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Androscoggin River History
According to archaeological record, Wabanaki people have utilized the Androscoggin River for at least 13,000 years. The name “Androscoggin" is among many English variations on the Wabanaki place name, which roughly translates to “place to smoke fish or meat at the falls.” Wabanaki people fished abounding salmon and sturgeon upstream in the spring and harvested corn and beans in the lowlands in late summer. Meat was dried on the riverbanks of Canton Point. Their mobile lifestyle along the river brought stability to the ecosystem. Wabanakis adapted to the changing seasons, giving the land an opportunity to rest and regain its fertility. While many early European explorers surveyed the land, Thomas Purchase of England was considered the first settler colonist of the region, arriving by the 1620s. Wabanaki people aimed to welcome unexpected guests into their Indigenous culture and economy, but miscommunication in the consent of land ownership ultimately led to the dispossession of Wabanaki Homeland. European settlers utilized the land’s surplus, fishing and harvesting crops at a rapid rate. Trade between tribes and colonists turned to conflict, resulting in a series of wars.
By 1714, the General Court of Massachusetts ruled to protect colonization of the region. The Pejepscot Purchase Company, also known as the Pejepscot Proprietors, was established to encourage and promote settlement, and laid out Brunswick, Topsham, Harpswell, and Lewiston.
Pere Pole of the Abenaki Nation gave a deposition on July 19, 1793, taken by the Pejepscot Proprietors as part of the case against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Pere Pole lived in the area of the proprietorship and described the naming of the region and the boundaries of the Androscoggin River on behalf of its Indigenous inhabitants, which demonstrates ancestral land rights.
Development and Industry
Commercial lumbering was one of the first major industries on the Androscoggin River, operating as early as the 1630s. As technology evolved over the decades, waterpower enabled industrial capitals to further develop. Loggers felled mast and white pine and ran them down river to the growing number of sawmills on the riverbanks. In 1789, the General Court of Massachusetts chartered the Androscoggin Boom, a barrier which enabled safer and efficient log drives, while charging a fee for every log released. By 1820, 11 booms were built around the Androscoggin River Falls near Brunswick and Topsham. Early shipbuilding was closely tied to the lumber industry on the Androscoggin, most active between 1835 and 1845. Loggers cut oaks for the shipyards below the Falls, where vessels from schooners to brigs were constructed through the early 1900s. Shipbuilding moved off the Androscoggin after the railroad bridge was built over the river in 1909.
In the early 1800s, Brunswick Cotton Manufacturing began producing cotton yarn (and later woolens) at Brunswick (Pejepscot Falls) on the site of the former Fort Andross trading post and Fort George. Reorganized as the Cabot Manufacturing Company, the mill recruited in Quebec, which doubled the French population in Brunswick and Topsham every 10 years from 1870-90. The Bates Mill in Lewiston also sought workers from Quebec and New Brunswick. Laborers arrived by train and were provided housing. Tenement buildings lined the riverbanks and Mill Street in the late 1800s. Railroads were instrumental in facilitating international trade through Maine ports. Lewiston-Auburn Railroad Company, founded in 1872, and Lewiston’s Grand Trunk Railroad station, built in 1874, both welcomed French-Canadian immigrants and exported goods to Canada.
Bowdoin Mill was built by the Topsham Paper Company in 1868, and later purchased by Bowdoin Manufacturing in 1874, who further expanded the pulp and paper industry. In the 1870s, 40 tons of paper was produced daily. Renamed the Pejepscot Paper Company in 1896, the mill moved north on the Androscoggin to Pejepscot. The new mill was powered by a hydro dam and steam engine, initially employing around 180 new laborers, and continued manufacturing paper for over a century.
Management and Recovery
By the 20th century, recovery efforts were initialized to mitigate the increasing environmental impact on the river. The Androscoggin Reservoir Company formed in the early 1900s and in 1911 built a dam at the former Aziscohos Falls, in Oxford County. The Union Power Company (founded around 1850 as the Lewiston Water Power Company) began controlling the river’s flow to prevent additional flooding. Chemical byproducts from mill operations degraded the water quality while the many dams built inhibited the river’s natural ability to cleanse itself. The Pejepscot Water Company received a legislative charter to clean the Androscoggin River for domestic and municipal use. The Brunswick-Topsham water district built a plant and drove wells to meet demand. By 1922, the District provided over 580,000 gallons of water to Brunswick and Topsham businesses and homes. The Clean Water Act of 1972 regulated pollution levels. The water quality of the Androscoggin River has substantially rebounded and today is clean enough to support recreational use as well as several fish and wildlife species.
- Pere Pole Depositions, 1793, Proprietors of the Township of Brunswick Pejepscot Proprietors papers, Coll. 61, Maine Historical Society.
- Wabanaki Place Names of Western Maine, Androscoggin River Portal, Bates College.
- Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England. 2003.
- True, Nathaniel Tuckerman. The History of Bethel, Maine. 1994.
- Downing, Paul. Brunswick, Maine, 250 Years a Town, 1739-1989. Town of Brunswick, Maine, 1989.
- Waterfront Maine, Fort Andross Mill Complex
- Berlin and Coös County Historical Society
Prepared by Maine Historical Society on behalf of Maine Office of Tourism