The Royal River rushing by the mill en route to the First Falls.
Traces of human occupation in the Yarmouth area date to about 2,000 BC. During the years prior to the arrival of the Europeans, many Native American cultures are believed to have existed in the area.
When settlers arrived at Yarmouth's site around 1636, they found a fort already built. The fort had for some time been occupied by George Felt, who had in turn purchased it from John Phillips, a Welshman. In 1646, William Royall purchased a farm on the river which has ever-since borne his last name . This stream and its vicinity were called by the Indians "Westcustogo" — a name that, until the early 1990s, was preserved by an inn of the same name on Princes Point Road at its intersection with Lafayette Street. (The building remains but it is now occupied by another business.) John Cousins had arrived a year or more earlier than Royall, occupying the neck of land between the branches of the stream which has since been called Cousins River, and owning the island now bearing his name.
By 1676, approximately sixty-five people lived in Westcustogo. Soon after, however, conflicts forged by King Philip's War caused them to abandon their homes and move south.
Some settlers returned to their dwellings in 1679, and within twelve months the region became incorporated as North Yarmouth, the eighth town of the province of Maine.
In 1688, while the inhabitants on the eastern side of the river were building a garrison, they were attacked by Indians, and attempted a defense. They continued the contest until nightfall, when the Indians retired. It was not long before they appeared again, in such force that the thirty-six families of the settlement were forced to flee, abandoning their homes for a second time.
The unrest kept the area deserted for many years, but by 1715 settlers revisited their homes, by which point they found their fields and the sites of their habitations covered by a young growth of trees. In 1722, a "Committee for the Resettlement of North Yarmouth" was formed in Boston, Massachusetts. North Yarmouth held its first town meeting on May 14, 1733. The structural frame of the first meeting house was raised in 1729 near Westcustogo Hill on what is now Gilman Road, and nine years later the first school was built.
Once resettlement began, in 1727, the town's population began to grow rapidly. By 1764, 1,098 individuals lived in 154 houses. By 1810, the population was 3,295. During a time of peace, settlement began to relocate along the coast and inland.
The town's Main Street gradually became divided into the Upper Village (also known as the Corner) and Lower Falls, the split roughly located around the present-day, 1950s-built U.S. Route 1 overpass (Brickyard Hollow, as it was known).
Among the new proprietors at the time were descendants of the Plymouth Pilgrims. Up until 1756, the Indians were again very troublesome. In 1725, William and Matthew Scales and Joseph Felt were killed, and the wife and children of the latter was carried into captivity. A brother-in-law of Felt, Joseph Weare, became a noted scout, pursuing the Native Americans at every opportunity. In August 1746, a party of thirty-two Indians secreted themselves near the Lower Falls for the apparent purpose of surprising Weare's garrison, in the process killing Philip Greely, who came upon them. This was the last act of resistance by the indigenous people to occur within the limits of the town.
The Yarmouth Village Improvement Society has added wooden plaques to over 100 notable buildings in town. These include:
- Cushing (1745–1827) and Hannah (1752–1843) Prince House, 189 Greely Road — built 1785. This Federal-style farmhouse remained the home of several generations of the Levi and Olive Prince Blanchard family from 1832 to 1912.
- Mitchell House, 333 Main Street — circa 1800. Another Federal-style building, with an unusual steeply-pitched hip roof, it was the home of two doctors — Ammi R. Mitchell (d. "suddenly" in 1824, aged 62) and Eleazer (b. 1793, d. 1867). Eleazer was married to Sophronia Burbank (b. 1805, d. 1896)
- Captain S.C. Blanchard House, 317 Main Street — 1855. One of the most elaborate and finely-detailed Italianate residences on the Maine coast, it was built by Sylvanus C. Blanchard (b. circa 1782, d. 1858), a highly successful shipbuilder. The design is by Charles A. Alexander, who also executed the Chestnut Street Methodist Church in Portland. It replaced a building that is pictured in the oldest image (a drawing) of a Yarmouth street scene, drawn between 1837 and 1855.
- Captain Rueben Merrill House, 233 West Main Street — 1858. Thomas J. Sparrow, the first native Portland architect, designed this three-story Italian-style house. Merrill was a well-known sea captain, who went down with his ship off San Francisco in 1875. Few changes have been made in the building, because it did not leave the possession of the Merrill family between then and 2011.
