Damariscotta is located in Lincoln County, Maine, where the twin villages of Newcastle and Damariscotta flank the shores of the salty Damariscotta River. The towns are linked by the Main Street bridge over the Damariscotta River.
The town’s name derives loosely from an Indian name for "river of little fish” or “gathering place of alewives.” Alewife,a small salty fish, is a species of herring, that spawns in Damariscotta Lake. The front of the body is deep and larger than other fish. Its common name is reported to come from comparison with the stout wife (ale-wife) of a tavern keeper. Alewives are often used as lobster baitfish; when used for human consumption, they are usually smoked. Also called mulhaden, grey herring, or golden shad, the US Dept of Agriculture among others consider alewives invasive as they compete with native species.
Another local delicacy is the Damariscotta river oyster, present for thousands of years, as evidenced by ancient shell piles found along the river banks. The Pemaquid Oyster Company re-introduced oysters to the region by starting an oyster farm 20 years ago. Now, over a dozen oyster farms harvest along the river banks and ship oysters to Maine restaurants and others along the eastern seaboard and Canada.
Alewives and oysters are cause for annual celebrations in Damariscotta. The Alewives Festival is held on Memorial Day weekend. An Oyster Festival follows in late September. *
Early industries in Damariscotta included sawmills, a match factory, and tannery. Several brickyards were set up along the river and supplied much of the brick used to build Boston's Back Bay area. But, as with most Maine towns, shipbuilding is what that brought wealth here in the 1800s, when clipper ships were launched at the town's shipyards.
Today, downtown Damariscotta is home to specialty and souvenir shops, restaurants, galleries, and Lincoln Hall. Built in 1875, this hall was the community’s social hub for fire company drills, graduations, dances, benefits, temperance meetings, town meetings and conventions. It now houses the Lincoln County Community Theater & Orchestra which produces four to six live musical, drama and comedy productions annually. It still has the circular wooden floor used for roller skating after 1900,. In the 1920s, the theater was outfitted for movies which are still shown.
Damariscotta is the gateway to the Pemaquid Region and provides access to the Atlantic Coast and Monhegan Island and is gateway to the Damariscotta Lakes region. This region includes lakes, ponds, rivers and public land protected by conservancy groups (Damariscotta River Association and Pemaquid Watershed Association).
* Another annual festival is the Damariscotta Pumpkinfest held in early October.