The History of Belfast, Maine
In the spring of 1770 Belfast was settled by Scots–Irish families from Londonderry, New Hampshire. Legend has it that the name Belfast, after the Northern Ireland city, was chosen by a coin-toss. Fear of British attack led these original proprietors to abandon the settlement during the American Revolution, but they returned in the 1780s to build a vibrant, prosperous outpost that would become the market center for the outlying area.
A Safe Harbor
Abundant timber, a gently sloping waterfront and proximity to varied agriculture gave rise to shipbuilding and maritime commerce, with fortunes made in both. Hundreds of wooden sailing ships were built by local shipyards and, during the 19th century, as much as 30% of the male population was employed in the maritime trades.
Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad. It was chartered in 1867 and completed in 1870, 33 miles of railroad track connecting Belfast and six other towns in Waldo County.
For decades the railroad carried local agricultural products, canned sardines, shoes, fertilizer, and other locally processed or manufactured products bound for markets beyond Waldo County.
The railroad is operated by the Brooks Preservation Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Waldo County's railroad heritage. Seasonal excursion trains still run from City Point.
Prosperity & Hardship
Prosperous shipbuilders and merchants constructed the architecturally significant houses that dominate our residential neighborhoods today. Two disastrous fires consumed much of the downtown area in 1865 and 1873, but merchants rebuilt with brick, creating a pleasing and long–lasting commercial district.
The Belfast Historic Districts, residential and commercial, are included on the National Register of Historic Places.
Belfast is considered to be the best extant brick commercial district in Maine, meaning- the buildings haven’t changed much and most are still here! Learn more by following a self-guided tour
Since 1926, Perry’s Nut House has been one of the most popular tourist destinations on Route One. Over the years, in addition to selling nuts, the store has sold Indian made products, fudge, and jams and jellies.
Yes, winters in Maine can be snowy and long. The huge blizzard of late February, 1952 (pictured here) caused 6-8’ drifts which had to be tunneled through to reach stores.
Mid 20th Century
The city’s prosperity, built on shipbuilding and commerce in such unglamorous cargoes as hay, ice, apples and fertilizer, began to fade as the 20th century unfolded. A four–story shoe factory dominated the industrial area, and Belfast became a blue–collar town.
By the 1950s poultry, sardine and potato companies had set up processing plants along the waterfront. Belfast called itself the “Broiler Capital of the World” and each July thousands came to eat barbecued chicken on Broiler Day.
A Midcoast Town Preserved
In 1962 Route 1, which had come straight through downtown via High Street, was rerouted around the city and across a new bridge. The rerouting was seen by some as the death knell for a once–vibrant shire town, but in hindsight the bypass preserved the city’s heart and soul and in the 1980s a rebirth began. Public and private investment restored some of the past luster. The arts flourished, the railroad was revived for tourist excursions, and the stately houses and commercial buildings were restored.
Today, Belfast is that rare combination of quite small town with an active social and cultural life that is attractive to residents and visitors alike.
Share Your Belfast History
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