By Muriel Bristol | April 30, 2023
In researching something else, several lengthy articles on Milton Mills were encountered in the Sanford Tribune of October, 6, 1911. This first article dealt with Milton Mills village, its mills, its churches, its library and some notable homes. (This information may cause some minor revisions or additions to some earlier Observer articles).
Accompanying Sanford Tribune articles (to be reproduced separately) dealt with the Andrews-Wasgatt factory, the Miltonia Mill, the Central House hotel, and some prominent Milton Mills residents.
The original author has not been identified but whomever it may have been gave acknowledgement to Milton Mills residents Elbridge W. Fox and John U. Simes for some of the information used.
A GLANCE AT THE PAST AND PRESENT OF MILTON MILLS. Historical Sketch of an Enterprising New Hampshire Town Close by the Hills of Acton, Maine. Some of the Men Who Founded and Are Continuing Its Industries. TEN miles from Springvale, separated from Sanford by the hills of Acton, lies the fair famed village of Milton Mills on the Salmon Fall river situated mostly on the New Hampshire side. Like many places in Maine and New Hampshire that are located away from the railroads, Milton Mills is not far famed; not having been given the publicity that perhaps less worthy villages have enjoyed by the accident of railroad connections. Hence its well merited fame for natural beauty, splendid homes – farm and village – manufacturing and superior social and civic conditions is limited to those persons who have mingled with its people or lived near its borders.
This village lies in the northern part of the town of Milton, New Hampshire, Strafford Country, along the dividing line between Maine and New Hampshire, about five miles from the source of the river. The adjoining town of Acton, in Maine, contributes a section to the village and while having no part in the government, the people are in all other ways a part of the New Hampshire community; and some of Acton’s most valuable estates are within this section.
Milton Mills is seven miles from Milton Three Ponds, the railroad station within the town, but not the nearest to the village. Union on the Northern division of the Boston and Maine Railroad is only four miles distant, and it is there that the railroad connection, by stage, is made. So far apart are the two Milton villages that each governs itself much the same as if village corporations existed.
The town joins Rochester on the south. It was set off from that town and incorporated under its present name in 1802. At that time the settlement was several miles south of Milton Mills and gradually spread out going towards the ponds first. Plummer’s Ridge was the first section to be settled. That was in 1772. Twelve or more years later the West Branch River was settled. As was the case in many instances in those early times the troubles of the people were over taxes and particularly taxation without representation. S0 it happened that the church tax that was levied upon the people in the northern part of Rochester for the support of a church so far away that they could not attend it was the serious trouble of the inhabitants in that part of the town. The matter finally culminated in the separation of the town and the incorporation of Milton.
At that time Milton Mills section was called Shapley’s Mills. Notwithstanding the excellent water privileges in that section it does not appear that mill business was the inducement to settlers and it is probable that farming was the principle attraction. According to Arthur Thad Smith, in his 100th anniversary address delivered at the celebration in 1902, there is in Milton developed and undeveloped water power greater than that at Dover and as great as that at Somersworth. He estimated the horse power to be 3500 units. There are north of Milton Mills village, beginning with the Miltonia site, six different falls. It is claimed by some that there is a total declivity of 100 feet. Only a part of the power is now utilized and splendid opportunities exist for small manufacturing concerns. [See Milton Water Power in 1901].
At one time or another all these privileges have been used and the history of the various enterprises that have at one time or another flourished on the river at and above the village, would make a large and interesting chapter of town history. Many years ago Alpheous Goodwin [(1791-1850)] conducted a tannery on the Milton side of the river near the village and on the Maine side at the same time was a grist mill. The site where the weave shop of the Miltonia mills now is had been for many years a grist mill site. One had passed by and a new one built, and later that was changed to a threshing mill. Where the shoe factory now is there was on the Maine side, a grist mill, and on the New Hampshire side, a bobbin factory. They were burned more than sixty years ago [earlier than 1851] and not rebuilt. At the privilege now known as the Waumbeck, there was a shingle mill in operation owned by Moses Hanson about the same time. On the site next above the shoe shop privilege there was saw mill in operation in the earliest days of the settlement. It was owned by Gilman Jewett. Its last log was sawed more than sixty-five years ago [before 1846]. That was near the Hooper dam. An eighth of a mile above that there formerly existed a saw and grist mill. They were washed away in a freshet years ago and not rebuilt. Above that site about the same distance is the Rowe dam. These last three named privileges are unused now.
The real development of the mill business at the village was when a mill was erected on the Waumbeck privilege by the people. A popular subscription furnished the funds.
