Calais is a city in Washington County, Maine, United States. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 3,123. The city has three United States border crossings (also known as a Port of entry) over the St. Croix River bordering St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. Calais has historically been a city of commerce and is recognized as the primary shopping center of eastern Washington County and of Charlotte County, New Brunswick. Currently retail, service, and construction businesses are the primary components of the Calais economy.
The St. Croix River and its area were first explored by Samuel de Champlain when he and his men spent a winter on St. Croix Island in 1604. The first permanent settler was Daniel Hill of Jonesboro, who arrived in 1779, and with others built the first sawmill in 1782. On June 27, 1789, the Massachusetts General Court sold the township to Waterman Thomas for 19¢ an acre (approx. $2.30 an acre in 2006 dollars). Early occupations included farming, hunting and ship building.
On June 16, 1809, Plantation Number 5 PS was incorporated as Calais after Calais, France, in honor of French assistance during the American Revolution. The river provided the mill town with water power for industry, which included sawmills, clapboard and shingle mills, two planing mills, a saw factory, two axe factories and four grain mills. There were foundries, machine shops, granite works, shoe factories and a tannery. Other businesses produced bricks, bedsteads, brooms, carriages and plaster.
The relationship between Calais and the neighboring Canadian town of St. Stephen has been remarkably close, over a period of many years. As evidence of the longtime friendship between the towns, during the War of 1812, the British military provided St. Stephen with a large supply of gunpowder for protection against the enemy Americans in Calais, but St. Stephen's town elders gave the gunpowder to Calais for its Fourth of July celebrations.
Calais is the home of the first railroad built in the state of Maine, the Calais Railroad, incorporated by the state legislature on February 17, 1832. It was built to transport lumber from a mill on the St. Croix River opposite Milltown, New Brunswick, to the tidewater at Calais in 1835. In 1849, the name was changed to the Calais & Baring Railroad, and the line was extended farther to Baring. In 1870, it became part of the St. Croix & Penobscot Railroad.
The Calais Free Library was designed by noted Boston architect Arthur H. Vinal and opened on July 4, 1893. The Romanesque Revival building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
Other places in Calais listed on the National Register of Historic Places are the Calais Historic District, Calais Residential Historic District, Devils Head Site, Gilmore House, Thomas Hamilton House, Hinckley Hill Historic District, Holmes Cottage, Dr. Job Holmes House, Theodore Jellison House, Pike's Mile Markers, St. Anne's Episcopal Church, George Washburn House and Whitlocks Mill Light.