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Early Augusta

Augusta dates from the early 17th century when the Plymouth Colony (Pilgrims) established a trading post on the Kennebec River at a site given the Indian name of Cushnoc. Later, in 1754 Forts Western (Augusta) and Halifax (Winslow) were constructed for protection of settlers.

Years prior to the Bank's incorporation in 1870, Augusta was already on the move, known as a great publishing center and manufacturing center for cotton, wool and paper. Notable events included the Kennebec Bridge, built in 1797, which defined Augusta as a city occupying both sides of the Kennebec River. Maine gained statehood in 1820 when it separated from Massachusetts. The Kennebec Journal was established in 1825 by Luther Severance and Russell Eaton. In 1830, the population of Augusta was 3,980. In 1832, Augusta became the capital city of Maine. The ability to harness the Kennebec for drinking water and power created a great boom for manufacturing in Augusta. In 1834, the Kennebec Dam Company was chartered, and in 1846 a 10,000-spindle cotton mill was established at the dam site, the fourth oldest mill in the country (later becoming Bates Manufacturing, famous for World War II field jackets and shoe linings). The hub of activity in early Augusta was Water Street. Along it were drug stores, clothing stores, banks, publishing houses, an opera house (one of Kennebec Savings Bank's early locations), hotels, the post office, doctors and dentists, saw mills, and horse stables. The surrounding countryside was still mostly farmland. The area prospered but not without its hard times.

Dominating influences of the time were railroad transportation, the Civil War, fires and floods. In the early 1800s, the Kennebec River was the preferred mode of freight transportation via steamers to Portland and Boston. The river was an important resource but it was also the source of very damaging floods along Water Street. Notable flood years were 1832, 1870 (160 feet of the Kennebec dam was swept away), 1896, 1923, and 1936.

Transportation began to evolve in the mid-1800s. The first locomotive reached Augusta in 1852 from Brunswick, via the Kennebec & Portland Railroad, headed by John S. Cushing. An "elegant" depot was built in Augusta that was later destroyed by fire in 1864 along with 12 freight cars. By 1855, a railroad line had been built from Augusta to Fairfield, and the following year track was laid to Skowhegan, then Bangor. The line was known as the Somerset & Kennebec and was headed by Joseph Morill of Augusta. Augusta became the connecting point of the two railroads, providing service between Bangor and Boston. Rail was initially viewed primarily as passenger transportation and steamboats were still considered the source for freight transport. In the late 1860s, "scoot" steam trains operated between Augusta to Gardiner to accommodate heavy passenger travel between the two cities. Railroads, however, soon became the primary mode of freight transport.

Maine soldiers served proudly in the Civil War, most notably remembered by the leadership of General Joshua L. Chamberlain (later to become Governor of Maine). He and his Maine troops were instrumental in ending the Civil War. It was General Chamberlain who led the honor guard the day of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia. Augusta played an important role during the war. In 1861, Augusta was the mobilization point for Kennebec Valley troops en route to war areas. Three thousand sick and wounded soldiers were treated between 1864 and 1865. By 1866, a home for Civil War Veterans was established at Togus.

Fires occurred on a regular basis in Augusta. Historical accounts describe the 1865 fire as the worst. The fire started at approximately 5:00 AM on Sunday, September 17, 1865. Quickly spread by the wind, it destroyed all but four buildings between Bridge and Winthrop Streets. Most of the buildings at that time were still constructed of wood, although the first brick buildings were built in the area in 1806 by Robinson & Crosby. The fire destroyed all of the banks in town. The cause of the fire was said to be arson, set by a China lobsterman, George W. Jones, who was upset about the police response to the theft of his lobsters by soldiers. He sought revenge. Jones escaped to Portland and was later caught setting a house on fire. Four and a half months after the fire, buildings along Water Street were well underway to reconstruction. One of the banks destroyed by the fire, and the first bank to rebuild following the fire, was Freeman's National Bank, which later became the first home of Kennebec Savings Bank.