Our History

Introduction

Although likely visited by fishing fleets from Europe at a very early date, the earliest recorded purchases and settlers came in the 1600's.  The Indian Wars around 1668, resulted in abandonment of those earliest settlements, and it was not until the 1700's that the first permanent settlers took root.  Descendants of those early settlers still inhabit the Island today.

A part of the town of Edgecomb (Freetown) when it was incorporated in 1774 and known as Jeremisquam, Westport was incorporated as a separate town in 1828.  Island history includes colonization dating to the 1600’s, and a role in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.  Leading up to the Civil War and for sometime after, Westport was largely a fishing island with fishermen and mariners outnumbering farmers. Post Civil War, the island, like many communities in the area saw a gradual decline in its maritime tradition and saw many more summer visitors.  Accommodating summer visitors became a cottage industry for some homeowners and local farmers.

Transportation to Westport has shaped both its development and economy.  Getting to the Island has evolved over the years from private boats and dories, to a bridge that was carried away by winter ice, to steamers and a two-car ferry, to a causeway and back to a bridge. Probably because of measured access to the island, hotels and motels never became a part of this coastal landscape. The Island was a much more rural, "down home" place to visit with home-cooked meals, local farm fare and blending with the local way of life. The Town Hall became legend for its weekend dances and community events that were the glue for bringing residents and summer visitors together.

More than 70 family cemeteries dot the Island contributing to the stories of those who built the Island. Numerous public and private structures also have historical significance.  Four of those structures are on the National Register of Historic Places:  The Town Hall (aka former Union Meeting House); the Westport Community Church; The Squire Tarbox Inn and the Josiah Parsons House.  The Island's history is a source of pride, and an attraction for geneaologists and historic preservationists.

Historical Timeline

Timeline of Jeremysquam and Westport Island History
From "Westport Island, Maine once Jeremysquam" by John and Louise Swanton

1649          Earliest recorded purchase from Indians. John Richards from Robinhood -- no later claim.

1664          Wiscasset, including Jeremysquam Island, purchased from Indians by George David, confirmed by Robinhood.

1668          Due to Indian Wars, all settlements were abandoned.

1734          Wiscasset Proprietors purchased Davie's claims for his heirs. After lengthy litigation with Kennebec Proprietors, they laid claim to the island and sold as a group of individual lots to the permanent settlers.

1745          Earliest permanent settlers claimed to be John Doors and Joseph Whitam.

1751          Map in Maine Historical Society shows four settlements.

1760          County of Lincoln formed.

1774          Jeremysquam joins with Freetown to be Edgecomb.

1784          Vote to have a church on the island (Congregational).

1795          Church built, but not completed: Free Will Baptist Meeeting House.

1812-1814  Fort McDonough earth works erected on Squaw Heights.

1820          State of Maine separated from Massachusetts.

1828          Town of Westport separated from Edgecomb with 66 houses and 90 polls.

1829          Post office established -- until 1907 mail carried by boat and wagon.

1838          Bridge built onto West Shore Road.

1847          North Chapel dedicated.

1864          Methodists established their own church -- now the Westport Community Church.

1874          North Chapel dedicated.

1885          Old church building taken over as Town Hall.

1899          Ferry established under the county.

1905          R.F.D. began from Wiscasset with Charles Cromwell as mail carrier.

1928          Town celebrated its 100th birthday.

1950          Bridge (causeway) built across the Back River at Cowseagan Narrows.

1955          Bridge became toll free.

1972          New high level bridge opened.

1978          Sesquicentennial of Westport.

 

Resources

To browse Westport historic photographs or documents, visit the Maine Historical Society's digital library, the Maine Memory Network (MMN) and enter "Westport, ME" in the search box.  Over 125 photographs and documents have been uploaded to date with new items added regularly.  There is also a digital exhibit on the MMN showcasing maritime murals that adorn the Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. house.

Available for sale or reference from the Town of Westport Island (for further information, contact the Town Clerk, 207-882-8477 ext. 3, email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)):

Harriman, Beatrice E. (1970). Family Records of Westport, Maine . Publisher: Author. (Available for reference only)
Harriman, Beatrice E. (Ed.) (1977). Westport, Maine 1828-1978 . (Available for reference only)
Swanton, John & Louise (Eds.) (1993). Westport Island, Maine once Jeremysquam . Publisher: Westport Community Association. (Available for sale: $15)
Tarbox, Cora J. (2011). Westport Island Maine 1605----1972 . Publisher: Author. (Available for sale: $20)
Westport Island, Maine Cemeteries (rev. 2014). Publisher: Westport Island Cemetery Committee. (Available for sale: $15)

For those researching family genealogy, the Town Office has significant information on Westport families beginning with its settlement.  However, prior to 1892, it was not mandated that birth, marriage and death records be filed with the Town Clerk, so these records are not complete.  Also, Westport was a part of Edgecomb until it incorporated as a separate town in 1828. To obtain official copies of records that predate 1828, you must contact the Edgecomb Town Office.

Also check with Maine State Archives.

To Learn More

A town-appointed volunteer History Committee and the non-profit Friends of Westport Island History safeguard the town's historical collections and conduct events to hightlight historical people and events as well as to showcase the collection.  See the History Committee page on this website for more information about the committee.  A Friends of Westport Island History website is currently under construction.  For further information on either group, email: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).