History of Saco, Maine
From
A Gazetteer of the
State of Maine
By Geo. J. Varney
Published by B. B. Russell, 57 Cornhill,
Boston 1886
Transcribed by Betsey S. Webber



Saco, in York County, was granted in 1630, to Thomas Lewis
and Richard Bonython, by the Plymouth Company, though the latter
had, in 1622, granted nearly the whole territory between this and the
Kennebec River, to Mason and Gorges. The tract granted to Lewis
and Bonython, extended four miles along the sea in a straight line,
and back into the country eight miles. The limits, as surveyed by the
commissioners appointed by Massachusetts, in 1659, commenced at the
mouth of Little River and run on a north-west line, leaving about 3,000
acres in Scarborough that belonged to the original patent. This grant
was also over-lapped by the “Plough Patent,” issued the same year.
The settlement on this grant with that on the other side of the river
was known as Winter Harbor. In 1653, it was organized as Saco, and
in 1659, began to be represented in General Court. In 1719, it was
incorporated as Biddeford, being the fourth town in Maine; in 1762
it received a separate incorporation, with all the rights of a town ex-
cept that of sending a representative to the General Assembly. This
incorporation was under the name of Pepperellborough, in honor of
Sir William Pepperell, then recently deceased, who had been a large
proprietor. In 1805, by act of Legislature, its name was changed to
Saco; and in 1867 it became a city. The first mayor was Joseph
Hobson. The name, Saco, is of Indian origin. The river separates
the city from Biddeford on the south-west, Scarborough bounds it on
the north-east, on the west and north-west is Buxton, and Old Orchard
Beach forms its junction with the sea on the east. The area is about
17,500 acres. For many years the habitations were located near the
sea, at Old Orchard Beach and toward the mouth of the river. Rich-
ard Vines was the founder of the settlements in this vicinity, having
himself wintered at the mouth of the river, in 1616-17. Among the
early inhabitants were Scammans, Edgecombs, Townsends, Youngs,
Sharps, Banks, Sands, and Googins. There were a considerable num-
ber of respectable Scotch immigrants from the northern part of Ire-
land, who came over about 1718, and after. Captain Scamman and
persons employed at the mill, with their families, were all that were
settled about the falls until 1731. In 1680, Benjamin Blackman pur-
chased 100 acres of land including the mill privileges on the east side
of the Saco Falls, and built a saw-mill.

During the year 1675, the first year of the first Indian war, Major
Phillips on the Biddeford side of the river was attacked, and success-
fully defended. About the same time, the house of John Bonython,
in Saco, was burned, but the family had escaped. The settlers about
the falls soon retired to near the mouth of the river, and all the mills
and houses above were destroyed by the Indians. Captain Wincoln,
and others of Piscataqua, coming soon after to aid their neighbors
of the Saco, were discovered by some of the Indians, and fired upon.
Informed of the approach of the English, about 150 savages rushed out
of the woods toward them, as they landed on the beach near Winter
Harbor. During the skirmish, Wincoln and his men found protection
behind a pile of shingle-bolts; and, with this advantage, they soon
drove their assailants from the ground, inflicting upon them a consid-
erable loss. Eleven of the inhabitants of Winter Harbor set out to
aid their friends, whose presence and danger had been announced by
the firing; but a body of Indians lay in ambush on their road, and
shot them all down at a single discharge. In 1676, the house of
Thomas Rogers, near Goosefare, was burned. In 1688, during the
second war, some of the Indians on the river having uttered alarm-
ing threats, sixteen of those who had been most active in the recent
war, were seized and taken to Boston, but without averting the threat-
ened war. In April 1689, the savages commenced hostilities, and the
family of Humphrey Scamman and others were carried into captivity.
Most of the men were absent from the fort when the alarm was given
there, and the women immediately arrayed themselves in male apparel,
and stalked about the fort, thus deceiving the skulking savages until
the men got in from their work. Again from 1702 to 1710, Indian
hostilities prevailed. About 1713, the inhabitants began to return to
their homes; and the settlement prospered until 1723, when another
Indian war broke out, lasting three years. There were at this time
besides Fort Mary, fourteen garrisons along the river from the shore
to the falls, most of them being in Saco. One of the captives during
the first summer of this war was Mary, daughter of Captain Hum-
phrey Scammon, a girl eight or nine years of age. Pleased with her
brightness the governor of Canada took her into his family, and edu-
cated her carefully in the Roman Catholic faith. She finally married
a French gentleman of Quebec, of good estate, resisting all solicita-
tions to return to her native place.

