End of the Old Mill Stream

By Barbara F. Dyer | Aug 29, 2019
Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer Workers gather outside the Camden Anchor Works in 1888.

To continue on with the history of the Megunticook River, I shall begin with the fourth privilege, located where Megunticook Street crosses Washington Street at the foot of Gould Street. Everyone knows where the Megunticook Market is with its wonderful goodies. Well, that is the spot. The river runs down by the left side of the market and the Millville Bridge crosses Washington Street. However, the dam is no longer there. It was at this fourth privilege that Amasa Gould had a plug and wedge mill. A market for these products were shipyards from Eastport to New Orleans, and of course in Camden, as well as all along the rugged coast of Maine. It was in 1855 that David Knowlton invented the machines to do this work.

The Camden Woolen Mill was organized on April 16, 1887, on the left side before the river crossed, before coming to the bridge. Seventy-five incorporators (mostly Camden residents) owned the stock. It manufactured fine woolens for men and women and was so successful that in a few years it built an addition, and had an annual payroll of $50,000. Goods were sold in Boston and New York. I now have the good fortune to read diaries of Fred Packard, who walked there everyday from Chestnut Street to do the payroll and he also traveled much to sell the woolens. He faithfully kept diaries from 1910 through 1989 (when he died). Then about 1910 the owners started a “fine list” to insure against carelessness and imperfect weaving that caused the workers to strike. If you were a good weaver, you could make $2 per day. The Camden Herald announced the company would find replacements. Eight Syrian workers arrived from Massachusetts on the Boston Boat and stayed at the boarding house across the road from the mill. Then other employees went on strike. That Friday, two guns were fired at the windows of the boarding house and later a bomb was thrown through a window. No one was hurt but needless to say, the eight Syrians, plus 14 more who had arrived, boarded the next Boston Boat for home. Nothing else happened except the smokestack fell down in 1915. But according to The Camden Herald, in Feb. 1930, 40 weavers went on strike, because they were asked to run two looms each. Because it was temporary, they all agreed to end their strike.

The Camden Woolen Mill went out and in 1954 Camden Tanning Corporation was started there by by Elvin and Richard Cox. It grew considerably over the years to 60 workers. It was sold to another tanning company and needed quite a bit of ground cleaning by the town of Camden when they left. The lot is vacant again; some want a park and others want a paying business.

Coming down the river on the corner of what is now Knowlton and Mechanic streets was a block factory belonging to Horatio Alden. In 1854 David Knowlton made it a company that made everything for vessels. David had what we call “Yankee ingenuity” and came from Liberty. Since Camden built large vessels, it was convenient to buy locally. He could manufacture just about anything needed. In 1880 his four sons took over and the name was changed to the Knowlton Brothers' Foundry. It was the only block mill east of Boston. From their group of buildings came power capstans, portable power winches, windlasses, ship head pumps, steering wheels, blocks, deadeyes, as well as brass and iron castings, all made with just 100 employees. They had a reputation for unexcelled workmanship. It was destroyed by fire in 1861, but started up again. Many fires occurred but they built bigger and better buildings. The business was there for 60 years. Orman Goodwin Jr bought it in 1980, remodeled it and several businesses were there. Eastman Kodak, MBNA and now an assisted living home.

A few rods downstream, a saw and grist mill was owned by James Richards. So that one is called the Richards' privilege. His children sold it to Horatio Alden. He started the endless felt business and in 1870 it became the Knox Woolen Company. It became one of Camden's largest employers and lasted until 1988.

The Quesada Brothers purchased the building and did a wonderful repair job on it, opening up Megunticook River and separating parts of the old building. The Sea Dog took over the restaurant and MBNA came to town and took the rest of the building. It is now used for lovely apartments.

Next place going down the river was the Brewster Shirt Factory, where now the Bagel Shop and other businesses reside. We go through Tannery Lane and Moses Parker had a tannery there. Also there have been blacksmith shops and stables. Kenneth Weymouth had a state-of-the-art grocery store where now David Dickey has the wonderful Riverhouse Hotel.

