A “Long” Journey

Bridgton, Maine, was once a thriving mill town and Stevens Brook its source of power. My guy and I decided to once again visit the former mill sites of the Lakes Environmental Association’s Stevens Brook Trail, which meanders on and off road from the base of Highland Lake to Long Lake.

Jacob Stevens, for whom the brook was named, was a ranking member of the survey crew that came to what is now called Bridgton in 1766 from Andover, Massachusetts. He returned in 1768 under contract with the Proprietors to develop water power and make it serve the early settlers by creating mills that provided building materials and grain for food. He identified twelve power sites along the almost two-mile brook with a drop of 156 feet from its source at Highland Lake (known originally as Crotched Pond) to its outlet at Long Lake (Long Pond). The first mills were used to provide building materials and grains for food. And the first dams were made of boulders and gravel with heavy timbers. Bridgton was all forest land when Stevens arrived.

Of course, Highland Road did not exist in Stevens’ day. Nor did any of these structures. In fact, the water extended across where the current road is located. And it wasn’t as big a lake as it is now for the dam, built in 1849-50, changed everything. It had a different configuration and lower depth as it was mainly a pasture and wetland. This photo was taken from the bridge. The first bridge was built in 1808.

Across Highland Road, which had been called Water Street when it was first built, is where the pond extended to previously. 

His first mill was about where Power Site #10 is located near the mouth of the brook closer to Long Lake.

But, the market was limited. There were many obstacles including a lack of roads. Sawn lumber rotted before he could transport it to remote areas of town. Eventually he moved it north to the outlet of Highland Lake.

He was also required to keep a grist mill operating for 20 years, which he did near the 11th power site. That did much better. 

In exchange, Stevens received land and the rights to the waterway.

Eventually, his term passed and others purchased water rights. 

Power Site #1 next served as Asa Kimball’s saw mill, which he built in 1788. This is the mill pond as we see it today, but just imagine what it may have looked like before the road was built. Crotched Pond served as Mr. Kimball’s mill pond, where he floated logs from Sweden (Sweden, Maine, that is). Presumably he built some sort of dam where the present one is by the beach to create a more definitive mill pond.

The split stone dam was erected in 1858 by Rufus Gibbs and others, thus providing power for the first big mill in the village that stood four stories tall, employed 50 workers, ran 20 looms and made blankets for the Civil War. By 1941, is was demolished.

The mill had various names over the years including Gibbs Mill, Upper Mill, Little Mill, Little Pondicherry Mill, and Cumberland Mill.

Though my guy and I looked at and talked about Power Site #2, I neglected to photograph it. Anyway, it served as a grist mill in 1798.

Between 1835-1845, Rufus Gibbs established Window Sashes and Blinds Mill. In 1871, Jesse Murphy purchased it and continued to manufacture the same. The machinery was run by a mill whell, but the demands for power were such that it was eventually electrified.

In 1912, the Saunders Mill was constructed in this place, the remains of which still stand.

Traveling downstream, Power Site #3 sits between what is now Oberg Insurance (built as a bank and then served as courthouse and police station) and the Hayeses’ buildings, that currently house the Bridgton News and Gallery 302. 

There was once a large mill pond here.

Power Site #3 had a storied past: 1813-fulling mill (put weaving on hot water and beat it to close fibers); 1822-saw and grist mill; 1830-saw, grist and plaster mill; 1845-mill burned; 1857-rebuilt two stories; 1877-never rebuilt. Yet this was long known as the Dam Site and a Dam Site Restaurant stood here for years. Across the street was a tannery, which didn’t need water for power, but did need water to fill the 140 vats. Using hemlock bark, 10,000 hides were tanned each year.

As I mentioned, the trail winds through the woods and over roadways, but also under the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge, the gateway to Pondicherry Park. If you are following the Stevens Brook Trail, however, you’ll pass under the bridge and it’s worth a look upward–for you just might spot three American Robin nests all in a row.

It’s in this area that hikers follow a boardwalk through an area that can be quite wet at times.

It is here that Willet Brook joins forces with Stevens Brook, thus increasing the power of the water.

The power of others who grow beside the brook is displayed like daylight fireworks, that being the male Red Maple flowers–their anthers yellow with pollen awaiting dispersal.

And close by, the female counterpart, her pistils divided like vees perhaps signaling victories to come.

A zig and a zag, and a stopped truck allowing us to cross the main drag (thanks Brian Fox), and soon we found our way along the former route of the Narrow Gauge train track. It’s located by Power Site #4.

In 1822, this area of town wasn’t part of the main village–that was confined to Main Hill. A water-powered carding mill equipped to prepare wool for spinning, thus replacing the tedious hand work of disentangling, cleaning and intermixing the fibers was in operation just across the brook at the time, now the home of Food City Grocery Store.

By 1825, James Flint and Aaron Littlefield built a sawmill, which they operated for 15 years. In 1840, this was the site of the Walker Saw Mill and Grist Mill. And then things changed.

