Museum in the Streets is a seasonal tour of historic places in Augusta. It features sites along Water, Front, Cony, Willow, and Canal Streets. Signs are installed at the sites in early spring and removed in late fall. The site descriptions on the signs are in both English and French.
Images of the signs and the site descriptions are shown below. A brochure, which includes a map of the sign locations, is also below.
The Museum in the Streets is a registered and protected trademark. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (207) 354-0497.
1: Cushnoc Trading Post
2: Gunshots Reverberate on the Kennebec
3: Old Fort Western
As part of the strategy to expand and strengthen Massachusetts’ territorial claims along the Kennebec River, a Boston-based land company, the Kennebec Proprietors, built Fort Western in 1754. Commanded by James Howard, the Fort served as a forward supply base for Massachusetts-built Fort Halifax, 17 miles upriver. Fort Western was never attacked, but remained garrisoned until 1767. In 1769, Howard purchased the fort buildings and surrounding land. Howard and sons William and Samuel engaged in various businesses at the fort, including the lucrative lumber trade and mercantile business for the settlement. During the American Revolution, Benedict Arnold and his 1,000 plus force stopped at Fort Western for six days in the fall of 1775 on their ill-fated march to Quebec City.
4: Sousa The Nonpareil
The afternoon concert at Augusta city hall on May 1, 1897, proved to be both popular and historic. On that day the people of Augusta heard the most famous band in the land–Sousa’s Band! John Philip Sousa was by the time of his Augusta concert America’s “March King,” having composed some of his most famous marches: The Washington Post March and Semper Fidelis. These and other marches were performed in Augusta’s new city hall, which opened in 1896. This handsome building, designed by noted architect John Spofford, provided spacious offices and an auditorium for the city. Sousa’s band enthralled the Augusta audience with spirited music, and his first encore was a new untitled march. Here, at Augusta’s city hall in 1897, America heard for the first time Stars and Stripes Forever!
5: A Tribute to a Memorable Day
On June 8, 1834, Judge Daniel Cony’s home was consumed by fire. Judge Cony had erected the frame of that house on October 17, 1797, on the 20th anniversary of the capture of General Burgoyne’s army. Cony was a Massachusetts militia officer in the American army that had compelled Burgoyne’s surrender in 1777 after several battles at Saratoga in upstate New York. This victory brought France into the Revolutionary War and ensured final victory for the new nation at Yorktown in 1781. Judge Cony and his family came to the Fort Western settlement in 1778, where he served as physician, legislator, jurist, and community benefactor. Cony’s new house, a double brick visible on the hill behind the fort, was built in 1834. Judge Cony died there in 1842.
6: Majestic House
Constructed facing the Kennebec River in 1799 by Arthur Lithgow, this majestic Federal style dwelling in 1807 became home to Reuel Williams, one of Augusta’s most prominent nineteenth century citizen. The 14-room house featured an octagonal shaped south parlor where French wallpaper depicting the voyages of Captain Cook graced the walls. The house provided a fitting place for Williams and his wife, the former Sarah Cony, to raise their nine children. President James K. Polk and future President James Buchanan were guests here while on an 1847 New England tour. Upon Sarah’s death in 1867, the house passed to the youngest daughter, Ann, and later to succeeding generations. The mansion was demolished in 1950 to make way for construction of the Memorial Bridge and traffic circle.
7: Riverside: Temple of Peace
The Gothic style cottage, now used for business, was built by the Reverend Sylvester Judd as a home and parsonage. In 1840, Judd became minister of Augusta's Unitarian Church, the church of local elite. In 1841, Judd married Jane Elizabeth Williams, daughter of Reuel Williams, a former U.S. Senator and Augusta's wealthiest citizen. Judd was a beloved pastor, but a controversial one due to his pacifism. He was a member of the Maine Peace Society, which sought resolution of conflict through a world court. Judd denounced the Mexican War from his pulpit and published a paper criticizing the Revolution. He never allowed his wife's cousin Seth Williams, an Army captain and war hero, to visit Riverside in his uniform. He once wrote his mother, "I'm a peace man, ultra as need be."
8: Strive to Excel!
