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Biddeford History & Heritage Project

Sharing the history of a proud city rising where the water falls

V. A Cascade of Booms & Busts (1790-1865)

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Lt. John R. Andrews, Biddeford, ca. 1861
Lt. John R. Andrews, Biddeford, ca. 1861

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McArthur Public Library

Because of the high cost of soldier's bounties to be paid by the city, the war had an overall negative economic impact upon Biddeford. As often happens, businesses which can support war necessities did well, and hired workers. Manufacturing in Biddeford and other cities which had access to raw materials advertised in the local newspapers for workers. Biddeford's textile mills however, were hit hard by the stoppage in cotton production & the cotton blockades. The Laconia Mills sold off much of their stock of cotton to European interests for high profits early in the war, but later ran out of stock for production. They would never recover from this miscalculation. Pepperell Mills held onto their cotton overstock, and were able to produce textiles throughout the war.

Veterans law services, Biddeford-Saco, 1864
Veterans law services, Biddeford-Saco, 1864

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McArthur Public Library

During the war years layoffs were common for mill workers, many of which were forced to rely on the city's Poor Farm for assistance. In the 1861-62 Annual Report, the Overseer of the Poor stated that 873 people were assisted either on or off the farm, and a second house had to be procured to house all the destitute people in the city. Overseers Aaron Webber and Ebenezer Simpson reported that "by the partial stoppage of the mills, and the general depression in business, hundreds of persons were thrown out of employment, large numbers of whom being unable, in consequence, to procure the means of support, have applied to us for assistance."

City Farm (Poor Farm), Biddeford, ca. 1910
City Farm (Poor Farm), Biddeford, ca. 1910

Item Contributed by
McArthur Public Library

These citizens would either have food, clothing or medicine brought to their home if they had one, or if they had no home they would join the other "paupers" at the City Farm (or Poor Farm). Residents of the City Farm worked the land and produced goods and produce sold in town to earn their place. Those who didn't work the fields performed hard, back-breaking labor to earn what the city provided. "The paupers off the Farm have been employed in labor upon the streets, blasting stone, preparing them for use, and in removing loom from the gravel pit and spreading it upon the waste land near by, and such other work as we could procure for them." There is little doubt that to these men and women the mill work they had previously performed for Pepperell and Laconia was seen as a vast improvement to what the Overseers of the Poor had to offer.