Blog & News

Listed below our awesome blog posts

In : Blog Comments : 0 Author : louisem Date : 30 Jun 2019

Liberty Defended, held on July 6 & 7 at 1pm, at the Biddeford Meetinghouse will also feature Eames Rangers.   Here are photos of the Rangers.

In : Uncategorized Comments : 0 Author : louisem Date : 13 Jun 2019

When you mention textile mills, most people think about weaving.  It is in many cases the last manufacturing process creating a woven product. Although there are many, many previous processes before weaving it is the most commonly recognized process. Let’s spend a day in a cotton sheet weave room.

In the early days of the Pepperell Mills, 1850, a good weaver could manage 4 or 5 looms at once.  As time and technology improved, 1970,  a good weaver could manage upwards of 70 looms at once. They were paid by the amount of product they produced. A good weave could make good money which enticed many to work as weavers for 40 years or more. The weavers were usually petite women who could move easily around the crowded looms. In a cotton weave room the working conditions were not easy. To keep the threads from breaking they needed to be flexible so they would not break in the weaving process. To keep them soft, the humidity needed  to be about 95% which required a temperature of 115 degrees in the workplace. This had to be maintained at all times during the work day.

The cotton products made prior to 1927 were sold in bulk where the buyer did the coloring, printing, and any other specifications. The purchase of a Bleachery in Lewiston in1927 now gave Pepperell the ability to make white and colored products.

Blankets came to Pepperell in 1927 to replace some of the cotton products that they no longer being made. Located in the Laconia division, this was the first time Pepperell actually made a retail product on which they put their name, Lady Pepperell. Blanket weaving used material other than cotton alone and therefore did not require 115 degrees and 95% humidity. The work environment was not as harsh and many times required ventilation to reduce the temperature and humidity.

In general, after 1926,  Pepperell division wove cotton products and the Laconia division woven blanket products.

This incentive pay scheme also applied to the loom fixers or mechanics whose job was to keep the looms running and free from breakdown. Because of the high importance of keeping the looms running and the technical skill needed, the loom fixer job many times was handed down to the next generation in the family upon retirement. The practice turned out to be a great resource for the next generation of loom fixers.

 

 

 

In : Blog Comments : 0 Author : louisem Date : 13 Jun 2019

The “lagoon” was built as a reservoir for the canals that provided the water power for the early Pepperell mills. This lagoon was built in the 1840s as part of the canal system that took water from the Saco River at Jordan’s Creek and brought it into the mill complex to provide the power to turn the turbines that created the mechanical power to turn the leather belts that powered the machinery. The water came in through canals and then dropped down to another set of canals which enter the lagoon here. The water flowed through the existing canals that powered the Laconia Mill and eventually emptied into the Saco River near Main Street. This lagoon was part of the system built to power the Pepperell Mills. Laconia Mills had water power from another set of canals.

The lagoon was open to air until 1910 when this building was built. The ceiling is the floor for #10-1 Mill which is suspended from the steel beams in the ceiling of to Mill. Notice the turn buckles when you go upstairs.

The granite was mined from local quarries on the Pool Road, Granite Street, and Mountain Road. Each quarry had its own grade of granite that dictated the use. The Saco Water Power Company, the owners of the Pepperell Mill, purchased the Pool Road quarry in 1848 and kept it until 1871. The granite from these quarries was used up and down the East Coast for buildings, monuments , and statues.

The granite was cut by hand and moved by oxen to barges and wagons to reach its final destination. Notice how nicely it all fits together.
The canals were dug by hand and horse drawn scoops by the many people coming to Biddeford to share in the prosperity of the new mills. Many stayed and built the cobblestone streets that ran throughout the city. Such was life in city from 1840 to 1880.

References:
National Register of Historic Places

-Dana Peck

In : Blog Comments : 0 Author : louisem Date : 13 Jun 2019

 

One of the many natural resources cherished by Mainers is the gift of natural beauty often overlooked and taken for granted. That special something is the granite that formed the foundations of our ancestral homes, farms, mill buildings, statues, and monuments. The beauty of granite created a finishing touch to many structures not only in our community but around the country and the world. The granite varied in color from, light gray to pinkish-buff to conspicuous black mica composition. Some were hard and difficult to work while others were softer and could be cut much easier.