The Pondicherry Mill was built in 1865 to manufacture woolen goods. It was one of the most extensive manufacturing plants in Maine at that time and employed 50 operators.

In 1898, the neighboring town of Harrison wanted to be joined to the railroad and the railroad owners obliged. From this spur, a trestle was built that carried coal in dump carts to the Pondicherry Mill. It appears that the trestle came in backwards off the rail track and perhaps the coal was located in the back cars, ready to be unloaded into the carts. The trestle structure, as you see it here, has deteriorated immensely, but still stands as a monument to this moment in history.

So wait, think about this coal situation. The mill had grown to employ 225 people and water power from the brook was no longer dependable. An immense coal-burning chimney about 100 feet in height had been added to the mill. Sixty looms produced 18,000 yards of cloth weekly. Though the building stood until the mid-sixties, the industry moved south long before that. The stones by the brook and trestle are all that are left to tell the story. A now-deceased resident, Reg Fadden, used to tell the story of knowing what color they were dying the wool on any particular day–he’d see the color in the water as he walked to school.

The first mill to be located here was a sawmill built in 1868. By 1871, a shovel factory was built on the west side, which was the side we stood upon. By 1899, the Bridgton Lumber Company had located to this power site, with two mills operating–one for boxes and house furnishings; the other for lumber. Boxes were needed for the corn industry, as a Corn Shop flourished on nearby Depot Street, close to the train terminal.

This apparently was a successful site because in 1911 it became the Burnham and Newcomb Sawmill, which was purchased by Harry Bisbee in 1920. He used a turbine since the water power wasn’t dependable. Though it gushed over the rocks today, in the summertime, this is the perfect place to sit on the flat rocks and dangle ones feet.

Apparently there was a treacherous footwalk that crossed the brook in this area and even at age 90, Mr Bisbee would walk across. The sawmill eventually burned, with only the office remaining. This time, using a diesel engine, Mr. Bisbee started a smaller sawmill. In 1953, the dam washed out with a flood and local lore has it that Mr. Bisbee walked out one day, leaving it all behind. He died a couple of years later, gifting the mill to the public library.

Charles Fadden and his son, Reg, bought the mill at auction and operated a box mill, using a turbine for power. The office was still standing until about ten years ago, when it collapsed.

By the mill, the Harrison Narrow Gauge crossed over a trestle; today only the stone stanchions remain.

This image courtesy of Bridgton Historical Society provides a bit of a sense of the scene in the day.

It was here that I recognized a tree I don’t always encounter–a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). The bark appears almost braided and the overall essence that of a child’s fairy tale tree.

Power Site #6, better known as Lower Johnson Falls, and was the possible 1859 site of the Milliken Bedstead Factory.

A foundation is still visible on the eastern side of the brook. It’s in that area that there is also evidence of the Walker Sluiceway, one that dodged all the dams so logs could travel from Crotched Pond (Highland Lake) to Long Pond (Long Lake) without impediment.

Beside Power Site #7, still stands the building that housed the coffin shop. Hey, somebody had to build them. Lewis Smith built the two-story building with a basement in the late 1860s. It was a sash and blind factory, but he also built furniture, and yes, coffins. More local lore: he was the town’s first undertaker. While the building has had several owners since then who have tried to restore it, it still needs some (way more than some) tender loving care so it doesn’t go the way of all the other mills.

If you peer closely, you might see all that remains of a water-powered turbine on the building. From the left, it’s located under the third window of the second floor. Originally, all the water wheels along the brook were overshot wheels. While an overshot wheel had horizontal axils, a turbine wheel had vertical axils, thus making it smaller, more efficient and more dependable given the rise and fall of the water.

What’s not pictured is the western side of the brook, where a Foundry and Bridgton Machine Shop were located.

And on the front lawn of the coffin shop, the real deal–a Perry Turbine Water Wheel. In 1877, Richard Bailey and Samuel Miller operated an iron factory and machine shop built by William Perry and George Taylor across the road from the Smith factory. When they sold their business to Forest Mills owed by William Fessenden Perry, it was renamed the Bridgton Machine Company with George and Frank Burnham taking over as managers.

Overshot water wheels had a horizontal axis. Nearly all the water wheels of the early mills were overshot wheels, best adapted for small streams with high falls. The overshot wheels didn’t hold up long over time and were replaced a century later by the more dependable turbine water wheel. A turbine had many benefits including a vertical axis; small in bulk for its power, efficient in highest and lowest falls, and more dependable. In 1887, the Perry turbine was invented at the foundry and it received nation-wide popularity for use in mills along small streams.

Power Site #8 is one of my favorites. This is where Perry and Taylor erected a mill in 1862 to manufacture woolen goods. The dam was built to provide a fifteen-foot fall with a mill pond above.

Today the sluiceway is dry, but I can imagine the water pouring through here.

