The following is taken from the listing for the Head Tide Historic District listing with the National Register of Historic Places. Photo credits: Earle G. Shettleworth, February 3, 1974
Head Tide Historic District
The village of Head Tide began to develop as a mill community in the mid-18th century because of its excellent location on the Sheepscot River. From before the Revolution through the first half of the 20th century, the river's water power was harnessed for saw mills, grist mills, a stave mill, a shingle mill, a planing mill, a carding mill, and a fulling mill. Although the last of these mills burned in 1949, the surviving homes and buildings of this once active commercial center form one of the most picturesque and well preserved historic districts in Maine.
Head Tide and the surrounding region were settled as a result of the decision by the Boston based Plymouth Company to develop their holdings in the Kennebec River Valley. Comprised of such prominent Boston families as the Bowdoins, Vassals, Hancocks, Hallowells, and Gardiners, the Plymouth Company decided in the mid-18th century to encourage settlement on its Maine lands to keep out the French, to protect fur trapping, and to secure timber for the mast trade.
Dr. Silvester Gardiner was the most diligent of the Company's proprietors in securing settlers on the Kennebec River, spending much of his time and money on this effort. He furnished a sloop at his expense and brought settlers to this territory.
To show their appreciation of Dr. Gardiner's work, his fellow proprietors presented him with two tracts of land between 1759 and 1761. Located on the Sheepscot River, this acreage included the present village of Head Tide. Within a year of acquiring title to these lands, Dr. Gardiner began selling them to settlers. His first sale at Head Tide was in 1762 to David Nelson, who purchased 150 acres for 60 pounds. This included the dam site and land upon which mills were later erected.
Concurrently with the development of the Kennebec River was the creating of Lincoln County in 1760. Head Tide was included within the Town of Newcastle when this new county was formed. By 1794, so many mills were built on the upper Sheepscot River that a town called New Milford was set aside from Newcastle. The town, which included Head Tide, derived its name from the many mills which had been established on the river and its tributaries. In 1811, the name was changed to Alna, the Indian name for Alders.
By the early 19th century, the village of Head Tide possessed the major concentration of mills in Alna, At that time, six water wheels were powered by the dam at Head Tide, two for saw mills, two for grist mills, one for a planing mill, and one for a cloth finishing mill. Terraces were cut into the side of the hill behind the dam for the purpose of drying cloth after it was dyed.
Head Tide's increasing influence in Alna became apparent in the 1830s when three fourths of the town's church services were transferred to the new Head Tide Church, completed in 1838. After 1868, most of the town's services were held there. That year Walter Wells gave the following description of the village in his Water Power of Maine:
Head-of-Tide Falls about five miles above Sheepscot Falls, wooden dam, head and fall about ten feet; can be increased to thirteen feet. Grist mill, stave mill, and shingle mill. Large building adjoining, formerly used as a grist mill and carding mill, now as a shingle mill. Would make an excellent carriage shop or factory in connection with still another building attached, formerly used as a fulling and cloth dressing mill.
However by the late 19th century, the rural economy which had supported Head Tide for almost a century and a half began to change. When a freshet in 1896 destroyed the mills on the North side of the river, they were not rebuilt. In 1924 a fire leveled the mills on the river's south bank. Of these, only the grist mill was replaced, and this was destroyed by fire twenty-five years later.
Today the tangible remains of Head Tide's more than two centuries of history are its fourteen fine 18th and 19th century homes and buildings as well as its beautiful natural setting. The buildings are characteristic of rural Maine architecture in the forthright simplicity of their design. With the exception of the now-vanished mills, these buildings are representative of the basic elements of an old Maine village: dwellings ranging from humble Cape to minister's parsonage, a store, a stable, a school, and a church. The man-made and natural assets of Head Tide have been fully appreciated by current residents, who have worked individually and as a group to maintain the special character of their community. The results have been the preservation of one of the most authentic village settings to survive from Maine's past.
Captain Clark House - c.1787, A Captain Clark had this handsome two and a half story double chimnied house built for himself about 1787. Jeremiah Carleton purchased the house in 1826 and maintained a tavern there. It is believed that he placed the one and a half story addition on the back of the house. Later in the 19th century, this became the home of J. A. Jewett. The house has become known as "The Spring House" because a spring flows directly from the ledge beneath the floor in the corner of the kitchen. Other interesting features include early hardware and a back door which opens out from the second story because of the terrain.
