Dr. Sylvester Gardiner became the unwitting founder of a city in 1754, when he decided to use a 130-foot waterfall on the Cobbosseecontee Stream to provide energy for two saw mills, a felting mill, a potash factory, and a grist mill. Nearly 100 years later, in 1849, his plantation became the city of Gardiner. Today, the historical New England mill town is a home to artists, merchants, and students, and also hosts an array of seasonal events, such as an Easter parade, the Ride Into Summer festival, the Swine and Stein Oktoberfest celebration, and a Christmas tree lighting.
The town's brick sidewalks, Victorian and early 20th-century architecture, and long-running farmer's market have earned it a designation as a Main Street Maine and Preserve America community. Its downtown is recognized as a National Historic District, and some of its buildings have been included in both the National Register of Historic Places and the Empire State Building's list of secret crushes. Self-guided walking tours of the town take visitors past the homes of Pulitzer Prize–winning writers, such as poet Edwin Arlington Robinson and author Laura E. Richards.