To the editor,

Two generations of my family worked in the Biddeford Mills. As they helped to weave cloth in the Pepperell Mill and produce machined items in The Saco Lowell Shops, they wove themselves into the fabric of the community. I’d like to think that they were inspired by the stories of Israel Shevenell who galvanized thousands of men and women to leave their homes in Canada and Fall River to come to Biddeford, the magical place where industrial innovation was happening.

My grandparents, Emile LeBlond and Rose LeBlond ne Goulet, Albert Chretien and Albertine Chretien ne Brulotte built their homes and raised families in Biddeford by taking full advantage of the opportunity afforded to industrious people by a bustling and vibrant city of Biddeford .

For my Franco-American ancestors, the heartbeat of their lives was the Biddeford Mill Clock Tower. All 26,000 pounds of it sat on top of the Lincoln Mill as it chimed in time to their comings and goings at the mill. Growing up in Biddeford, I remember how magnificent and massive it was. It was unfathomable to imagine someone would take it down.

In 2006, a group of us from the Biddeford Historical Society and, asked the former mill owner if we could spruce it up a bit. We spent a few weeks repairing lose boards, removing hundreds of pounds of pigeon droppings and rebuilding all of the windows. In 2006, it had been up there for over 150 years. It was our community’s witness to the unprecedented innovation of the mills that reverberated across the world.

In 2007, the unimaginable happened, some exterior wood trim fell into the street below and the mill owner was given notice by City Codes office to repair or remove the structure. A person convinced the former Lincoln Mill owner that a lot of money could be gained by taking the clock tower down. A person was hoisted up on a lift and cut the clock tower from its belfry. The 19th century weathervane was sold for six figures to a collector and was featured on the cover of Architectural Digest. The bell was sold and shipped south. And this beautiful clock tower was thrown to the ground next to the Lincoln Mill.

For the next decade, people and groups worked to keep it with us. It was moved, repaired and kept with us. Without these efforts, it would be gone. In 2019, a group of us formed The Friends of the Biddeford Mill Clock Tower and we know this is our last chance to preserve this historic structure for our grandchildren.

Mayor Alan Casavant said that by preserving this clock tower and raising it up again, we pay deep respect to all of the mill workers who made this innovation possible and Alan is right. My Meme and Pepe and their parents all worked in the mills and it was this clock that timed their lives.

I think that the Biddeford Mills Clock Tower is inextricably linked to the Franco immigration to Biddeford. It’s an iconic symbol of our heritage. For those of you who have ancestors who worked in the mill or are of Franco-American descent, know that this structure belongs in our community, in a place of honor. In 2020, we have plans to put it on the RiverWalk. We want it to be a place our grandchildren and great-grandchildren can visit and learn about the story of the mills and what they meant to the people who worked here.

I know it takes a groundswell of community support to do this. Join me in making this happen.

Dan LeBlond

filed under: