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History of Wells, Maine

Wells is a town in York County, Maine, with a charming coastal city with a rich and fascinating history. Wells has something to offer everyone, from its early days as a major shipping center to its current status as a popular tourist destination.

The best way to learn the history of a place is to visit and experience its roots. In the case of Wells, Maine, it is no different. The town has a lot to offer regarding its history and culture.

Are you looking for a place to stay in Wells?

Anchor Inn & Cottages offers the perfect place to stay while learning about the history of Wells. Our accommodations are comfortable and affordable, providing all the amenities you need during your stay.

Come and learn about the history of Wells while enjoying a comfortable place to stay. Our staff is knowledgeable and can answer any questions you have about our town or the surrounding area. We offer everything from single rooms to cottages to accommodate larger groups, so there’s something for everyone.

Book your stay today! Call us at  +1 (207) 579-1372. We look forward to welcoming you to Wells!

Discovery, founder, and name: Where did Wells come from?

In the 1600s and 1700s, there was intense interest in the Acadia region, consisting of the land between Maine and Canada. During this time, Maine was explored heavily by French and English settlers. One notable explorer was Samuel de Champlain who famously named Acadia National Park’s Mount Desert Island “Île de Monts Déserts” for the bare peaks of the mountain tops. As interest grew in the region, white settlers began forming small working villages.

Ogunquit was one of the first villages in the Wells area, settled in the 1641 by the Littlefield family. Edmund and Annis Littlefield traveled from England with their six children to form and work a mill at the edge of a salt marsh. Historians consider him the “Father of Wells.”

Meaning “beautiful place by the sea” in the indigenous Abenaki language, Ogunquit was a fishing village for the tribes and settlers alike. The Town of Wells was incorporated in 1653, named after a city in the west of England. It is the third-oldest town in Maine. Eventually, Ogunquit separated and formed its own township in 1980.

Wells is one of the oldest towns in Maine. The town has a rich and fascinating history, from its early days as a major shipping center to its current status as a popular tourist destination.


First inhabitants of Wells

The first inhabitants of Wells were the Abenaki (“People of the Dawn”), who arrived in the area thousands of years ago. They lived in the area for centuries before the first European settlers arrived, and were one of the four tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy: Penobscot (“Place of the White Rock”), Malachite (“People of the Beautiful River”), Passamaquoddy (“Plenty of Pollock”), and Mi’kmaq (“The People”). When settlers began to push them out of their native lands, many in the community moved up north. Today, there is a small community of Abenaki people living in Wells.

Early settlers in the area

The first European settlers to arrive in Wells were English colonists. They came to the area in the mid-1600s. These settlers were looking for a place to farm and fish and found the perfect spot in Wells.

Wells became an important shipping center after the American Revolution and War of 1812, prospering from fishing and shipping timber to Europe and functioning as a major imports hub for the U.S. and Canada. 

Wells’ significant roles in wars

Wells also played a significant role in multiple wars. During the Revolutionary War, over 600 members of the community were called to action, and 40 of them served at Valley Forge. And again when they were called to serve in the Civil War, they contributed 10% of their total population – 300 people – to be on the front lines.

The town’s commitment to service kept on through two world wars, and you can see two Congressional Medals  of Honor at The Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit museum. 

Wells town development: 200 years in Wells, Maine

Wells continued to grow throughout the years, and by the early 1800s, it was a thriving town. The river was deep enough to accommodate large ships, and there were plenty of trees in the area for lumber. Wells became known for its shipbuilders, who built everything from small fishing boats to large cargo ships. Many of the vessels built in Wells were used in the merchant trade.

Wells in 1800s

  • In 1701, the first church was organized in Wells, called the First Church of Wells. 100 years later, the Second Church of Wells was founded. They merged together as the Congregational Church of Wells, and is still active today.
  • In 1731, the first school was built in Wells.
  • In 1897, the first golf course was designed by Walter Travis, named the Cape Arundel Golf Club.
  • In 1900, The York and Ogunquit Railroad were built, which connected Wells to the outside world. It made traveling to and from Wells easier and brought more tourists to the town.
  • In 1978, the first library was built in Wells.

Wells in 1900s

  • In the early 1900s, Wells began to change from a rural town to a summer resort town. Tourists came to Wells to enjoy the clean air and beautiful scenery. Many of the old farmhouses were turned into inns and hotels.
  • In 1916, the first trolley line was built in Wells. It ran from Ogunquit to Kennebunk. It made it even easier for tourists to visit Wells.
  • In the 1920s, several large estates were built in Wells. These estates were built by wealthy families from Boston and New York. They were used as summer homes.
  • In the 1930s, the first golf course was built in Wells. It is called The Ledges Golf Club.
  • In the late 1940s, the first motel was built in Wells. It is called The Green Lantern Motel.
  • In the 1950s, the first shopping center was built in Wells. It is called The Maine Mall.
  • In the 1960s, several new schools were built in Wells. These include the Margaret Chase Smith School and the Rachel Carson School.
  • In the 1970s, the first shopping center was built in Wells. It is called The Maine Mall.

Wells continued to develop throughout the years, and today it is a beautiful town with a rich history. Many historic buildings are still standing, as well as various businesses and shops. The city also has a thriving arts community. Visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, fishing in the summer, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing in the winter.

Modern-day Wells, Maine

Wells is a small town located in southern Maine. Today is a thriving town with a population of about  11,000 people. Since its early days, the city has grown significantly, but it has retained its small-town charm. It is a popular summer destination for its beaches, golf courses, and hiking trails. The York River runs through the town, and several ponds and lakes are nearby.

