Before the earliest English explorer arrived, probably Martin Pring in 1603, generations of native fishermen had valued this land by the Newichawannock—the upper Piscatauqua River now known as the Salmon Falls. Fine forests of oak, maple and chestnut trees stood along the banks, as well as white pines over 200 feet tall with trunks five and six feet across. In 1634, English carpenters under contract with Capt. John Mason's Laconia Company began building sawmills to exploit these forests.
In the 1700s, Berwick, South Berwick and North Berwick were still all one town called Berwick, and the Province of Maine was part of Massachusetts. The population center of the community stood in what became known as the Old Fields part of town, near today’s Brattle and Vine Streets and Oldfields Road. Nearby, tall ships were constructed at the shipyards of Pipe Stave Landing, where the Hamilton House stands today. Farming and lumbering were many people’s means of support.
By 1900, many old families had left their farms, but hundreds of new ones – many originally from Ireland and Canada – had come to work in the factories of South Berwick and Rollinsford. In the neighborhood of Happy Valley, dozens of homes and shops sprang up -- even an electric trolley line in 1903 – and French was spoken everywhere. As the century wore on, though, the economy characterized by clattering mills and whistling trains was replaced by the suburban lifestyle.
After South Berwick became a separate town in 1814 and Maine became a state six years later, the community saw its population center shift to the location of the village today. Five railroad lines crossed the town, and a variety of merchants, professionals and investors vied for business along the chief transportation corridors, Main and Portland Streets. At the falls of the Great Works and Salmon Falls Rivers, textile manufacturing replaced sawmilling as an economic mainstay.