With the advent of Kansas Road in 1865, the woolen mill expanded to 200 feet by 45 feet and stood two stories tall. With more looms than any mill in the area, outerwear was produced here and shipped to Boston. During the Civil War, attention turned to creating war materials.

Anyway, Taylor and Perry purchased this site in 1865 and built a three-story carding mill with an overhead walkway that crossed Kansas Road and connected their two mills: Forest Mill #1 and Forest Mill #2.  By 1879, Mr. Taylor had died and Mr. Perry re-organized as the Forest Mills Company, which employed 130 workers and produced cashmere. As Sue has told me, this was not from cashmere goats but rather a lightweight fabric consisting of wool fiber that had either a plain or twill. 

A railroad spur and trestle were built in 1900 to unload coal and other supplies for the Forest Mills Company.

The American Wool Company purchased the mill, which was large for Bridgton, but small compared to those south of Maine. Eventually, business moved south. In 1925, a shoe shop moved in, but it wasn’t successful either. The building was torn down in 1962.

Our journey today found us following the trail for the most part, but there was some bushwhacking as well, which opened our eyes to more mill pond and artifacts.

One such was a truck my guy surmised to be of 1940s vintage.

We also discovered an old lodge that might be considered a McBeaver lodge, for such was its size.

At last we reached Power Site #10. This is the most modern of them all, but again, it has a history. It’s possible that this was the site of Jacob Stevens’s first sawmill built in 1768.

Mr. Stevens would have built a boulder and gravel dam, not one of cement certainly. He lived nearby and raised eight children; the four oldest worked beside him. It made sense for him to build a site here for both a saw mill and grist mill, as this is near the mouth of the stream and would have provided him with easy access to the main thoroughfare of Long Pond and beyond.

I don’t know what happened between 1768 and 1896 when the Bridgton Water and Electric Company took over as the first source of electricity and water for the village.

The concrete dam was built in 1931 by Central Maine Power after several transfers of ownership.

A 790-foot penstock was built to regulate the flow of the water. If you look closely toward the left of the dam, you might see the round hole that was the start of the penstock.

The greatest power could be found between this site and Power Site #11, where the brook drops 25-30 feet. The Hart Tannery may have been built on an island in the middle of the brook somewhere in this vicinity.

The exact location of Power Site #12 is also elusive, but rumor has it that a shingle factory was located between Site #11 and the outlet. Look closely and you’ll see the water racing southward, Long Lake through the trees on the left, my guy through the trees right-middle, and the present day power station.

Each time we reach this spot, I have to wonder what Jacob Stevens or those who came before him would think of our energy consumption.

Early on, a wooden structure was used as a power house. That was replaced by a brick building built in 1922 by the Western Maine Power Company. Notice where the penstock entered. And above it, a turbine generator.

At last we reached the mouth of the brook, where the water seemed extremely low for early spring, but served as a reminder of why the turbine was built to replace the water wheel as a power source.

Upon reaching Long Lake, we’d finished our journey. Well, sorta. We still had to walk all the way back 😉

But first, there were two more things to admire. The minute magenta flowers of Beaked Hazelnut are so easy to overlook that I feel I must honor each one I spot. And hope you’ll do the same.

And then there was the Song Sparrow who reminded me that there were a few people to thank for this “Long” Lake journey: not only Jacob Stevens and all who came before and after him; but also the late Sue Black, fiber artist and historian who shared the trail many times with me; Ned Allen, former executive director of Bridgton Historical Society who let me pick his brain and comb through files upon many occasions and use photographs within those files; and all of you readers who stuck with me for such a long read.

Turning the Wheels Mondate

Three years ago I’d had the pleasure of spending two days bushwhacking along City Brook in South Waterford, Maine, with naturalist, historian, and author Robert “Bob” Spencer as he told me the stories of the mills that once operated there and the two of us pondered life long ago. And so, when I saw that part of the trail Bob has long dreamed of had opened, my guy and I decided to head to the city.

Waterford City, that is. As Bob had explained, “In the 1870s, South Waterford was dubbed “Waterford City” for the noise and bustle brought to the town by nine mills and many supporting outbuildings lining the brook.”

The water was rather on the low side today, but we began our tour by Watson’s Falls, the fifth power site that had been identified by the proprietors.

The mill, which Bob and his wife, Gere, have repurposed into their home, was originally granted to Isaac Smith in 1795 for a saw mill. Over the course of its lifetime, the building served as a cloth and linseed oil mill, saw mill, salt box factory, and cider mill.

Beside it, we stopped to read an interpretive sign that shares a bit of the story about what has happened in this spot and all along the brook over the centuries.

