History of Charleston
This is the official website for the town of Charleston, Maine
Charleston is a town in Penobscot County with an area covering 40.2
square miles and is about 25 miles northwest of Bangor. Three major
access routes are used with Rt. 11A passing through the main village and
Rtes. 15 and 11 connecting the town to other communities.
Charleston was first settled in 1795 by Charles Vaughn. The town was
incorporated in 1811 as New Charlestown when Maine was part of
Massachusetts. The name of New Charlestown was chosen to eliminate
confusion with Charlestown, Massachusetts. In 1820 Maine achieved
statehood and the need to distinguish the 2 towns was no longer an issue
and the name, shortened to Charleston, was adopted in 1827.
Primarily an agricultural community with farms noted for raising horses
and cattle, Charleston also had sawmills operating on water power on the
local streams. Charleston was a gateway to the north from Bangor which
in the 1800's was named the "Lumber Capital of the World". Stagecoach
lines ran on the Atkinson Road and the Dover Road and Charleston had
many hotels to accommodate the weary travelers. From 1902 to 1931
Charleston was connected to Bangor by a trolley operated by Bangor
Railroad and Electric Co. The Higgins Classical Institute was founded by
J. H. Higgins and the buildings from the early 1900's are still present
The sailing vessel, Betsy Bunker, was built and transported from
Charleston. In 1837 a resident of Charleston, Thomas Bunker, used the
tall timber on his property to build a 30 ton sailing vessel named "Betsy
Bunker" after his wife. The bigger task was to transport it to Bangor for
launching into the Penobscot River. This feat would be accomplished with
the help of 50 pairs of oxen and a truck built with wheels cross-cut from
rock maple logs bound with iron. The 30 ton, 60 foot long vessel was
secured to the truck on July 1 and started the 25 mile journey to Bangor
arriving on July 4th for launching. The journey was not easy as the
vessel's weight was more than most of the bridges could withstand.
There were some that met serious damage, but men worked through the
nights repairing and reinforcing bridges.
Located in Charleston are two hills, the homes of noteworthy structures.
In 1892 Davis Hill, located northeasterly of the center of town, was the
home of the Observatory built by the Charleston Educational Observatory
and Improvement Society and Rev. J. H. Higgins. This 80 foot high
wooden structure had 111 winding steps to the cupola where views of
magnificent landscapes could be seen in all directions. A powerful
telescope was installed which enabled people to see as far as Bangor
some 25 miles away and on a clear day it was possible to read the clock
on the City Hall.
In 1950 construction began to build an Air Force Station on Bull Hill
accessed from route 15. This was operational until 1978. Subsequently in
1980 the State of Maine has built a correctional facility on the site.
Thanks to the Charleston Historical Society for providing the information and
facts for this article.