Another notable building is Camp Hammond
(1889–90), at 275 Main Street, whose construction method is significant in that the building consists of a single exterior wall of heavy planks over timbers, with no hidden spaces of hollow walls. This so-called mill-built construction was used largely for fire prevention.
Yarmouth constituted the eastern part of North Yarmouth until 1849, when it was set off and incorporated as an independent town. The split occurred due to bickering between the inland, farming-based contingent and the coastal maritime-oriented community. Unable to resolve this difference, the two halves of the town separated into present-day Yarmouth and North Yarmouth.
By 1850, Yarmouth's population was 2,144, and very little changed over the hundred years that followed.
18th- and 19th-century business relied heavily upon a variety of natural resources. Once lumber was cut and sent to market, the land was farmed. Tanneries were built near brooks; potteries and brickyards put to use the natural clay in the area; and mills flourished along the Royal River, providing services such as iron-forging and fulling cloth.
Maritime activities were important from the beginning of the third settlement. Lumber from inland areas was shipped out from the harbor. Vessels were being built by 1740, and by 1818 shipbuilding in the area was in full swing, though Yarmouth's industry peaked in the 1870s, and declined rapidly shortly thereafter. The final large sailing vessel was built in 1890. Almost three hundred vessels were launched by Yarmouth's shipyards in the century between 1790 and 1890.
In 1949, Yarmouth celebrated its centenary with a parade.
Rapid growth was experienced again around 1948 when Route 1 was constructed. Two years later, there were 2,699 inhabitants of the town. Interstate 295 was built through the harbor in 1961, and the town grew about 40%, from 4,854 residents in 1970 to 8,300 thirty-five years later.
As of the early 20th century, Yarmouth is mostly residential in character, with commercial development scattered throughout the town, particularly along Route 1 and Main Street (State Route 115).
People and places
Goffs hardware store, at the eastern end of Main Street (Route 115), closed in 2015 after 46 years in business.
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19th- and 20th-century business that existed on Main Street in Yarmouth's Lower Falls section included :
- W.N. Richards & Co.; later Vining's delicatessen and, beside it to the west, George Soule's ice cream shop and pool hall (across from present-day Svetlana)
- Coombs (later Barbour's hardware store; and Goffs hardware, 1969–2015)
- Englishman James Parsons' (b. 1811, d. 1876) grocery store
- Post office. Postmaster Lucy Groves was appointed in 1868, becoming the first woman named or elected to an official position in the town of Yarmouth
- Cornelius Shaw's Cash Market (1899). Shaw lived from 1864 to 1939.
- Thomas Chase Store (1819); later Leon Doughty's (b. 1862, d. 1925) stove and hardware store, L.A. Doughty & Co.; now Snip 'N Clip Hair Designs, still with the windows that were installed in 1932). Doughty later moved across the street, into the building later occupied by Barbour's and Goffs, when his business expanded
- William Freeman's hairdressing salon (located above Doughty's before its move)
- Cyrus Curtis' Saturday Evening Post publishers
- The millinery shop of Susan Kinghorn (b. 1883, d. 1956) (located at the eastern corner of Main and Portland Streets in the building now occupied by Rosemont Market)
- Elder Rufus York's general store (located in the brick building now occupied by Runge's Oriental Rug store at the western corner of Main and Portland Streets; later William H. Rowe's, then Melville Merrill's (b. 1834, d. 1911), Frank W. Bucknam's Pharmacy, and Vaughan's Rexall Pharmacy from 1945 to 1963. Vaughan's original sign was restored to the Portland Street corner of the building in 2014 but was taken down the following year)
In 1874, the Lower Falls near the harbor was crowded with the homes of sea captains, merchants and shipbuilders. In 1903, the post office established a route around town for the rural free delivery of mail. Hired was Joshua Drinkwater (b. 1860, d. 1951) as the town's first letter carrier. Early in the morning he would leave Princes Point, pick up the mail at Lower Falls, and then deliver letters to the northern edge of town, including Sligo and Mountfort Roads. Around noon, he would pick up the afternoon sack for the town's western and coastal farms. Each day, as he passed his farm on Princes Point Road, he would change horses and eat lunch with his wife, Harriet (b. 1856, d. 1929). Speaking of horses, an ornate, circular horse trough resembling a water fountain existed at the intersection of Main and Portland Streets in the early 1900s; it now stands behind the Merrill Memorial Library
The parsonage for the Universalist church was the building now occupied by Plumb-It, to the east of Snip 'N Clip. On the other side of the Universalist church, just to the east of where the Old Sloop once stood, is a house that was formerly the home of Edward J. Stubbs (b. 1833, d. 1887), one of Yarmouth's most prolific and successful shipbuilders.