Later, at home, I started looking at the US Census reports, curious about the people and their work. I should have taken a close-up image of the map that shows the industrious neighborhood, but let me share what I found on a Products of Industry page for 1870:

William Watson: water power; box factory; 2 machines, employed 5

Bisbee Pingree (I may have that name wrong, it was difficult to read): water power; carriage shop, wagons, sleighs & repairs; employed 2

Charles Watson: blacksmith; iron and steel; employed 1

Zebedee Perry: water power; wool carding and cloth dressing; employed 2

Monroe Briggs and Company: water power; tannery; leather; employed 2

Samuel Miller: water power; iron foundry and machine shop; employed 6

Cobb and Hapgood: water power; lumber manufacturing; employed 2

Cobb and Hapgood: water power; grist mill; grain; employed 1

Emerson Wilkin: water power: tannery; leather; employed 1

Charles Saunders: blacksmith, iron and steel; employed 1

McKensy Buswell: water power; tannery; leather; illegible # of employees

John B Rand: cooper shop; staves and shook; employed 6

As you can see, they didn’t all need to be located beside the brook, but nine mills did use water as the source of power.

Today, we looked down at the brook that flowed below Watson’s Falls in the center of the city, and then decided to see if we could follow it downstream at all.

Our walk took us past the children’s park where I’m sure the locals have a name for this delightful swingman who speaks to the past with a grin and stars in his eyes.

Not far beyond the park, we found another sign by the site that belonged to Zebedee Perry in 1870. By 1880, Walter K. Hamlin and his son, Albert, operated the carding mill. As you can see, in 1963, it was purchased by Old Sturbridge Village, where a sign still commemorates its Waterford heritage.

When we looked out toward the brook, unfortunately all we could see was a mass of invasive plants where the mill was once located. Such is the case for areas open to the sun.

And so we continued on to the closed bridge. There wasn’t a “No Trespassing” sign and so we did. But do you see the lovely red and yellow leaves by my guy’s feet: Poison Ivy. Given that, we decided to backtrack back to city center at Watson’s Falls and then make our way to the mill sites above.

For a wee bit, we had to walk along Routes 35/37; but really it was a pleasure because not only did our friends, David and Darbee Percival, stop to talk briefly about the trail awaiting us before driving on, but also it gave us an opportunity to take a look at the area where a sluice and bucket shop were once located.

And remnants of yore as well; this a truck in its former life.

On Routes 35/37 by the Mill Hill intersection and just below the Wesleyan Church, circa 1845, we found the unmarked opening to the trail and slipped off the road.

Recently, Bob, with the help of others including our friend, Dave, posted trail blazes to denote the path. Though we could hear the traffic and sometimes see it through the trees, we felt like we had entered a time capsule and no one was aware of our presence.

We had hoped to find more interpretive signs to help us understand what we were looking at, but I suspect those will come, given that we saw one sign post all ready for a placard. In the meantime, we wondered if the smaller rocks to the right formed the wall of a sluiceway.

And we noted split stone in various locations. I’ve not yet found a census report stating who owned what farm animals in this area, but suspect oxen were among the keepings. How else would they have moved those large slabs?

A boulder pile strewn among the brook offerings to the right of my guy gave rise to several questions: Had someone intended to build a structure here? Had a structure been taken apart? And where-oh-where might the quarry be located? So many questions must lead to further explorations.

All along the way, more artifacts revealed themselves.

I love that people respect these by leaving them be as they give us a glimpse into the distant past.

We also spotted barbed wire. I remember finding some in about this place with Bob three years ago, but it didn’t look quite like this. He and I had wondered if among all the mills, there may have been some farm animals roaming about. Perhaps oxen? Certainly not sheep, because their fleece would have been ruined by the barbs.

And could all of these rolls that still remain have been intended to become more barbed wire?

There was also a cellar hole of sorts to ascertain. Within in it were some boulders that made no sense. But to someone in a day long ago, it all had a purpose.

At last we reached the access road to Keoka Lake, its bridge having withstood the test of time.

And beyond it a stone-lined sluiceway where today barely any water trickled.

The sluiceway was created beside a more recent power site, located where Bob had previously told me the first dam for the lake stood.

The structure was impressive, despite the fact that I didn’t quite understand its ins and outs.

And couldn’t help but question once again why the dam had been abandoned and a more modern one built a quarter of a mile north. Did the lake once extend a quarter of a mile south from its current impoundment?

While I stood below the large structure, a little nature admiration seeped into my soul–thankfully. We’d been moving rather quickly (because I was with you know who and we had an appointment that made us cognizant of our timing) but I couldn’t help but say a quiet thanks for the sight of Sensitive Ferns’ beady fertile fronds.

At last we reached Keoka, where a strong breeze greeted us with a blast of cold air.

We spent a moment looking at the current dam–which is really quite ugly, especially when compared to all the granite structures we’d passed.

But it now marks the Keoka Outlet and beginning of City Brook, so named for the “city” that once existed at a time when people needed to saw their own wood, grind their own grain, card their own wool, build their own carriages and sleds, etc. Theirs was an industrious time. And water power was a necessity to many enterprises.

After a few minutes beside the lake, we followed the access road back and actually walked out to the state road for a quicker return.

As best it can, Waterford City clings to its past . . .

though a fresh coat of paint here and there may help preserve it a little better so those monuments still standing don’t become mere foundations like their neighbors.

