Biddeford is a the largest city in York County, Maine and the 6th largest city in the state. It is the most southerly incorporated city in the state and the principal commercial center of York. It is the site of one of the earliest U.S. European settlements – first settled by in 1616.
In 1653, Roger Spencer was granted the right to build the first sawmill. Lumber and fish became the chief exports. In 1659, a garrison and mill were built at the falls. During King Philip's War in 1675, the town was attacked by Indians. Settlers withdrew to safety, and their homes and mills upriver at the falls were burned. In 1693, a stone fort was built a short distance below the falls, but was captured by Indians in 1703. The town was reorganized in 1718 as Biddeford – after Bideford, a town in Devon, England, from which some settlers had emigrated. In 1762, the land NE of the river was set off as Pepperellborough, named after Sir William Pepperrell, who in 1761 purchased 5000 acres and timber rights to 4500 acres on the east side of the Saco River. Pepperrell donated land to the town for use as a village common, burial ground and site for a new meetinghouse.
The first bridge on the Saco River connecting Biddeford and Saco was built in 1767. The river divides into two falls that drop 40 feet providing water power for mills. Boot and shoe factories were established. The developing mill town also had granite quarries and brickyards and lumber and grain mills. Major textile manufacturing facilities were constructed along the riverbanks, including the Laconia Company in 1845, and the Pepperell Company in 1850. This was the town’s last remaining mill and is also now closed.
Biddeford incorporated as a city in 1855 and built a city hall.
The mills attracted immigrants from the province of Quebec. At one time, textile mills employed up to 12,000 people. Today all are closed down and in serious need of repair as shown by these photos of a mill downtown Biddeford that lost its steeple. Time is really at standstill for this once proud clock
The McArthur Public Library, housed in the former Pavilion Congregational Church on Main Street, anchors Biddeford's historic downtown. Biddeford was one of the first cities in Maine with public library service. Robert McArthur, an Irish immigrant, who started working as a bobbin boy in a mill, gave the funds to purchase the building and monies to provide for its maintenance.
Directly across the river from Biddeford is Saco, formerly known as Pepperrellborough after Sir William Pepperrell, who in 1761 purchased 5,000 acres and timber rights to 4,500 acres on the east side of the Saco River. Pepperrell donated several acreage to the town for use as a village common, burial ground and site for a new meetinghouse.
By 1805, the town was renamed Saco since the name was too cumbersome. It was incorporated as a city in 1867. Saco became a lumber center with log drives down the river. At Saco Falls, timber was cut by 17 sawmills. In 1827, the community produced 21 million feet of sawn lumber, some of which was used for shipbuilding. The last log was driven down the Saco River in 1943.
The Saco Manufacturing Company established a cotton mill in 1826, with a canal dug through rock to provide water power. The mill burned in 1830; replaced in 1831 by the York Manufacturing Company. For well over 100 years, it was the city’s largest employer and taxpayer; however, York closed in 1958 as the New England textile industry faded in the 20th-century and the building sits empty.
With the arrival of the Portland, Saco and Portsmouth Railroad in 1842, the area developed into a major textile manufacturing center; brick mills dominated the Saco and Biddeford waterfronts. Other businesses included foundries and machine shops.