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Home > Publications > Historic New England Magazine > Summer 2002 > Enterprise and Community

Enterprise and Community

A turn-of-the-century image shows the industrial townscape of the mills in a pastoral setting beside the river and open pastureland.


Mill operatives from different cultures and generations.



Third Street in the 1950s, showing wooden boarding houses and tall elm trees.



Railroad and vehicle bridges cross over the second mill pond, the source of power for the lower mill in the photo.



One hundred years later, the image is little changed. Missing is the railroad bridge (demolished). The mill pond was drained in the 1920s, when the company switched to one hydroelectric power plant.



One of six handsome boarding houses on Second Street built by the company in 1844 to provide housing for operatives.


Images of an industry and way of life that transformed New England

A century and a half ago, the vista shown above was a common sight in the New England landscape. Mill buildings line the river beside the falls, while behind them ranks of warehouses, offices, stores, and housing rise upwards, culminating in the agent's house atop the hill. Church spires punctuate the scene, while the surrounding fields reveal a setting that is still largely agricultural. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Piscataqua River region in New Hampshire and southern Maine supported dozens of mills like this, which built communities, attracted successive waves of farm workers and immigrants, and generated wealth for their investors. The photographs shown here, recently given to SPNEA's Library and Archives, document the Salmon Falls village in Rollinsford, New Hampshire, first incorporated in 1822 for the manufacture of woolen goods. James Rundlet, a merchant and entrepreneur in nearby Portsmouth (see article p. 2), was one of the principal investors.

In 1844, after fire destroyed much of the original complex, a firm of cotton brokers, Mason & Lawrence of Boston, took control of the Salmon Falls mills, bringing with them expertise and technology used in some of the greatest mills in New England. Under new ownership, the complex began to flourish. Streets were laid out in a grid pattern along the slope of the hill. Front Street, closest to the mill, was the business district. Here the company built its counting house, the office for the agent, or general manager, situated so as to separate the village from the mill yard. Opposite, the company built two large buildings with granite store fronts and upper floors where workers could board. The company also made provisions for a fire house, bank, and company hall for the various lectures and lyceums they planned to support. Motivated both by benevolence and a need to compete against larger cities for their labor supply, the owners created a village that was orderly and attractive. The company, though small, continued to thrive into the twentieth century, supporting populations of Irish, French-Canadian, Italian, and Greek immigrants.

In the years following 1927, Salmon Falls changed little over time. Today, it remains one of the most intact villages in the state, reflecting the urban planning that went into much larger mill complexes like ones in Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts, but its continuous preservation is in a fragile state. Many of the buildings show signs of neglect. Grassy malls and picket fences have been paved over, and elm trees that once lined the streets have been lost to disease.

Starting in the 1850s and continuing almost until the closing of the mills in 1927, the owners commissioned photographs to depict mill buildings, railroad, workers, machinery, and new construction projects. Some of these images were subsequently reproduced by local merchants as postcards. The photographs survive to capture a once-thriving industrial complex and the picturesque character of a working community surrounded by open fields. Safely preserved in SPNEA's archives, they join a larger collection of photographs of industrial sites and villages throughout New England.

-Peter Michaud
Portsmouth & Exeter Site Manager

The historic photographs are part of a collection of seventeen images donated to SPNEA's Library and Archives by Peter Michaud. Gordon Grimes of Durham, Maine, donated the 1950s snapshot, along with several other related items.

Enterprise and Community