130 years ago, the Saco River served as a primary commercial delivery route for the mills and the region. The massive piers and moorings on both sides of the river served the schooners, barges and tugs that delivered raw materials to the mill. The same boats loaded on finished products to ship out to the market. Coal arrived to fire the endless appetite of the massive boiler plants, making steam for heat and process throughout the 3,000,000 square foot mill complex. Cotton, the primary raw material for making textiles, arrived in barge loads, delivered in 1000 lbs. compressed bales. Finished cotton “drill” fabric, wrapped in burlap and stamped with the familiar Laconia Griffon logo was packed in into schooners, ready for the trip down the river and across the world.
The schooners built for open ocean travel had deep keels for rough water stability. Those schooners required 12’ to 15’ in water depth. 130 years ago, the Saco River was deep enough to accommodate these delivery boats.
Through the natural process of siltation, over time the sands and sediments filled in the river bed, slowly blocking the pathways of nautical delivery.
Luckily for the mills, the modes of commercial transportation evolved away from ocean travel to ways of railroads and trucking.
Today the river is in the process of becoming an ocean travel way again. Through a joint effort by Biddeford and Saco, federal funding has been procured to dredge the river, returning it to the depths of its past. It is no coincidence that recently a major marina and townhouse project has been announced for Saco Island.
The waterfront of Saco/Biddeford comes alive once again.