A lithograph from 1851, depicting the area of Main Street serviced by York Street, shows the home of George Woods and, next door, the Yarmouth Institute, which he established as direct competition with North Yarmouth Academy. Although it attracted students from as far afield as Cuba, his institute lacked an endowment and closed after five years. In 1859, while serving in his new role as chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, a lawsuit involving his dispute with NYA precipitated the split in Yarmouth's First Parish Church.
In an 1875 photograph of the northern end of Portland Street, with the Universalist church in the background, Englishman Captain Henry Newton's (b. 1816, d. 1873) house is visible on the right. Gad Hitchcock (b. 1820, d. 1896) previously lived there. Leon Gorman
, the grandson of Leon Leonwood Bean, also lived here until his death in 2015. He was, at the time of his passing, the wealthiest person living in the state of Maine, having had a reported net worth of $860 million.
Halfway along this northern section of Portland Street is a three-story Federal-style building that was once a tavern, built by Colonel Seth Mitchell c. 1810. Early in the 20th century, Ralph Redfern (b 1877, d. 1942) used the property for a dairy that became known as Old Tavern Farm.
Brickyard Hollow, before it was filled in. Photo taken from where the Route 1 overpass is today, looking northwest
The section of town between the Upper Village and Lower Falls was known as Brickyard Hollow, named for John Collins' brickyard, which was located across the street from the Masonic Hall . Collins donated land for the Casco Lodge.
A muddy valley up until the beginning of the 20th century, the Hollow was eventually reclaimed as a civic center by laying down a two-foot layer of black ash, from Forest Paper Company, to level it out. After constructing two new schools, the Merrill Memorial Library and a war memorial, town officials also decided to rename the area Centervale in order to improve its image. The name did not last, however.
In 1929, a new centralized post office was built to the east of the present-day Anderson-Mayberry American Legion Hall. On the left side of this building was the Fidelity Trust Company. The bank failed early in the Great Depression of the 1930s. To the east of the post office stood the Knights of Pythias Hall. Harriman's IGA Foodliner moved here in the late 20th century from its Main and West Elm Streets location. A KeyBank (formerly Casco Bank) and the parking lot for NYA's Priscilla Savage Middle School now stand in its place.
In 1890, Yarmouth built a large new school building on the site of the present town hall and police station. Grades 5 to 8 were on the first floor; the high school occupied the upper level. A three-story high school was constructed next to this in 1900. When all of the high-school students were sent to North Yarmouth Academy in 1930, the building became another elementary school. In 1974, both buildings were demolished to make way for the current construction.
In 1904, the town's Civil War veterans sought permission to place a soldiers monument in front of the new schools. With funds lacking, it was put off until after World War I, when the project was completed in tandem with a board of trade plan to erect a bandstand. The resulting octagon structure, in the Doric order, was adorned by a plaque to the veterans. The words "Memorial To Men of Yarmouth in War Service" appeared just below the roof line. The structure was inadequately maintained, however, and had to be removed when rotting boards resulted in injuries.
Although most of the land built on in the Hollow was for public buildings, one new home was constructed. In 1889, Dr. Herbert Merrill had a dental practice in the rear of his house, which has since been moved closer to the Rowe School. It is the building now occupied by InSight Eyecare on the InterMed campus.
In 1903, Joseph Merrill donated the funds to build a new library. The architect was Alexander Longfellow, a nephew of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Despite the occasional flood, town offices were eventually established in the library's basement. The flooding was partly caused by the blockage of Cleaves Brook (where today's police station is) — which formerly drained the whole center of town — when Brickyard Hollow was filled in.
