The Pepperell Mills Company recruited Albanian men to work as textile designers and dyers in Biddeford, starting in the 1880s. The Albanians were sought because of their expert knowledge of fabrics—gained by living along the Silk Road route in the Middle East for centuries.
The Albanian men initially moved to Biddeford without their families, but sent for wives and children after becoming established. Some of the Albanians practiced Islam and others were Orthodox Christians; both used the Pepperell Mills Counting House for multi-denominational worship. Since many of the Albanians were Muslim, this may have been the first Mosque in the United States.
Pepperell Manufacturing Company, Biddeford, ca. 1900
Item 23040 info
Dyer Library Archives / Saco Museum
The Albanians integrated into the Saco-Biddeford area, and some enlisted to fight in World War I. The Spanish influenza epidemic came to Biddeford in 1918, killing many citizens, including Albanians. Biddeford’s Woodlawn Cemetery has a cluster of Albanian tombstones from this era that face east towards Mecca, and some contain engravings of the crescent and star symbolizing Islam. Other Albanian graves are scattered throughout the cemetery.
Another enclave of Albanian immigrants settled in Damariscotta around 1905, and later in Rockland. Brothers Tom and Speiro Economy started out as fruit peddlers, and grew their business over the years into a successful grocery. They opened their first store in Rockland in 1912.
Some Albanians who settled in Maine returned to their homeland after Albania became independent in 1912, and others moved to Massachusetts to join larger Albanian communities, but many remain in the Biddeford/Saco and Midcoast areas of Maine.
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