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Skowhegan, the Abenaki word meaning “watching place [for fish],” was named because of the abundance of salmon that once swam up the falls on the Kennebec River. The Kennebec has always been Skowhegan’s lifeblood and was a primary reason this particular site was chosen when the first permanent European settlement in the area was established in 1771. Farms produced hay, potatoes, wheat and wool. In 1818, the Somerset Central Agricultural Society formed to organize a fair to improve the breeding of horses and cattle. The Skowhegan State Fair has been held annually since that time, making it the oldest continuous state fair in the United States. The fairgrounds will be the site of the BikeMaine Village.
Manufacturing has been a major economic driver of the town since the 1800s, with products today including paper, shoes and ice cream. Skowhegan continues to be an agricultural hub and is home to a year-round farmers’ market, organic grain purveyor Maine Grains, the nationally recognized annual Kneading Conference and Artisan Bread Fair, two craft breweries, and restaurants that serve local harvest.
The town is nationally known as the home of Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman U.S. Senator. Downtown Skowhegan is watched over by the world’s tallest Native American, a 62-foot wooden sculpture crafted by Bernard Langlais and “dedicated to the Maine Indians, the first people to use these lands in peaceful ways.”