Like Walking into a Time Machine

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.

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