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Mills and Changing Cities

This slideshow contains 15 items
1
York Factories, Saco, 1830

York Factories, Saco, 1830

Item 28932 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

Biddeford and Saco, separated by the Saco River, began a long legacy of cotton manufacturing in 1825 when Saco Manufacturing built the largest textile mill in the country.

The seven-story building burned shortly after production started in 1829.

But that only temporarily slowed the move toward textile manufacturing. A group of Boston investors acquired Saco Manufacturing and Factory Island on which it was located and began the York Manufacturing Company.

They began all phases of textile manufacture, from raw cotton to finished cloth in 1833.

The mill became well known for its unique plaid, colored fabrics.


2
Plan of Lands of Saco Water Power Co. at Saco & Biddeford, 1848

Plan of Lands of Saco Water Power Co. at Saco & Biddeford, 1848

Item 28927 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

In 1837, York Manufacturing began a separate company, the Saco Water Power Company, to produce textile machinery and control waterpower rights for the York Mills.

Saco Water Power built the Laconia Mills on the Biddeford side of the river in 1844, then started Pepperell Manufacturing Company in 1850.

The Laconia and Pepperell Mills produced heavy, denim-like fabrics.

The Saco Water Power Machine Shop, a separate factory for the production of textile equipment, also was built in Biddeford in the 1840s.


3
Mills, Saco, ca. 1875

Mills, Saco, ca. 1875

Item 28764 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

In 1820 before the first textile mill was constructed the combined population of Biddeford and Saco was 4,200.

By the 1850s, the textile industry was in full swing and the total combined population had risen to over 15,000.

At that time, there were three textile manufacturing companies in operation: York Manufacturing, Laconia and Pepperell.

Together they employed about 3,500 people, had 11 mill buildings, operated 70 boarding houses and produced more than 25 million yards of cotton fabric annually.


4
Laconia Mills boarding houses, Biddeford, ca. 1895

Laconia Mills boarding houses, Biddeford, ca. 1895

Item 29280 info
McArthur Public Library

The first textile workers were primarily New England farm girls.

They traveled into the heart of Biddeford and Saco to work and lived in company boarding houses.

Some girls sent money home to their families but most spent their earnings on scarves, bonnets, jewelry and other luxury items.


5
Advertisement, B.F. Hamilton, Saco, 1856

Advertisement, B.F. Hamilton, Saco, 1856

Item 29088 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

As a result of this increased need for goods, an array of local merchants thrived in the area.

Shops sprang up selling everything from fancy silks and jewelry to cigars and groceries.

Twenty-three new streets were laid out and 600 stores and houses were built in less than a decade in Biddeford alone.

The decade between 1845 and 1855 has been called the most hectic, most crowded and most booming time in Biddeford's history.


6
Main Street, Saco, ca. 1910

Main Street, Saco, ca. 1910

Item 25753 info
Penobscot Marine Museum

In Saco, between 1825 and 1850, Saco had dozens of industries -- among them the cotton mills, machine shops, iron foundries and cigar factories.

Saco built a Town Hall in 1855 and incorporated in 1867.

Biddeford grew faster than Saco.

In 1880, Saco had more than 6,000 residents; Biddeford's population was 12,652.


7
Saint Demetrios Church, Biddeford, 1955

Saint Demetrios Church, Biddeford, 1955

Item 22561 info
McArthur Public Library

Immigrants came to both cities.

In 1880, Biddeford recorded residents from Canada, Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Portugal, Denmark, Saxony, Holland, France, Italy and Malta.

About half of the population of Biddeford in 1880 was foreign born.

No longer were the majority of workers Yankee farm girls. Now, more French-Canadians worked in the mills, and more of the employees were men than women.

By 1920, much of the immigration was from southern and eastern Europe -- Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Greece, Italy, Turkey as well as other locations.

The variety of churches in the town attests to the international flavor: the usual New England protestant denominations, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, and what was is believed to be the nation's first Muslim mosque, located on Factory Island.