In 1815, at the corner of Bangor and Cony streets, Judge Daniel Cony erected a building. At first a mystery, it was soon announced to be an academy for girls. Cony, a strong supporter of education, served as trustee of Hallowell Academy and as an overseer of Bowdoin College. The Female Academy opened in 1816, moved across the street to a new space in 1844, then closed in 1857. In l880 on the new site, the Trustees erected a modern high school and leased it to the City. The new school, known as Cony Free High School, was open and free to all Augusta scholars. By l908 the City controlled the property and in 1929-30 built the Flatiron Building. An addition was added in 1965. In 2006 the new ConyHigh School, located further up Cony Street, opened. Daniel Cony's legacy continues.
9: Comfort Magazine
In July 1895, the first color issue of Comfort rolled off the presses to be sent nationwide to over a million subscribers. W. H. Gannett established his phenomenally successful magazine (1888-1942) to promote Giant Oxien, his patented nerve tonic for women. Comfort was one of many magazines printed in Augusta from 1869 to 1942, a period when Augusta was called the “mail order magazine capital” of the country. Overall production reached nearly three million at one point. Comfort offered rural women access to goods unavailable otherwise, and circulation was high because they received premiums for getting others to subscribe. Gannett’s publishing firm was housed at 20-26 Willow Street for many years. By the 1980s, the old buildings were demolished to make way for new housing.
10: First Kennebec Bridge
For over 200 years, this site has anchored a span over the Kennebec River. Construction of the first bridge began in May 1797 by the Proprietors of the Kennebec Bridge, which owned and subsequently operated the bridge. Completed on November 21, 1797, at a cost of $27,000, the uncovered toll bridge featured two spans supported by rounded arches, a center pier, and abutments constructed of stone. Its completion gave Augusta the distinction of having the first span over the Kennebec River, as well as having the largest bridge in the District of Maine. The bridge served the community well, but exposure to the elements caused decay, and on Sunday, June 23, 1816, the eastern span collapsed into the river. The remains were removed by early 1818 to make way for a new covered bridge.
11: Seeing the Elephants
The period l830 to 1930 was the golden age of the circus for America's small communities. Gray & Macomber’s menagerie came to Augusta in 1829 bringing elephants and other fascinating animals. In 1833, the National Menagerie exhibited rhinoceros, zebra, lions, tigers, leopards, camels and other exotic species. Following the Civil War, two or three circus companies came to the capital every summer. Among them were Barnum's famous American Circus and its close rival, Forepaugh's Circus. The shows set up tents near the State House and paraded to Water Street, up Bridge Street, and down State Street to the State Fair Grounds. Augustans young and old were thrilled by circus acts and exotic animals, such as Barnum's famous elephant, Jumbo, who visited in the l880s.
12: D.W. Adams Department Store
In 1910, Delbert W. Adams opened a store on Water Street offering “strictly first-class goods at a fair margin of profit.” In 1920, Adams moved across the street to 190 Water Street, where the store operated until it closed in 1982. The Bussell & Weston Co. building and inventory that Adams purchased in 1920 gave him the location he wanted, and he gave Augusta one of the biggest markdown sales ever! Pictured here are clerks who worked at D. W. Adams in 1960: Dot Woodard, Florence Lennon, Beatrice Rich, Margaret Lee, Eleanor Goodwin, Marion Alcop, Nellie Cloutier, and Rene Pelletier. The 1909 building is significant today as an unaltered early 20th century department store. Chicago style windows mark the upper floors and large display windows line the store facade.
13: The Great Augusta Bank Robbery
Augusta's famous bank robbery occurred New Year's weekend of l850. When the Augusta Bank opened its new burglarproof vault, to everyone’s surprise, thieves had burrowed in and stolen $29,500! Two strangers were immediately suspected. One, Edward Wingate, was arrested but professed innocence. When former sheriff turned bank director George W. Stanley confronted him with evidence of guilt, Wingate confessed and told where some money was hidden—in the State House under the Speaker’s desk! Wingate was returned to jail, and the money went back to the bank. Edward eventually escaped punishment, but his brother Fredric, a partner in the crime, was later arrested while in possession of a large portion of the stolen funds. He was convicted and sent to the Maine State Prison.
