All of Port Kent is in a Historic District. It was settled as a planned community meant to be much like its across-the-lake neighbor, Burlington, Vermont. Several businessmen from Burlington came over to Port Kent in 1816 and built a large commercial wharf, believing that it was a natural spot to collect the products from the productive mills, forges, and iron mines of the AuSable River Valley and ship them across the lake to Burlington. They saw large profits in taking these raw materials to Burlington for sale and or further processing. This forwarding and wharfing business never lived up to the expectations of its founders, so a new group bought the land and devised a planned village centered on the wharf. This group was led by General Amos Barnum of Vergennes, Vermont, and included the famed Elkannah Watson, then living in Albany. Watson's son Charles was hired to manage the iron interests and other commercial interests of the new company. He eventually made a mess of the company business and his father had to come to the new Port Kent to straighten things out.
In addition to serving as the commercial outlet for the AuSable Valley, during the summer season, Port Kent became a gateway to the Adirondack Mountains and a plank road was built to aid travel into Keeseville and points up the AuSable River Valley. But these early travelers did not stay for long in Port Kent and there was not much profit from their presence. After the railroad came to Port Kent, a series of resort hotels were built and the village became a well-known destination via rail and steamboats. Today, Port Kent supports a few pleasure boats and traffic from the Burlington ferry.
Unlike the early days, there is very little economic activity in the small village of Port Kent. However, it is a unique place that did benefit from the advent of the automobile age. The number of rooming houses oriented to the summer vacationer increased after the automobile age and the village thrived. Almost every street in the small village has elegant old frame boarding houses, dating from the early to mid 1900s.