Progress update about the Biddeford Mill Clock Tower

In 1961, my Dad was one of the protesters to the tearing down of Union Station in Portland, Maine.  Every time we drove by where it was he would say ‘Louise, what a tragedy it was taken down.  How could they do it’!”  Louise Merriman is determined to save the magnificent Lincoln Mill Clock from the same fate.

Merriman is grateful for the outpouring of support she is receiving from the community. “Sandra Schuld, our Chair, has done great work and Dan LeBlond has been involved in this since 2006. In fact, two generations of his family worked in the mill.  He has worked tirelessly for this.”

Biddeford Mill Clock Tower

December 18th from 11-11:30 am,  the clock tower will be moved to the Lincoln Mill parking lot. It will be covered with a 50 foot tarp to protect it from the elements to continue its restoration and to raise it up on the RiverWalk in 2020.

BIDDEFORD, Maine– A few years ago, some people were apparently ready to give up on the possibility of restoring Biddeford’s historic Lincoln Mill Clock. “It will never work,” some people said. Today, thanks to the leadership of Louise Merriman, the momentum to restore the magnificent clock is progressing. On December 18, 2019, the public will be able to witness a major milestone in the clock’s restoration.

Merriman is the chair of the Friends of the Historic Biddeford Mill Clock Tower.  She sent this message:  “On December 18th from 11-11:30 am, we are moving the clock tower to the Lincoln Mill parking lot.  We will cover it with a 50 foot tarp and protect it from the elements to continue its restoration and to raise it up on Biddeford’s River Walk in 2020.”

Although the magnificent clock was known as the Lincoln Mill Clock, because it originally adorned the roof of Biddeford’s Lincoln Mill, in the restoration it is recognized for how all of the city’s workers relied on the clock as a communications icon. Therefore, the restoration identifies the project as the Biddeford Mill Clock Tower.  “In fact, the tower clock located on the roof of the Lincoln Mill kept time for all mill workers for 140 years,” said Merriman.

Fund raising buy a brick Lincoln MIll Tower Clock

Louise Merriman has been actively leading the preservation and restoration for the Lincoln Mill Clock. One way to help support the restoration is to “buy a brick”.

Merriman is eager to speak with anyone about how they can support this project.

Her contact is louisem366@gmail.com

A presentation Merriman gave at Flourish, a Biddeford Arts Center, explained why she has been motivated to lead the clock’s preservation and restoration

Merriman’s Speech:  We are standing on hallowed ground!  This is the land of the people of the Wabanaki (Abenaki, Sokoki) who lived here for thousands of years until the first white European settlers came here and claimed their land as their own.

It’s the land where thousands of immigrants came from Turkey, Italy, Albania, Ireland, Germany, Scotland, Malta, Canada, French-Canada and the far reaches of Maine to a place that must have seemed, to them, like “Oz”.  They came to work in the mills.

It was on this very ground in Biddeford that we witnessed an industrial innovation that reverberated all across the world.

The starting place is what was known in the 1760s, as Saco Island. Thomas Cutts, a merchant and ship owner, purchased this island and called it Cutts Island.  On this he built a lumber mill and iron works.

In 1820, (the same year when Maine became a state), the combined population of Biddeford-Saco was 4,200 people.

In 1825, Saco Manufacturing built the largest textile mill in the country – seven stories high!  But, in 1829, shortly after production, the mill burned.

A group of Boston investors led by Samuel Batchelder acquired Saco Manufacturing and Cutts Island (now known as Factory Island) and began the York Manufacturing Company.

By 1833, they began all phases of textile manufacture – from raw cotton to the finished cloth.

French-Canadians immigrated to Maine, where many located in Biddeford, because they were able to earn wages for their labor in the mills. They were paid more in wages than they could ever earn in Canada. (Migration Fields of French Canadian Immigrants to Southern Maine, James P. Allen Vol. 62 No. 3 (July 1972) American Geographical Society pp 366-383).

In 1837, York Manufacturing began a separate company called the Saco Water Power Company with the intent of producing textile machinery and control the waterpower rights for the York Mills.

It was the Saco Water Power Company that built the Laconia Mills on the Biddeford side of the river in 1844 and in 1850 started the Pepperell Manufacturing Company.

In the 1840s, the Saco Water Power Machine Shop, a separate factory for the production of textile equipment was built in Biddeford.

By 1850, the total combined population of Biddeford-Saco had grown to 15,000 people.

In the 1850s, there were three textile manufacturing companies in operation:  York Manufacturing, Laconia and Pepperell.

They employed 3,500 people, had 11 mill buildings, operated 70 boarding houses and produced more than 25 million yards of cotton fabric annually.

1845-1855, has been noted that being the most vibrant, most crowded time in Biddeford’s history.

It is in this surge of population and uptick of infrastructure and ingenuity that the Biddeford Mill Clock Tower was built.

The Pepperell Manufacturing Company built the Clock Tower in 1853.  The clock tower, sans bell, clock and weather vane, weighed 26,000 pounds.  It was a magnificent piece of architecture – unique in mill clock towers since it had eight sides.  It was put on a pitched roof building in back of the Lincoln Mill that was also built in 1853.

In the 1870s, pitched roof buildings were deemed a fire hazard.  The Pepperell constructed a bridge to bring it from the building to the top of the Lincoln Mill.

This beautiful clock tower’s clock timed mill life for our community for over 140 years.  It was the mother clock that all other clocks timed their time to. Its weather vane was the compass that people could gauge the force of the winds and where they were coming from. It was and is the iconic symbol of Biddeford’s innovation.

In 2007, it was architecturally brutalized– severed from its stanchions (support base).  For nearly 13 years, it endured fierce weather conditions and has been the forlorn and forgotten symbol of Biddeford’s industrial innovation.

In 1961, Merriman’s Dad was one of the protestors to the tearing down of Union Station in Portland, Maine.  “Every time we drove by where it was he would say ‘Louise, what a tragedy it was taken down.  How could they do it’!”

The Biddeford Mill Clock Tower is our Union Station moment.  But, unlike Union Station, all of us here are given a second chance to save it.

She sits waiting for her resurrection and waiting for us – all of you here in the room – to bring her back into our community and our hearts.

Merriman is grateful for the outpouring of support she is receiving from the community. “Sandra Schuld, our Chair, has done great work and Dan LeBlond has been involved in this since 2006. In fact, two generations of his family worked in the mill.  He has worked tirelessly for this.”

. A “buy a brick” fund raising is helping to raise funds. She is thankful for the support of Tim Harrington and the developers of the Lincoln Mill and for friends who have worked to achieve a successful outcome.  When restoration is complete, the beautiful and historic Biddeford Mill Clock Tower will be installed near the Elm Street and Lincoln Street entrance to the Biddeford  River Walk.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.