14: The Great Fire
On the morning of September 17, 1865, a fire began in the new, still unoccupied Dr. H. H. Hill building on the east side of Water Street, above Oak Street. An arsonist later convicted of setting a Portland fire was suspected, although nothing was ever proved. By the time the fire was brought under control at mid-day, it had consumed 81 buildings in downtown, including both sides of Water Street. Only heroic efforts by firemen and citizen volunteers (both men and women) using the city’s new steam fire engine “Cushnoc” and the older hand-pump “Pacific” stopped the fire from sweeping north of Bridge Street. Hallowell, Gardiner, and Pittston engines aided in the effort. Out of this desolation rose the fine granite and brick buildings you see on Water Street today.
15: Market Square
Market Square was an early civic and commercial center for the community. Bordering the Square were Pollard’s Tavern and the first Meeting House, built in 1782. In 1816, hard times prompted “Ohio Fever” and the square was a rallying point for emigrants heading west. Covered wagons lingered for days as their owners readied for the journey by buying supplies and exchanging money. In 1906, the Baker family of Augusta gave the water fountain in honor of Orville Dewey Baker, noted attorney and orator. Baker served two terms as Maine’s Attorney General. The advent of the automobile on Water Street in the early 20th century necessitated that Market Square be turned from a civic space to a thoroughfare for traffic, as it remains today.
16: Steamboat Landing
Steamboats debuted on the Kennebec in 1818. By 1823, the Kennebec Steam Navigation Company operated the Waterville between Bath and Augusta. A nationwide economic decline later forced them out of business, but the organization of the Kennebec & Boston Steam Navigation Company in 1835-36 revived service. Profitable Kennebec River trade brought several of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt’s vessels to the area in 1838 to race the Huntress, the fastest Kennebec boat. (Vanderbilt lost!) Despite a slump following the Civil War, steamboats like the City of Augusta continued to play a vital role in commerce, transportation, and recreation on the Kennebec River Corridor into the 20th century. The advent of automobiles and trucks in the 1930s brought the steamboat era to an end.
17: Shipbuilding Days
In the golden years of wooden shipbuilding, Maine-built ships carried American goods worldwide–and Augusta was no exception! Master William Jones’ shipyard was located here in the 1840s & 1850s. From 1837 to 1856, 37 vessels were built in Augusta, including ships for coastal and blue water trade. Shipbuilding began here in the 1770s & 1780s when the Howards of Fort Western built vessels to transport lumber to Boston. In 1849, the J. A. Thompson was built to carry gold prospectors to California. The largest vessel to come out of Augusta was the 800-ton R. M. Mills, launched in l854. Under Captain George Perry, the Mills sailed from New York to Belgium, to England, then on to Egypt. On another voyage, the Mills and Perry delivered railroad cars, an engine, and tracks to Burma.
18: Granite Block
Amid the destruction of the 1865 Great Fire, a new and magnificent building was already rising. Granite Hall, built at the corner of Water Street and Market Square, was a three-story edifice faced with granite. The third floor had a 1500 seat hall and large stage to accommodate civic events and theatrical touring companies. Granite Hall was a popular location for meetings - Maine suffrage women organized here in 1873. Many famous actors appeared, including Laura Keene and Joseph Jefferson. The building was damaged twice by fire, but rebuilt. In l930 it was renovated into the Capitol Movie Theater. After entertaining several generations of Augusta moviegoers, it closed. In the l960s local groups tried to maintain the building, but another fire led to demolition in l983.
19: Railroad Station
All aboard! Between 1852 and 1962, four successive downtown railroad stations welcomed visitors to Augusta. Luminaries including Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt; political figures Frederick Douglass, Jefferson Davis, and Susan B. Anthony; and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. Augusta became a major terminal of the Maine Central system, which formed out of the merger of smaller rail lines in 1870. Noted American architect Robert C. Reamer designed the fourth Augusta railroad station, built in 1913. It offered arched doorways and a waiting room with stained glass windows and a terrazzo floor. Sadly, despite the efforts of preservationists, the end of passenger service in Maine led to the station’s demolition for a parking lot in 1962.
