Milton Water Power in 1885

By Muriel Bristol (Transcriber) | November 7, 2018

The following 1885 description of water power on the Salmon Falls River is extracted from a larger report compiled for the entire country. It was created as a part of the Tenth (1880) Federal Census. This extract begins at East Rochester and moves upstream to Milton Mills, with some consideration of the tributaries of the Salmon Fall River above Milton Mills.

At East Rochester is the next improved power on the river, that of the Cocheco Woolen Manufacturing Company. The dam is of wood, 10½ feet high, founded on ledge, ponding the water only about 1,400 feet to the dam above. The fall used is 10½ feet at mill No. 3, situated at the dam, and using 50 horse-power, while at mills No. 1 and No. 2, to which the water is led by a canal 700 feet long and 20 feet wide, the fall is 16½ feet and the power some 150 (?) horse power. Full capacity can be secured at all times excepting sometimes on Saturday, when the Great Falls Company shut the reservoirs above, in which case mill No. 3 is run by steam. Water generally runs over the dam day and night.

At the head of the pond last mentioned is a second privilege owned by the same company, with a wooden dam 8 feet high, ponding the water 2 miles, and affording power for a saw- and grist-mill, with a fall of 8 feet. The further development of this power is talked of. 

A short distance above this privilege is the site of a woolen-mill, which was burned in 1882. The fall was 8 feet, with a canal a third of a mile long.

The next power is a saw- and grist-mill, 1½ mile below Milton, the fall being 11 feet with a dam 8 feet high. Between this power and the one below there is said to be a small fall once used, but now idle. It is probably of no importance.

Between the last power and Milton Three ponds is the largest fall on the river, amounting probably to not less than 120 feet in 1½ mile, and some 200 feet in 3 miles. (a) The fall is continuous, over ledges of solid rock, the banks being also very rocky and sometimes steep. This entire fall is controlled by the Great Falls Manufacturing Company, and is only utilized by a small mill at the outlet of the ponds. Of this large fall a considerable portion could be utilized, though it is impossible to say how much. As regards building dams, no difficulty would be experienced, but it might sometimes be difficult to find good locations for mills and canals, on account of the toughness of the banks. At the “flume” there is a fall of about 15 feet in 100 feet, the width of the stream being very small; and above it there is an equal fall in as short a distance. A short distance above, the Great Falls company has erected a dam and a mill, the dam being of wood about 16 feet high, and only about 30 or 40 feet long, between cliffs of rock. The mill has never been used, and no wheel has been put in. The fall is 16 feet. Above the dam there is a fall of 15 feet, or thereabout, to the foot of the dam at the outlet of the ponds, which is 16 feet high. The fall here is used by a small excelsior mill a short distance below the dam, using a fall of 14 feet when the ponds are full, with about 25 horse-power, and only running about ten months. 

Any estimate of the power available at this place is very uncertain, because it depends entirely upon the manner in which the reservoirs are operated by the Great Falls Company. To judge from the amount of power below, I should say that a power of 12 horse-power per foot fall could be depended upon at all times, if it could be all used during working hours. The reservoirs, however, are often closed on Saturday, so that they may partly fill up, and the supply is drawn from Mast Point pond during that day, the reservoirs being opened again on Monday morning. If mills should be located, therefore, on this fall, they might not be able to run on Saturday, while at other times the supply of water would be excessive. Similar disadvantages are always experienced by mills located near reservoirs which are controlled in the interest of mills situated far below. Not only would there probably be a lack of water on Saturday, but during other days there would always be a waste at night, for while the Ponds are open they are allowed to flow night and day; and as there are no facilities for storing water at night within the distance occupied by the fall referred to, there would be no possibility of concentrating the power into working hours. These or similar considerations have perhaps been those which have prevented the utilization of the power, which is favorably situated, within easy reach of the railroad, and with building materials close at hand.

The next power above Milton Three ponds is at Milton mills, where there are several dams, and above which the fall is rapid all the way to the source of the river. The lowest dam is owned by the Waumbeck Manufacturing Company, and the power is leased, being used by a woolen-mill and a felt-mill, one with a fall of 8 feet and 36 horsepower, and the other with a fall of 10 feet and 60 horse power. Full capacity can only be obtained during out nine or ten months, as the water is drawn from Great East pond in such a way as to cause a lack of water during a few months. The next dam is that supplying the woolen-mill of the Waumbeck Company. It is 14 feet high, the fall is 14 feet, and the power 75 horse-power, steam-power being in reserve. The next dam is of stone, 15 feet high, with flash-boards and supplies Buffum’s felt-mill, the fall being 15 feet and the power being 60 horse-power, steam-power being in reserve to the same extent. Above this is a reservoir belonging to the Waumbeck Company, the dam (called the Hooper dam) being of stone and from 15 to 18 feet high. The reservoir holds about one day’s supply. The next above is an unutilized privilege, called the “Jewett” privilege, once used by a small mill. The fall was about 12 feet, but it is said that 18 feet or more could be obtained. Above it is a second reservoir of the Waumbeck Company, the dam being of stone, 8 feet high, and the pond (known as Roe pond) holding about twenty-four hours’ storage. Above it are some saw mills, one at the dam at the outlet of Horn pond. There is no fall not utilized on this part of the stream, excepting that at the Jewett privilege. The mills, however, are obliged to have steam-power in reserve, on account of the intermittent flow from the reservoirs. 

