Rusty turbine at Biddeford Mills, 2015


Turbines were essential to powering the machinery in the Pepperell and Laconia mills from 1846 to the early 1900s, when the mills changed to electric power.

For several years, the mills operated solely on water power, but after a few occasional droughts the supply of water was insufficient to keep the mills operating. Large steam engine engines were installed, used only when needed.

Large underground tube canals harnessed and conducted river water, discharging it above the turbine wheel. As the water passed downward through the vanes of the turbine, it caused a vertical shaft to be rotated, which in turn was connected through gearing or belts to drive the mill machines. After passing through the turbine, the water flowed by gravity back into the river.

Most of the turbines and the steam engines at Pepperell Mills were scrapped during World War II. The turbine in this photo is one of the few remaining water turbines in 2019, now rusting in the cellar of the mill.

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