20: Cornerstone Day
On June 14, 1894, the cornerstones for the Masonic Temple and Lithgow Library were laid with imposing Masonic ceremonies. Parades, speeches, and feasting marked the day, and hundreds of people from all over the state participated. Constructed for $40,000 by the Augusta Masonic Building Company, the temple was a meeting place for the capital city’s various Masonic organizations. The day marked nearly a century of Masonry in Augusta and over seventy-five years of library activity. An anonymous poet wrote a poem entitled “The Two Cornerstones” to commemorate the day. The final stanza summed up the day’s legacy with these words: Augusta city of our love! Thy storied past is safely shrined, so that thy children faithful prove, To all these builders have designed.
21: United States Post Office
Augusta’s “Castle”! When first opened in 1890, the Portland Transcript called 295 Water Street “one of the most picturesque public buildings that the government has bestowed upon any city in the Union.” Built of Hallowell granite and complete with a corner tower, Roman arches, a winding staircase, and 32,000 square feet of space, it was built in response to the growth of Augusta’s publishing industry. It served as the city’s main post office until the 1960s. The original building, a classic example of American architectural style Richardsonian Romanesque, was altered in 1910, making the tower the center point, then again in the mid-twentieth century, adding a south wing. Now known as The Olde Federal Building, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
22: Flag Protest - War of 1812
The embargoes leading to war caused economic hardship in Augusta, and news of war generated disdain in this Federalist town. Citizens mounted a protest by hanging an effigy of President Madison from the public wharf and flying an American flag at half-mast in Market Square. Word of the actions reached the army recruiting office at the Court House, and Captain Vose sent troops in battle array to raze the flagpole while the protestors dined. The citizens re-assembled soon after, restored the flagpole, and flew it at half-mast again. The soldiers returned, but met a resolute citizenry, so gave up on razing the flagpole a second time. Violence was avoided when town authorities intervened. For two days, the flag flew at half-mast as a "proper expression of feeling" about the war.
23: Augusta's Publishing Empire
These buildings were built to house the E. C. Allen Publishing Company. Allen has been called the forerunner of the advertising agency business, the pioneer of low-priced mail order periodicals, and the creator of the premium idea in the sale of merchandise and magazine subscriptions. In 1880, Allen built a six-story office building across the street (demolished in 1987) and connected it to these buildings with a tunnel. Allen was a director of the Augusta National Bank, the Augusta Loan and Building Association, and the Cushnoc Fiber Company, as well as the largest shareholder of the Kennebec Steamboat Company. He was also president of the Augusta Board of Trade for three years. Allen died in Boston in 1891 at age 42. He is buried in Forest Grove Cemetery in Augusta.
24: They Were Superior Buildings
By 1858 Water Street had been transformed from a wilderness into a bustling business district featuring many fine commercial brick and wooden buildings. That year a pioneer photographer, Simon Wing of Waterville, took two stereo views of this transformation. These are the earliest photographs of the Capital City. The west side view of the street shows The Granite Bank, Hunt’s Block, the five-story Stanley House, and Arch Row. The east side presents Meonian Hall, North’s Block, and Branch’s brick store with its gable to the street on the corner of Bridge and Water streets. Beyond Bridge Street is a large brick edifice, Darby’s Block, and beyond it is the Union Block. All the building pictured except Union Block were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1865.
25: A New Look for Water Street
Holiday shoppers on Water Street in l932 had a brand new store to shop! That year, the S.S. Kresge five and dime store opened in a modern Art Deco building unique in downtown Augusta. The new building replaced an Italianate block building that once housed the Dirigo Business School, which operated at various sites in Augusta from 1867 to 2003. The new store featured 4,500 square feet of floor space, mahogany counters, and a modern soda fountain. Three large display windows with pink granite bases and ornate copper moldings were a striking feature of the facade. In 1978, Richard Cummings purchased the building and moved his Hallmark Store, named for his daughter Stacy, to the site. In 2007 the facade and its decorative copper were restored to their Art Deco flair.
