Milton Water Power in 1901

By Muriel Bristol (Transcriber) | October 11, 2018

This description of Milton’s water power has been extracted from a Federal government report of 1901.

The first paragraph of this extract begins by describing how actions at Milton Three Ponds affect East Rochester dams downstream. From there, the descriptions move sequentially upstream towards Milton [Dams Nos. 11-15] and, finally, Milton Mills [Dams Nos. 16-22]. Other portions of the report describe water power on other waterways.

At East Rochester, a village of 700 or more inhabitants, the Cocheco Woolen Manufacturing Company has two dams. The lower dam is of wood, founded on rock, and gives a fall of 12 feet at mill No. 3, which is close by, and where 75 horsepower is employed. A canal 20 feet wide and 700 feet long leads water to mills Nos. 1 and 2, where 17 feet of fall and 240 horsepower of turbines are in use. These can be run at full capacity, except sometimes on Saturday, when the supply from Milton Three Ponds is shut off [at Dam No. 15], in which case steam is used for mill No. 3. A 100-horsepower engine is also kept in reserve for mills Nos. 1 and 2. Ordinarily, however, water wastes over the dam day and night. The Cocheco Company operates 18 sets of cards in the manufacture of all kinds of woolen wear. A quarter of a mile above this dam is the upper dam, also of wood, forming a pond 2 miles and giving a head of 8 feet. The power here has been used in a box shop, and when the place was visited an electric power station was being built at one end of the dam, where the Cocheco Company proposed to install about 160 horsepower of turbines to furnish light, and perhaps power, to its mills.

The next dam, the tenth above tide water, is about midway between East Rochester and Milton. It is only a rude barrier of bowlders [SIC], serving to divert part of the stream’s volume into a canal, which extends about three-fourths of a mile along the river, finally giving a head of 6 feet at a small mill where 30 or 40 horsepower is used in grinding grists, making shingles, spinning yarn, and in other light work. The property is owned by Mrs. E.J. Cottle of West Lebanon, Me.

Upstream there is no fall of consequence between this and the next dam [Dam No. 11], which is within 1½ miles of Milton. Here a fall of 16 feet is obtained, which might be increased 2 feet by excavating in the rapids below the dam, the power being used in Spaulding’s leather-board mill, which has a capacity of 3 tons a day. From 250 to 275 horsepower of turbines is employed, and steam power is not required.

Between the top of the dam last described and the top of the reservoir dam at Milton Three Ponds [Dam  No. 15], a distance of from 2 to 3 miles, there is a developed fall of 63 feet, covering four water privileges, which closely succeed one another through the village of Milton. In addition to this there is probably from 50 to 75 feet of available undeveloped fall a short distance below the village. All of this water power is owned by the Great Falls Manufacturing Company, which leases it to the present users and has additional power to lease to acceptable persons. The undeveloped fall is scattered along a stretch of a half or three-fourths of a mile, from which the railroad is nowhere more than a half mile distant. The bed of the river is of granite, and granite ledges form its banks, which rise abruptly from 5 to 15 feet above the stream on each side, and are succeeded by more gradual slopes farther back. In the lower part of this stretch are two abrupt pitches, a few hundred feet apart, at each of which there is a descent of from 10 to 15 feet in a distance of about 200 feet. Farther upstream there is a fall of about 25 feet in a distance of 200 or 300 feet and elsewhere there is a succession of low pitches and rough water.

Of the four developed privileges the first in order [Dam  No. 12] is occupied by the Strafford Paper Company, manufacturing 10 or 12 tons of manila paper and newspaper stock a day. Turbines aggregating 280-horsepower are operated under a head of 17 feet, and a 75-horsepower steam engine is also in constant use. The dam is of logs, running in two sections of 50 or 75 feet each from the banks to a ledge in midstream. Next in order comes a stone dam [Dam  No. 13], giving a head of 25 feet, under which from 200 to 300 horsepower is obtained by the Milton Leather Board Company. The third dam [Dam  No. 14] is a timber structure about 60 feet long, at each end of which N.B. Thayer & Co. has a shoe factory, the combined output of which is 7,000 60-pair cases a year of a medium grade of boys’ shoes. A 50-horsepower turbine under 8 feet head is used on each side of the river, with steam in reserve. Although the water power here is regarded as relatively constant, it is subject to occasional shortage, due to the closing of gates at Three Ponds and to some interruption during extreme freshets, when the stream becomes choked in a gorge below, and backwater nearly destroys the fall at this privilege. The uppermost dam in the village of Milton, the fifteenth in order from the mouth of the river, is at the outlet of the so called Three Ponds. With flashboards on the dam and with full pond, the fall is about 13 feet, but when visited in September, 1898, the pond had been drawn down about 8 feet, reducing the fall correspondingly. A small power is used for a sawmill and a gristmill. The dam is a low dry-stone structure with high flashboards. It creates a reservoir which is very useful to the Great Falls Company, being about midway between Great East Pond, at the headwaters, and the company’s mills at Somersworth, and here the principal regulation of the supply to the lower river is effected. Although the three ponds are somewhat distinct from one another, they connect freely, stand at a common level, and form a continuous sheet of water of about 840 acres extent. Commanding a drainage area of 124 square miles, they fill rapidly in spring but during the summer and fall they are gradually drawn down,, though fluctuating more or less with rains and according to the management of the upper reservoirs. During the period of drought the gates at the dam are kept closed from Saturday night to Sunday night, no water passing downstream in the interval, except what leaks through the dam.

