The New Dredging Project on the Saco River: Another Highway Widens to Biddeford / Saco

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.

Continued Market Growth in Biddeford

When Starbuck’s looks for their next retail location, they look at trending demographics. They also look at the growth potential of the area market. They use research tools to assess when real estate becomes available to determine if the location will be able to support the volume they need to profitably operate their store. The fact that Starbuck’s choose their new 5 corners location validates the PMC’s non-scientific prediction that Biddeford is an up and coming market.

If you live or work at the mill you recognize the daily site of DHL, FED EX and UPS. The trucks arrive with their characteristic reverse alarms, stopping daily at 5 locations at the Pepperell Mill Campus. With 136 commercial and 100 residential leases, there is a constant cycle of products being shipped out and shipped in. This ebb and flow on campus demonstrates real economic impact in our community.

With roughly 60% of the 1.1 million square feet of leasable space here on campus re-developed and occupied we are ahead of that non-scientific prediction’s schedule. Come join the downtown revival, and feel the buzz and benefit of being part of a community of startups, small businesses, and residents.

Biddeford Mills Museum

On the cultural front, the Biddeford Mills Museum is in the process of building exhibit space and refining their extensive on-site tours.

Perhaps the greatest historical aspect of the mill is hidden under ground. Beneath the mill lies a network of tunnels and lagoons that once carried and controlled all of the water used to power the mill’s machinery back in the late 1800s. This was the original source of power for the mill, and the reason why the mill was developed along the Saco River falls. The lagoon (photo below) was the epicenter of water power, and controlled the distribution of power for all of the machinery at the mill.lagoon

During the era of steam power, several steam engines were in service at the mill. Steam power replaced the mill’s original mode of power, river water.

This is a photo of the new timeline mural in the lobby of the Pepperell Center. The timeline follows the history of the mill from it’s inception in the early 1800s.23380308_10155151948557362_8771920208047621304_n

The museum is a great cultural addition to the campus. The story of Biddeford – Saco mill history is critical, as the buildings and the industrial innovations developed were at the fore front of the American Industrial Revolution.

Saco River Falls

When the Saco River rages as it does in this video, the river is either draining the White Mountains during the spring thaw, or a great weather event has just occurred. We are all painfully aware of the recent weather event.

The awesome strength of the falls reminds us of why the mills are here in the first place. It was the power of the water that drove the machinery that made these mills the most successful textile operation of its time.

What made this mill so uniquely productive, was the difference in elevation between the top of the falls and the bottom of the falls. That difference is 42 feet. It all comes down to gravity and head pressure. Large quantities of water dropping 42 feet was the force that consistently drove the water wheels that ran the various machinery, processes and looms to produce cloth.

The mill developers in the early 1840s saw this potential and commenced the construction of a network of tunnels to harness the water’s power. Then they built the mill buildings on top of the tunnels, and the machines started spinning. The mill was one of the greatest early advances of the American Industrial Revolution, and it was all based on a very simple principle: gravity.