Several citizens of Saco were in the Louisburg expedition
under Pepperell, among whom were Deacon Benjamin Haley,
Benjamin Scamman, Nathaniel Scamman, Andrew Stackpole,
Roger Smith, Jonathan Smith, Haven Tarbox, and Benjamin
Mason. The names of those in the continental army during the
Revolution, are as follows: John Googins, killed at Hubbardston,
Stphen Sawyer, John Hooper, Abiel Beette, Nicholas Davis, Jonathan
Norton, Daniel Bryant, James Scamman, John Tucker, John Runnels,
John Ridlon, Ebenezer Evans, John and William Carll, Levi,
Richard, Zachariah and Elias Foss, John Duren, Anthony and
William Starbird, William Berry, James Evans, Samuel Sebastian,
Joseph Norton, Major Stephen Bryant, Josiah Davis, Joseph Richards,
Ephraim Ridlon, Stephen Goodins, Thomas Means, Solomon Hopkins,
James Edgecomb, and Solomon Libby. The following Saco men were
in the compny of Captain John Elden, of Buxton, in 1776, doing good
service at Dorchester Heights, namely: Lieutenant Samuel Scamman
(afterward deacon), Jerathuel Bryant, John Muchmore, Daniel Field,
David Clark, Abner Sawyer, Joseph Norton, Andrew Patterson, David
Sawyer, Jr., James Edgecomb, Robert Bond, Daniel Field, Jr., Abra-
ham Patterson, Moses Ayer, John and Hezekiah Young, Joseph
Patterson, William P. Moody, Samuel Dennet, John Scamman and
Samuel Lowell. Colonel James Scamman led a regiment to Cam-
bridge early in 1775, which served about a year.

Richard Bonython, the pioneer and one of Gorges' councilors, is
notable as a faithful and just man, even entering a complaint against
his own son John for using threatening language to the excellent Mr.
Vines. John bore a different character, being violent and quarrel-
some. He seems not to have gained the confidence of the better or
larger portion of his townsmen; yet when Massachusetts extended her
jurisdiction over Maine, he led the opposition gaining the sobriquet of
“Sagamore of Saco.” The following couplet is said to have been in-
scribed upon his tombstone, probably not by his relatives:
“Here lies Bonython, Sagamore of Saco,
He lived a rogue, and died a knave and went to Hobbomocko”

Yet, he was not without his good traits. In opposing Massachusetts
he was vindicating the rights of Gorges; and he generously presented
the town with 20 acres of upland for the minister. Robert Patterson
removed his family into the place in 1729, settling at Rendezvous
Point, and was active in the service of the town. He and his de-
scendants are noted for their longevity. Colonel Thomas Cutts, a
descendant of a highly respectable family of Kittery, came to Saco about
1758, and commenced trade with a capital of $100. Though he had
failed in Kittery in his first business venture, in Saco he developed “an
immense aptitude for business,” and soon enlarged his capital, and em-
barked in extensive enterprises. In 1759 he bought a share of Indian
or Factory Island, as a place of business, and built a small house and
store on the south-west end. He, later, engaged in shipbuilding and
navigation, and for some years previous to the breaking out of the
Revolution had a very profitable and extensive timber trade with the
West Indies. Having become owner of nearly the whole of the island,
he removed, in 1782, to an elegant house on the upper end, where he
passed the remainder of his days, which ended in 1821. His real estate
was appraised at nearly $100,000.