8
Fabric Sample with Weaving Pattern, York Mills, 1842

Fabric Sample with Weaving Pattern, York Mills, 1842

Item 29072 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

Companies that made the textile machinery and leather loom harnesses necessary for mill production also prospered.

The brick making and granite industries were booming as a result of the increased demand for materials needed to construct the mills and boarding houses.


9
Fabric Sample & Paper Pattern, York Mills, 1842

Fabric Sample & Paper Pattern, York Mills, 1842

Item 29074 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

The Portland, Saco and Portsmouth Railroad arrived in 1842.

In the 1840s there were also seven different stagecoach lines arriving and departing from the area, shuttling workers where the train wasn’t available.

The stagecoach and railroad services made it easier for workers to travel from the country to the city.

In 1853 rail travel expanded and the Grand Trunk Railroad linked Montreal with Portland.

By the late 1860s thousands of workers left Canada to find work in Maine textile mills, many arriving in Biddeford and Saco. Other industrial communities such as Lewiston and Auburn also received thousands of French-Canadian immigrants.


10
Boats Near Factory Island, Saco, ca. 1870

Boats Near Factory Island, Saco, ca. 1870

Item 25831 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

Shipbuilding was also at its height in the mid 1800s.

Two to three ships were being built per year in Biddeford and Saco.

The ships ranged in size from 100-600 tons.


11
Fabric Remnant & Weaving Pattern, York Mills, 1842

Fabric Remnant & Weaving Pattern, York Mills, 1842

Item 29076 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

The textile industry contributed to increased shipping in 1852 when Pepperell began shipping its drills to China.

By 1870, Pepperell was shipping textiles to India and Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka).

Clipper ships went around the Horn to China. By the 1880s, steamers crossed the Atlantic, went through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

In the late 1880s, shipments went by rail to Vancouver, British Columbia, then by ship across the Pacific.


12
Double Lion Chop Mark, Biddeford, ca. 1880

Double Lion Chop Mark, Biddeford, ca. 1880

Item 28923 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

Francis Skinner, part owner of Pepperell, originated the Pepperell "dragon" -- a textile trademark.

Pepperell "drill" fabric, a strong cotton, was quite popular in China. Since the Chinese and Indians who bought the product often could not read English, the trademark needed to be identifiable.

Skinner chose the dragon, a common Chinese symbol.


13
Beaver Chop Mark, Pepperell Manufacturing, Biddeford, ca. 1880

Beaver Chop Mark, Pepperell Manufacturing, Biddeford, ca. 1880

Item 28929 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

One of the original Pepperell chop marks was the "Beaver."

Textiles sold in China often had beaver chops, but to insure that people were buying Pepperell, the company always had seven lines of lettering below the chop.

Pepperell goods could be distinguished by the number of lines of lettering, even from those with a copied chop mark.


14
York Mills Fabric & Pattern, Saco, 1842

York Mills Fabric & Pattern, Saco, 1842

Item 29073 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

The Pepperell Co. bragged that between 1899 and 1915, it manufactured 1,030,604,502 yards or 585,570 miles of cloth.

Of that, 34 percent was drills, the most popular in China. A company publication noted that, if each person used eight yards of the fabric, there was enough made to clothe 44,171,629 Chinese with one suit each, or to outfit 2,766,726 Chinese a year.


15
York Manufacturing Company Workers, Saco, ca. 1900

York Manufacturing Company Workers, Saco, ca. 1900

Item 23044 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum

Textile manufacturing was a vibrant industry in Biddeford and Saco for over 100 years.

In the 1950s many of the mills closed; only Pepperell remained open.

Around the same time the local textile machine manufacturers had closed and relocated to South Carolina.

In 2009 WestPoint Home, a division of Pepperell shut its doors and ended over 175 years of textile manufacturing in the Biddeford and Saco area.

Many of the mill buildings still stand and are being given new life as condominiums, restaurants and artist studios.


This slideshow contains 15 items