We in southern Maine are fortunate to have many quarries from which we mined granite since the colonial days for structural and aesthetic purposes. It was mined in Biddeford in the early 1800s commercially to provide building material for many structures. The remnants of those quarries still exist along the Pool Road, Granite Street, and the Mountain Road. The shipping docks can be seen along the Saco River where the ships docked to pick up their cargo.

In the 1880s the quarries employed over 500 stone cutters to provide material for many famous structures. The different grades of granite each found a use related to their hardness and workability. Following is where some of our granite was used .

1848- Saco Water Power Company (Pepperell)

1886- New York Harlem Bridge and Philadelphia’s New market Street Bridge

1888- George Washington Bridge, New York

1892- Chicago World’s Fair

St. Joseph’s Church, Biddeford

Lincoln Memorial, Springfield, Illinois

Breakwaters in the Delaware and Saco Rivers

Stone cutters had few tools in the beginning but as the industrial revolution continued cranes and railroads were used at the quarries to mine the stone and transport it to the ships and later trains. Today the quarries of New England provide many different grades of granite from the hardest (street curbing) to one of the softest for patios and steps.

For further information visit the McArthur Library.

-Dana Peck

In : Blog Comments : 0 Author : louisem Date : 13 Jun 2019

A study of the evolving history of Biddeford and Saco reveals a glorious past that mirrors the history of the “great American experiment.” Our era of the Industrial Revolution embodied many of the same circumstances and practices of the other early American industrial communities. One such practice was that of child labor in the mills.

The Industrial Revolution and the new textile industry of the 1840 gave rise to the need for more labor than was available from the adult population. Previously children worked in the farms where they were key members of the family work force. When work became available off the farm it usually was satisfied by the older teenage siblings. However, as the economy changed from agricultural to industrial children from ages 8 to 15 became more important in the workforce.

Particularly in Biddeford when immigrant families moved here to work in the mills, they raised large families who had limited opportunities for employment. With the immigration of the Irish in the 1840s and Canadians in the 1870s the larger families needed children to work to support the growing families. In the 1880s in Ward 2 the US Census shows 10% of the population was children from the ages of 7 to 15 working in the “cotton mill.’ In the US in 1900 fully 18% of all American workers were under the age of 16.

The child labor worked at jobs that were not filled by adults. They were paid about 10% of the adult wage and usually pushed carts, cleaned, or handled light work. These jobs were essential and could be handled by someone other than an adult who could work at a more important part of the process.

During these years there was a continuing effort to establish child labor laws at the state and federal levels. However, the child labor portion was so important to our economy it was not until 1938 that meaningful laws were passed to define the rights of children in the workplace. The Great Depression in 1938 essentially removed children from the workplace.

Locally, however, much was happening. Schooling became more culturally important  and the language barrier of the immigrant children enrolled in schools was being eliminated. Though many children spoke their native language at home with their family, they learned a second language, English, at school. Some children who came from a mixed marriage spoke as many as three or four languages.

Parochial schools were opened early. St Mary’s School and St. Joseph’s School both opened in1894. St Andre’s officially opened in 1930.

Child labor was thought to be a necessity of an emerging economy. Concurrently, education was becoming a priority with public and private schools offering children skills to create a brighter future for themselves and the community. Our foundation was being laid.

-Dana Peck

In : Blog Comments : 0 Author : louisem Date : 13 Jun 2019

One of the many natural resources cherished by Mainers is the gift of natural beauty often overlooked and taken for granted. That special something is the granite that formed the foundations of our ancestral homes, farms, mill buildings, statues, and monuments. The beauty of granite created a finishing touch to many structures not only in our community but around the country and the world. The granite varied in color from, light gray to pinkish-buff to conspicuous black mica composition. Some were hard and difficult to work while others were softer and could be cut much easier.