We were excited to see one bit of renewal–for Kimball Hardware has added lobsters to their offerings. Kimball Hardware & Lobsters. Someone has an entrepreneurial mindset. Why not?

With that, our Mondate hike came to an end near where the water wheel continues to turn as it celebrates the history of South Waterford, aka Waterford City.

Milling About Stevens Brook

I must begin with a thank you to fiber artist, historian and friend, Sue Black. Sue has led numerous walks along the very trail I followed today and I’ve often been in her presence–usually with notebook in hand so I could jot information down and gain a better understanding of this place.

s-trail sign

Though she wasn’t with me today, I could hear Sue as I mosied along examining the old mill sites of the Stevens Brook Trail in Bridgton. And many of the words that follow are probably hers. I also gleaned info from the Bridgton Historical Society several years ago, when Sue couldn’t lead the walk and asked me to fill in. So I guess, really, what follows is like the confluence of the Stevens and Willet Brooks–two streams that meet to form one.

s-boardwalk under water

Bridgton was once a thriving mill town and Stevens Brook its source of power. Of course, to do this properly, I should begin at Highland Lake, the source of the brook, but  I’m not a proper-sort-of gal and you’ll have to bear with me. I didn’t begin at Pondicherry Park either–for the boardwalk was under water.

s-below Pondicherry

Instead, I slipped onto the trail at Depot Street, beside the Bridgton Community Center. By this point, Willet Brook has joined forces with Stevens, thus increasing the power of the water. I was backtracking, and again didn’t get far because of water flowing over the trail, but along the way I made a discovery. Those beautiful trees that lean over the brook–silver maples (Acer saccharinum). It never occurred to me that they grew here, but makes perfect sense.

s-silver maple leaf

The backside of the deeply-lobed leaves are silvery gray in old age and silvery white during their prime.

I should have taken a photo of the old Memorial School because that was the sight of the train depot (Depot Street) for the Bridgton and Saco River Railroad that was built in 1883–a narrow gauge operating from Hiram, but didn’t think of it at the time. Instead, I followed the stone steps down, walked beside the brook as it ran below the deep bank by Stevens Brook Elementary School and came up behind a few old buildings, back on Depot.

s-food city bridge

And then I stood on the bridge overlooking Food City. I should note that this is power site #4. Yup, I’ve skipped the first three for now. Stick with me. We’ll get there. In 1822, this area of town wasn’t part of the main village–that was confined to Main Hill. A water-powered carding mill equipped to prepare wool for spinning, thus replacing the tedious hand work of disentangling, cleaning and intermixing the fibers was in operation in this area at the time. By 1825, James Flint and Aaron Littlefield built a sawmill, which they operated for 15 years. In 1840, this was the site of the Walker Saw Mill and Grist Mill. And then things changed. The Pondicherry Mill was built in 1865 to manufacture woolen goods. It was one of the most extensive manufacturing plants in Maine at that time and employed 50 operators. Standing where I was on the bridge, I could see the stones related to the mill and dam. The dam disintegrated in the 1960s.

s-coal trestle

s-trestle 2

In 1898, the neighboring town of Harrison wanted to be joined to the railroad and the RR owners obliged. From this spur, a trestle was built that carried coal in dump carts to the Pondicherry Mill. The structure has deteriorated immensely, but still stands as a monument to this moment in history. So wait, think about this coal situation. The mill had grown to employ 225 people and water power from the brook was no longer dependable. An immense coal-burning chimney about 100 feet in height had been added to the mill. Sixty looms produced 18,000 yards of cloth weekly. Though the building stood until the mid-sixties, the industry moved south long before that. The stones by the brook and trestle are all that are left to tell the story. A now-deceased resident, Reg Fadden, used to tell the story of knowing what color they were dying the wool on any particular day–he’d see the color in the water as he walked to school.

s-former millpond:5th site

Above power site #5, the land was flat and indicative of a former mill pond.

s-5th site

A stone dam and some other foundation work is all that’s now left. The first mill to be located here was a sawmill built in 1868. By 1871, a shovel factory was built on the west side, which was the side I stood upon. By 1899, the Bridgton Lumber Company had located to this power site, with two mills operating–one for boxes and house furnishings; the other for lumber. This apparently was a successful site because in 1911 it became the Burnham and Newcomb Sawmill, which was purchased by Harry Bisbee in 1920. He used a turbine since the water power wasn’t dependable. Though it gushed over the rocks today, in the summertime, this is the perfect place to sit on the flat rocks and dangle ones feet. I can’t remember if Sue told me this or I read it, but apparently there was a treacherous footwalk that crossed the brook in this area and even at age 90, Mr Bisbee would walk across. The sawmill eventually burned, with only the office remaining. This time using a diesel engine, Mr. Bisbee started a smaller sawmill. In 1953, the dam washed out with a flood and local lore has it that Mr. Bisbee walked out one day, leaving it all behind. He died a couple of years later, gifting the mill to the public library.

