Town History

A Brief History of Sullivan & Sorrento

Sullivan was originally called Adowaukeag or Waukeag by the indigenous people who lived in the area when the Europeans arrived. The name indicated the great tidal stream from Sullivan Harbor that fills Taunton, Egypt, and Hog Bays, and specifically, Falls Point, where the glacial kame crosses the river. The name Waukeag indicates “a horseback in a place where the tide runs out very strong.”

Sullivan’s first English name was New Bristol, and the town was incorporated February 16, 1789. The early settlers decided to name the town after their Revolutionary War Hero Daniel Sullivan, who had lived in what is now Sorrento and died in 1782. Sullivan originally included parts of what later became Hancock in 1828 and Sorrento in 1895.

Sorrento was known as Waukeag Neck until incorporation as a separate town under the name of “Sorrento,” after a town in Italy. The development of Sorrento as a summer resort began in the mid-1880s as the nearby Bar Harbor was undergoing major growth.

In Sullivan, the early lumbermen built several tidal sawmills, the largest of which ran across Long Cove. Later, interest switched to fresh-water mills. The area was also home to fishing fleets, mines, and abundant granite quarries.



~ 3,000 BCE – Indigenous people occupied Frenchman Bay and adjacent areas for over 4,000 years. Tribes included the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot. The area now called Sullivan was known as Waukeag.

1691 – Maine is consolidated with the Province of Massachusetts Bay by the Charter of William and Mary. This means that public lands in Maine are disposed of by the General Court of Massachusetts. Many are sold.

1754 – 1763 – French and Indian War is fought between France and Great Britain to determine the control of the vast territory of colonial North America. On February 8, 1763, the conflict ends with The Treaty of Paris. Meanwhile, settlers from York begin settling on Waukeag Point, calling the area “New Bristol.” 

1763 – Daniel Sullivan of Berwick builds a house on Doane’s Point. Captain Sullivan builds several tidal sawmills and raises a company of local militia during the Revolutionary War.

1775 – 1783 – The Revolutionary War – 159 men served from the Frenchman Bay area at different times. 

1789 – The Town of Sullivan is incorporated, named after Revolutionary War hero Daniel Sullivan who died in 1782 after being captured by the British. The Town of Sullivan includes parts of present-day towns of Hancock and Sorrento. 

1790 – In the 1790 Census, there are 91 families living in Sullivan: 135 males over 16, 131 females over 16, and 268 children under 16. 

1804Paul Urann builds a house in Sullivan Harbor.


 1812 – 1815 –  War of 1812. 

1820 – Maine becomes a state.

1820 – The Sargent Bridge between Hancock and Sullivan is built, although the ice takes it out just a few years later. There will be a second, third, and fourth bridge attempted before the Singing Bridge is finally built nearly a hundred years later.

1828 – The Town of Hancock, parts of which were previously part of Sullivan, is incorporated.

 1830 – The first commercial quarry opens in Sullivan.

c. 1850s – Sullivan’s first railway is built, a short line to tidewater that follows what is now Track Road.

1861 – 1865 – The Civil War – 69 men from Sullivan, which included Sorrento, served.

1874/1875 – The shipyard in Sullivan Harbor closes.

1876 – Waukeag House is built where Dunbar’s Store is now.

1877 – Veins of silver are discovered on the shores of Taunton River. Within two years, there are fourteen mines that operate well until the 1880s. There is also a mine on Treasure Island in Sorrento, known as Boss of the Bay mine. 

1881 – The original Dunbar’s store opens, on the opposite side of the road from where it is now. The building burns in 1933.

1885 – Frenchman’s Bay and Mt. Desert Land Company is registered with the State of Maine. After considerable investments, the company markets Waukeag Neck as a summer resort called “Sorrento.” 

1888 – Sorrento’s first large hotel, Hotel Sorrento, opens. It burns in 1906.


1890 – Church of the Redeemer in Sorrento holds its first service.

1893 – Sorrento Library, a gift of Mrs. Frank Jones, is completed. 

1895 – The Town of Sorrento is incorporated, named after a town in Italy. 

1895 – Waukeag Station is established by Maine Central Railroad near the Hancock end of the Hancock-Sullivan bridge.

1898 – 1901 – The Spanish-American War – Three men enlisted from Sullivan.

1899 – Regular service begins on the Washington County Railroad, running from Calais to Washington Junction. A stop at Tunk Pond is added in 1900, improving access to and from Sullivan.


 1910 – Sullivan High School building (now the Sullivan Town Office) opens for the school’s spring term.

1914 – 1918 – World War I – 64 men from Sullivan and 17 from Sorrento served. 

1916 – Blink Bonnie Golf Links opens in Sorrento. 

1926 – The Hancock-Sullivan bridge, known as the Singing Bridge, is completed. This replaces the Waukeag Ferry.

 1927 – Land Auction in Sorrento. Many large cottages and all of Treasure Island are up for sale.

1939 – 1945 – World War II – 101 men from Sullivan and 22 from Sorrento served.

1952 – The Sumner Memorial High School, one of Maine’s first area high schools, is completed and welcomes students of Sullivan, Sorrento, Winter Harbor, and Gouldsboro in the fall. The gymnasium, added in a monumental effort by people of aforementioned towns, is completed soon after.   

 1971 – The Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society forms with the mission to collect and preserve the history of the community.

1976 – The Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society rents space in the Sorrento-Sullivan Recreational Center, where it remains to this day. 

1989 – Sullivan’s Bicentennial.

1999 – A new Hancock-Sullivan bridge is completed, replacing the iconic Singing Bridge.