William Minot had the distinction of being the second settler at the “Harbor.” In 1771, he purchased land and water power near the mouth of Meguntcook River, where he built a grist mill. By 1909, the grist mill was located about where 35 Main St. is today. Then a business built at the end of the river was a woolen factory established by Abraham and Lewis Ogier in 1824, which was sold later to Thomas Harback and again in 1850 to Cyrus Alden. The flow of the water was directed into the factory by a flume and was dependent on the above dam.

The well-known anchor factory was later at the site of the woolen mill. William G. and Horatio E. Alden began the business in 1866, known world-wide as the Camden Anchor Works. It became the largest plant of its kind in the country and their anchors went on ships all over the world. Mr. Alden decided to sell his business and it became known as the Camden Anchor-Rockland Machine Company, which built boats and dories, but also manufactured the Knox Gasoline Engines. Major John Bird was there when it was purchased in 1901 and there when it closed in 1925. Bird and his men succeeded in perfecting the four most important parts of the engine. However, in 1925 many makers were flooding the market and this company closed its doors. The State of Maine Museum had two of the Knox Engines. The property was sold at auction and that September Angus Holmes formed the Camden Sardine Company.

There was a big fire about 1935 and through the generosity of Mary Louise Curtis Bok, the wonderful Camden Public Landing was built.

So we end the story of Megunticook River at the falls and decide: do we remove the dams, so nature takes over and fish enter the harbor and go up stream to spawn, or do we keep the falls, and the expensive repair of the dams? What do you wish to happen?


Barbara F. Dyer has lived all her life, so far, in Camden and is the official town historian.



Pictured is a loom inside the Knox Woolen Mill. (Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer)
The Megunticook River cascades into Camden Harbor at the Montgomery Dam. (Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer)
Pictured are workers at Brewsters' Shirt Factory Aug. 1919. (Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer)
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Comments (6)
Posted by: Tom Peaco | Sep 19, 2019 09:45

Have you all seen the new brochure called Camden Mill Walk: A Self Guided Tour of Camden's Historic Mills. It is a wonderful little piece that addresses this very topic. It was put together by Jennifer Healey, a Camden resident, and it has the endorsement of the Historic Resources Committee. We have them available at the Chamber of Commerce at the Public Landing, and I believe they are also available at the Town Office. --Amy Rollins

Posted by: Margaret Jones | Sep 01, 2019 18:22

Barbara - I loved reading your article. Since Camden's founding there have been so many changes, All of which shaped this special place that we are fortunate enough to call home.  Thank you for sharing your knowledge of our history.  Knowledge is power and hopefully your insights will help us to understand and protect what we have!

Posted by: Barbara Dyer | Aug 30, 2019 18:55

Dear Karen,

Also many of the buildings are no longer there. Most of the dams are, Seabight is a sort of a park. Molyneaux could have a plaque on the old Fish Hatchery building, but it is a private residence. Those are the most important.. The Montgomery Dam could have a plaque on the seawall, once it is repaired. The Bisbee Powder Mill is now a trailer park but maybe a plaque could be placed somewhere there. There probably could be one placed where the Knox Mill was for so many years. Your idea is great and I am sure money could be raised for the plaques..


Posted by: Barbara Dyer | Aug 30, 2019 18:39

I would love to document Millville, ,but the only the only inforrmation would be to go to the regiistrar of deeds in the Court House and trace each one . which would be a mega job. I did a book on houses once and quit after 50 of them; it was so time consuming.


Posted by: Maine Coast TV | Aug 30, 2019 06:34

This  is an excellent article!

The river, dams, buildings, falls, and the history are all part of what makes Camden a unique place to live and/or to visit. Hopefully we don't lose these in the fervor to bring in the bulldozers to level what makes us special, under the guise of "protecting the environment".

Posted by: Karen A Grove | Aug 29, 2019 10:28

Barbara, I love this story.  I wish there could be a way to document each site with the appropriate paragraph on the wall of each building so that visitors and future generations can see the industry that created this town before it became a tourist destination.  Please don't get me wrong, I don't think tourism is bad and I applaud all the business folks who work in this industry, however, I also applaud all the men who made Camden a place that provided work and houses to raise their families and I think this needs public documentation.

Also, can you do another piece on Millville and how the mill workers housing was developed.  It's a very interesting story.  For those of you who haven't looked around as you drive through this section of town, take note of how many houses from Bishop's Laundry to Mill Street have the same basic architecture and lot sizes.  I bet Barbara has these notes on the development.

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