Date of Award
Honors Thesis (Open Access)
Colby College. History Dept.
Thomas R.W. Longstaff
Elizabeth D. Leonard
If we were to simplify the story of Waterville to the lightest exploration possible, a good strategy might be to look at the city’s names. True, a good number of important events might be overlooked, but examining the names and name changes in the city’s history offers a unique view into the essence of its identity. Waterville has a rich history when it comes to names. The city itself went through a number of them in its early days, and these changes reflect the city’s continual reinvention of itself. The first people we know about who lived here, the Canibas people, called the falls on the river and their settlement Teconnet, or Ticonic Village, depending on whose spelling we prefer. From the beginning the settlement was deeply connected to those falls on the Kennebec River, which offered fishing and eventually great industrial potential. When Europeans took over the area, the community became the plantation of Kingfield and then the town of Winslow, named for the general who established Fort Halifax there. The section of town on the west side of the river, however, grew on its own to the point of demanding its independence, and this section became the town of Waterville. Little is known about why the name Waterville was suggested, besides the obvious river and streams, but it is interesting to consider the fact that this simple name combines English and French words. The town would be shaped greatly by both English-speaking Americans and French-Canadian immigrants in the times to come. Two final shifts related to the town’s name are relatively minor. In time, like Waterville itself had done before, the western section of the town began to grow on its own and eventually seceded, incorporating itself as West Waterville until adopting the name of Oakland to establish a more distinct identity. The Town of Waterville that remained soon became the City of Waterville, ushering in an era of bustling industry and lively culture. Waterville was dubbed the Elm City for its many elm trees, and as such grew to be considered one of the more beautiful cities of Maine. Waterville’s other nickname is “The University City of Maine,” and the city’s two colleges are another example of the city’s history of name changes and redefinition. The first college was called the Maine Literary and Theological Institution, which became Waterville College and then Colby University, before becoming Colby College. The changes mark a progression towards becoming a more secular institution and also reflect who had invested in the school. Waterville’s second college began as Kiest Business College, then became Morgan Business College and then Morgan-Thomas Business College—all reflecting the private ownership of the school—before becoming Thomas Junior College and then simply Thomas College. With each name change the schools explored new opportunities, and with each new name the institutions had new meaning. The names significant to Waterville are not limited to the city itself nor its institutions. One final, personal level of name changing to consider occurred among the immigrant populations as they came to the city to establish new lives. French-Canadian immigrants often changed their names for convenience of assimilation or due to their own uncertainty about spellings, although their employers also often simply forced new names or adjusted spellings on them. For example, the name Roi changed to Roy, or Ware, or, by translation, King. The Syrian-Lebanese immigrants faced similar experiences, with their Arabic names often unpronounceable to the Yankee population. What, in the end, is the significance of Waterville’s names and their changes? If nothing else, they show the history of Waterville to be a dynamic one. The city has grown and shrunk, experienced changing population demographics, shifted economic bases, yet through it all the city remains. The hard-working people of the city are at the root of its successes; they form a community continually eager to reshape their city into the best place it can be. Waterville has been an Indian burial ground, a trade center, a mill town, a regional hub for employment and transportation, a business center, a college town, and a bustling city. The story of Waterville is one of frequent adjustment, ambition, and perseverance. Like the story told by the city’s names, it is a story of steady development and of dynamic change.
Waterville, Maine, History
Recommended CitationPlocher, Stephen, "Short History of Waterville, Maine" (2007). Honors Theses. Paper 280.
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