In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Biddeford History & Heritage Project

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

VI. The deluge of industrial expansion & immigration (1865-1900)

Union & Journal (Biddeford, Me.), 24 June 1864

After the war ended both the business and people of Biddeford began to recover. Biddeford was well-represented in various industries, including ice harvesting and granite quarrying. Ice cutting would become an important industry, and remained so until the turn of the century. Around 1861 the first two schooners specially equipped for carrying ice, were loaded in the Saco River with ice cut during the long winter and sent out. During the 1870's the ice trade was very active. Huge ice-storage houses were built along the river, and the harvest was stored packed in hay as well as sawdust, which would have been available in quantity from the numerous sawmills in the area.

Biddeford is full of granite ledge, and one family in particular profited greatly from the bounty. The Andrews family were the most prominent of the local granite pioneers, with the largest quarries in Biddeford, located out along the Pool Road. In 1866 they furnished the granite for the rebuilding of the breakwaters at the mouth of the Saco River and Union forts at Portland Harbor. There is Biddeford granite in the Lincoln monument in Springfield, Illinois and the foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge. The Andrews' supplied granite to big local projects as well. The quarry on South Street was opened to supply stone for the Western Division Railroad built in 1872. By this time they had a railroad that stretched a mile long complete with cars and 30 ton engine to accomodate their huge business. They also had their own wharf along the Saco River, known as Quarry Wharf or Andrews Wharf.

From "Romance of Pepperell" (1921)

The textile manufacture industry, however, was the largest employer and the heart of the local economy. The Pepperell and Laconia Mills continued to grow and expand, especially overseas.

The "China Trade", started in 1852, was integral to the success. Half of their business was in the Far East: particularly China, India, and Southeast Asia. Tremendous numbers of workers were needed for the textile mills, and Biddeford began to experience an intense level of immigration, first of Irish and other west European workers; then later French-Canadian, east and southern Europeans.

By 1880 almost 50% of Biddeford's residents were foreign-born, with different cultures and religions than the old Yankee stock. The largest portions were from Canada (25%) and Ireland (12%), two heavily Catholic countries. Prior to this there had been only one Catholic Church in town, Church of the Immaculate Conception (later Church of the Assumption, then St. Mary's), founded in 1855. Due to the influx of French-Canadians and the animosity between the French and Irish Catholics, a separate church--St. Joseph's--was established in 1870. The last Catholic church would be St. Andre's, established by a separate faction of French-Canadians in 1900.

As with the Congregationalists before them, because of a large population with seemingly irreconcilable differences there would in the end be three separate churches for the same denomination in Biddeford.

While most immigrants were drawn to the area to work in the huge textile mills, many became entrepreneurs in their own right and opened small businesses up and down Main Street. Their businesses included restaurants, groceries, and clothing, paper, and fancy goods shops. Some would even work in the mill in addition to their other business ventures, in order to provide better lives and opportunities for their families.