Dr. Samuel White, Esq. (for he was a magistrate as well as a phy-
sician), settled in Saco about 1750. Dr. Thomas G. Thornton, who
came in 1791, married a daughter of Colonel Cutts, and then engaged
in merchandizing. He was appointed United States Marshal of Maine
in 1803, and discharged the duties of that office until his death in 1824.
Dr. Richard Cutts Shannon was for some time a surgeon in the navy,
but resigned and settled in Saco in 1800. During a period of nearly
twenty-eight years following, he was the principal physician of the
town, and at the time of his death, in 1828, was deacon of the first
church. The first regular attorney here was Hon. Cyrus King. He
had previously been private secretary to his brother Rufus, while am-
bassador to England, and was admitted to the bar in 1797, and com-
menced practice here. In 1812 he was chosen to represent York
County in the thirteenth Congress. In 1815, he was appointed major-
general of the militia, and died suddenly in 1817. Joseph Bartlett
came to Saco about 1803, practicing law with success for several years.
He was State senator in 1804. He built a singular but rather elegant
house near the site of the old Ferry house. But he was an eccentric
genius, as his “Aphorisms” declare. He first removed to Berwick,
then became a wanderer. John Fairfield was reporter of law decisions
in 1832; representative to the 24th and 25th Congress, from 1835 to
1838; governor of the State in 1839, 1841 and 1842; National senator
from 1843 to 1847. Ether Shepley, on his admission to the bar, about
1814, came to Saco and commenced practice. After filling various
offices with honor, he was elected National senator in 1833; in 1836 he
was appointed judge of the Supreme Court, and chief justice in 1848.
In 1855, he retired from the bench; and in 1856 he was chosen sole
commissioner to revise the public laws. He received his honorary
degree of L.L.D. from Dartmouth College, and was thirty-three years
trustee of Bowdoin College. The following citizens of Saco of more
recent date have attained to distinguished public position: --J.F.
Hartwell was State secretary in 1845; Seth Scamman was president
of the State senate in 1858; Rufus P. Tapley was, in 1865, appointed
associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court; Edwin B. Smith was
speaker of the Maine House in 1871, and is now assistant attorney-
general of the United States; and Wilbur F. Lunt is United States
district attorney of Maine.

Lumbering was the early business of the place, and the raw material
was here turned into all varieties of stuff; and a large business was
carried on in it with the West Indies. For the year ending September
30, 1827, 21,000,000 feet had been sawn, the greater part for the home
trade. In 1811 Josiah Calef and Thomas Cutts erected on Factory
Island a rolling and slitting-mill for iron, and eleven machines for
making nails. A company, consisting mostly of Boston capitalists,
began preparations for a cotton mill on Factory Island, cutting a canal
through the solid rock to conduct the water-power. In 1829 their
mill of 1,200 spindles and 300 looms commenced running, employing
400 persons; but in 1830 it was destroyed by a fire. The location is
now occupied by the York Manufacturing Company. This company
has five mills, and operates about 42,800 spindles and 980 looms, em-
ploying some 1,200 hands, and turning out nearly 6,000,000 yards of
cotton goods annually. There are now four saw-mills, manufacturing
long and short-lumber and box-shooks, three planning and moulding-mills,
three door, sash and blind factories, several carriage factories, a tan-
nery, bleachery, and also a belting, boot and shoe, loom-harness, soap, and
other factories. The York National and the Saco National banks, in
this city, each has a capital of $100,000. The Saco and Riddeford
Savings Institution held, November 1, 1880, in deposits and accrued
profits $1,214,899.82. Saco Savings Bank held at the same date $172,-
838.99. William S. Noyes publishes here the York County Indepen-
dent, a family journal, and the State Democrat, a political sheet,-
both excellent of their kind. The village of Saco, especially along the
river road, presents many tokens of an early and prosperous period in
the large, old mansions with ample yards, and other appearances of
homely comfort with elegance. But the notable feature of Saco
is its noble beach,* nearly nine miles in length, and affording a
drive-way hundreds of feet wide, with the deep blue ocean booming on
one side and lines of imposing hotels, and pretty cottages on the
other. Near the hotels is a beautiful forest-park of 30 acres, with
pleasant paths, arbors and rustic adornments. About two miles distant,
on Foxwell's Brook, is a picturesque waterfall, 60 feet in height.

The face of the country is little varied by hills, and is somewhat
swampy in the middle of the town, shoreward of which is quite an ex-
tent of pine plain. In this vicinity the soil is a fine sandy loam; in the
interior the surface is more uneven and the soil more gravelly, and the
hard woods flourish.

Saco has churches of the Congregationalists, Baptists, Episcopals,
Unitarians, and Christians, two of the Free Baptists, and two of
the Methodists; some of the edifices being quite elegant. The schools
in the village are graded, from primary to high. The entire number
of schoolhouses in the city is sixteen; and the school property is valued
at $18,125. The valuation of estates in 1870 was $3,116,374. In 1880
it was $3,408,533. The population at the same date was 5,755. In
1880 it was 6,395. See Biddeford

*See article on Old Orchard Beach.

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