Maine: An Encyclopedia

Old Town

Location Map for Old Town

Location Map for Old Town

Year Population
1970 9,057
1980 8,422
1990 8,317
2000 8,130
2010 7,840
Old Town Population Chart 1840-2010

Population Trend 1840-2010

Geographic Data
N. Latitude 44:57:12
W. Latitude 68:44:12
Maine House District 122
Maine Senate District 5
Congress District 2
Area sq. mi. (total) 47.2
Area sq. mi. (land) 38.3
Population/sqmi (land) 204.7
County: Penobscot

Total=land+water; Land=land only
Gilman Falls at the head of the Stillwater River (2005)

Gilman Falls at the head of the Stillwater River (2005)

The mills are built directly over and across the river. Here is a close jam, a hard rub, at all seasons; and then the once green tree, long since white, I need not say as the driven snow, but as a driven log, becomes lumber merely. [Thoreau]

 [OLD town] is a town in Penobscot County, incorporated on March 16, 1840 from a portion of Orono. After annexing land from Argyle, Argyle Plantation, and Alton, it was incorporated as a city in 1891.

The “Old Town” reference is to the ancient use of the area by the earliest natives, the “red paint people.”

Since 1669, the area has been the principal home of the Penobscot Indians. At that time it was known as Pannawambskek, “where the ledges spread out” according to Eckstorm.

The French established missions there in the 1680’s, but the English speaking settlers did not arrive from almost a hundred years later, in 1774. In 1798, Richard Winslow built a dam to support a double sawmill on Old Town Falls, marking the beginning of mills and lumbering that would grow substantially in the area throughout the 19th century.

When Thoreau visited in 1846 he toured a “batteau-manufactory,” making these small boats for use on river log-drives.  He described them as “a sort of mongrel between the canoe and the boat, a fur-trader’s boat.”

Old Town Falls, c. 1881.

Old Town Falls, c. 1881.

According to the Gazetteer of Maine,

In 1870 two blocks of mills here formerly owned by Samuel Veazie, contained 14 shingle saws, 5 gang, 3 shingle, 2 clapboard and 4 lath mills. These usually run about seven months in the year, manufacturing in that time, 25,000,000 feet of long lumber, 4,500,000 shingles, 1,000,000 clapboards, 13,500,000 laths, pickets, etc. There are also three steam sawmills.

In addition to the mainland on the west, Old Town occupies most of a large island created by the Penobscot River and the Stillwater River, and another to the north – Orson Island. The swift currents have provided many opportunities for mills and the power to run them.

Covered Bridge in Old Town,No Longer in Existence (c. 1930's)

Covered Bridge in Old Town, no longer in existence (c. 1930’s)

Pushaw Stream enters the Stillwater River at yet another Island – Orono. Gilman Falls in this area has been harnessed to produce electric power.

In the 20th century, textiles, shoes and paper making dominated the economic base, but recent declines in these industries have been accompanied with a concurrent, consistent decline in population over the past forty years. Georgia Pacific Paper Mill at Great Works in southern Old Town continues production.

Paper Mill at Great Works (2001)

Paper Mill at Great Works (2001)

Paper Mill at Great Works (2001)

Paper Mill at Great Works (2001)

The town is heavily influenced by the nearby University of Maine, and the long-lived Old Town Canoe Company maintains an outlet that attracts customers with a broad range of outdoor recreation interests.

Terminal Building at DeWitt (2005)

Terminal Building at DeWitt (2005)

Aircraft at Dewitt Field (2005)

Aircraft at Dewitt Field (2005)

DeWitt Field, Old Town’s municipal airport, was activated on November 1, 1942.  With three runways, the airport covers 360 acres. It is owned by the town and is open to the public.

Medal of Honor

Old Railroad Station (2001)

Old Railroad Station (2001)

Congressional Medal of Honor

Civil War


Form of Government: Council-Mayor-Manager.

Additional resources

Chadbourne, Ava Harriet. Maine Place Names and The Peopling of its Towns.

City of Old Town and its Environs: 1906 souvenir: early settlement, growth and historical facts, advantages for new industries, industrial and mercantile concerns, educational, religious and charitable institutions, opportunities for home seekers. Bangor, Me. R. J. Lawton. 1906.

Cunningham, George B. Ten Old Houses in Old Town, 1865 and 1940. 1980.

Devitt, Mary Josephine Orr. Selected Aspects of the Political, Economic, and Social Development of Old Town, Maine.1949. [Thesis (M.A.) in History–University of Maine, 1949.

Gilman Family. Business Records, 1852-1900. (Cataloger Note: The Gilman family owned several sawmills in Old Town. The mills were purchased in 1852 and were run under the name Spencer, Gilman & Co. until 1858, when they passed briefly to George K. Jewett, who then sold the mill property in 1861 to Samuel B. Gilman.) [University of Maine, Fogler Library, Special Collections.]

History Revenue Committee. Old Town, Maine: the first 125 years 1840-1965. Old Town, Me. Town of Old Town. c1965.

In Their Own Words [moving image recording]: personal reflections on the history of Old Town, Maine. A project by the Old Town Museum in association with the Maine Folklife Center and the University of Maine Department of Public Affairs and Marketing. Orono, Me. University of Maine Dept. of Public Affairs and Marketing. c2005.

Norton, David. Sketches of the Town of Old Town, Penobscot County, Maine from its earliest settlement, to 1879; with biographical sketches. Bangor. S. G. Robinson, printer. 1881.

Maine State Archives. George French Photo Collection. “Covered Bridge in Old Town, No Longer in Existence.”

Nos Histoires de l’Ile. Nos histoires de l’ile: History and memories of French Island, Old Town, Maine. Old Town, Me. Nos Histoires de l”Ile. c1999.

Old Town (Me.). City Council. Charter and Ordinances of the City of Old Town. Old Town, Me. Published by order of the City Council. City Steam Printing House. 1893. [University of Maine, Fogler Library, Special Collections.]

Pawling, Micah A. Wabanaki Homeland and the New State of Maine. pp. 17-29.

Sewall, George T., 1844-1909. To Katahdin: the 1876 adventures of four young men and a boat. Gardiner, Me. Tilbury House. Augusta, Me. Friends of the Maine State Museum. c2000.

Stanley, Robert Dana. The Rise of the Penobscot Lumber Industry to 1860. 1963. [Thesis (M.A.) in History–University of Maine at Orono.]

Torkildsen, Trina N. (Trina Noren). Old Town, Maine: Profile of a Community’s Development.1978. [Thesis (M.S.) in Community Development–University of Maine, 1978.

United States. Army. Corps of Engineers. Floods on Penobscot and Stillwater Rivers: Old Town & Milford, Maine. Waltham, Mass. U.S. Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Corps of Engineers, New England Division. 1976.

Varney, George J. A Gazetteer of the State of Maine. 1886. pp. 409-412. Image of Old Town Falls from p. 410.

[quote from The Maine Woods]

National Register of Historic Places – Listings

Patch, Edith Marion, House, 500 College Avenue

St. Anne’s Church and Mission Site, on Indian Island off Maine Route 43

St. James Episcopal Church, Centre Street

US Post Office–Old Town Main, Center Street

National Register Address Restricted

Gut Island Site, Hirundo Site, Maine Archeological Survey Site

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This entry was last modified: April 02, 2017 09:00 PM

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