Charles Fadden and his son, Reg, bought the mill at auction and operated a box mill, using a turbine for power. The office was still standing until about ten years ago, when it collapsed.

s-narrow 1

By the mill, the Harrison Narrow Gauge crossed over a trestle; today only the stone stanchions remain. A sixth power site was never developed.

s-locust bark

It was here that I recognized another tree I don’t always encounter–a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). The bark appears almost braided.

s-locust pod

And below it, an old flat pod that contains bean-like seeds.

s-7th site, Johnson Falls

I followed a new trail (possibly private, but it wasn’t posted) and was delighted to get a better view of what I believe is power site #7.

s-lower johnson falls site 7

If I’m correct in my thinking, this is Lower Johnson Falls, and was the possible 1859 site of the Milliken Bedstead Factory.

s-remnants by Johnson falls

A foundation is still visible on the eastern side of the brook.

s-7th site, smith sash 1

Below power site #7, I came to the coffin shop. Hey, somebody has to build them. Lewis Smith built the two-story building with a basement in the late 1860s. It was a sash and blind factory, but he also built furniture, and yes, coffins. More local lore: he was the town’s first undertaker. While the building has had several owners since then who have tried to restore it, it still needs some (way more than some) tender loving care so it doesn’t go the way of all the other mills.

s-turbine rig

All that remains of a water-powered turbine still reaches over the brook. Originally, all the water wheels along the brook were overshot wheels. While an overshot wheel had horizontal axils, a turbine wheel had vertical axils, thus making it smaller, more efficient and more dependable given the rise and fall of the water.

s-turbine

And on the front lawn of the coffin shop, the real deal–a Perry Turbine Water Wheel. In 1877, Richard Bailey and Samuel Miller operated an iron factory and machine shop built by William Perry and George Taylor across the road from the Smith factory. When they sold their business to Forest Mills owed by William  Fessenden Perry, it was renamed the Bridgton Machine Company with George and Frank Burnham taking over as managers. In 1887, the Perry turbine was invented and it received nation-wide popularity for use in mills along small streams.

s-forest mill a

Power site #8 is one of my favorites. This is where Perry and Taylor erected a mill in 1862 to manufacture woolen goods. The dam was built to provide a fifteen-foot fall with a mill pond above.

s-Forest Woolen Mill 2

s-forest sluice

Today the sluiceway is dry, but I can imagine the water pouring through here.

s-forest woolen mill 3

With the advent of Kansas Road in 1865, the woolen mill expanded to 200 feet by 45 feet and stood two stories tall. With more looms than any mill in the area, outerwear was produced here and shipped to Boston. During the Civil War, attention turned to creating war materials.

s-9th site, Kennard Dam

Across the street, I ventured down the wrong trail at first and found myself on the upper side of the dam built at power site #9. The 13′ dam built by Boothby and Chadwick in 1864 was near Kennards Stocking Mill. It was originally intended that Kansas Road would cross the dam, but the turn would have been too sharp and too steep.

s-vp by Kennards, 9th site

Today, a vernal pool sits below the former dam. I checked it and several others along the way. No signs of life. I’ve yet to hear spring peepers.

Anyway, Taylor and Perry purchased this site in 1865 and built a three-story carding mill with an overhead walkway that crossed Kansas Road and connected their two mills: Forest Mill #1 and Forest Mill #2.  By 1879, Mr. Taylor had died and Mr. Perry re-organized as the Forest Mills Company, which employed 130 workers and produced cashmere. As Sue has told me, this was not from cashmere goats but rather a lightweight fabric consisting of wool fiber that had either a plain or twill weave.

s-power 9

A railroad spur and trestle were built in 1900 to unload coal and other supplies for the Forest Mills Company. The American Wool Company purchased the mill, which was large for Bridgton, but small compared to those south of Maine. Eventually, business moved south. In 1925, a shoe shop moved in, but it wasn’t successful either. The building was torn down in 1962.

s-powerline trail

The scene changed briefly when I followed the trail onto the present day power line.

s-powerline boardwalk

Typically, this boardwalk is under water in March and April. But this year is far from typical.

s-cmp pond

And then I reached power site #10. This is the most modern of them all, but again, it has a history. It’s possible that this was the site of Jacob Stevens’s first sawmill built in 1768.

s-cmp dam 1

Mr. Stevens would have built a boulder and gravel dam, not one of cement certainly. He lived nearby and raised eight children; the four oldest worked beside him. Mr. Stevens was a ranking member of the survey crew that came to what is now called Bridgton in 1766 from Andover, Massachusetts. He returned in 1768 under contract with the Proprietors to develop water power and make it serve the early settlers by creating mills that provided building materials and grain for food. Stevens was the one who identified twelve power sites along the almost two-mile brook with a drop of 156 feet from its source at Highland Lake (known originally as Crotched Pond) to its outlet at Long Lake (Long Pond). It made sense for him to build a site here for both a saw mill and grist mill, as this is near the mouth of the stream and would have provided him with easy access to the main thoroughfare of Long Pond and beyond. The proprietors required that the saw mill operate for fifteen years and the grist mill for twenty.

