Falmouth's Colonial Origins
“A World on the Edge”: From the Almouchiquois to New Casco
The history of Falmouth begins with the Native Americans who settled the region approximately 14,000 years ago following melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age. Archeological evidence suggests that agriculture first came to region between the years 1300-1400 CE. By the time French explorer Samuel de Champlain made European contact in the area in 1605, he identified the people living between the Androscoggin River and Cape Ann, Massachusetts as the “Almouchiquois.” Within the Almouchiquois, a semi-autonomous band Captain John Smith called the “Aucocisco” inhabited Casco Bay. English explorer Christopher Levett observed in 1623 that their leader (known as a Sagamore) Skitterygusset, resided at the Presumpscot Falls. The Almouchiquois suffered two tragedies prior to English settlement which has prevented scholars from knowing much about them. First, warfare with Micmacs to the north in a conflict scholars have later labeled the Tarrentine War brought defeat and death to southern Maine Indians. Second, an epidemic between 1616-19 claimed the lives of upwards of 90% of New England’s indigenous population. When the English began settling Casco Bay in the 1630s, only remnants of the Algonquian-speaking Almouchiquois remained in the area.
The Town of Falmouth
From town, to Destination, to Suburb
The boundaries of today’s Falmouth began to take shape in the late 1700s. Cape Elizabeth-South Portland separated from Falmouth in 1765, Portland left in 1785, and finally Westbrook split off in 1814. The reasons for separation were for practical reasons more than anything else. Population had grown by the 1760s to the extent that separate church parishes had formed, creating rival communities more attuned to local concerns. People also complained about the distance between outer areas and the center of the town in present day Portland.
From the 1760s to the 1940s, Falmouth would be a fairly typical rural Maine town, with the population consistently hovering around two thousand people. Most citizens engaged in farming or fishing. As can be seen even in the development of the town today, Falmouth is best understood during this period as a collection of neighborhoods largely lacking a coherent core. Human activity centered on the harnessed waterpower of the Presumpscot River, Piscataqua River, and Mussel Cove which drove sawmills, gristmills, and even a carriage factory in downtown West Falmouth. Masts had been initially harvested in Falmouth for the British Navy. Although the mast trade waned, a shipbuilding industry persisted in the town for years, launching tall ships on the Presumpscot River.
Falmouth is located on the coast north of Portland. The town of Cumberland is to the north, and the town of Windham is to the west. On the south are Westbrook and Portland. The Maine Turnpike, Interstate 295, U.S. Route 1, and U.S. Route 100-26 are the north-south transportation corridors. The area of the town is approximately 32 square miles. It has a population of just over 11,000 persons. Two rail lines run through Falmouth, but there is no passenger service.
Falmouth has no heavy industries or manufacturing plants. Health care facilities, retail stores, automobile sales and service, small business firms, and professional offices are the major employers of the community. In addition, the town government, the school system, and the senior residential facilities employ many people. Many Falmouth residents are employed throughout the greater Portland area.
Gilsland Farm is a nature preserve on the banks of the Presumpscot estuary and is the headquarters of the Audubon Society of Maine. In 1911, David Moulton bought the property and named it Gilsland Farm in honor of Sir Thomas de Moulton of the Gils, a character in Sir Walter Scott's novel The Talisman. He imported Jersey cattle. The land was deeded to the Audubon Society of Maine in the 1970s. (Courtesy FHS.)