Leaving Maine

On Wednesday, Oct 10 we left Maine heading south on I-95.  It has been a cold, rainy last few days and as we left Saco it was barely 42 degrees.  We drove across New Hampshire into Massachusetts on I-495.  Traffic was heavy with lots of RVs heading south, time for Florida and Maine to once again exchange their populations. Remember we decided there are two groups of people up north:  the ones with huge woodpiles and the ones with RVs. The woodpiles stay, the RVs leave for the winter.

As we crossed the Merrimack River we recalled this was the name given to one of the early iron clad ships during the Civil War.  This is also the site of another huge brick mill complex at Lawrence, MA.  In 1905, the American Woolen Company built the largest mill in the world, the Wood Mill in Lawrence, followed by the neighboring Ayer Mill in 1909. The Ayer mill’s 22 Foot diameter 4-sided clocktower is only a foot smaller than Big Ben and purportedly only second to it in size in the world (among chiming 4-sided clocktowers). Working conditions in the mills were unsafe and in 1860 the Pemberton Mill collapsed, killing 145 workers.As immigrants flooded into the United States in the mid to late 19th century, the population of Lawrence abounded with skilled and unskilled workers from almost every nation in Europe: Ireland, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Poland, and Lithuania; French-Canadians from the provinces of Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island; and farm girls from all over New England. Lawrence became known as Immigrant City very early in its existence, and can reasonably boast that for its small geographic size (less than 6 square miles) it has had more immigrants from a greater variety of countries in the world per capita, than any other city of its size on Earth.  Immigrants from the Dominican Republic and migrants from Puerto Rico began arriving in Lawrence in significant numbers in the late 1960s, attracted by cheap housing and a history of tolerance toward immigrants. In 1984, tensions between remaining working class whites and increasing numbers of Hispanic youth flared into a riot, centered at the intersection of Haverhill Street and Railroad Street where a number of buildings were destroyed by Molotov cocktails and over 300 people were arrested.  Lawrence saw further setbacks during the recession of the early 1990s as a wave of arson plagued the city. Over 200 buildings were set alight in an eighteen month period in 1991–92, many of them abandoned residences and industrial sites.  Sad to see this as it really is a pretty location on the Merrimack River. We drove on passing through New York and into Pennsylvannia with the rain all day and rough roads being worked on every 15-20 miles. Boring!!

Back to Portland

We returned to Portland and the Saco KOA late Friday afternoon, Oct 5 and tried to park in spot 35 – oops! too narrow so we moved to spot 24 and dealt with their trees and roots.   Not our favorite park but best we could find within easy reach of Portland and the client’s location.  Saturday we got up and drove into to Saco to pick up some groceries. While there we drove through the downtown area of Biddeford.  Now this is where we saw one of the largest red brick buildings along the river that we had ever seen, the location of the now closed mills.  This was where most all of our sheets and blankets were made for about 159 years.  The half mile of red brick mill buildings of Saco Island are a reminder of an industrial past which is interwoven with the history of Saco and Biddeford.  The region’s first industrial complex, a water powered sawmill and iron forge, was built by John Davis in 1653.  By 1683 Benjamin Blackman had established a sawmill where Main Street now crosses over to Saco Island.  The milling of lumber was a major industry in the region for nearly three centuries.  Seventeen sawmills were in operation by 1800, sawing more than 50,000 board feet of lumber per day.  Saco industry diversified in 1811, when Thomas Cutts and Josiah Calef established the Saco Iron Works, later Saco Manufacturing Co. which made cask hoops, cut nails and brads and other iron products.  In 1826 the company erected a huge seven story cotton mill over 350,000 sq ft, the largest in the United States.  After a disastrous fire in 1830, the business was reorganized as the York Manufacturing Company, and Mill #1 was opened in 1832.  The York erected four more mills in the next twenty years and ran eight mills by the turn of the century.  The establishment of the Laconia Mills (1844) and Pepperell Mills (1850) in Biddeford made the combined mill district one of the largest cotton milling complexes in the country, employing as many as 9000 people. Many were from Europe and crowded into the area to work in these mills. The success of the cotton mills brought allied industries to Saco: the Saco-Lowell Shops manufactured spinning and weaving machinery, and Garland Manufacturing made loom harnesses and other leather products.  After becoming part of Bates Mfg in 1945 the York Mills were closed in 1958. Most of these businesses relocated to the Southern US.  The old mill buildings are now being renovated into offices, residences and a college. Now this is a big mill and we could not even get a good picture of it.

Later that night it began to rain and get cooler.  We are ready to leave this place and get back to our Texas sunshine!