Over the years the state of Maine has experienced drastic changes in the economy and the type of goods produced and services offered. Mills were built in many towns and provided jobs for many local residents. However, we have seen this decrease and mills have shut down, one after the other. This has put a strain on families in these towns who have specialized skills that are no longer sought after. To combat this issue places like the Biddeford Mills, and other mills around Maine have invested in reinventing these spaces.
The students could see first-hand how a mill that once focused on creating soft, Vellux blankets has now shifted to welcome over one hundred local business to their area. With all these new businesses moving in and utilizing the mill space they can encourage new populations to find jobs in Biddeford at the mills and perhaps encourage others to move to the area.
We learned about the history of the Biddeford Mills and heard many interesting anecdotes about the people that worked there. We learned that Irish immigrants hand-dug canals throughout Biddeford and that Italian and Greek craftsman helped with the stonework foundations. We heard about the unusual position that involved unclogging the stream by clearing out eels that got jammed in the canal. Local children would do this work and sometimes sell the eels on the street for people to eat. We also heard about the Vellux blanket research and development and how secretive the process was to protect their product as well as the efforts to keep production in Maine. Incredibly, It is what made the Biddeford area one of the largest blanket producers in the world. During the height of their production, they would sell about five blankets every minute.
All in all, it was great to show the students another side of Maine and the ingenuity that goes into re-defining these spaces to attract new businesses and people to the state.