A vacation in the Midcoast region of Maine can be a relaxing escape, but it can also be a journey more than 2,000 years back in time.
The neighboring towns of Newcastle and Damariscotta have a rich colonial history dating to 1630. Along the banks for the tidal Damariscotta River, however, are some unusual archeological features that illustrate the lives of prehistoric Native Americans more than 20 centuries ago. Those early people came to the riverbanks to harvest oysters and left behind giant mounds of shells called middens – essentially trash heaps.
Evidence from these shell middens show that these people harvested oysters in late winter/early spring probably coinciding with the annual mid May migration of alewives. During the rest of the year, these natives traveled inland to farm and hunt, and there is no evidence of permanent settlements at these sites. The alkaline composition of the shells preserved fragments of pottery and bones people used to shuck the oysters. The Whaleback Shell Midden is a state historic site, and explorers can hike to it. The midden was actually mined and the crumbled shells were used as chicken scratch in the late 19th century. The pile no longer resembles the creature for which it was named.
Although English settlers arrived in the region within a decade of the Mayflower’s arrival at Plymouth Rock, early villages were raided by Native Americans and were either wiped out or abandoned. The construction of Fort Frederick in 1729 successfully defended the area from two more Indian attacks, and permanent settlements began to grow in the 1730s.
In 1753, Newcastle was the first town to be incorporated within the colonial territory of Sagadahoc. It was named for the Duke of Newcastle, the King’s primary secretary and a friend of the colonies. Newcastle was a large and thriving ship-building town. Lincoln Academy, the region’s high school, was built in 1801. St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, completed in 1808, is the oldest Catholic Church in New England.
Damariscotta was incorporated in 1848. Shipbuilding created wealth during the 1800s, when clipper ships were launched at the town shipyards. During that time, many beautiful examples of Federal, Greek Revival and Italianate architecture were built, creating a charm that still attracts tourists. The town is the peninsula’s year-round commercial center, with shops, galleries, and restaurants. It’s home to several historic landmarks, arts organizations, and the Damariscotta River Association, a community land trust — all dedicated to preserving the area’s rich cultural and natural heritage.
A bridge over the Damariscotta River links Newcastle and Damariscotta, which now are often referred to as the Twin Villages. We’re proud of our region’s rich heritage and hope you will enjoy it, too, as guests of Newcastle Inn.