From this dam it is 6 or 7 miles, by river, to Milton Mills, the next settlement upstream. Backwater from Three Ponds covers the lower half of this distance, and for the remainder the stream has a flat slope.

Milton Mills is a small village on the New Hampshire side of the river, 3 miles distant from the railroad. In the village and its immediate vicinity there are five dams, covering an aggregate fall of 63 feet, at three of which power is used, while two have served for storage purposes only. This portion of the stream is above the mouth of Branch River, has a drainage area of less than 30 square miles, and is entirely dependent upon the Great East and connecting ponds. Ordinarily drought upon these begins in the latter part of July and continues until winter, and although a rather constant flow is thus assured, its absolute value is not great and the resulting water power above Milton is but moderate. Some details of the utilized power will be found in the following table. Between Hooper and Roe dams is undeveloped fall, variously stated at 18 and 36 feet, and there is additional fall the amount of which could not be learned, between Wiggin’s mill and Horns Pond.

Water powers on Salmon Falls River above Milton, N.H.

Dam, Location, Fall (Feet), Turbines (Horsepower) 

  • No. 22*, Outlet of Horn’s Pond, 10, 40,
  • [——], Between Horn’s mill and Wiggin’s mill, 8, None
  • No. 21, About 1 mile below Horn’s Pond, 8½, 45
  • No. 20, Roe dam above Milton Mills, 10, None
  • [——], Jewett privilege, *(?), None
  • No. 19, Hooper dam Milton Mills, 13, None
  • No. 18, Milton Mills, 14, 56
  • No. 17, do., 15, 90
  • No. 16, do., 11, 80

*Above tide water.

The water power at dam No. 22 is owned by the Great Falls Manufacturing Company, which controls the pond for storage purposes. The fall is 9 or 10 feet when the pond is full, but it is subject to, say, 5 feet reduction when the water in the pond is drawn down. The power is utilized at James Horn’s sawmill.

The water power between Horn’s mill and Wiggin’s mill is unimproved. The fall is 8 feet. It is said to have formerly been used.

Dam No. 21 is a dry stone structure. The pond is small and the power is used at L.P. Wiggin’s sawmill.

At dam No. 20 (the Roe dam) the reservoir is used simply for storage. It forms part of the Waumbeck Woolen Company’s property. It is a narrow pond, extending about 2 miles upstream, nearly to the next dam. The dam is of dry stone, planked on top, and with full pond gives a fall of about 10 feet.

The power at Jewett’s privilege is unimproved. The fall is variously stated at 18 and 36 feet.

Dam No. 19 is a dry-stone structure with plank top. It formerly served to form a reservoir for the Waumbeck Woolen Company, but within a year or two of the time it was visited a section at the right end had been carried away and the pond was empty, the river running through.

At dam No. 18 half of the power is owned by the Great Falls Manufacturing Company and half by the Gale Shoe Manufacturing Company. The latter company employs more than 100 persons and has an output of 15 or 16 cases of shoes a day.

At dam No. 17 the power is used by the Waumbeck Woolen Company in the manufacture of cheap dress goods. The mills have 10 sets of cards and 54 looms. A 60-horsepower steam engine is held in reserve.

At dam No. 16 the power is used in H.H. Townsend’s blanket mills, which have 3 sets of cards and 18 looms. There are two buildings in use here, one opposite the dam, at which the fall is 84 feet, and another 200 or 300 feet lower down, to which water is led in a timber penstock, giving a fall of 11 feet. During ordinary low water a 45-horsepower wheel can be run at only half gate, and a steam engine is used for auxiliary power.


US Geological Survey. (1901). The Twenty-Second Annual Report of the US. Geological Survey to the Secretary of the Interior, 1900-1901. Retrieved from

Author: Muriel Bristol

"Lady drinking tea"

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