s-cmp dam 4

I don’t know what happened between 1768 and 1896 when the Bridgton Water and Electric Company took over as the first source of electricity and water for the village. The concrete dam was built in 1931 by Central Maine Power after several transfers of ownership. The greatest power could be found between this site and power site #11, where the brook drops 25-30 feet.

s-penstock start

A 790-foot penstock was built to regulate the flow of the water.

s-penstock channel

s-penstock support

Evidence remains of its position and actually, it’s easiest to see right now before the summer foliage obscures so much.

s-1

Somewhere in this area was power site #11. The Hart Tannery may have been built on an island in the middle of the brook.

s-water drops below CMP

The exact location of power site #12 is also elusive, but rumor has it that a shingle factory was located between site #11 and the outlet.

s-1922 brick

Early on, a wooden structure was used as a power house. That was replaced by a brick building built in 1922 by the Western Maine Power Company. Notice where the penstock entered. And above it, a turbine generator.

s-Long lake 2

All was calm by the time Stevens Brook emptied into Long Lake today.

s-beaver 1

Though it’s easy to miss, this area still offers a source of dams and industry.

s-beaver lodge and dams

Beaver style.

s-3

I walked back up Main Street and headed to the first three power sites, which I present in backwards order at the risk of confusing my tired readers. Power site #3 has a storied past: 1813-fulling mill (put weaving on hot water and beat it to close fibers); 1822-saw and grist mill; 1830-saw, grist and plaster mill; 1845-mill burned; 1857-rebuilt two stories; 1877-never rebuilt. Yet this was long known as the Dam Site and a Dam Site Restaurant stood here for years. Across the street was a tannery, which didn’t need water for power, but did need water to fill the 140 vats. Using hemlock bark, 10,000 hides were tanned each year.

s-shorey park dam 1

I’m only just realizing that I missed power site #2. I looked at it as I walked by, but must have been tired. Anyway, it’s below this split stone dam and served as a grist mill in 1798 and a sash and blind mill in 1835.

s-sp 3rd power site

Power site #1 was originally a saw mill built by Asa Kimball at the head of Stevens Brook. The lay of the land has changed since roads were constructed and Highland Lake (Crotched Pond) had a different configuration and lower depth. The pond served as Mr. Kimball’s mill pond, where he floated logs from Sweden (Sweden, Maine, that is). The split stone dam was erected in 1849-50 by Rufus Gibbs and others, thus providing power for the first big mill in the village that stood four stories tall, employed 50 workers, ran 20 looms and made blankets for the Civil War. By 1941, is was demolished.

s-sp millpond

This is the mill pond as we see it today, but if my vision is clear, before Highland Road intercepted it, this was part of Crotched Pond.

s-highland

And the start of it all, the thing that got me milling about today, Highland Lake and the source of Stevens Brook.

Dear reader, if you are with me still, thank you. It was a long journey and I appreciate that you came along.

 

 

Gifts from the Land

B & H sign

A friend and I met at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve in Lovell this morning. I only just noticed that this sign places Bradley Pond first–I’ve always heard it the other way. Funny how your mind reads what it thinks is there. At least mine does. Makes the job of editing a slow process–for good reason.

I love that the sign shows three peaks, as there are three peaks here–Whiting Hill, Flat Hill and Amos Mountain. Our mission today, however, was to check out the saw mill site off Slab City Road and walk to Otter Rocks.

We completed said mission and chuckled that it took us less than three hours to walk the short distance out and back. But the gifts we received along the way were many.

To begin with, it was an absolutely gorgeous spring morning.

mill 2

Water raced over the dam at the mill site. Timber long played an important role in Lovell, as in other towns throughout New England.  And water provided the power at the saw and grist mills before steam engines were put to use.

In her book, Blueberries and Pusley Weed, The Story of Lovell, Pauline W. Moore wrote: “Slab City (so named because when the mills were running, the slab or outside of the logs was piled high on either side of the road), had two cooper shops and two stave mills as late as 1881, representing the period when one mill produced the staves and a cooper put the barrels together.”

Robert C. Williams, author of Lovewell’s Town, adds, “In 1840, Benjamin Heald built a sawmill in the area east of Kezar Lake known locally as Slab City–a common New England term for the lumbering area of a town–in order to produce shook, the thin boards used to make barrel staves. Slab referred to the outside cuts of logs with bark that piled up unused by the roadside. Shook mills soon abounded in Lovell, and barrel staves went off to the Caribbean, especially Havana, Cuba, to produce barrels that could be filled with molasses and rum.”

