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The first mills to be built in the Sunday River valley depended on water power which in turn decided the mill’s location.   After a log house had been built and a food supply taken care of, a number of settlers turned to building a saw mill and a grist mill. 

In 1826, O. Isreal B. Fifield, who came from a millwright family and sought a mill site , was attracted by the water power on Sunday River.  According to Martha Fifield Wilkens, the Fifields joined with “Polly Jim” Eames and came to Riley Plantation to settle. The Fifield’s first home was a log house. Their land was situated between Sunday River and Bull Branch. O. Isreal built a saw mill and a grist mill on the nearby Bull Branch—and after preparing the lumber he  built a frame house which the Fifields occupied the rest of his life.  His mill was not far from the falls which pour over the ledge with tremendous power at certain times of the year.  Fifield and Eames worked the mill together and after Fifield’s house was complete he built at least two more some years later.


COMMERCIAL MILLS  Six other locations were occupied by various types of mills in Sunday River valley:  J. A. Thurston built a mill in Riley and at Swan’s Corner; in the 1860’s a group of men, including a Bethel lawyer and former Congressman, David Hammons, built a steam mill near the mouth of Sunday River; Charles A Baker, son-in-law of John Eames built a steam mill for manufacturing long lumber, dowels plus a “shook shop” - barrel staves on the Eames farm (see map); the 1858 map of Newry indicates a saw mill near the Letter S pool; and the from 1906 to 1926, the mill of Latchford and Bryant occupied the area where the Sunday River Inn stands in 2009. 






Old dam and ledge where O. Isreal Fifield built his saw mill.  Later other mills were built on the opposite bank. The ledge was very close to the mouth of Bull Branch where it joined Sunday River. (Sunday River Sketches, pg 94)

The Charles A Baker mill—probably near the entrance to Powder Ridge.  Workmen in the mill crew bunked in the house shown to the left rear of the mill. 

Oval Callout: 1
Oval Callout: 2
Oval Callout: 3
Oval Callout: 4


Oval Callout: 5

J. A. Thurston mill at Swan’s Corner with Locke (Bessie) Mountain in the background.  In the rear of the mill site, note how much of the mountain side has been cleared for pasturing.

(1) Fifield, later Thurston mill site in Riley; (2) Baker mill on Eames farm. (3) Latchford-Bryant mill near Lower Sunday River School House and (4) Morrill—Thurston-possibly 1860’s Hammons steam mill at Swan’s Corner; (5) sawmill location shown on 1858 map near Letter S.



12-4-1888  Bethel:  Messrs J. A. Thurston and Isaac Morrill received a 40 hp boiler and engine from Erie, PA Iron Works Friday; they moved them to Riley Plantation with ten horses.


6/18/1889 Bethel: Thurston and Morrill have four, four horse teams hauling their spool strips (Sunday River news)


February 1892: Thurston’s steam mill at Riley started up last Monday but they are still bothered to keep a crew on account the grippe (flu). Alonzo Fifield, an old resident of Riley died Tuesday of grippe. 


Feb 1893: The pump at (J.A.) Thurston’s steam mill in Ketchum froze up recently, bursting the pipe and causing a three days shut down.


Nov 1893: Bethel: Mr. (J.A.) Thurston is about to put up a steam mill for short lumber at Swan’s Corner on the site where Morrill’s mill burned.


May 8, 1894 : J.A. Thurston’s mill in Riley burned. About 125 cords of timber remain unsawed.


In 1893, Mr. Thurston began operations as a manufacturer of spool stock, dowels, staves in connection with a general wood-working plant, at Swan's Corner. This was destroyed by fire in May 1903, involving a loss of $6,000 upon which there was no insurance.  Nothing daunted (Thurston) however, he rebuilt the plant and placed it in operation with a 50 h. p. engine and boiler in the following July.  These two plants in conjunction with a similar plant operated by water power at Frye (north of Rumford Falls), furnished employment for from 40 to 60 hands and manufactured upwards of 2000 cords of birch and hard wood in a season. (Bethel News, Jan 1904)


1820’S TO 1920’S

Text Box: A Brief History of Sunday River
Mills—Water Power and Steam