The Abenaki Indians called the area Webhannet, meaning "at the clear stream", a reference to the Webhannet River. Edmund Littlefield, an immigrant from the wool regions of Titchfield, England, was known as "The Father of Wells," for constructing the first gristmill and later a woolen mill in the new land at Wells on the Webhannet River, where a monument to Littlefield commemorates his contribution to the area, today. In 1622, the Plymouth Company in England awarded to Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Lord Proprietor of Maine, territory which included the Plantation of Wells. His young cousin, Thomas Gorges, acting as deputy and agent, in 1641 granted to Rev. John Wheelwright and other settlers from Exeter, New Hampshire the right to populate the land from northeast of the Ogunquit River to southwest of the Kennebunk River. Following the death of the elder Gorges in 1647, the Massachusetts Bay Colony laid claim to Maine. In 1653, Wells was incorporated, the third town in Maine to do so, and named after Wells, England, a small cathedral city in the county of Somerset. It then included Kennebunk, set off the year Maine became a state in 1820, and Ogunquit, designated a village within Wells by the legislature in 1913, then set off in 1980.
Wells was the resilient northeastern frontier of English settlement. Except for a few forts and garrisons, early attempts to colonize Maine above Wells were abandoned because of attacks by Native Americans allied with New France, which resented encroachment by New England in territory it considered its own, Acadia. Wells endured three major attacks, most famously the Raid on Wells in 1692. The region became less dangerous, however, after the Battle of Louisburg in 1745.
Many early Wells settlers joined the Continental Army and were Revolutionary War heroes including Captains Samuel Gooch, Nathanial Littlefield, and Jeremiah Storer. Ocean View Cemetery on Post Road contains a well designed Civil War monument and plot honoring its service members. Visitors can walk to Founder's Park just off of Post Road onto Sanford Road, which includes a light walking trail, picnic area, and the first settlement home. Monuments list the names of Wells' founding families.
The town developed as a farming community, producing hay and vegetables. Other industries included shipbuilding and fisheries. In the 19th century, with the arrival of the railroad, the town's beautiful beaches attracted tourists. Many inns and hotels were built along the seashore. Today, tourism remains important to the economy.