The population of Wells is just over six thousand people. The town has a historic downtown area with many shops and restaurants—several museums in town, including the Maine Lighthouse Museum and the Wells Historical Society Museum.

Wells is a great place to visit if you want to experience small-town charm with a larger city’s amenities. There’s something for everyone in this beautiful town.

Famous individuals from Wells’ history

People shape the history of everything, this is also the case with Wells. Throughout its history, Wells has been home to many notable people. Here are some famous individuals from this town and their contributions:

  • Captain James Barker – Was the first settler of Wells and a surveyor who laid out the town’s first streets.
  • Edgar O. Smith is an inventor and businessman who held over 100 patents. He was born in South Berwick, Maine.
  • John Greenleaf Whittier is a famous Quaker poet who wrote about social justice and abolition. He was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts but spent much of his childhood in South Berwick, Maine.
  • Charles G. Loring is a brigadier general in the Union Army during the Civil War, born in Portland, Maine. He is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Wells.
  • Carly Simon – A singer-songwriter and actress most known for her hit song “You’re So Vain.” She was born in New York City but spent her childhood summers in Wells.

Wells is wealthy for prominent people in many fields such as literature, politics, sports, and the military. It is a town with a lot of history that has shaped many people’s lives.

Historic sites and attractions in Wells that are worth visiting

Landmarks, beaches, museums, and cathedrals are the places that make the history of a home. They are like an open book that tells us about the past of that place. Here are some of the historic sites and attractions in Wells that are worth visiting:

  1. First Congregational Church is the oldest church in town and has beautiful Gothic Revival architecture.
  2. Parish Unitarian Universalist Church is also a historic church with a beautiful stained glass window.
  3. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is the largest church in town and has beautiful Romanesque architecture.
  4. The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to see wildlife and learn about the work of environmentalist Rachel Carson.
  5. Meetinghouse Museum is a popular attraction in Wells. It is a replica of the town’s first meetinghouse and has many historical artifacts on display.
  6. Maine Lighthouse Museum is another popular attraction, with over 500 different lighthouse lenses on display.
  7. Wells Historical Society Museum is also worth visiting and has an extensive collection of artifacts from the town’s history.
  8. Tellington Museum is dedicated to preserving the town’s history and its people. It houses various artifacts, documents, and photographs that tell the story of Wells.
  9. Wells Beach is a beautiful beach with golden sand and clear water. It’s a popular summer destination with a long boardwalk, many shops and restaurants, and a long passage.
  10. East Shore Beach is less crowded and excellent for swimming and sunbathing.
  11. Moody Beach is a popular surfing spot and is also great for fishing.
  12. Drakes Island Beach is an excellent beach for exploring and has a nature trail.

There are many historic sites and attractions in Wells that are worth visiting. These places give us a glimpse into the town’s past and are also great for exploring and enjoying the outdoors.

Annual festivals

One of the highlights of a place is its events and festivals, which give the community a sense of identity and pride. Wells celebrates many annual festivals such as:

  • Maine Food Festival is a popular event that showcases local vendors’ best food and drinks. It is an event that food lovers from all over the state flock to.
  • Pumpkin Regatta is a family-friendly event that takes place every October. It includes a parade of boats made from pumpkins, and the event ends with a bonfire on the beach.
  • Maine Lobster Festival is a seafood lover’s dream, with lobster dishes from all over the state. It is an event that celebrates Maine’s lobster industry and includes a parade, cooking contests, and live music.
  • Wells Beach Sandcastle Contest is a popular event for kids and families. Every year on the first Saturday in June, this event takes place. Participants have three hours to build the best sandcastle, and prizes are awarded in different categories.
  • Last Blast New Year’s Eve Beach Party has fireworks, a bonfire, marshmallow toasting pits, delicious local concessions, and more!
  • Christmas by the SeaWells Old Home Week is a festival that celebrates winter in the seaside village. that is a celebration of the town’s history. The festival includes a parade, concerts, family-friendly activities, and fireworks.

These are only a few of the many events in Wells throughout the year. There is something for everyone to enjoy in this historic and charming town.


Q: Where is Wells, Maine?

A: Wells is located in southern Maine. It is part of the metropolitan region of Portland, South Portland, and Biddeford. Wells is a small town with a population of about 11,000 people.

Q: What is there to do in Wells?

A: There are many things to do in Wells! Popular attractions include the beaches, golf courses, hiking trails, and museums.

Q: What is York County Coast Star?

A: The York County Coast Star is the local newspaper for the town of Wells. It covers news, events, and happenings in the community.

Q: Who was Thomas Gorges in Wells’ history?

A: Thomas Gorges was an English colonist who was the first governor of the Province of Maine. He was also a landowner in Wells; his home is now a museum.

Q: What are the famous beaches in Wells?

A: Wells is home to many beautiful beaches, including Wells Beach, East Shore Beach, Moody Beach, and Drakes Island Beach.

Final Thoughts

Wells is a town that takes pride in its history and natural beauty. Wells is the perfect destination if you are looking for a place to relax and breathe fresh air. The people here are friendly and welcoming, and there is plenty to do no matter your interests. And Anchor Inn & Cottages is your perfect place to stay. We provide the ideal mix of historic charm and modern amenities to make your stay comfortable and memorable. Contact us at +1 (207) 579-1372 to book your room!