The massive Laconia Company Cotton Warehouse #5, part of the Biddeford–Saco textile mill complex, is exemplary of the infrastructure of Maine’s large industrial centers. Built in 1890, this textile warehouse is located at the south end of a long row of brick buildings lining Main Street on Saco Island.
As early as the eighteenth century, the Saco River was used to power sawmills but it was not until the 1830s and 1840s that manufacturing companies like the Saco Water Power Company (SWPC) created a system of canals to provide water power to textile mills. By 1851 the York Manufacturing Company had built five mill buildings, three picking houses, and cotton, dye, and lumber houses. Following the Waltham-Lowell System, the Saco Mill complex also included three blocks of boarding houses for its workers. In the decades following the Civil War, the Biddeford–Saco industrial economy was energized by the arrival of the railroad, steam-power technology, fresh capital investment, and an influx of French-Canadian workers. By the late nineteenth century over 9,000 people worked in the Biddeford–Saco mills, and clapboard three-deckers replaced the Waltham-style boarding houses.
In 1866, the directors of the Laconia and Pepperell companies—most of whom were also controllers of the SWPC—arranged the purchase of the SWPC’s water power assets, including its real estate holdings, water privileges, and machine shop operations. The following year Laconia and Pepperell transferred SWPC’s machine shop operations to a new company, the Saco Water Power Machine Shop. Of the 43 structures built in the heavily industrialized Biddeford–Saco mill district in the following decades, 57 percent were erected in 1870–1890, including Cotton Warehouse #5. Most were Italianate in style, although there were some Greek and Colonial Revival buildings as well.
Typical of Maine’s nineteenth-century textile industrialism, Cotton Warehouse #5 adjoins the Laconia Office Building (1890) and is connected to the Laconia Weave Shop by an enclosed bridge. Cotton Warehouse #5 was constructed in two phases: the lower floors were built around 1890; the upper five floors date to 1916. The red-brick warehouse measures 27 bays in length and is 4 bays deep. The utilitarian building has unadorned brick walls and very small arched windows. The windows feature slightly projecting heads, the only evidence of architectural ornamentation on the building. Small arched windows of this type were found on most of the storage buildings in the mill district.
Laconia Cotton Warehouse #5, like the other surviving mill buildings on Saco Island, has been restored and now houses offices, museums, and educational facilities. In the early twenty-first century, a developer renovated “The Mills at Saco Falls” as offices and apartments, and the complex opened in 2010 under Saco Falls Property Management.
Nathan Lipfert, Richard Judd, and Richard R. Wescott, “New Industries in an Age of Adjustment, 1865–1930.” In Maine: The Pine Tree State from Prehistory to the Present, edited by Richard W. Judd, Edward A. Churchill, Joel A. Eastman .Orono: University of Maine Press, 1995.