China (CHI-nah), a town in Kennebec County, was settled in 1774, following the survey of John “Black” Jones and Abraham Burrill.

It was initially named Jones Plantation, which was incorporated in 1796 as Harlem (named for Haarlem, Netherlands, the capital of North Holland). Harlem was annexed by China with Fairfax (now Albion), and Winslow, and incorporated on Feb. 5, 1818. The name of the town was chosen by Japheth Washburn. He wanted to call the town Bloomville, but people from the town of Bloomfield objected, fearing the similarity of names would cause confusion.

Washburn settled on the name China because it was the name of one of his favorite hymns, written by Timothy Swan in 1790.

China is located 17 miles northeast of Maine’s capitol, Augusta. Year-round and summer residents enjoy approximately 119,000 feet of frontage on China Lake, plus most of Threemile Pond and a bit of Branch Pond. (Most of Branch Pond is in Palermo, just to the east.)

China has several hubs of activity: China Village, South China, Weeks Mills on the West Branch of the Sheepscot River, Branch Mills on the Palermo border, Branch Pond and the West Branch of the Sheepscot River and another district located at the height of land between Palermo and Albion, part of which is known as Thurston Park, where numerous families of African-American descent settled. Their history spans 1790-1860. Families migrated to China because it was a safe area from slave hunters because China and several other towns were “Quaker” towns which, in defiance of the federal Fugitive Slave Act, did not tolerate slave hunters.

Rufus M. Jones, 1863-1948, was a Quaker educator and author of many books on education, philosophy and religion. A graduate of Haverford, he taught philosophy and psychology there for 38 years. He wrote extensively on Quakerism and mysticism and he helped found the American Friends Service Committee. His birthplace still stands in South China.


Quakers remain in the area, and there is a Quaker summer camp still operating after 50 years, on Lakeview Drive, about three miles north of South China Village. The 1807 meeting house characteristic of Federal style buildings has become part of the Friends Summer Camp and is used for arts & crafts.

China Village is a historic district. Its library and Baptist church represents the rural community that bloomed following Statehood in 1820. China Village is beautiful and relatively isolated.

The Albert Church Brown Memorial Library is seen in China Village. All residents are welcome to use the library at no charge at 35 Main St. in China Village. Photo by Susan Varney

The author Gerry Boyle lives and writes his Jack McMorrow (11 between 1993 and 2016) mysteries here as well as the Brandon Blake series. Boyle, a Colby College graduate, started out as a newspaper journalist and now is editor of the Colby Magazine.

China Lake spans the distance from South China to China Village. It has two large basins connected by a narrow neck. The elongated eastern basin, about 7 miles long with an average depth of less than 30 feet, is entirely within the town of China and has an irregular shoreline developed with residences and seasonal cottages. Along the way is The China Dine-ah on Lakeview Drive, serving Shepard’s pie and prime rib along with many other local favorites.

Be sure to check out The Landing at the head of the lake, Lakeview Drive (open seasonally) for ice cream and sandwiches, burgers and fries. The west basin is in Vassalboro and China and is the water supply for Waterville and Fairfield.

South China has the business of Route 3 as it travels from Augusta to Belfast with businesses from an ice cream parlor to a lawyer’s office and variety store/gas stations. Look for Subway at Fieldstone Quick Stop. On Rote 32 to Windsor is one of China’s highlights, Erskine Academy. Founded in 1883, at present it is Maine’s fourth largest independent high school, providing quality education to more than 570 domestic and international students.

Established early, China Village, South China, Weeks Mills and Branch Mills were hubs of commercial activity which unfortunately decreased with the loss of the railroad and contributed to the overall decline in population in the mid-20th century. China has bounced back in this century; the 2012-13 population stood at 4,328.

Plan to visit this delightful area soon. China Community Days celebrations are set for Aug. 2-4, 2019.

Go for a hike in Thurston Park or the China Forest. Rent a paddle boat at the Landing or go for a swim in this area of the lake.

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