26: An Ornament to the City
In 1856, James North built Meonian Hall, named for Maeonia in Asia Minor. The Italianate building stood on the site of the Burton House, Augusta’s first post office in 1789. During the Civil War, patriotic rallies and civic meetings were held, and soldiers and civilians alike enjoyed theatrical productions like The Brides of Garryowen and Mazeppa with R. E. J. Miles and Min-ne-ha-ha, the “highly trained horse.” Noted African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke at Meonian Hall on April 1, 1864, a year before the Civil War ended. Burned in the Great Fire of 1865, Meonian was soon rebuilt. It burned again in 1904, but like a phoenix rising from the ashes, it was rebuilt immediately, making the current structure the third Meonian Hall.
27: The Mayor and the Drum
On July 25, 1885, a cornerstone for the new Salvation Army barracks was laid on Water Street. Immediately, complaints poured in over the Salvationists' daily parades and drumming in downtown. Mayor George E. Weeks banned these activities, and when they continued, he had the marchers arrested, jailed Salvationist leader Captain Thatcher, and confiscated his drum. A petition was soon circulated demanding that the Mayor drive the Salvationists out of Augusta, but not everyone was so hostile. Captain Thatcher's bail was paid, two churches opened their doors to the Salvationists, and a fund was started to pay for the completion of the barracks. Maine's Supreme Court stepped in and ordered that Thatcher's drum be returned. The Salvationists had won and were in Augusta to stay.
28: Bond Street - Mill Workers' Housing
Bond Street embodies the cotton manufacturing history of Augusta. In the 19th century, the successive textile companies on the Kennebec River built housing for their employees–laborers and bosses alike–and Bond Street is an excellent example of early mill workers’ housing in Maine. The earliest surviving building on the street, known as “The People’s Hall,” was built prior to 1837. At the corner of Bond Street and Mt. Vernon Avenue, the small house at 25 Bond was built between 1875 and 1878. Other houses followed in the 1880s to house French Canadians who came to work in the textile mills. Pictured here are youth from the Club Croix d’Or parading down Bond Street in the early 1950s.
29: Martha Ballard's Neighborhood - Bond Brook
In 1990, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Midwife’s Tale re-introduced Martha Moore Ballard to Augusta where she lived for much of her life. An award-winning film by the same name followed in 1997; a ballet came in 1998; and a website was developed in 2000. The website, based directly on the diary, is dedicated to exploring the process of historical research. Ballard, a midwife and healer, lived in Augusta beginning in 1778. She delivered 816 babies in the Augusta area, made uncounted calls on the sick, and recorded these activities in a diary she kept from 1785 to 1812. For many years, the Ballard family lived at John Jones’ mill at the lower falls on Bond Brook, the later site for the J. P. Wyman sawmill. Martha Ballard died in Augusta in May of 1812 at age 77.
1C: Augusta's Industrial History
This and the next eight Museum in the Streets® signs along Canal Street recall the highlights of Augusta’s 19th- and 20th-century industrial history, much of which played out on the ground that is now Mill Park. That history centers on the effort to construct and then maintain the Kennebec Dam, the engineering marvel that would harness the Kennebec River to power City prosperity. The story is one of perseverance in the face of flood and fire, societal change brought about by the arrival of Irish and French workers to build the dam and staff the mills, and finally the deregulation of electric generation and a re-awakened environmental awareness and concern. Most of all, the story is about the Kennebec River, for so long and forever the City’s symbol and soul.
2C: The Vision
Augusta’s industrial history began in the 1760s with the construction of water-powered sawmills and gristmills on the two major streams in town, Riggs Brook, two miles up river from this location, and Bond Brook. The real potential for waterpower, however, lay with the Kennebec itself. As early as 1785, merchant William Howard predicted that the river would one-day be dammed at what was the location of Cushnoc Island near the north end of Canal Street. Proponents and opponents debated Howard’s vision until 1834, when the state legislature chartered the Kennebec Dam Company. An engineer’s recommendation against construction notwithstanding,
work commenced in June of 1836. The completion in October of a lock for the passage of boats and rafts of lumber was cause for a public celebration.
3C: The Dam Constructed
Hundreds of workers were required to construct the dam. Many of them were French and Irish immigrants who came down the Canada Road from Quebec. They lived in shanty villages located above MillPark and on the East Side of the river. The work was hard and dangerous. Several workers were killed. The dam was constructed of log crib-work filled with stone ballast. Altogether 25 tons of iron, 75,000 tons of stone and 2.5 million feet of timber were used to build the dam along with 800,000 cubic feet of granite for the locks, piers and canals. When completed in October of l837, the dam extended for some 475 feet. The pond it created covered 1,200 acres and extended 16 miles up river.
