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 Sunday River was the loggers “railroad” until about 1944 when river drives ended from Riley to the Androscoggin River.   Once in the “Big River” logs were driven down stream to large lumber companies.  The most difficult part was getting logs out of the Sunday River valley. 


Logging News


July 1886  A.T. Kelliher’s men have been cutting bushes by the side of Sunday River and are going to blasting stone and putting in roll dams just below the large dam for log driving next spring. He intends putting in three million feet next winter for the Androscoggin Water Power Company of Lisbon Falls.

April 1888:  Some 40 men are at the headwaters of Sunday River waiting for conditions to float logs.

May 1888:  Man killed breaking a jam on Sunday River last Sunday.

April 1889: The logging camps in Ketchum are being deserted. Two million feet of spruce are lying at their landings on the head waters of Sunday River and their branches.

October 1889: .   T.G. Lary of Gilead has contracted with the Androscoggin Water Power Co. to land 600,000 feet of spruce on the river this winter from his lands in Riley.

October 1892: George Blanchard and Cash Twitchell (a New  Hampshire company) are building a railroad through from Berlin. They have about five miles completed and cars running on the line.  They will extend the road through to the Grafton line this season and say they will haul 12 million of spruce from Riley and Grafton this winter and the coming spring to Berlin.  They intend to have forty horses in one barn and fifty or more men to tend them.


At times there were as many as two hundred lumberman in the various camps.  Any mail they received went through the Ketchum Post Office operated by Postmaster Augustus Littlehale.


Paper companies such as the Brown Company in Berlin, NH and International Paper Company in Rumford, Jay and Livermore Falls changed the logging market.  More and more logging meant cutting wood for pulp.


Paula Wight wrote in the Newry Profiles, “ By the late 1930’s the annual spring river drives would also become a thing of the past.  These drives represented an end to the long work (season) done during the winter months and people would line the banks to watch the logs proceed down river.  Lack of water would delay these drives for a few days or if necessary a full year before the logs were moved despite the dams constructed and the widening of the streams where needed.  Men would come from all over to work on these drives and once their work was completed return to their homes. These too represented a declining period in the town’s history when they came to an end.


Actually the logging drives down the Sunday River from Riley lasted until the 1943-44 period during World War II. Alan Fleet, a fourth generation Sunday River native, recalls his father telling him that his mother would warn him to stay in the house when the roar of a spring drive could be heard.  The Fleet’s home was only 50 yards from the river. Quite often the driving crew would come up to the Fleet’s house for their lunch break.


Although steam powered equipment and logging railroads were in wide use in New Hampshire and north of Rumford Falls, observers of the logging scene in Riley did  not report the use of steam power. 


After World War II, caterpillar tractors supplemented the use of horses in the woods.  Hauling logs and pulp wood with trucks replaced the logging drives.  Well before trucks came along, teams of horses or oxen hauled logs and pulp wood as well as sawed lumber to Bethel and to the mill at Swan’s Corner.


In the 1940’s Sunday River’s covered bridge limited the load size of logs that could  be trucked out of the upper valley area.  Heavy loads put a severe strain on the bridge—it noticeably stretched and sank when logging trucks passed through.  The bridge’s roof structure limited the height of truck loads. Logging must have been a consideration when a by-pass bridge was approved in 1957.

Logging camp, 1910, Riley (Sunday River Sketches, pg 146.  Probably the mess hall (dining room or wangin).  An long abandoned camp like this was still standing near Barker Brook in the late 1940’s.  It was near today’s Barker Mt Lodge.

Driving dam on Goose-Eye Brook in Riley– evidence of the “infrastructure building” required of logging operators. 

(Martha Fifield Wilkens collection—Bethel Historical Society.

Working in the Woods. 

A Newry Profiles photo. In the 1880’s farming began giving way to lumbering and lumber mills as the valley’s major occupation.

Log landing on Goose-Eye Brook. Log length of this pile shows size of logs suited to driving down the Riley and Sunday River waterways.  Logs in the photo look to be six and no more than eight fee long.  (Martha Fifield Wilkens collection—probably taken by Fred Fifield. )

See detail below.

Men working the log drives use pick-poles or peaveys—the most common individual tool used for river drives.

Text Box: A Brief History of Sunday River