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Pownalborough Courthouse
Pownalborough Courthouse.jpg
Location 23 Courthouse Rd. (off Cedar Grove Rd.), Dresden, Maine
Area 56 acres (23 ha)
Built 1761 (1761)
Architect Flagg, Gersham
NRHP reference No. 70000052
Added to NRHP January 12, 1970

The Pownalborough Courthouse is a historic court house at 23 Courthouse Road in Dresden, Maine, USA. Built in the early 1760s, it was the first county courthouse for Lincoln County, which was established in 1760. It is the only surviving courthouse in the state of Maine that was built during the colonial period, and is now a museum owned and operated by the Lincoln County Historical Society. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

Description and history

The Pownalborough Courthouse stands in what is now a rural area of western Dresden, overlooking the Kennebec River just to the west. It stands on grounds that were at the time of its construction the site of Fort Shirley, one of the first inland forts built by the British on the river. The courthouse has a roughly square three-story main block, framed in wood, covered by a hip roof, and clad in wooden clapboards. The main facade is five bays wide, with a center entrance flanked by pilasters and topped by an entablature and cornice. A single-story wing extends to one side. The interior has seen a variety of alterations, but retains original wide flooring. It has never been fitted with electricity or modern plumbing.

Lincoln County was separated from York County, Massachusetts (Maine then being part of Massachusetts) in 1760. It was named for Governor Thomas Pownall, and the town of Pownalborough (encompassing modern Dresden, Alna, Jefferson, and Wiscasset) was named in his honor. The proprietors who owned the land voted to build a courthouse that year, to be located on the grounds of Fort Shirley, which had been built in 1752 as a defense against Native American attacks. The fort's importance had declined since the construction of Fort Western further upriver, and it was thought that its facilities could be used to house a jail and keeper's quarters. Construction began on the courthouse in 1761, and the county's first court session was held in the unfinished building later that year. The building was not completed until 1769. In addition to housing the court facilities, the building also served as a tavern, an inn, a post office, a fencing hall, a dance hall, a church, and a meeting house, and had living quarters on the third floor. Those quarters were occupied by the fort commander, Major Samuel Goodwin, and were continuously occupied by his descendants into the 1930s. The local historical society purchased the 56-acre (23 ha) property from Goodwin's descendants in 1954.

It is now open seasonally (Memorial Day to Columbus Day) as a museum dedicated to local history; admission is charged.

Famous cases held at the Court House included a property case that was argued by John Adams, as a young lawyer fresh out of school, who would someday become the second President in US history. John Adams wrote in his journals that he hated the journey to the Pownalborough Court House because of the muddy and unkempt road and always spoke at length about his hatred of trees because they blocked his path numerous times during the trip. He also was one of the few people to visit the court by road rather than by the kennebec river, which was considered the easier and safer way to travel. John Adams was offered a job with the Kennebec Proprietors to represent them in property cases, and he did so on the condition that he could work out of the Falmouth (now Portland, ME) Court House instead. This kicked off his career and eventually led him down his path of being a successful attorney.

In addition to John Adams, the museum also was visited by Benedict Arnold during his famous expedition to Canada. When he got there, the court's caretaker Major Samuel Goodwin refused to give Benedict his maps of the region that he created himself. At the time, Major Goodwin was a loyalist, but after a physical altercation with his son, a patriot, Major Goodwin traveled to Fort Western and turned over the maps. We know this was the case because after the war, Major Goodwin wrote to George Washington demanding payment for the maps.

In addition to the museum, the Pownalborough Court House lands have a vast trail system including an ADA standard trail and ADA standard public bathroom.

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