Prior to European settlement, this region of Maine was home to the Kinipekw (later known as Kennebec or Norridgewock Abnakis) who referred to the area as “Skwahegan,” recorded as meaning “watching place [for fish].” The native Kinipekw population was massacred or driven from the area during Father Rale’s War of 1722-1725. The first permanent European settlement of the area began in 1771. The town of Skowhegan was formed through the annexation of land from the towns of Milburn, Canaan, Norridgewock, and Bloomfield between 1823 and 1861. In 1871, Skowhegan was named the seat of Somerset County.
Early European settlers cultivated hay, potatoes, grain, and raised sheep for wool. In 1818, the Somerset Central Agricultural Society organized the first Skowhegan Fair with exhibits emphasizing improved livestock breeding and agricultural methods. The Skowhegan State Fair remains the oldest, continuing agricultural fair in the United States.
Main Street, Skowhegan, Maine
Davis & Iris Hoffman Collection, Fogler Library Special Collections
Located along the Kennebec River, Skowhegan became home to a number of water-powered industries including grist and saw mills, textile and paper mills, as well as a thriving timber industry. In the 1970s, a gradual industrial decline began and emphasis along the river front turned toward recreation.
Skowhegan is the birth place of Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995), the first woman elected to both houses of Congress who gained national prominence in June 1950 with her “Declaration of Conscience” speech denouncing Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist crusade.
The town is also home to Skowhegan School of Art, a summer artists'
residency program founded in 1949. Among the well-known alumni was
Bernard Langlais (1921-1977), who carved a 62-foot fall depiction of an
Abnaki Indian holding a salmon fishing spear and fish trap, standing
atop a 20-foot fall base. The wooden sculpture was erected in 1969 in
observance of Maine's Sesquicentennial with the dedication: "Dedicated
to the Maine Indians, the first people to use these lands in peaceful
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