The Mill Complex

January 25th, 2013 by edewolfe

Max Metayer, History 2015.

Once or twice a month for the past year, my band has played at events in the old mill buildings in Biddeford and Saco. In Biddeford’s North Dam Mill (now serving as an apartment building), the Art Walk draws people into halls which now hold a number of art studios and other small shops. Across the river in Saco (and with a wonderful view of the water and the North Dam Mill) local farmers, craftspeople, and shop owners set up tables for a Winter Farmers’ Market every Saturday morning. My family has lived in Biddeford for generations, so my history is closely tied to the mill complex. It feels good to see the mills full of people, and even better to help fill them with sound after they have stood silent for so long.

I’m sure that in John Haley’s day the mills were anything but silent. He got his first job as a child in mill building number four, and worked there for seven years. When the Panic of 1857 left the mills temporarily abandoned much like I remember them being in my childhood, Haley said “…there was literally nothing doing in Saco.” Four years later, Biddeford and Saco sent many of their potential workers to the war and the fighting surely cut the mills off from Southern cotton. Still, I’m interested to see what our class can discover about the local mills’ contributions to the war effort.

If we can incorporate the mills into our exhibit, then the exhibit cannot leave the minds of visitors as they leave the museum. The mills are a vestige of our industrial past, and they can serve as a reminder to our visitors as they drive by or perhaps visit the Winter Farmers’ Market or Art Walk of what Biddeford and Saco were when John Haley was still a librarian in the Dyer Library.

The photo was taken in 1870, evidently from the roof of city hall. Some of the mills and their boardinghouses can be seen in the background.– Untitled Photo of Biddeford and Mills. 1870. In the Collection of McArthur Library, Biddeford and reprinted in Jacques M. Downs, The Cities on the Saco ( Norfolk: Donning Company Publishers, 1985), p. 194.

Like Walking into a Time Machine

January 24th, 2013 by edewolfe

Dean Smalley,   History with Secondary Education Certification  2014

I have always been interested in U.S. History. However, coming from Washington State means that there is no evidence of the Civil War within my hometown. The Civil War was the most influential conflict that the United States has ever been involved in. It shaped our budding nation and paved the way for civil rights and equality. To be able to learn about the Civil War from a place that had such an impact on the conflict is incredible.  Just being able to see the textile mills in Biddeford adds another level of realism and authenticity for me.  Now that I live in Biddeford, all of this local history feels like it is right in my backyard, just waiting for my exploration.

In talking about local history, I wanted to share something that I was really interested in researching recently. I hadn’t known that the Powder Mills that were on the Presumpscot River had supplied the Union with 25 percent of their gunpowder. So I decided to do some preliminary investigation as to the Powder mills that had been on the river. Sure enough, the Oriental Powder Mills in Windham were established in 1824 and were in service through the entirety of the Civil War and continued to operate manufacturing gunpowder until they were purchased in 1905.  During their 80 years of operation they suffered only 45 deaths due to powder explosions. I thought this was actually kind of impressive given the nature of making black powder from sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter.

Just learning about this one powder mill has made me really interested in learning about the other factories and mills of Maine that were in full swing during the Civil War. I will continue to explore the industrial side of Maine’s involvement as our Course continues on towards our Exhibit.

You can find more information on the Powder Mills from the Maine Memory Network in the following link:

Oriental Powder Mills, South Windham, Maine, ca. 1855. In the Collection of the Maine Historical Society. Image courtesy of the Maine Memory Network.

We Love Museums… Do Museums Love Us Back?

January 18th, 2013 by edewolfe

Each week, the undergraduate students in Museums and Public History will post their thoughts on creating the John Haley exhibit. Our first entry, and accompanying video, raises the important question of who decides what is worthy of exhibiting in a museum.

Ashley Green,  Biochemistry 2015

I grew up in a small town in Maine immersed in historical societies. My childhood was filled with hikes through history, colonial reenactments, and the ever present push to never forget the value of preserving the past’s stories. Even when I escaped to New York City my days were wasted touching the first dinosaur bones ever found and giggling at what has been deemed the best of modern art.  I have been unimpressed by the Mona Lisa and stood uncomfortably in front of Anne Frank’s diary. Even so, how could I ever help build a museum exhibit?

Though I consider myself an avid museum goer, I am most certainly not a history buff. I also have a hesitation when it comes to placing a value on what is preserved and presented as an accurate discourse. Who are these important people that decide what goes into a museum? How do they decide what is important? What is unimportant?

I probably have about average knowledge of the Civil War. I can rattle off some important names and tell you who won and what that meant. I knew nothing of John Haley. I also knew nothing of the daily doldrums of a soldier in the Civil War.  Apparently, what I think are important details of a Maine soldier’s life are going to go into a museum. Mostly this consists of vivid descriptions of fantastic feasts and the hollows of starvation. What I want to preserve is the sentiments that would have concerned me and the lengths that people go to for what they believe in.

We Love Museums . . .Do Museums Love Us Back?

John Haley’s Civil War

January 15th, 2013 by edewolfe

Dr. Elizabeth De Wolfe,  Professor of History

In 1862, John W. Haley, a young man from Saco, Maine, enlisted in the 17th Maine Regiment. For thirty-three months, Haley battled the Rebels, the elements, the whims of officers, and his own challenges with health. He kept a daily journal and after the war ended, Haley expanded his short entries into a more cohesive narrative. His hope, as revealed by a note tucked into his lengthy manuscript, was that “from these pages some caring generation may find inspiration [and] better understand the cause we served, the cause of preservation of the Union of States.”

This blog will follow one inspiration borne of Haley’s chronicle: a collaborative, student-designed museum exhibit based on Haley’s Civil War experience. During the Spring 2013 semester, seventeen undergraduate students at the University of New England will read Haley’s diary, research the Civil War, and craft in its entirety — from idea to installation — a museum exhibit that tells his story. UNE’s partner in this  collaboration is the Saco (Maine) Museum which will host the exhibition during Summer 2013. In these postings, follow the progress of creating John Haley’s Civil War as students, faculty, and museum staff  blog weekly about the opportunities of collaborations, the challenges of exhibit design, and the insights — and inspiration — gained from Haley’s pages.