Also known locally as “Georgetown” or “Lower Georgetown”

Most of the area to the north and east of the Sebasticook River was originally part of St. Albans until now familiar town lines were re-established in 1846 and it officially became part of Hartland. Billings Street (North Street) and the Mill Street Bridge would be built the following year in 1850.

Water Street does not appear to exist until the early 1870s and is shown as an open and unoccupied area on early maps. Given the known history of several major flooding events along the Sebasticook River following the construction of man-made dams in the early 1800s, it makes sense this area of town along the river was not inhabited by some of the early settlers who likely experienced these floods first hand.

Hartland Village – 1860

It’s possible a couple of decades of reprieve from high waters induced future generations to lower their apprehensions and made the area an alluring location for a home given its proximity to the village’s mills, businesses and stores. For whatever reasons, folks eventually decided to build there and have since dealt courageously with the inevitable and reoccurring forces of nature. 

According to notes from former Hartland Town Librarian Mary (Coston) Smith, the area was first referred to as “George’s Town” after 3 men named George became some of the first to build their homes along the eastern bank of the river in the early 1870s; George Wright, George Henderson and George Fairbrother.

It became later known simply as “Georgetown” or “Lower Georgetown” with both nicknames still referred to today by residents and former residents. It is unclear at this point when or why North Street became known as “Upper Georgetown” but it is likely it was a common colloquial reference used by locals which caught on through the generations.

The Georges of Georgetown 

George Washington Fairbrother (1842-1908) son of Joseph Fairbrother & Sultana Cothran (buried at Warren Hill Cemetery). He served twice in the Civil War with the 9th Maine, Company D. George and his wife, Sarah Frances Brown, moved to Pittsfield soon after 1880 before moving to Chelsea, Maine where they are both buried. 2 of their young children are buried at Ireland Cemetery.

George Henderson (1827-1886) came to Maine from Nova Scotia in 1851. He served in the Civil War with the 7th Maine Infantry, Company F. He is buried at Ireland Cemetery with his first wife, Sarah, who died in 1857 at 18 years old, and his second wife, Harriet Mackey, as well as 2 young daughters and a son.

George E. Wright (1843-1922) son of George P. Wright and Olive Gray. George is buried at Ireland Cemetery with his wife, Lucinda Jordan, and their 2 infant daughters, as well as his parents. George’s younger sister, Fanny Wright, married Lamont Griffith.

About 1872, a small Jail House was built on Water Street to temporarily hold prisoners before being transferred for trial. In 1879, following a great fire at the Fuller-Buck General Store at Warren Square in part due to fire equipment being locked up at the Linn Woolen Mill, the town built a dedicated Fire House next to the Jail House where the Hartland Volunteer Fire Department would remain until 1941.

Fire House & Jail House at Water Street Bridge – 1923

Albeit unnamed, Water Street is seen on the 1883 Map of Hartland Village with 6 houses on the river side spread along the entire length of the street and 4 houses across the street.

Hartland Village – 1883

In the Spring of 1887 a great flood ravaged the area again causing substantial damage as noted in an 1887 Pittsfield Advertiser article, “The section of town known as “Georgetown” is more or less submerged. A house owned by Major (James) Fuller is described at an abrupt angle Sunday, the foundation having gradually been worn away. The Boat House at the Upper Dam and a wing dam connecting to the end of (Greenville) Shaw’s Tannery were carried away.”

At the  1897 Town Meeting, the people of Hartland voted to accept an updated list of names for streets in the Village. Most streets retained their original names but a couple were changed or added including, “From the Iron Bridge to said Commercial Street going east as Water Street”.

By the turn of the century, houses lined both sides of the street from Commercial Street to Mill Street and the threat of major flooding became a distant memory for most folks living along the always unpredictable river. The sleeping giant awoke when a heavier than usual winter snow pack combined with torrential spring rains cooked up a recipe for disaster for the low lying areas along the Sebasticook River on April 29th, April 30th and May 1st during The Great Flood of 1923. Water Street took the brunt of the flooding waters from the Upper Dam break as well as additional flooding from the river’s smaller secondary outlet from the North Street Bridge.

Upper Dam just after it broke sending Flood Waters onto Water Street – 1923 

The secondary outlet floods North Street Bridge on its way to Water Street – 1923

Water Street from Mill Street – 1923

Water Street – Future Mead House – 1923

Water Street from Commercial Street – 1923

Water Street from Commercial Street – 1923

Corner of Water Street & Commercial Street – 1923

Water Street from Mill Street – Receding Flood Waters – 1923

Water Street was lined with houses along both sides of the street in 1943 with the old Jail House & Fire House still standing. Soon after the Fire Department moved to its Fire Hall on Hubbard Avenue, W. H. Moore & Son Woodworking leased the old Fire House for storage purposes.

Water Street – 1943

By 1987, a dike was built on the North Street outlet to prevent any water flow. The Lower Dam was also removed virtually eliminating “Mill Pond” from the flow of the Sebasticook River. The Main Street Raceway Bridge was removed and new retaining walls were built to surround the tannery; all in an effort to relieve future flooding downstream of the Upper Dam.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the Sebasticook River to test its latest man-made restrictions when it surged well above its banks on the infamous “April Fool’s Day Flood” which swept across much of the region in the Spring of 1987. With the Lower Dam gone, the retaining walls protected, for the most part, the tannery and central Main Street area but once again much of Water Street took the brunt of the flood waters.

New Retaining Walls strain to hold flood waters – 1987

Water Street from Mill Street – Mead House – 1987

Water Street from Mill Street – Mead House – 1987

An all to familiar sight reminiscent of 1923 repeated once again at the Mead House – 1987

 

Water Street – 1988