing community, Bowdoinham has attracted commuters and retirees to its still rural open spaces.  It is well situated on north-south Route 24; east-west Route 125, and Interstate 95.  Merrymeeting Field, a small, privately owned, general aviation airport, is located about a mile southeast of the village on Route 24.

Merrymeeting Field Airport (2009)

Merrymeeting Field Airport (2009)

Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor

Congressional Medal of Honor Winner: Civil War

MOSES C. HANSCOM

Form of Government: Town Meeting-Select Board-Manager.

Additional resources

Ames, John Wallace. Bowdoinham Was My Home Town. Kennebunk, Me. Star Press. 1975.

Adams, Silas. The History of the Town of Bowdoinham, Maine, 1762-1912. Somersworth, N.H. New England History Press; Bowdoinham, Me. Bowdoinham Historical Society. 1985.

Bowdoinham 1762-1962 Bicentennial: The Seventeenth Town in Maine. Bicentennial Historical Booklet Committee. 1962.

Jack, Robert. Daybook, 1821-1823. (Cataloger’s Note: “Volume records the sale of goods such as lumber, tobacco, cheese, rum, shingles, vinegar and gin. Accompanied by a second volume listing individual names, perhaps meant to index the ledger that would have been used with this daybook.”) [University of Maine, Raymond H. Fogler Library, Special Collections.]

Kendall, William B. Local History in the Schools of Bowdoinham. Augusta, Me. Department of Education. 1928.

*Maine. Historic Preservation Commission. Augusta, Me.   Text and photos from National Register of Historic Places: http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/nrhp/text/xxxxxxxx.PDF and http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/nrhp/photos/xxxxxxxx.PDF

Butterfield-Sampson House: 96001190.PDF
Carr, Robert P., House: : 90001904.PDF
Coombs, Viola, House: 91001816.PDF
Cornish House: 80000250.PDF

National Register of Historic Places – Listings

Butterfield–Sampson House, 18 River Road

The Butterfield-Sampson House, built about 1888, is an excellent example of late 19th century “Stick style” architecture and is a rare example in Maine of a design based on mail order plans by the Palliser & Palliser Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. It is an interesting, well-preserved example of modest, yet embellished Victorian architecture in a village. Local builders would work from the mail order plans and modify the design to fit the owner’s needs.

Butterfield–Sampson House (2015)

Butterfield–Sampson House (2015)

Butterfield-Sampson House (1996)

Butterfield-Sampson House (1996)

The Federal period rear ell was built around 1820 with the facade oriented to Bridge Street (now Center Street). It is an example of a 2½ story, one room deep Federal house with a number of period details intact. The Kennebec & Portland Railroad sold the house in 1861 to Robert Butterfield, who was living on the property in 1858. He served as Bowdoinham Postmaster in 1841 and reportedly built and ran a grist mill with several other residents in 1859. Between 1861 and 1867 he worked as a cashier at the Village Bank of Bowdoinham. In June 1866, Butterfield was beaten in his house by burglars who took him to the bank where he was forced to hand over the contents of the vault. The four assailants, three of whom were later captured, escaped with $80,000.

In 1888 the property was transferred from Butterfield’s wife Henrietta to Harriet B. Sampson for one dollar. Apparently the Federal period house was moved back and the front block added during Sampson’s residency. [James Hewat photo 1996]

Carr, Robert P., House

[Main Street] Built about 1870, the Robert Potter Carr House is an Italianate style home of distinction, strongly suggesting the work of an accomplished architect. It is also historically significant by virtue of its association with Robert Carr (1818-1882), long one of Bowdoinham’s most prominent residents.

The style and quality of the house lends it a measure of sophistication more typical of urban settings. Carr was a descendent 17th century settlers. His father, James, was a merchant in Bowdoinham as early as 1849 as “James Carr and Son, dry goods and groceries.” R. P. Carr was probably associated with the enterprise since by the mid-1850s he was the operator of a country store in the village. He apparently was among the first to enter into the commercial ice industry in 1856. Carr was postmaster 1849-1853; president of the National Bank of Bowdoinham 1873-1882; a Sagadahoc County Commissioner 1876-1881. He served one term each in the State House of Representatives (1858-59) and Senate (1873-74).*

Coombs, Viola, House

[Main Street] The 1910 Coombs House is significant as a well-preserved example of the transitional Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style. The house, with its grand sweeping front porch and fine details, was designed by Harry S. Coombs of Lewiston, one of Maine’s premier architects.

The Coombs House was one of a few grand houses built in the village during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Others were the highly ornate 1885 Cornish House up the street and the 1870 Robert P. Carr House next door. With the striking Second Baptist Church [See photo above.] immediately to the east, the Coombs House is part of a very elegant collection of buildings on Main Street.

Houses in the Village (2014)

Carr (left) and Coombs (right) Houses in the Village (2014) @

During the late 19th century, the Queen Anne style had evolved away from its delicate ornamentation and spindlework and looked more towards a “free classic adaptation” of the style. In this trend, classical details such as columns, Palladian windows, and dentils were commonly used on houses. The early 20th century saw the appearance of the Colonial Revival style. The Queen Anne was strongly influenced by this new trend, and is an excellent example of the merging of the two styles.

Viola V. Coombs, a life-long resident, was born in Bowdoinham in 1844, part of “an old Baptist family” that descended from a Mayflower colonists. In 1911 she contributed $2,500 toward the construction of a new high school in town, named in honor of her brother, John C. Coombs, who had died in 1905. Later Miss Coombs spent winters in Portland but used her Bowdoinham home during the summer months. She died in Portland in 1934 at 91.*

Cornish House

[87 Main Street] The 1885 Cornish House is a highly ornate and late example of domestic rural architecture in the Italianate style. Probably no more striking example of “Gingerbread” decorative detail exists on any other Italianate house in Maine. Yet with all this, the basic scheme of ornament is thoughtful and reasonable in proportion. Virtually no alteration or loss of detail has taken place.

Cornish House (2015)

Cornish House (2015)

Cornish House (1979)

Cornish House (1979)

Designed by a local architect, George Curtis of Bowdoin, the house attracted considerable comment at the time. The Bowdoin Advertiser of September 11, 1885 commented that, “It is one of the best residences in town and an ornament to the street, reflecting great credit on the skill and ability of its designer…. We congratulate Mr. Cornish in the possession of his beautiful home…”* [Frank A. Beard photo 1979]

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