a brief history of Acton

Sections excerpted from "Sesquicentennial History of Acton, Maine," prepared by Olive M. Treadwell, Lorraine Yeaton, Virginia B. Davies, Rita Cahill, and Paul Farland.

What is now Acton was part of a much larger tract of land in southwestern Maine purchased in 1661 by Francis Small from Chief Sunday of the Newichawannock Tribe. In 1771, the name "Hubbardstown Plantation" was given to the area now made up of Acton and Shapleigh.

In 1776, the first settlement of Acton Corner was made by Benjamin Kines, Clement Steele, and John York -- all of York, Maine. These settlers were soon followed by Captain William Reeves, who built the bridge across the narrows of Mousam Lake and a house nearby. Settlement of the areas occurred more rapidly once a new road was constructed between the Lebanon town line and the Little Ossipee River.

The town's abundance of good waterpower led to the establishment of a number of mill operations. The first mill in town was a grist mill, built in 1779 on the Salmon Falls River near Wakefield by Joseph Parsons. Horne's Mill became the home of a sawmill in 1790 and a grist mill in 1830. A hemp mill, carding mill, felting mill, and additional sawmills also operated during the 1800s. A shoe factory located above the Brackett Bridge employed 200 people and operated until the 1920s. The building was later used for cloth manufacturing.

In 1785, Hubbardstown Plantation was incorporated as a town and given the name Shapleigh, after an early proprietor. In 1828, a proposition was approved dividing Shapleigh into two individual townships. An act of incorporation was passed in 1830 and the town of Acton was born.

The Shapleigh and Acton Agricultural Society was formed in 1866, and began sponsoring an annual fair and cattle show. A permanent site for the fair in Acton was established in 1889 and the fair has been held there ever since.

Acton's commercial history was highlighted by two rather unique engineering feats: construction of the Great East Canal and the Acton Silver Mines. The Great East Canal, part of a system of dams and waterworks that controls water flow on the Salmon Falls, was constructed during the 1850s and 60s. The 3/4-mile canal was blasted through ledge and included a granite archway at the bridge crossing.

During the later 1800s, a number of silver mines were developed in South Acton near Goding Brook and the Lebanon town line. During this era, there was a surge of interest nation-wide in gold and silver mining, and after the discovery of a significant silver vein in Acton in 1877, a series of mine shifts were drilled. Mining activity peaked during the 1880s and declined thereafter, leading to abandonment of the mines. Today, a series of water-filled shafts and building foundations are still evident.

Acton's population declined throughout much of the later 1800s and early 1900s as a migration west and to urban areas began. It was not until 1960 that the population began to grow again, fueled by new residents seeking a rural community within commuting distance of jobs.

Today, the town has several distinct personalities: a rural community with large amounts of open space and a few surviving resource-based enterprises such as apple orchards and gravel pits; as a summer resort community with a significant influx of summer residents on the lakes; and increasingly, a bedroom community of Sanford and other employment centers.

The Town of Acton covers 41.8 square miles of land area, and several large and small lakes. The dominant landforms are the remnants of glaciation: moraines and eskers, glacial lakes and potholes. The western edge of town is defined by the Salmon Falls River and the New Hampshire state line. Its eastern boundary is primarily comprised of Square Pond and Mousam Lake. The terrain is extremely varied; from prominent ridges like Acton Ridge (800' elevation) and Hubbard's Ridge (600'), steep hills such as Davis Hill (1,079') and Hussey Hill (1,029'); to broad wetlands and sizable lakes.

The lakes and ponds of Acton include:

  • Balch Pond
  • Great East Lake
  • Hansen Pond
  • Horn Pond
  • Loon Pond
  • Moose Pond
  • Mousam Lake (lower)
  • Mousam Lake (upper)
  • Shapleigh Lake
  • Square Pond
  • Swan Pond
  • Wilson Lake
    Page last updated on August 12, 1998
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