It was granted by the Massachusetts General Court in 1765 to officers and soldiers who served with Sir William Phipps in the 1690 Battle of Quebec. It replaced a 1736 grant made to them called Bakerstown (now Salisbury, New Hampshire) which was ruled invalid in 1741 at the separation of New Hampshire from Massachusetts. The new plantation was also called Bakerstown (after Captain Thomas Baker), and included present-day Poland, Minot, Mechanic Falls and the greater part of Auburn.
Settled in 1767 by Nathaniel Bailey and Daniel Lane, Bakerstown Plantation would be incorporated as Poland on February 17, 1795. It was named after Indian Chief Poland, who was killed with two of his warriors on May 14, 1756 during the last Indian raid against New Marblehead Plantation (now Windham). At the beginning, Poland was an agricultural town, with of the best land farmed by the Shakers who settled at Poland Hill above the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester. Called the North Family of Shakers, the village was founded by members who removed from Gorham in 1819. It lasted until 1887.
Industry was attracted to Poland's water power sites. In 1859, when the population was 2,660, it had 4 sawmills, a gristmill, a tannery and a carriage factory. The St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad passed through the northeastern corner of the town, spurring development and bringing tourists drawn to its scenic ponds and gentle hills. By 1893, when Mechanic Falls was set off as a separate town, Poland had evolved into a Gilded Age resort.
In 1797, The Wentworth Ricker Inn in South Poland opened at the homestead Jabez Ricker acquired from a 1794 land swap with Alfred Shaker Village in Alfred. But when the railroad replaced stage travel, patronage declined and the inn closed. Then a grandson, Hiram Ricker, began proclaiming that the mineral spring on his family's property had cured his dyspepsia. People began arriving to sample the spring's curative waters, which flow 8 gallons a minute. Reopened in 1861, the inn was enlarged and renamed The Mansion House. But even that could not handle the crowds, so in 1875 the family built what was dubbed Ricker's Folly.
On July 4, 1876, The Poland Spring House opened atop Ricker's Hill, an elevation of 800 feet (244 m) above sea level with magnificent views to the White Mountains. The hotel would be augmented over the years by architects John Calvin Stevens, Albert Winslow Cobb and Harry Wilkerson. It became a self-contained and exclusive spa, with guards at gatehouses instructed to turn away sightseers. With luxurious accommodations for 450 guests, the hotel attracted the rich and famous. Patrons included Gen. Benjamin Butler, Sen. James G. Blaine, Joan Crawford, Jimmy Durante, Jack Paar and Robert Goulet. But following World War II, the era of grand hotels waned. When the Rickers sold The Poland Spring House, its new owners allowed the sprawling facilities to deteriorate. On July 3, 1975, the vacant hotel burned. Today, the famous water is bottled by Poland Spring.
The town is crossed by state routes 11, 26 and 122. It is bordered by the towns of Mechanic Falls to the north, Minot to the northeast, Auburn to the east, New Gloucester to the southeast, Casco and Raymond to the southwest, and Otisfield and Oxford to the northwest.
As of the census of 2000, there were 4,866 people, 1,845 households, and 1,437 families residing in the town. The population density was 115.0 people per square mile (44.4/km²). There were 2,316 housing units at an average density of 54.7/sq mi (21.1/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 98.54% White, 0.33% African American, 0.12% Native American, 0.14% Asian, 0.08% Pacific Islander, 0.02% from other races, and 0.76% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.31% of the population.
There were 1,845 households out of which 35.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 64.8% were married couples living together, 8.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 22.1% were non-families. 16.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.63 and the average family size was 2.92.
In the town the population was spread out with 25.3% under the age of 18, 5.7% from 18 to 24, 31.6% from 25 to 44, 27.5% from 45 to 64, and 10.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 102.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 100.5 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $47,824, and the median income for a family was $55,427. Males had a median income of $33,284 versus $23,926 for females. The per capita income for the town was $22,346. About 1.8% of families and 3.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 2.0% of those under age 18 and 4.7% of those age 65 or over.
Two episodes of the popular 1960s television series U.S. Route 66 were filmed in Poland: "Come out, Come out, Wherever you are" (1963) starring Lon Chaney, Jr.; and "Same Picture, Different Frame" (1963) starring Joan Crawford, Tom Bosley, and Patrick O'Neal