Down East 2013 ©
McArthur Public Library of Biddeford, Maine
Mills were the engines of the Maine economy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but maintaining a strong work ethic hardly kept millworkers and their families from having a good time. In Biddeford and Saco, high tide and a warm summer day in 1914 meant a chance for this boy to dive off a wharf into the Saco River. It also meant an opportunity for local photographer Charles E. Moody to catch the boy in-flight and add him to his albums of Saco and Biddeford scenes. Moody’s collection would go on to become the largest photographic
record of life in these southern Maine mill towns (it is frequently on display at both the Saco Museum/Dyer Library and the McArthur Public Library in Biddeford).
Moody’s photograph, as pleasant as it is, captures even more about these two communities than might be immediately obvious. While most well-to-do residents might spend the summer months at a cottage in Biddeford Pool, people of more modest means relaxed by heading down to White’s Wharf, at center, and hopping aboard a tour boat for a trip down the river. At far right, a couple on one such cruise keeps the summer sun at bay by cuddling under an umbrella. The three-masted schooners tied alongside Factory Island, at far right, have likely only recently been towed into town, as their tiny freeboard indicates that they’ve barely begun to unload the 22,000 tons of coal required annually to keep the Pepperell Mills operating at peak production. Their coal would also serve the conical-roofed gasworks building, just left of center, on Biddeford’s Water Street as the cities’ gas and electric services were also fueled by coal.
A closer look at the skyline also reveals four prominent church steeples, evidence of the deep religious beliefs that the French-Canadian immigrants brought with them when they came to work in the mills. And while the century since this photograph was made has seen these churches shut their doors one-by-one — St. Andre’s Catholic Church, the prominent spire shown at far left, held its final mass just last year — the North Dam Mill has recently shown new signs of life and industriousness. Workers are beginning to find their way back to Biddeford and Saco, and occasionally, on a particularly hot summer day, young people have been known to once again take a blissful dive into the river.