The door to the Pepperell Mill off Laconia Street is both the beginning of a tour through history and its ending point. Inside sits more than 150 years of history. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

The door to the Pepperell Mill off Laconia Street is both the beginning of a tour through history and its ending point. Inside sits more than 150 years of history. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

In the early 1900s, the Pepperell Mill employed nearly 10,000 people, most of them foreign, manufacturing blankets and other textiles. Before the mills closed in 2009, thousands were still employed at the facilities. 

The Pepperell Mill was “a real hub employment,” said Don Guillerault, a former employee of the mill for 43 years. Guillerault remembers what Biddeford was like when the textile industry flourished in the city.

Don Guillerault, a tour guide for the Biddeford Mills Museum, is a former employee of the Pepperell Mill of 43 years. Guillerault looks out over the mill complex through a tunnel connecting two sections of the structure. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Don Guillerault, a tour guide for the Biddeford Mills Museum, is a former employee of the Pepperell Mill of 43 years. Guillerault looks out over the mill complex through a tunnel connecting two sections of the structure. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

But things changed — with the advent of electricity, southern cotton producers no longer needed to send their fibers to the north for textile furnishing, and the industry in Biddeford began to dwindle. 

The napping room of the Pepperell Mill is pictured. In this spot, woven blankets would be brought in and placed on large spools, where they would be given texture. The space, now void of its machinery, sits above many businesses in the Pepperell Center below. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

The napping room of the Pepperell Mill is pictured. In this spot, woven blankets would be brought in and placed on large spools, where they would be given texture. The space, now void of its machinery, sits above many businesses in the Pepperell Center below. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Now, as a tour guide with the Biddeford Mills Museum, Guillerault spends time educating the public about the mills, their history and, most importantly, the people who made them what they were and are today. 

In its hey day, the Pepperell Mill employed 1,800 people, many of them from foreign countries. The first thing they were taught, Guillerault said, was how to find the bathrooms when they were working, easily identified by these signature arched doorways. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

In its hey day, the Pepperell Mill employed 1,800 people, many of them from foreign countries. The first thing they were taught, Guillerault said, was how to find the bathrooms when they were working, easily identified by these signature arched doorways. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

This photo essay explores what it was like before Biddeford’s downtown revitalization began to take root. What was it like working inside the mills? What pieces of history remain?  

A cotton bale warehouse on the third floor of 36 Mill is dark and dry — perfect for storing delicate fibers. Beyond the beams, a small window can be seen. These windows line the outer wall of the Pepperell Mill, which dominates the landscape of lower Main Street. The small windows keep out sunlight, which would turn the cotton yellow. Local folklore will say the windows were for cannons, but Guillerault said that is myth. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

A cotton bale warehouse on the third floor of 36 Mill is dark and dry — perfect for storing delicate fibers. Beyond the beams, a small window can be seen. These windows line the outer wall of the Pepperell Mill, which dominates the landscape of lower Main Street. The small windows keep out sunlight, which would turn the cotton yellow. Local folklore will say the windows were for cannons, but Guillerault said that is myth. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

As development continues in the Pepperell Mill — adding even more establishments to the 100 existing businesses in the space — it is important to reflect on the past, to preserve it and learn from it. 

A room in 19 Mill, formerly the home of office space for order processing, now sits, battered. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

A room in 19 Mill, formerly the home of office space for order processing, now sits, battered. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected] 


Buildings 17 and 18 of the North Dam Mill complex can be seen from the window of a former office space in the Pepperell Mill. Guillerault said he expects the Pepperell space to change as those spaces have, into offices, restaurants and housing — a change he welcomes with open arms. “It’s given new life and a renewed sense of purpose” to the mills, he said. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Buildings 17 and 18 of the North Dam Mill complex can be seen from the window of a former office space in the Pepperell Mill. Guillerault said he expects the Pepperell space to change as those spaces have, into offices, restaurants and housing — a change he welcomes with open arms. “It’s given new life and a renewed sense of purpose” to the mills, he said. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

The “cut and sew” room of the Pepperell Mill was the final stop for textiles before shipping. For years, the mill manufactured “drill” fabric that it exported directly to China, Guillerault said. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

The “cut and sew” room of the Pepperell Mill was the final stop for textiles before shipping. For years, the mill manufactured “drill” fabric that it exported directly to China, Guillerault said. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Power tools, garbage bags and miscellaneous items line the floor of the cut and sew room as the mill undergoes rehabilitation, noticeable signs of transformation. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Power tools, garbage bags and miscellaneous items line the floor of the cut and sew room as the mill undergoes rehabilitation, noticeable signs of transformation. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

There was never a major fire at the Pepperell Mill, Guillerault said, but fire doors like the one pictured above were always ready. In the case of fire, a piece of lead attached to the door’s rope would trigger a counterweight and shut the door automatically. The doors are an example innovation before automation. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

There was never a major fire at the Pepperell Mill, Guillerault said, but fire doors like the one pictured above were always ready. In the case of fire, a piece of lead attached to the door’s rope would trigger a counterweight and shut the door automatically. The doors are an example innovation before automation. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

A large spool sits, right where it was left, in a vacant room of the Pepperell Mill. As work continues on the mill and surrounding buildings, sights like these are both reminders of the work that brought Biddeford to life and the look toward the future. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

A large spool sits, right where it was left, in a vacant room of the Pepperell Mill. As work continues on the mill and surrounding buildings, sights like these are both reminders of the work that brought Biddeford to life and the look toward the future. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

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