Kittery, like most coastal New England communities, draws its existence from the sea and the availability of a good, deep water harbor created by a river, in this case the Piscataqua River. Early history records visits to the Isles of Shoals and the Piscataqua in the early years of the 17th Century with the first settlement by Europeans in 1623. Kittery was incorporated in 1647 making it the oldest incorporated town in Maine.
Kittery’s early existence was tied to the sea and it developed as a fishing and shipbuilding center, a role that continues to the present. In the late 1600's, the area was the source of masts for the Royal Navy resulting in much of the area being harvested.
With continuing skirmishes, population growth was limited in the early years of the 18th Century. In the mid 1700's, efforts were taken to shore up the community’s defenses and in the mid and late 1700's, development of Kittery Point occurred resulting in the construction of what are now considered to be many of the community’s historical landmarks.
In 1800, the destiny of Kittery was forever changed with the establishment of a government shipyard on Fernald’s Island. The growth of this facility became the driving force in the community. Over the following decades, the Town of Kittery developed adjacent to the entrance to the shipyard resulting in the downtown area of Wallingford Square and surrounding residential areas.
In the mid 1800's, railroad service was extended to Kittery. With the Civil War, a period of growth occurred as employment at the Shipyard increased to over 2,000 workers. Other private shipyards also were active in this period.
The late 1800's saw a new era in Kittery. The community began a 40-50 year period as a tourist center with the construction of summer hotels on the islands and at Kittery Point. Kittery became a destination for summer visitors from urban areas outside of Maine.
The 20th Century brought still more changes. The Shipyard remained active and experienced booms during the World Wars as it became a builder of submarines. At the same time, the first automobile bridge was built across the Piscataqua linking Kittery to Portsmouth and the world to the south populated by a new automobile oriented society.
After World War II, U.S. Route One emerged as the new gateway to Maine. This brought with it the development of facilities to serve the traveling public and tourists. In the 1980's, some of Route~One was converted into a factory outlet retail center.
While Kittery has changed over the past 350 years, it remains firmly routed in its heritage and its connection to the sea. At the same time, it has developed as a modern residential and retail community.