Westport is located in the middle of the Sheepscot River just below Wiscasset and extends down river for ten miles toward the mouth of the river where it looks out to the Atlantic Ocean. It faces Edgecomb and Barters Island on the east shore, and Wiscasset, Woolwich, and Georgetown on the West shore. Route 144 starts at the south end and runs up the center of the island to the bridge which connects Westport to the mainland. The Town is almost completely residential, with most of the houses on the shore.
Westport, once called “Jeremysquam,” became a separate town by an act of the Legislature in 1828. Until then, it was part of Edgecomb and was included in Pownalborough. This entire area was part of Massachusetts until 1820.
There are early references to settlers in the 1600’s, but due to Indian wars, no permanent settlements were made until about 1735. The island was claimed by the Plymouth Company that had been granted land 15 miles on each side of the Kennebec River by the English Crown. At the same time, it was claimed by a group of Boston men who called themselves the Wiscasset Proprietors. After much litigation, the Wiscasset lands were granted to the Plymouth Company, and “Jeremysquam” to the Wiscasset Proprietors (also known as Proprietors of Long Island or Boston Company).
The claim of the Wiscasset Proprietors went back to the purchase from the Indians by George Deere in 1639. The island was divided into 30 plots of 100 acres each, and these were sold to people who came to live on the island or who resold to settlers. There was so much difficulty with land claims that in 1815 the State of Massachusetts stepped in and each owner, some of whom had lived here for over 50 years, had to buy his property at about 7½ cents per acre. There is a map in the Massachusetts Historical Society which shows these lots and, to this day, many of the Island’s lots follow these lines.
Most of the early settlers were farmers, and each farm was an independent unit. They raised their own food, produced leather and wool from their cattle and sheep, and cut their own wood. Some earned their living from the sea, and all early transportation was by water.
The first areas to be settled were the mill sites. There were four early mills, initially used for grinding meal. They later became sawmills, employing many people. All were run by the power of the tides.
The fishing business was very important just prior to the Civil War. There were large wharves from which the vessels went out to the Grand Banks for cod and other food fish. Each member of the crew along with the owners claimed a share of the catch, and the profits were divided. There was some boat building, but no large vessels were built on Westport. However, many residents served on ships sailing out of Bath and Wiscasset, including some famous sea captains in the China and other trades.
In the 1880’s the steamboat business was established and Westport had two ports of call – upper and lower landing- or the “Junction,” so called because passengers transferred there to smaller boats. This business was abandoned around the 1920’s with the coming of the automobile and better roads. After the bridge between Westport and Woolwich (near Montsweag Bay) was taken out by ice, the ferry, once privately owned and later taken over by the Town, was the only connection with the mainland until 1950 when the causeway bridge was built. The causeway was replaced by a bridge funded by Maine Yankee in 1975.
In the early 1900’s, the ice business flourished in Maine. The Knickerbocker Ice Company had a pond at the north end, and the Jewett family built a stone dam at Jewett’s Cove and erected several buildings and wharves for the ice trade.
The island once grew large trees, most of which have long since been cut down and turned into timber products by the tide mills, and later by portable mills run by gasoline engines. It was at the end of these timber operations in 1918 that the big fire destroyed over 20 buildings.
There have been several grocery stores, boarding houses, and once even a stone quarry was planned. However, the largest commercial operation currently is an inn. There are a number of small, home-based businesses which are summarized in the Economy section of the Plan. Fishing and lobstering are undertaken by a few people. Although there are farms that raise animals and/or vegetables, the owners do not depend upon farming for their total livelihood.