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The Southern Maine Renaissance: Biddeford & Saco

The Southern Maine Renaissance: Biddeford & Saco
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Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota are the famous “twin cities” of the US.  Don’t get me wrong; they are great cities, but they are not the only city twins in this country.  Enter Biddeford and Saco, Maine.


Also known as Twins

Located in York County, Biddeford and Saco are both separated and joined by the mighty Saco River.  (By the way, the name “Saco” comes from the old Abenaki word “sahkoki” which means “land where the river comes out”.  If you venture toward eastern New Hampshire or southwestern Maine, you can follow the Sokokis Trail, which runs along the Saco River.)

biddeford maine photo
Photo by davidwilson1949

Biddeford was originally occupied by the Abenaki Indians who traveled down from the Fryeburg, Maine area to fish.

Then, in 1616, the first European settler, Dr. Richard Vines arrived.  Yes, that is 1616, four years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. ( This historical fact never made it into my high school history books!) He landed at Biddeford Pool, which he promptly named Winter Harbor.  Biddeford is actually one of the earliest western European settlements in the US.

saco island maine photo
Photo by tvanhoosear

By 1653 the area had been incorporated by Massachusetts and both sides of the river were known as Saco.  The area near the falls was developed as a garrison and sawmill, but it was later burned during skirmishes with the Abenaki.

Due to the tensions between the settlers and the Abenaki, the area was abandoned for a few years. However, in 1718 the settlers were back and they re-established “Bideford”.  In 1855, it was incorporated as the city of Biddeford

The proximity to the Saco River allowed Biddeford to become home to lumber, grain, shoe and textile mills from the 19th century until 2009, attracting waves of immigrants and employing up to 12,000 workers in its heyday.

camp ellis saco photo
Photo by tvanhoosear

Most mill workers lived in Biddeford, and on the surface, much of the local architecture reflects a typical urban style, built for working people with little time for luxury.  A closer look will reveal lovely understated details that are not included in today’s construction.

During and after World War II, the lumber and textile industries began to change and decline. The last log drive on the Saco river was in 1943. The last textile mill in Biddeford, WestPoint Home, closed in 2009.


Pepperrellborough, really?

saco maine photo
Photo by Josh and Melanie Rosenthal

Now let’s talk about the other twin, Saco. During its early history (circa 1762), Saco was named Pepperrellborough, after Sir William Pepperrell,  a hero from the French and Indian Wars.

By 1805, the inhabitants were sick of the moniker, finding it ponderous, and re-named the town Saco.  It would become incorporated as a city in 1867.

ocean park maine photo
Photo by technodad

Saco was a center for lumber, with 17 sawmills along the river, and annual log drives”.  Also famous for mills along the Saco River, it, along with Biddeford, became a major player in the New England textile industry.  And, like the rest of the mill cities in New England, it suffered a decline after WWII, with the last mill on Saco Island closing in 1958.

The Mill owner’s homes were more prevalent in Saco, so it is known for beautiful architecture in Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian Styles, complete with widow’s walks and cupolas!  Some of the houses may have also belonged to various sea captains who put in at the Saco River.  Many are listed today on the National Register of Historic Places.

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