4C: The Freshet of 1839
A leading promoter of the dam was Horatio Bridge, a Bowdoin College graduate and classmate of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne stayed with Bridge in 1837 and together they visited the shanties of the Irish and French workers. Hawthorne later wrote: “…There is quite a village of these dwellings…. Their roofs are covered with sods and appear subterranean. When the turf that is piled against the walls is covered with grass, it makes a picturesque object.”
Not one who believed that in flood the Kennebec would be too much for the dam, Bridge found his optimism tested in 1839 when a freshet of disastrous proportions breached the dam, destroyed the mills, and so undermined the foundation of his house that the structure fell into the river and was carried away.
5C: Through Fire and Water
Things looked bad for the Kennebec Dam Company until Alfred Redington offered to become a partner, finance the repair of the dam, and build a new sawmill. His offer revived interest and investment in the project. In l846 a cotton factory boasting 10,000 spindles, six more saw mills and a flour mill were constructed. Boarding houses were built for the operatives of the cotton mill who in l860 numbered 229 women and 61 men. A fire in l853 wiped out the sawmill, flour mill and machine shop but rebuilding began immediately. Despite another dam breach in l855 recovery was such that by l858, 600 persons were employed in the various mills, shops, and factories on the mill site.
6C: The Spraque Purchase
By 1865, despite flood and fire, the dam had stood for nearly 30 years, although it still had not reached its potential as a source of power and economic growth. Into the scene rode yet another savior, John L. Stevens, who first obtained permission to sell the property, then sought a buyer. Along the way he met Rhode Island senator and manufacturer, William Sprague. Following negotiations, the firm of A. & W. Sprague offered to purchase the dam and a great deal of neighboring riverfront property - to the delight of the city, but at far less than its appraised value. After much hand wringing, the city agreed to put up the $250,000 difference. Another chapter in the continuing saga was about to be written.
7C: Edwards Manufacturing
During the 1870s, A. & W. Sprague made numerous improvements. All thought the future looked bright. Then, suddenly, due to financial set-backs not related to problems on the Kennebec, the company went bankrupt. In 1882, the Spragues were replaced by Edwards Manufacturing Company. About this time, a second wave of French-speaking people from Quebec Province and elsewhere in Canada began to arrive, seeking work in the mills and eventually creating a community on the hill north of the mill. Their church, St. Augustine’s, built in 1917, still dominates the Mill Park neighborhood.
These and other worker-citizens kept the wheels literally turning for the next 100 years, until finally, not flood nor fire but competition from cheaper labor in the South forced operations to cease in 1984.
8C: The Fire
With the closure of the mill, attention turned to the dam itself. A 1985 agreement resulted in a 15-year contract to generate and sell electricity to Central Maine Power Company at approximately three times the market price. Meanwhile, anglers and a coalition of outdoors groups revived concerns about the dam’s negative impact on the Kennebec River fishery - concerns as old as the dam itself.
The destruction of the 100-plus year old mill complex in a spectacular October 1993 fire only fanned the flames of disagreement between the energy and angling parties. Those interested in electrical generation held their ground but the outdoor coalition now called not just for a fish passage but for the removal of the dam itself. Ten years of legal and licensing activity would follow.
9C: The Dam Breached
The story of what happened between the late 1980s and 1990s is long and complicated. In a nutshell, a combination of energy deregulation, lower electricity prices and changes in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission policy regarding dam re-licensing resulted in environmental concerns outweighing hydro-electric production as a key factor in determining the dam’s future. Thus, a 1998 settlement, negotiated by then Augusta mayor, John Bridge, resulted in the transfer of dam ownership to the State of Maine, the breaching of the dam on July 1, 1999, and the restoration of 17 miles of fishery between Augusta and Waterville. The creation of the Capital Riverfront Improvement District and Mill Park followed. The canoe and kayak ramp at the end of Canal Street is just one example of the District’s work.