Houlton is the county seat for Aroostook County, and as such its nickname is the "Shire Town" and the Houlton High School sports teams are named "The Shiretowners". The Meduxnekeag River flows through the heart of the town, and the border with the Canadian province of New Brunswick is three miles east of the town's center. Houlton was the home of Ricker College which closed in 1978.
The town was settled by and named for Joseph Houlton, who immigrated from Massachusetts in 1807. In 1828, the U.S. government established a military post, the Hancock barracks, and Houlton was officially incorporated as a town in 1831. In 1839, when the Aroostook War flared up, Houlton was manned by three companies of the 1st Artillery Regiment under Major R. M. Kirby. Major Kirby helped to restrain the twelve companies of militia that Maine sent there from starting a shooting war. The post was abandoned in 1847, five years after the Webster-Ashburton Treaty settled the boundary dispute.
Houlton was the location of the first transatlantic Radio Intelligence Station installed by the US Army MI-8 Radio Intelligence Service in World War I. The Houlton Radio Intelligence Station intercepted German diplomatic communications primarily from its Nauen high power radio station. The Radio Intelligence Service (R.I.S.) was created during World War I by MI-8 using selected Signal Corps personnel for the sole purpose of supporting strategic intelligence through radio intercept. Houlton was the first unit of its type built by the US intelligence services, and its success helped to lay the foundation for many more US long range radio intercept stations.
On January 7, 1927, AT&T initiated the first transatlantic commercial telephone service; linking New York and London The AT&T Transoceanic Receiver Station was located at the end of Hand Lane, , two miles west of the town center. The massive receiving antenna, over three miles long and two miles wide; straddled what is now I-95, four miles west of the town center. The receiver station worked with AT&T's massive long wave transmitting facility located at RCA Radio Central in Rocky Point, New York. The receiver station received the longwave telephone signal from the British General Post Office Rugby transmitting station near Rugby, England
Houlton Army Air Base was established in 1941 immediately adjacent to the Canadian border. Prior to the U.S. entry into the war, planes were flown to the base but U.S. military pilots could not fly the planes directly into Canada -- a member of the British Commonwealth -- because that would violate the official U.S. position of neutrality. Local farmers then used their tractors to tow the planes into Canada, where the Canadians then closed the Woodstock highway so it could be used as a runway by aircraft. The air base closed in July 1944.
Pilot Officer George Newall Harrison of the Royal New Zealand Air Force was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery veterans’ plot after the Hudson Bomber he was ferrying to the UK crashed 500 yards south of the runway on 5 December 1942. He is one of just a few New Zealand casualties from World War Two to be buried in the USA . Buried next to Harrison is his 19 year old radio operator, Sergeant Henry Bordewick from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Both of these Commonwealth War Graves are carefully maintained by the Houlton American Legion post.
In 1944 a major part of the air base was made into Camp Houlton, a Prisoner of War (POW) internment camp. At its peak, 3,700 German POWs were imprisoned at the camp. It was a violation of the Geneva Convention to force POWs to work; however, they could volunteer to work. Camp Houlton provided laborers for local farms to harvest peas, pick potatoes and other work. Not all POWs were allowed to work on the farms for security reasons. Most of those who were selected to work had no interest in harming their captors or causing trouble. Many farmers came to see the POWs who worked their fields as good laborers rather than enemy soldiers. The prisoners were paid a dollar a day in scrip that they could spend at the post exchange, the base store, for toiletries, tobacco, chocolate, and even beer. The base was closed in 1946 after the prisoners were repatriated. The site is now the home of Houlton International Airport.
The Houlton/Woodstock Border Crossing, located just east of Houlton, marks the northern terminus of Interstate 95.
There were 1,677 households out of which 29.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.4% were married couples living together, 11.0% have a woman whose husband does not live with her, and 38.2% were non-families. 34.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 18.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29 and the average family size was 2.94.
In the town the population was spread out with 23.7% under the age of 18, 7.1% from 18 to 24, 26.0% from 25 to 44, 21.9% from 45 to 64, and 21.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 87.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.4 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $26,212, and the median income for a family was $34,812. Males had a median income of $27,623 versus $20,991 for females. The per capita income for the town was $14,007. 17.7% of the population and 13.5% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 21.0% are under the age of 18 and 15.8% are 65 or older.