Directly across the street from the library stood the Dumphy house and barn. These were auctioned off in 1921, creating more public space in Centervale.
During the middle of the 20th century, in the plaza across Cleaves Street that formerly housed a 7-Eleven and, until 2017, Anthony's Dry Cleaners & Laundromat was the Dairy Joy ice-creamery, in front, and the Korner Kitchen (formerly the Snack House) behind it.
On January 2, 2009, twenty-six businesses located at 500 Route 1 were destroyed in an arson attack. The entire block, located near to the point at which Route 1 passes over Main Street, was pulled down shortly thereafter. Damage was estimated to be between $2 million and $4 million. Everett Stickney, of Exeter, New Hampshire, was convicted of starting the fire, along with another one in York, Maine, later that evening. On November 12, 2009, Stickney was sentenced to an eleven-and-a-half-year prison term and ordered to pay $3.7 million in compensation. The building was replaced in 2008 and several businesses have moved in.
Andy's Handy Store, at the corner of Main and East Elm Streets in the Upper Village, looking east from Latchstring Park in 2008. Known locally as Handy Andy's, it was the location of the first phone call between Yarmouth and Portland.
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In contrast to today, people who lived near the Elm and Main Streets intersection in the 19th century would not think of shopping at the Lower Falls end of the latter thoroughfare. For over 150 years, much of the retail activity in the Upper Village occurred in the area of these old brick stores. Some of the oldest buildings on Main Street are those on its southern side, clustered between the Catholic and Baptist churches. The Daniel Wallis house at 330 Main Street, for example, was built around 1810. Around the middle of the 19th century, Captain Cushing Prince, Jr. moved here from his historic house on Greely Road.
Businesses and residences in the Upper Village and the area around the intersection of Main and Elm Street, which officially became known as Yarmouthville in 1882, included (roughly from west to east):
- In the mid-to-late 1870s, diagonally across from where Handy Andy's now is, was Jeremiah Mitchell's tavern. It is now Latchstring Park
- In 1788, Dr. Williams Parsons (d. 1811) built a brown colonial home where the single-story business now stands at the corner of Main and West Elm Streets. The house was torn down in 1950
- Sam York's grocery store (located to the east of the Parsons residence in the late 1800s)
- Adelaide Abbott's millinery shop (located to the east of York's)
- Post office (located to the east of Abbott's)
- George Jefford's harness shop (located to the east of the post office)
- Isaac Johnson's barbershop (located above Jefford's)
- At the corner of Main and East Elm Streets stood a nail mill in 1807. In 1891, what was then Foster's Pottery was torn down and a new building was constructed. Since then, more than thirty different business or owners have set up here, including, between 1906 and 1935, Arthur and Harry Storer's hardware store, Storer Bros.
- John A. Griffin's hardware store
- Joel Brooks' pottery (situated on East Elm Street, which was then named Gooches' Lane, it was in business between 1851 and 1888)
- Andy's Handy Store – named for original proprietor, Leland "Andy" Anderson (b. 1904, d. 1987). In 1935, Anderson combined the two wooden buildings of Griffin's and an adjacent grocery store (which sold produce "at Portland prices"). Now named "Handy's", it became occupied by OTTO Pizza in 2014.