It did not prove a success and was sold to Alexander and Charles Durgin. It was bought from them by John Townsand. In 1861 it was burned. Mr. Townsand, an account of whose career appears elsewhere, rebuilt and then sold to E.R. Mudge-Sawyer Co. In 1893 that company ceased to operate the factory and sold it to Whipple & Fairbanks. They made some repairs and in 1898 it burned and about 1900 Mr. H.H. Townsand bought the privilege, built a dam and run a penstock to the mills below.
But out of the effort and failure to establish manufacturing in the place by popular subscription has resulted indirectly the present Miltonia mills, the best of the town’s assets. A full account of the development of these mills appear elsewhere. About the beginning of the Civil war there originated a felt manufacturing business of which Edward Briely was the owner. He bought the privilege where the shoe shop now is and for a number of years made a success of the business. In 1872 the factory was burned. Mr. Briely rebuilt it. The business later came into the possession of David H. Buffum of Somersworth. A similar business was carried on by him. After the death of Mr. Briely, his son Edwin J. Briely, conducted the business for a while.
He finally sold the property to Mr. Buffum, who in turn sold to Varney and Lane who sold to Gale Brothers. Andrews-Wasgott Co. bought from them and are the present owners. The last three concerns operated it as a shoe shop. The firm of Andrews-Wosgott Co. are operating the shop, an account of which will be found elsewhere.
As one views the beautiful village of Milton Mills and takes note of the comfortable homes, the absence of poverty, and the general condition of happiness and prosperity that prevails, and compares the situation with towns not far away, that are said to have taken opportunities that Milton refused, to her hurt, there comes a feeling that perhaps it is better as it is. The development of the remaining water power in Milton can be accomplished now without bringing in its train some of the features that have completely changed the character of New England communities. The time is close at hand when every available pound of water power will be put to service but there is no reason why such utilization can not be made without revolutionizing the society of the community.
It is not intended to reflect upon the communities in which the early development was made and where conditions arose that were incident to the rapidity with which things were done, and not any part of a plan; but the reflection as above recorded helps the native of Milton to look with less regret upon the “mistakes” of the father than did Mr. Smith in his anniversary address when he said: “It is a matter of history that the Great Falls Manufacturing company first determined to locate at Milton about 1820, and in fact had chosen the site but were driven away by a most senseless series of law-suits occasioned by shortsighted and grasping riparian owners. Let us see what that mistake has meant to the town. If the water power of Milton were utilized in the manufacture of cotton cloth each horsepower would mean forty-eight spindles. This would give the town about 120,000 spindles; as one person is employed for each eighty, there would be from 1600 to 2000 operatives. Had it then not been for the shortsighted selfishness of some of the early settlers, Milton would be a city of 10,000 to 12,000 inhabitants, with all the wealth and prestige that such population would bring.”
The Congregational church that was at Plummer’s Ridge when Milton was set off from Rochester continued as the town church of Milton but with a new organization. In 1833 a meeting house was built at Milton Mills. There were a number of Calvinistic Baptists there and they joined with the Congregationalists and built the first meeting house in Milton Mills village. In the course of time the Calvinistic Baptists became so few in number that they ceased to be a factor in the church affairs as a society and the Congregationalist society took over the church in 1871. There were regular services held there until 1904 and since then special services have been held occasionally but so infrequently that the pew owners were quite unanimous in voting to sell to the Odd Fellows. An account of that event appears elsewhere. The membership of the Congregational society at time of taking over the church was twenty. Rev. Darius B. Scott was the first minister.
The Methodists had grown quite strong and in the year that the Calvinistic Baptists ceased to exist they organized and in 1872 built a church. A cut of the edifice is herewith shown. The present minister is Rev. Frederick H. Sleep. He began his pastorate in the spring. He was formerly located at Thornton.
While the Calvin Baptists declined the Free Baptists became strong, particularly on the Acton side. Many of the prominent men had embraced that faith. That society had a church probably as early as 1833, on a site near where the present parsonage now is, on the same side of the road. Later another one was built on the opposite side of the road. In 1871 it was moved to its present site on the river road. It will be noticed that the year 1871 was one of great activity in the religious societies of the place. The Free Baptist church in Milton Mills has the honor of originating the famous Free Baptist Educational society that has had such an influence in the educational work in Maine. Rev. James W. Williams is the current pastor. He is now serving the third year. He is superintendent of the Acton schools. There is a high school at Milton village where the scholars from the Mills village attend after completing the grammar course at home. The grammar school is well conducted and the building well-constructed and handsome in appearance.