J. A. Jewett Stable - c. 1881 - J. A. Jewett's stable stands adjacent to his general store. Erected in 1881, the stable is a large one and a half story frame building designed in a forthright manner. In addition to providing stabling for horses, Jewett used this structure as a warehouse for his store.
J. A. Jewett General Store - c. 1884 - Like the Jewett Grain Store, the Jewett General Store is a two and a half story frame structure of straightforward Maine design. The building is in a good state of preservation with its original exterior store front and second floor dance all intact.
Rev. Jeremiah Jewett House - early 19th century - Rev. Jewett's house is an imposing country homestead of the early 19th century. It exhibits the two and a half story double chimnied form which was most popular in Maine from the mid to the late 18th century.
Connected to the house on the right is a long one and a half story ell which has three arched doorways outlined in a simple country Federal manner. The arches of these doorways are surrounded with a flat band of molding which is accented at the top by a simple keystone. Adjacent to the ell is a simple two story shed structure. Rev. Jewett (1780-1860) was the minister of Head Tide during the first half of the 19th century, and his home was known as the Parsonage. The interior of its parlor has fine decorative paneling and moldings. Rev. Jewett was instrumental in the building of the church on the hill, and his will provided a large bequest for its maintenance.
Ward Lewis House - c. 1800 - The Ward Lewis House is a dwelling in the salt box form, of which few examples exist in Maine. The house possesses a pleasing directness of design. The façade is highlighted by an entrance with Federal style pilasters and horizontal pediment as well as Greek Revival moldings outlining the door and sidelights.
Robinson House - c. 1835 - Built about 1835, the Robinson House was owned by Edward Robinson and was in 1869 the birthplace of Edwin Arlington Robinson, a major 19th - early 20th century American poet. This two story hipped roof house is late Federal style in form, but displays a broad Greek Revival doorway.
Turner House - c. 1820 - Little is known about this story and a half central chimney house, which was probably built by the Turner family circa 1820. In form, the house is typical of many built in Maine during the early 19th century. The Turner house exhibits a simple Federal style doorway and restrained period window trim. The left side of the porch is a later addition.
The school house was built about 1860 to replace the community's first school, which burned in 1859. The school house is a classic example of the many one and a half story, one room school houses that dotted the rural Maine landscape in the 19th century. In recent years, this school has been successfully adapted for a residence.
Head Tide Church - c. 1838 - Located on a hill overlooking the village, the Head Tide Church is a handsome rural Maine house of worship which exhibits a combination of Federal style, Greek Revival, and Gothic Revival elements in its design. The façade displays the outline of a Grecian temple front with its six pilasters and strongly accented triangular pediment. However the Federal fan motif appears above the two façade windows as well as in the center of the pediment. The influence of the Gothic Revival is felt in the two pointed arch windows on either side of the church and in the simple pinnacle at the top of each corner of the belfry. The interior features a tromp l'oeil window with draperies behind the pulpit.
The Head Tide Church was established by members of the congregation of the 1789 Alna Meeting House who wanted a church closer to their homes at Head Tide. The building was dedicated on November 21, 1838. Parish scribe E. Merrill's entry for that date reports, "The new meeting house near the Head of Tide was this date dedicated to the service of God... The day was fine, the audience numerous and attentive, and the occasion of great interest."
In April of 1839 a town agreement was made to hold worship at the Head Tide Church 3/4 of the time and 1/4 at the older Meeting House. After 1868 the new building was used most of the time. Although prosperous at first, it fell into decline. In 1913 it was reclaimed, rededicated, and incorporated into the Congregational Christian Conference. However, after 1922, public interest and support again lapsed, and the church deteriorated once more. In 1940, the Committee for the Restoration and Preservation of the Old Head Tide Church was created to care for the structure. For almost thirty-five years, this dedicated organization has worked diligently to maintain the church as a landmark and meeting place in which to have an annual address by a distinguished speaker. The group's greatest challenge came on July 9th, 1962, when the steeple was struck by lightning, which destroyed the belfry with its Revere bell and damaged part of the front of the building. Within a year the Committee had restored the church to its original appearance, and thus it remains today.