The tributaries of the Salmon Falls river are not of much consequence. Of those from New Hampshire the only one to be mentioned is Branch river, which rises in Cook’s pond and empties into Three Ponds. At Union Village there are four mills on this stream running all the year. Of the tributaries from Maine the only one to be mentioned is Great Works river, which empties just below South Berwick, at the head of tide-water. It is a small stream, draining only about 92 square miles, and its flow is not very constant. It has one artificial reservoir, known as Bonny Bigg pond, covering about 500 acres – according to Wells, 1,600 acres – from which 8 or 10 feet may be drawn. At the mouth of the river is a saw- and grist-mill, with a dam 12 feet high, using a fall of 14 feet. The power available is probably about 65 horse-power net at its minimum during eleven hours. Less than a mile above this site there was formerly a dam, with a fall of about 18 feet, the privilege being now idle. It belongs to the Newichawanick Company, which owns the mills just above, and it would probably afford a power of 80 horse-power net during working hours, when the flow is at its minimum, and considerably more during the greater part of the year. Just above, or about a mile above the mouth of the stream, at Newichawanick falls, are the two dams of the Newichawanick Company, one 22 feet high, affording a fall of 29 feet, with 90 horse-power all the time, and the other 13 feet high, affording a fall of 17 feet, with 80 horse-power. These powers are excellent in almost every respect, and are in close proximity to several railroads. The gross power available during the low season of dry years is probably not less than 7 or 8 horse-power per foot fall, and during ordinary years 10 or over. During nine months probably twice as much could be utilized. Above this there are no powers worth describing.

The following tables give the power utilized on the coast streams of New Hampshire, compiled from the returns, and the drainage areas of the principal streams:

Table of drainage areas of the coast streams of New Hampshire

  • Exeter river [Stream; Tributary to] Great bay [Above what point] Exeter [Drainage area] 113 [Sq. miles]
  • Lamprey river [Stream; Tributary to] do [Above what point] Newmarket [Drainage area] 210 [Sq. miles]
  • Oyster river [Stream; Tributary to] do [Above what point] Mouth [Drainage area] 20 [Sq. miles]
  • Bellamy river [Stream; Tributary to] do [Above what point] do [Drainage area] 30 [Sq. miles]
  • Cocheco river [Stream; Tributary to] Piscataqua river [Above what point] Dover [Drainage area] 183 [Sq. miles]
  • Do [Stream; Tributary to] do [Above what point] Gonic [Drainage area] 90 [Sq. miles]
  • Do [Stream; Tributary to] do [Above what point] Rochester [Drainage area] 72 [Sq. miles]
  • Salmon Falls river [Stream; Tributary to] do [Above what point] Berwick [Drainage area] 242 [Sq. miles]
  • Do [Stream; Tributary to] do [Above what point] Salmon Falls [Drainage area] 240 [Sq. miles]
  • Do [Stream; Tributary to] do [Above what point] Great Falls [Drainage area] 231 [Sq. miles]
  • Do [Stream; Tributary to] do [Above what point] East Rochester [Drainage area] 140 [Sq. miles]
  • Do [Stream; Tributary to] do [Above what point] Milton Three ponds [Drainage area] 123 [Sq. miles]
  • Do [Stream; Tributary to] do [Above what point] Milton mills [Drainage area] 34 [Sq. miles]
  • Little river [Stream; Tributary to] Salmon Falls river [Above what point] Mouth [Drainage area] 60 [Sq. miles]
  • Great Works river [Stream; Tributary to] do [Above what point] do [Drainage area] 92 [Sq. miles]
  • Salmon Falls river [Stream; Tributary to] Piscataqua river [Above what point] Berwick [Drainage area] a123 [Sq. miles]
  • Do [Stream; Tributary to] do [Above what point] do [Drainage area] b119 [Sq. miles]

a In Maine; b in New Hampshire

Another interesting table follows – Table of powers utilized on the coast streams of New Hampshire – which is beyond my power to represent. You may find it in the source listed in the References below.

Compare with Milton Water Power in 1901


Swain, George F. (1885). Reports of the Water-Power of the United States, Part I. Retrieved from

Author: Muriel Bristol

"Lady drinking tea"

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