History of Farmington
The native Abenaki people called the area Chemung, meaning "canoe place" and used the three rivers—the Cocheco, the Ela, and the Mad—for transportation. When Europeasns arrived in the 1770's, it was known as the Northwest Parish of Rochester. Distance and rough roads made it difficult for these first families to travel to the established church in Rochester, although they were taxed heavily for it. This age old problem of taxation was the catalyst which caused the citizens to petition for a charter to incorporate a separate township of Farmington, and this was granted on December 1, 1798. The first town meeting was held on March 11, 1799, at the home of Simon Dame. The 141 voters present elected three selectmen: Idhabod Hayes, Lieutenant Ephraim Kimball and David Roberts. This form of government has been maintained, with the addition of a town administrator, to this day.
Originally an agricultural settlement, the early homes were farms in the Merrill's Corner section, hence the town name. In the 1800s, the establishment of water-powered industries along the Cocheco, Ela and Mad Rivers caused a population shift with the present downtown area evolving near these rivers. The subsequent construction, in 1849, of a railroad through the mill area brought further prosperity and cemented the location of the town commercial center. In the early days this business area was referred to as "The Dock" or "Puddledock," a name which endures today on the masthead of the local newspaper, The Puddledock Press.
Although Farmington began as an agricultural community, the principal industry to develop was shoe manufacturing. From its beginnings in 1836 when E. H. Badger built the first shoe shop on Spring Street, to its ending in 1991 when the last factory (the Alton Shoe Company) closed its doors, the shoe industry made the town's reputation and employed upwards of 2,000 people. It was as a cobbler that the most renowned native, Vice President Henry Wilson, got his start, journeying to the shoe capital of Natick, Massachusetts, in 1833 to learn his trade.
Though difficult to envision today, the downtown area once contained several hotels, grocery stores and even a movie theater and bowling alley. Farmington has had its ups and downs like any other community, with prosperity checked by disasters and economic depressions. Through good and bad times, its generations of loyal residents remained strong and supportive of one another, with deep pride in the past accomplishments and optimism for the future.