We in southern Maine are fortunate to have many quarries from which we mined granite since the colonial days for structural and aesthetic purposes. It was mined in Biddeford in the early 1800s commercially to provide building material for many structures. The remnants of those quarries still exist along the Pool Road, Granite Street, and the Mountain Road. The shipping docks can be seen along the Saco River where the ships docked to pick up their cargo.

In the 1880s the quarries employed over 500 stone cutters to provide material for many famous structures. The different grades of granite each found a use related to their hardness and workability. Following is where some of our granite was used .

1848- Saco Water Power Company (Pepperell)

1886- New York Harlem Bridge and Philadelphia’s New Market Street Bridge

1888- George Washington Bridge, New York

1892- Chicago World’s Fair

St. Joseph’s Church, Biddeford

Lincoln Memorial, Springfield, Illinois

Breakwaters in the Delaware and Saco Rivers

Stone cutters had few tools in the beginning but as the industrial revolution continued cranes and railroads were used at the quarries to mine the stone and transport it to the ships and later trains. Today the quarries of New England provide many different grades of granite from the hardest (street curbing) to one of the softest for patios and steps.

For further information visit the McArthur Library.

-Dana Peck

 

 

 

In : Blog Comments : 0 Author : louisem Date : 13 Jun 2019

Post World War II was a different world for our community. Saco-Lowell moved South, Bates Manufacturing consolidated to their operation in Lewiston, and Pepperell Manufacturing was sold to West Point Manufacturing and moved South. What was left? Where do we as a community go from here? Who is going to” answer the bell?” The remnants of Saco-Lowell were resurrected by several local businessmen. Bates Manufacturing facilities became the home for many small business. Pepperell was left with a BLANKET division.

In his interview with Roy Fairfield and Sallie Huot, Francis Spencer explains the strategy of creating a totally unique blanket if they are to be successful in the blanket industry. He first thought “out of the box” by making things simple. Spencer thought of a blanket as simple as insulation. Based on that picture he set out to do something totally new. And the Vellux Blanket was born.
Now he had to use all of the management and people skills he had to move an industry from making a product by mechanical means (looms, weaving, etc.) to making blankets through the use of chemistry! Justifiably, not an easy task. Spencer hired a few key technical staff but broke away from the “ mill management” mentality he and his co-workers had worked under for years. He could not just TELL them what to do because they had to discover it! In many ways they did not know what to do. Spencer solution was what made him stand out as a manager and achieve ultimate success. The decision making process involved the feedback from people who were making the product! He sought the input of all ideas that could move the product forward. The Vellux staff took ownership of the development and product quality. Had it not been for this unique management strategy which was years ahead of its time, it is doubtful the Vellux blanket would have become the world-wide success it enjoyed.

Like so many things that are successful, it made the Vellux Blanket a target for competitors. As we all know the product was sold and the Vellux Blanket left Biddeford and the mill closed in 2009.The Chinese bought the patent and have been trying for years to duplicate the quality of the Vellux Blanket produced here in Biddeford. It is safe to say no company has been able to re-create the original product. Some have even said they have given up and no longer make the blanket. Although this rumor has yet to be verified, it is very unlikely any company that does not use the development strategy employed by Francis Spencer and all of his people will know ALL of the little things it took to make the high quality product.

The lack of success by present manufactures is a testament to the employees and management of the Vellux Blanket defining how to work together to achieve success.

-Dana Peck

In : Blog Comments : 0 Author : louisem Date : 13 Jun 2019

The evolution of the United States from colonies to a nation was created by the uncommon creativity, vision, and drive of many unassuming citizens who recognized an opportunity. One such person was Francis T. Spencer of Arundel. Son of a lumberman and school teacher, Spencer was the inventor of the Vellux blanket made by Pepperell Manufacturing. Though the textile industry was in its waning years, the production of the Vellux blanket gave the communities of Biddeford and Saco 40 more years of prosperity.

“Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” In our daily hectic lives we unfortunately do not take the time to notice the extraordinary events and people that shape our lives. Although there were many among us who did extraordinary things to make our existence better, none can be more important locally than Francis T. Spencer. Known to his friends and associates as Fran, Francis or Frank, very few called him Spencer. The first name basis gave an insight into the respect people had for Fran. Unfortunately, his impact on our community will probably be lost with the Baby Boomer generation. Fran will be a footnote rather than an icon concerning his contribution to the sustainability to a wounded community during the 1960s to 2000. Like so many of his contemporaries Fran had skills and talents that he shared with us to make our lives better for many years. July 15 will be the 101 anniversary of Fran’s birth. Although he has been gone for several years his life’s work still has value to our community. We thank Fran for that!

Fran grew up on a family farm and saw mill in Arundel where the present day Dutch Elm Golf Course is located. His mother, Genevieve, was a member of the local Waterhouse family and a school teacher. His father, Luther, was a lumberman from Lincoln, Maine. Fran and his three siblings lived and worked there until their graduation from Biddeford High School when they started their individual careers. His older brother, Lincoln, became a Maine Superior Court Justice and his sister, Rebecca and twin brother, Frederick, became respected members of their local communities.

The following comes from an interview with Fran by Roy Fairfield and Sallie Huot in 1999.
After graduation in 1931 from Biddeford High Fran worked at Pepperell Manufacturing Company. He began as a trainee and worked in every department in the mill. This opened the curiosity door for Fran. Coming from a farming background he was intrigued by all of the machinery and how it worked. He worked his way through the system and eventually became superintendant or manager of the blanket division.

Fran’s early efforts were to create products that were unique and give Pepperell a better position in the marketplace. Although several were successful, or too successful, competitors copied the new products and Pepperell was again a “me too” in the marketplace. Frustrated by these events, he embarked on a new, risky path to develop a totally new type of blanket that would eventually become the Vellux Blanket.

The “rest of the story” demonstrates how the person, Fran Spencer, made this happen when the textile industry was in its decline. Very few could have done this successfully.

-Dana Peck

In : Blog Comments : 0 Author : louisem Date : 14 Sep 2018
The Felker Homestead

Our first blog is dedicated to someone who has given 50 years of his life to preserve and promote Biddeford history — Charles Butler.  He joined the Biddeford Historical Society when it was first formed in 1968 and he was in his early 20s.  I can’t imagine it was popular to join a historical society in the 1960s and when you are only in your 20s.  But, Charles was never about popularity.  He was all about his passion for Biddeford history.

Charles makes history come to life.  He has a savant ability to bring together the details, the people and the events so you feel you are there. Through his magic, I could imagine Wyatt Moore settling up his grist and fleece mills on the stream that flows through Guinea and Meetinghouse Road.  I could see those idealistic men captained by Jeremiah Hill marching down Guinea Road in the fall of 1775 to join George Washington in the American Revolutionary War.  I could feel the excitement of the entire town when President James Monroe came to Biddeford in his quest to usher in an “Era of Good Feeling.”  It is this sort of magic that sparks future generations of history lovers and invests sacredness in the Biddeford we enjoy today.  Through Charles’ stories, we realize we stand on the hallowed ground that generations stood on hundreds of years before.

Charles has been an invaluable resource for people looking for relatives.  Not only would he meticulously search the Biddeford archives, but he would trudge through graveyards cutting branches to unearth gravestones for a person inquiring about a relative.

Charles has been “the go-to” person that the press has contacted to validate or invalidate historical data that has been put forth as fact.  He has been able to steer researchers into different directions to get the answers they need.

Charles has been zealous about historical preservation.  For fifty years, he has tried to get the shortsighted people among us not to destroy buildings that were built in the early 1700s.  And he has expressed deep regret that buildings have been torn down so future generations could not see them.  He has worked to save early records and have the historic Biddeford Meetinghouse recognized as a national historic landmark.

Charles has done all of this work out of his passion for Biddeford history.  He has not received nor has he sought any financial remuneration or any recognition for his work.  He has done this in service of our history.

Charles is the volunteer we all can aspire to.  He is my history hero.

Please join me in thanking Charles for his 50 years of service to Biddeford’s history.

Louise Merriman
Board Member