- William Marston's dry goods store (founded in 1859; closed circa 1968)
- Located next door to Marston's was L.R. Cook's apothecary
- Harold "Snap" (and his father, "Pop") Moxcey's barbershop was located at the corner of Main and Center Streets, across from the Baptist church
- Larry's Barber Shop appeared on Center Street later
- Another barber shop, beside the Baptist church, was owned by Charlie Reinsborough (b. 1909, d. 1993)
- Doctor Nat Barker and his wife, Catherine, lived on the corner of South Street in the 1930s and 1940s
- Coombs Bros. (Albert, b. 1866, d. 1953, and George, b. 1856, d. 1923) candy and grocery store (located at the eastern corner of Main and South Streets in a different construction than what is standing today). Bert set up the town's telephone service in the 1880s. In 1909, he established a Ford dealership on South Street, which was laid out in 1848 as part of Yarmouth's first modern housing development. Farm land was given over to house lots and sold to merchants and sea captains, such as Ansel Loring and Perez Blanchard (b. 1815, d. 1883). Frederick Gore (d. 1930), manager of the Forest Paper Company, lived at the corner of South and Cumberland Streets (in what is now 67 South Street) with his wife, Angie (d. 1939). Elmer Ring's "washerette" later stood in the Coombs location, and it was he who changed the roofline and façade of the building (he also ran a hardware store, a heating and plumbing service, and a coal yard)
- Captain Eben York's (b. 1874, d. 1944) mansion at 326 Main Street (now occupied by the Parish Office of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church next door). Father Joseph Quinn held services in the barn until it burned in 1913
- St. Lawrence House – a hotel built, where the Mobil gas station near Camp Hammond stands today, to take advantage of the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroads coming through town. Circa 1872, it was renamed the Baker House, after its owner Jeremiah Baker. It was the first of several name changes. The expected tourists never materialized, and the hotel burned down in 1928
- J.O. Durgan's daguerreotype salon (located just to the east of the hotel; later Gad Hitchcock's coffin and casket showroom)
- A.C. Brawn's jewelry shop (at what was then 73 Main Street; formerly Yarmouth Market, now Hancock Lumber)
An elm tree in front of Marston's store had a bulletin board nailed to it, upon which local residents posted, as early as 1817, public notices, circus posters and satirical comments about town affairs. Like almost all of Yarmouth's elms, it became afflicted by Dutch elm disease and was cut down in 1980.
Prior to the Presumpscot River being bridged at Martin's Point in Falmouth Foreside, West Elm Street was a direct route to Portland and, hence, a key stagecoach stop. A large barn was built beside Mitchell's tavern to house horses. The house of Richmond Cutter (d. 1857) still stands at the corner of Church and West Elm Streets.
A few doors down from Cutter's house, a Methodist church was built on West Elm Street in 1898 to mark a revival of the religion. The church was disbanded thirty years later. The building, now painted yellow, has now been converted into a residence.
A Catholic church was built on Cumberland Street in 1879. The location was chosen out of fear that it would be vandalized if it was built on Main Street, for Yarmouth was a prevalently Protestant town at the time. The structure still stands as a private home, but turned sideways to the street.
A large wooden building located near the old brick schools at the intersection of West Main Street and Sligo Road served as the town hall between 1833 and 1910. It was here that the 1849 debates took place that led to Yarmouth's secession from North Yarmouth.
The school buildings mentioned above were in use throughout the 1980s. In 1847, teacher William Osgood had 74 students; as such, a second school was built beside the original soon after.
Further out on West Main Street is an imposing Italianate mansion that was built for Captain Reuben Merrill in 1858. Merrill, who was married to Hannah Elizabeth Blanchard and had four children, was killed while aboard his clipper Champlain
when it ran aground near the Farallon Islands, San Francisco, in 1875. After making sure his crew was safely aboard lifeboats, Merrill was hit by a piece of falling rigging, fell overboard and drowned. Neither Merrill's body nor the ship's haul of railroad iron was ever recovered. His eldest son and first mate, Osborne, witnessed his father's death and never went to sea again, bringing to an end the family's seafaring ways. In April 2011, his three-story, 15-room mansion at 233 West Main became the headquarters of Maine Preservation.
National Register of Historic Places
Twelve properties in Yarmouth are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The oldest dates from 1785; the "newest" (the Grand Trunk Railway Station) was built in 1906. They are ranked in chronological order below:
- Cushing and Hannah Prince House, 189 Greely Road
- North Yarmouth and Freeport Baptist Meeting House, 3 Hillside Street
- Ammi R. Mitchell House, 333 Main Street
- Russell Hall, North Yarmouth Academy, 129 Main Street
- Academy Hall, North Yarmouth Academy, 129 Main Street
- Captain S.C. Blanchard House, 317 Main Street
- Captain Reuben Merrill House, 233 West Main Street
- First Universalist Church, 97 Main Street
- First Parish Congregational Church, 116 Main Street
- Camp Hammond, 275 Main Street
- Cousins Island Chapel, Cousins Street, Cousins Island
- Grand Trunk Railway Station, 288 Main Street