Mill 4

This mill site features a combination of quarried stone and cement. On the Lovell Historical Society’s Web site, there are several photos of mills in the Slab City area.

 cherry tree

I wonder about the efforts to quarry the stone, move it to the brook, and build the dam. I also wonder about other things–like this cherry tree that grows out of the sloped land, dips down toward the water and then reaches skyward. Enviable perseverance.

mill pond

Here’s a look at the mill pond above the dam.

bird 2

And then there was the gift of song as this warbler sang to us from a branch above. Or is it a Louisiana Waterthrush?

bird

lady ferns

And an evergreen fern, matted from a long winter’s rest.

grape fern and frond

Plus grape fern and its old fertile frond, for which it derives its name because the sporangia have a grape-like appearance when they are fresh.

Christmas fern

The third fern gift of the day–Christmas fern, so named because each leaflet looks like a Christmas stocking or Santa in a sleigh behind his reindeer.

Christmas 2

I didn’t notice any fern fiddleheads, but the snow only melted this past week. There’s still so much to look forward to.

beech leaf

I’ve been watching beech tree buds for at least a month. What I noticed today is that most buds are still wrapped up in scales and retain their cigar shape. On saplings, however, it’s a different story. Along the path, several were unfurling. Perhaps because of their smaller size, they want to be first to leaf out, thus taking advantage of any available sunlight before the larger trees form a canopy above them. Just a thought.

otter rocks sign

Our destination–Otter Rocks.

Otter rock

I’ve not had the privilege of seeing otters here, but plenty of other things revealed themselves today.

ice:eggs look alike

The melting ice fooled us only momentarily. On first glance, it looked like egg masses, but proved to be small masses of ice floating on the surface.

macro

Though you can’t see it here, we watched a kazillion aquatic macro invertebrates swim about.

Mayfly_rs

I scooped a few into my hand and my friend, Jinny, snapped this photo of a Mayfly nymph with three cerci or tails. (Thanks J.M.)

exoskeleton

On otter rock itself, there are exoskeletons from hatchings that occurred in previous years.

Heald Pond

It was difficult to pull ourselves away and we have plans to return with sketch books and food and cameras and maybe even some wine–to spend some time taking in all that this lovely spot has to offer.

For today, we needed to wend our way back up the trail. There were still a few more moments of wonder to be had.

partridge berry

Take, for instance,  the partridge berry with its opposite evergreen leaves and berries with two spots on the surface, a result of the fusion of two ovaries. This plant produces two white flowers, one with short pistils and long stamens and the second just the opposite. In order for a berry to form, both flowers have to be pollinated. Nature has it all figured out. Why don’t I?

cm2

A princess pine club moss shows off its upright spore-producing candelabra or strobili. Funny thing about club mosses–they aren’t mosses. I guess they were considered moss-like when named. Just as the mills take us back in time, so do these–only much further back when their ancestors grew to 100 feet tall during the Devonian Period. They make me feel so small and insignificant. And yet, I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in awe of them.

tinder conks and bird holes

Again the insignificance makes itself known–as this tree dies, it provides life–for carpenter ants, pileated woodpeckers, mosses, lichens and  tinder polypore or hoof fungus. And probably so many more species.

hoof 2

On a nearby tree, the  fruiting bodies of the tinder conks  grow at the base, giving them a true hoof-like appearance. Giddy-up.

sumac

We were almost back to my truck when we saw a clump of staghorn sumac shrubs. I grew up in the land of poison sumac, so it’s taken me a while to warm up to this species. But the hairy red fruits are a work of art in their own right. Plus, they provide food to wild turkeys, ruffed grouse and others.

sumac 2

Some people make tea from the summer berries. I, um, can’t bring myself to try it.

 sumac 3

Check out the hairy antler-like growth pattern. So maybe I won’t seep the fruits for tea, but I can certainly enjoy the other features staghorn sumac offers up.

cedar bark

And though not all of my posts include tree bark, I like it when they do. In this case, Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentals). The lines of the bark follow the shape of the tree.

cedar leaves

And its leaves are flat and scaly–reminiscent of princess pine.

My friend, Jinny, and her husband Will, are forever naturalists. He wasn’t with us today, and doesn’t often trek with us, but I suspect that he was channeling our adventure. They own many acres and know their land intimately. Sometimes they invite me along to walk their trails and wonder with them. Together, we learn.

And they get me. I know this because every so often they give me gifts from their land.

Today, I was the recipient of two gifts.

green stain

Trail blaze on a downed tree? No, Green Stain (Chlorociboria aeruginascens). In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman writes, “The stain was once used for Tunbridge ware–decorative wooden objects inlaid with strips of colored veneer.” I’d much rather have this piece of wood.

 bark 2

The other present is an intact piece of paper birch bark–peeling, chalky white outer bark, orangey inner bark, a hole where the branch was and a fu manchu over the branch hole. Perfection.

sculpture

It will certainly be a useful teaching tool, but in the meantime, it’s earned a spot on top of the bookcase in the summer kitchen.

One last gift from the land.

matted ferns

These evergreen ferns, matted from a winter under snow, invoke a touch of spring fever.

It was a short wander with a lot of wonder. Thanks for joining me.