The name Kennebunk comes from the Native American name for “long cut bank,” probably in reference to the Mousam River, which was an important landmark for Native Americans and earlier settlers.
Though the exact date of the earliest settlement in the area now known as the Kennebunks is uncertain, historical evidence indicates that it cannot have been much later than that of the founding of the Plymouth Colony. It is known that for many years prior to the first permanent habitation, the islands along the Cape Porpoise shore were used for fish drying and as a summer headquarters by those who came to tap the rich resources of the coastal fishing banks. In 1653, the town of Kennebunkport was first incorporated as Cape Porpus and became subject to the government of Massachusetts. Entirely depopulated by Indian depredations in 1689, the town was resettled early in the 1700’s and renamed Arundel by permission of the Massachusetts General Court in 1719. This designation remained until 1821, when, having become a bustling port of entry for foreign trade, with a custom house, the town was given its present name of Kennebunkport, in part due to its relation to neighboring Kennebunk.
Kennebunkport has been bustling with commerce since the 1800s, when many ships were built and sent to sea from its harbor. Historically, Kennebunkport has been very important in the shipping industry of Maine. Folks settling this area were bound to the sea, and even today the seafaring culture is still much in evidence, particularly in Cape Porpoise and along the banks of the Kennebunk River. In the late 1800s, the area became known as a popular summer destination for tourists in the Northeast, due to the expansion of the Boston & Maine Railroad, which provided service to the area and easy access to the area’s beautiful beaches. To this day, the Kennebunks are a popular four-season destination.