The Capital of Maine on the Kennebec River, Augusta began as an 18th-century trading post. It is a place where visitors will see how important the state’s history is to its citizens, who number just under 20,000.
Whether it’s the State House, the museum or the Old Western Fort, there are a number of reminders that will teach travelers more of Maine’s history, as well as that of the capital.
Maine, on the northeastern seaboard of the USA, is a small but densely populated state. It has a rich maritime history and rugged natural environment with much to offer its visitors. Many people coming to Maine start in Augusta. If you would like to join them, here is a list of the 15 best things to do in Augusta as a good starting point.
1. Maine State Museum
The current museum opened in 1971 – the seventh opening after its previous chequered history of six closures after first opening in 1836 when the main displays were geological and biological exhibits. State funding guarantees it will not close again.
The rich variety of exhibits include a fully-working mill, a locomotive, reproductions of former stores, a blacksmith’s shop and sewing room.
The struggles between Native Indians, the French and British are well-represented, while the original scientific exhibits from 1836 are among the items still on display. It is a great place to learn more about Augusta and Maine.
2. Fort Western
This fort was built in 1754 in the middle of the French and Indian War.
A National Historical Monument, this wooden construction belongs to the city and is located on the Kennebec River. It could be described as a living museum that tells the story of Augusta covering over 260 years. Guided tours are extremely interesting; you will get an insight into what daily life was like in the second half of the 18th century.
Any repairs that have been needed over the years have strived to ensure they have been done in such a way as to retain the Fort’s authenticity.
3. Viles Arboretum
Walk through the forests and gardens of this 220-acre site. There are numerous trails to follow if your time is limited and you can enjoy many of the 300 different species of trees, shrubs, and plants.
The trails vary from simple forest floor to crushed gravel and dirt, which can get muddy in wet weather. There are some six miles of different routes, none of which are strenuous. Bikes and horses are allowed and birdwatchers will be well rewarded.
Your dog can come with you but must be kept under control.
4. The Governor Hill Mansion
While today this mansion acts as an event facility, it was originally built in 1902 as the home of the State Governor. At that time, the Governor was John Freemont Hill. He engaged a notable architect to design a mansion suitable for someone of high office. It has three floors and was built using local granite.
It was the family’s property, rather than the state’s, until just after World War II. It is beautifully preserved and tours of its rooms are available on a daily basis, although some parts are leased out as offices.
5. State House
State House was completed in 1832 just after Augusta became the capital of the State of Maine. Tours of the house take place from Monday to Friday and can be arranged at the State Museum. Its design follows that of the Capitol building in Massachusetts and the construction used local granite.
It remains the center of Maine legislation and visitors can watch representatives at work each day.
Incidentally, as well as seeing government in operation, there are some wonderful views from the upstairs balcony.
6. Capitol Park
At nearly 200 years old, Capitol Park is an early example of landscaped gardens. The land near the Kennebec River – 34 acres – was donated by local citizens with a view to it housing the State House which was built five years later.
It was decided to plant elm trees to create the right kind of setting. As the years went by, impressive gravel paths were added and the park became a place for gatherings and public speaking. It is a place that has found its way onto the National Register of Historic Places.
Unfortunately, you will not see the historic elm trees because of Dutch Elm Disease, but they have been replaced by other deciduous trees.
7. Augusta Civic Center
This center covers almost 50,000 square feet, with the largest of 26 rooms being 32,000 square feet. In addition, there are two ballrooms, with the remaining rooms adaptable for several different types of function.
Its aim is to help increase community revenue by hosting events of all kinds. They include exhibitions, sporting and corporate events of all sizes, large and small. It is a regular basketball venue. Among the many stars who have performed here are Bruce Springsteen, and – many years ago – Elvis Presley.
8. Brook Bond Recreation Area
This 270-acre site within the city limits offers the chance for walking, biking and enjoying Nordic skiing in the winter months over five miles of trails. There are sufficient summer trails for all and visitors are asked not to go on to the specially prepared ‘’Nordic’’ trails during these months.
You can walk or bike any of almost 20 designated trails and your dog under control on a lead is welcome.
Ample parking means that the Recreation Area is easily accessible.
9. Kennebec River Rail Trail
This 6.5-mile trail running from Augusta south to Gardiner is a lovely route for walkers, bikers, runners, and skateboarders. It is now the venue of an annual half marathon, comprising a route going down and back.
It is a well-maintained paved trail looked after by the ‘’Friends of’’ and runs beside an old railroad line and the river. You can sit and enjoy the surroundings at many places on the trail if you are not in a hurry.
10. Sonny’s Museum & Rock Shop
If you enjoy shopping and want something a little different, Sonny’s is the place for you. There are many colorful handmade items using rocks and gems that are certain to look nice in your home.
Rocks and gems have been gathered from different parts of the world; they are not all for sale but many of the things you see most certainly are available to buy.
The place is an education for all the family; at no stage is there any pressure to actually spend money.
11. Children’s Discovery Museum
The interactive events and range of activities available for young kids are designed to be educational. This museum should be high on the list for any family visiting Augusta. It is not especially large but will retain youngsters’ interest for a couple of hours. If you are in Augusta when the weather is not too nice, head to the Discovery Museum.
The craft area is particularly popular, though you know the potential of young kids and paint so be prepared.
12. Old Post Office
The Old Post Office and Court House in downtown Augusta joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It was built in the late 1880s in Romanesque Revival style and is one of the finest examples of this style in the whole of Maine, and certainly an impressive building in the city.
Covering two and a half floors with a central and two lateral towers, it was constructed using local granite. It was used as the post office and courthouse until the 1960s when it was sold into private ownership.
13. Holocaust Human Rights Center of Maine
This facility within the University of Maine was commissioned to highlight the importance of Human Rights. Its design is very much 21st Century – extremely eye-catching if not especially large. The architect won an international design award for the building.
Its focus is genocide in general rather than just the Holocaust and hopes to play a role in preventing genocide in the future. It is largely run by volunteers with an entry fee, although donations are very welcome. There are permanent and temporary exhibits as well as regular programs and presentations.
14. Samantha Smith
Samantha Smith was a schoolgirl from Manchester, Maine who became famous as a peace activist. She wrote letters to the President of the USSR during the Cold War pleading for better relations and peace between the USSR and the USA.
She died in a plane accident with her father at the age of 13 in 1985 just before beginning a contract as an actress. The statue and plaque that remembers her can be found outside the State Museum.
15. Colburn House State Historic Site
Major Reuben Colburn was a shipbuilder and fierce patriot who lived in this family home that was built in 1765 in Pittston. Nearby, there was a brickyard, boatyard, and mill, which played a major role in the development of the area. Colburn himself was extremely active in that development and the struggle for independence.
The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. It was the family home for a century despite the financial pressure the Major faced in periods of his life.