How did the Renaissance Happen?
So, we know that both Biddeford and Saco suffered due to the collapse of the New England textile industry. What’s going on with the “twins” today?
The cities have come to realize over the decades that they depend on each other for survival, both economic and cultural. Recently, the twins celebrated their new bridge dedication using the motto “Two Cities: One River Bridge” (Well, maybe two if you count the footbridge from North Dam Mill to Saco Island). Even with the mighty Saco River between them they are not so separate anymore.
Both cities are in the midst of a giant renovation of their mill yards. For me, who grew up as a mill city kid, it is a huge relief to finally have developers begin to appreciate the value and beauty of the New England mill buildings. Their subtle architectural details, huge windows, wood floors and high ceilings make them prime real estate for trendy shops and condos. And Biddeford and Saco have mills to spare.
On the Biddeford side, we have the Lincoln Mill, which is currently under construction and being developed into apartments and a hotel. The North Dam Mill already contains modern condos and businesses. The old Pepperell Mill Building is home to Portland Pie, a very upscale pizza restaurant, Think Tank, which is shared office space, and the Banded Horn Brewery, just to name a few of the business inhabitants. And last but not least is the North Dam Overlook, a beautiful spot to sit and enjoy the view of the Saco River and Saco Island.
Biddeford is More Than a Millyard
Not to be outdone by the mill redevelopment, Biddeford Main Street is undergoing a renaissance of its own, with trendy restaurants, like Custom Deluxe and Elements, moving in. Or the Palace Diner, which attracts millennials with its challah French Toast and gourmet sandwiches.
Did I mention the shops? Suger, a boutique, and interior design shop makes one think of, dare I say, Nantucket. Suger also is the Maine home for the edgy, trendy Angelrox designs. Trillium is another shop worthy of a visit, especially if you need a nice gift. You might also want to pop in at Biscuits and Company for breakfast or brunch.
Biddeford has its own Historic downtown area, including McArthur Public Library, Biddeford City Theater and the Main Street Historic District, all on the National Register of Historic Places. And you wouldn’t want to miss La Kermesse Franco-Americaine Festival, which is complete with vendors, food, music and a parade. Oh, did I mention the fireworks display over the Saco River?
In July, families and other teams can take part in the Boat Building Festival, hosted by the Compass Project, an organization which uses rowing and boat building to encourage young people to learn about personal responsibility, community and caring for the environment. The Festival is held on the Pepperell Mill Campus.
Investors now consider Biddeford as an alternative to the more expensive Portland. And it’s not just investors – millennials are finding the commute to Portland or even Boston easy because of the Amtrak Downeaster which stops at Saco. The Saco Train Station is located on Saco Island and powered by its own windmill.