The Canibas Indians first inhabited the region that is now the city of Augusta. Augusta was explored in the early 17th century by the Europeans. Over 20 years later, it was settled as a trading post and was known as Cushnoc. During its earliest history, it was a site for fur trading - known as the Popham Colony, although uprisings by the Native Americans, severe freezing winter conditions that stalled farming efforts, and a decline in revenues led the Europeans to leave the area, where it remained unsettled for 75 years.
In the mid 18th century, a blockhouse was constructed and came to be known as Fort Western. A few years later, it was incorporated with Hallowell. By the end of the 18th century, however, it was organized by the Massachusetts General Court and was known as Harrington. That name changed later that year to Augusta. In 1799, Augusta was designated as the county seat for Kennebec County.
After Maine was incorporated into the U.S. as a state, Augusta was designated as the state capital in 1827. It achieved city status in 1849. It was during this time that the city became quite prosperous. In the mid-1800s, the city had one of the highest populations in the country. However, it was soon overtaken as other metro areas in the Midwest flourished.
The city’s economy was based around agriculture, and then many sawmills were constructed, making Augusta a prominent mill city. This growth continued through the 19th century with the addition of cotton mills, paper and pulp plant, and other mills and factories that produced everything from lumber to doors, shutters, furniture and even headstones. In more recent years, the city has become known as a center for publishing and shipping.
It was during the 19th century that the railroad and steamboat arrived in Augusta. Gas lights were installed, a hospital was built, and telephone service was made available to residents furthering population growth. The central business district over the years, however, has suffered. As the city grew, many businesses moved away from the central location, while a fire in 1865 also destroyed many buildings. In the 20th century, the construction of highways led to more businesses moving to other areas of Augusta.
The city has been trying to revitalize its downtown area since the 1980s. The dam across the Kennebec that was constructed in 1837 was removed in 1999, and a park was constructed in the area. Old mills and factories have been converted to housing, and the local government is making additional efforts to improve the city and attract new residents.