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

VII. Flow and ebb: the effects of industrial peak & global upheaval (1900-1955)

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Main Street, Biddeford, 1909
Main Street, Biddeford, 1909McArthur Public Library

At the turn of the century Biddeford was a place of opportunity, of excitement, of possibility. It was the largest city in York County, and one of the largest cities in Maine. In the streets people spoke mostly English and French, but you could also hear German, Dutch, Albanian, Greek, Yiddish, Spanish, Chinese, Turkish, Danish, Polish, Russian and Italian. There was also poverty, violence, ethnic strife and rancorous politics.

Biddeford had rapidly gained the services and utilities that made it a true urban area: city water (1885), electric lights (1886), the horse-drawn and then electric street railway (1888, 1892). Additionally there was a huge and thriving arts scene in the area, in no small part due to the many talented French-Canadians who had moved here. One of the most famous musicians of this time was Pierre Painchaud, who immigrated in 1857 at age 5. At age 18 he founded La Fanfare Painchaud (Painchaud's Band), which would become one of the most famous bands of its time, and played all over New England to large audiences.

Talent without an audience quickly evaporates, but luckily the people of Biddeford were ravenous for the entertainments available to them at the City Opera House and other halls and venues downtown. Concerts, minstrel and vaudeville shows, oratories, chorales and dramatics were all available on a regular basis by nationally known stars as well as local professional and amateur organizations. This dearth of high quality entertainment, in both English and French, would continue right through to the 1940's.

Besides modern conveniences and entertainments, the city was offering other kinds of services as well. Biddeford's first hospital, Trull Hospital, was opened in June of 1900. At the time it was built with medical profession was divided into two camps--homeopathy and allopathy. The Trull was the first homeopathic hospital opened in Maine, and was named for Dr. J. Frank Trull, its founder. The Webber Hospital was opened as an alternative to the Trull. It first opened in the Freeman House on Pool Street in 1906. A large, modern brick building was constructed on Elm Street and opened in 1911. It is named for Moses W. Webber who had been overseer of the Pepperell cloth room and paymaster of the Laconia division. When he died in 1899 he bequeathed $40,000 toward a free hospital for the people of Biddeford.