One of the town possessions that are its pride and good fortune is a public library. It is the gift by will of the late Lewis Worcester Nute, who died in 1888. He also left funds for various other public purposes including the high school, which is the result of his benefaction. Milton Mills profited indirectly by the benefaction because the library that had already been established in Milton was moved to the Mills. There are 1600 volumes in it. They are kept in the vacant store on Main street where John U. Simes formerly traded. Mr. Simes is the librarian and keeps the library open Tuesday and Saturday nights. Mr. Simes is an ideal librarian. He is a native, a man of rare intelligence, well informed on local and general matters. He has represented the town in the legislature and has served as selectman and on the school board. The writer is indebted to him for aid in the preparation of this article and also to Elbridge W. Fox.
The village, while not laid out in true square, presents that appearance and so far as the convenience and the grouping of the residences within a reasonable compass is concerned, has the effect that squares are designed to have. As viewed from the hills the effect is very pleasing – the village and winding river are of the poet seen in actual existence. Not one of the least of the attractions of the place is the splendid landscape view from the valley. The hillsides display the combined grandeur of undisturbed nature and the beauty of cultivated fields. The effect is still further heightened by the many fine dwellings that are to be seen in any direction the eye may roam. On the Milton side and to the east the residence of Mr. Robert S. Pike, the Stephen Ricker home, occupied by Joseph Boyd, and Mr. Benjamin Hoyle’s fine home, and others. The village has concrete and curbed sidewalks.
On the Acton side some of the near-by places that attract attention are the residences of Mrs. Edward J. Briely and Mr. Hermon L. Buck. The latter place is the home place of Dr. Ruben Buck who is said to have given Acton its name and to have been one of the pioneer temperance advocates in the country. On the Lebanon road and a little farther off is the farm home of Thomas H. Roberts. It is appropriately named Valley View. Near by is the residence of O.C. Titcomb. A little farther beyond are the well-kept farm homes of George Fox, on the west and John Laskey on the east side of the road.
There are in the surrounding country many summer homes and places where campers find recreation. There are between 700 and 800 people in Milton Mills who are permanent residents but during the summer the population is very largely increased.
Among the notable residences in the village is that of John C. Townsand. It is the home place of Henry H. Townsand and is the largest and most costly residence in the village. Mr. Townsand and his wife, the only daughter of the late owner, have the home place by agreeable settlement of the estate. Mr. Townsand is the son [-in-law] of the late Henry H. Townsand, who was for twenty years superintendent of the mills in Wilton [Maine] and held the same position in the mills of his brother [-in-law] in Milton Mills. For eleven years Mr. John C. Townsand was resident of Saugus, Massachusetts, where he was employed his uncle, Joseph Whitney, in the grocery business. Mr. Townsand was well known in Milton and when he returned to make his home there he was greeted very cordially, and has demonstrated that he is a man of worth and public spirit and is one of the most popular men of the place. He is Past Noble Grand of Miltonia Lodge, I.O.O.F., No. 52, and instrumental in bringing about the purchase of the old church by the lodge. He is also a member of the Masonic order.
On the opposite corner is the home of Mr. John E. Townsand, the owner of the mills.
The Milton town line goes close to Union village and the stage road between Milton Mills and Union is lined with very good farms and for the four miles between there is not to be seen an inferior set of buildings. Among some of the notably well appearing homes are those of Mr. S.G. Chamberlain and Mrs. Fellows. Mrs. Fellows only occupies her home during the summer. Mr. H.E. [Henry E.] Ayer has conducted the stage business on this route since July, 1909. He had been running the line to East Lebanon (Eastwood) for several years. Mr. Ayer was formerly engaged in the carriage business in Newfield. He has been a resident of Milton Mills for twelve years. He is a genial and accommodating man and is popular as a stage driver. He always drives a well appearing pair of horses and a trip with him is a pleasure. He makes two trips a day on the Union route. One a day on the Lebanon route. That is driven by his son Richard. He delivers mail on the R.F.D. route between Milton Mills and North Lebanon (Sanford Journal-Tribune (Biddeford, ME), October 6, 1911).
(See also the Vulpes Letter (Milton Mills in 1864) for a sketch of Milton Mills forty-seven years earlier).
Find a Grave. (2013. August 12). Harry E. Ayer. Retrieved from www.findagrave.com/memorial/115348410/harry-e-ayer
Find a Grave. (2021, March 3). Herman L. Buck. Retrieved from www.findagrave.com/memorial/223834249/herman-l-buck
Find a Grave. (2014, August 31). Alpheus Spring Goodwin. Retrieved from www.findagrave.com/memorial/135200941/alpheus-spring-goodwin
Find a Grave. (2013, August 16). Robert S. Pike. Retrieved from www.findagrave.com/memorial/115571871/robert-seth-pike
Find a Grave. (2013, August 12). John C. Townsend. Retrieved from www.findagrave.com/memorial/115352317/john-c-townsend