Bethel Maine History—The Bethel Journals—Mill Brook: Upper Dam and Mills

The Bethel Journals PO Box 763 Bethel, Maine 04217 Compiled by Donald G Bennett

In 1774, Joseph Twitchell of Sherborn, Mass had two water powered mills built along the stream now called Mill Brook.  The first mill,( 1 ), was a grist mill located near the foot of today’s Mill Hill Road in Bethel. The second mill,( 2 ), was a saw mill, also water powered, located on the same Mill Brook upstream about one-quarter mile from the grist mill.

 

Both mills were powered by undershot water wheels—meaning that the wheels (and their axles) were turned as water current pushed against the bottom paddles of the wheel.

 

Mr. Twitchell was able to buy claims of proprietors who had refused to pay their assessments for lots in Sudbury Canada.

 

Among acquisitions was the lot which covered a large portion of what is now Bethel village, including all the mill privileges on Mill Brook. By April 6, 1774 Joseph Twitchell owned 40 shares which he had bought for 15 pounds in silver. William Lapham, History of Bethel Maine, p. 300

 

Mr. Lapham wrote that the remains of the (saw mill) dam may still be seen (in 1890).

 

The first frame house in town was build in 1779 on the island  below (North) of the grist mill.

 

Mill Brook flowed north into the Androscoggin River.

 

The Upper Dam

 

In the 1880’s the Town of Bethel acquired Eber Clough’s property by foreclosure; the former birch and stave mill as well as the Clough house and 20 acres on the west side of the road was rented by a New York firm that operated a corn canning factory in part of the mill. Annual rent was $200.

 

The town sold the property at auction in 1890. (Corn factory’s new owners  had moved to a new location by the railroad.)

 

May 1892 news reported that Eben Kilborn had sold his saw and grist mill (at the lower dam) to Isaac S. Morrill.

 

A short time later in 1892, news reported that Eben Kilborn who owned a saw mill at the lower dam, bought the former Eber Clough property. He converted the building into a spool stock and dowel mill. (Kilborn may have been the buyer at the town auction in 1890.)

 

News from Bethel  in September 1894 reported that James Hodsdon had a large crew men building a dam across the “mill brook” on the old Clough place. This dam is all stone, 280 feet long and 19 feet high and tapers to 8 feet at the top.  Mr. Hodsdon expects to get a head of 20 feet when it is completed.  A mill to work up small lumber will be run in a portion of the former corn shop.

In the Advertiser for April 1895 – Mr. Hodsdon’s dam on Mill Brook went out in the freshet destroying fully a thousand dollars worth of the structure. It is doubtful if they will repair the dam.

 

But two months late in June a news item stated Eben S. Kilborn will put in a new piece of dam to repair the damage the freshet did this spring on Mill Brook.

 

In October 1897 news of Bethel Water Company work on the Albany reported that a new hydrant had been installed near Hodsdon’s mill.

 

December 1897:  James N. Hodsdon has increased the number of employees in his birch and novelty turning mill—now runs a night shift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Map—portion of 1880 map of Bethel Village. with locations of the built in what is now Bethel, in 1774 a plantation called Sudbury Canada

Eber Clough 

Birch and Stave Mill

Mill Brook

Upper Dam at Mill Brook

Three photos of the mill buildings and dam were probably taken after the dam had been constructed in 1894 and after it had been rebuilt in summer of 1895.  Photos—Bethel Historical Society collection

 

Water power: From a 1978 Gould Academy field class in archaeology  this was learned:  “Two rusted tub wheel gears still in position reveal that the mill building (center of above photo) extended over two sluiceways and used two wheels.”

 

Read the full story of the “dig” - History in the Third Dimension, BitterSweet magazine, December 1978 by Sally Clay .

Some of Mr. Hodsdon’s dam as it looked in the summer of 2005 within the Bethel Inn golf course.  Bethel Journals photo

Upper Dam

Google Earth image of Bethel about 2003

1977 Gould students dig beneath a grid assembled in order to specify location of the finds. In the background stands some of the magnificent stonework which once formed the site's dam  BitterSweet magazine Dec 1978

Lower Dam

BETHEL TO HAVE SKATING RINK

 

The Oxford County Citizen – Bethel Maine, January 12, 1928­­

 

A dam is being constructed on Mill Brook meadow for the purpose of making a safe place for skating. The dam will be of permanent construction and the greater part of the labor and materials is being furnished by public spirited citizens. It is expected to the place equipped with electric lights, which will make it a great addition to Bethel’s winter life. Everyone is urged to contribute time or money to this cause.