The Mill Complex

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.

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