Maine: An Encyclopedia
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Saco

View of Saco Bay, from A Gazetteer of the State of Maine, 1886

View of Saco Bay, from A Gazetteer of the State of Maine, 1886

Location Map for Saco

Location Map for Saco

Year Population
1970 11,678
1980 12,921
1990 15,181
2000 16,822
2010 18,484
Geographic Data
N. Latitude 43:32:14
W. Latitude 70:27:17
Maine House Dist 14,15,16
Maine Senate District 31
Congress District 1
Area sq. mi. (total) 39.4
Area sq. mi. (land) 38.5
Population/sq.mi (land) 480.1
County: York

Total=land+water; Land=land only
Saco Population Chart 1790-2010

Population Trend 1790-2010

Saco City Hall (2003)

Saco City Hall (2003)

[SOCK-owe] is a city in York County, settled in 1623 and organized as a town on July 5, 1653. With the authority of his 1639 Grant, Sir Fernando Gorges established a general court for his new province in Saco.

After ruinous Indian raids and wars, the area was incorporated as the District of Pepperrellborough, in honor of Sir William Pepperrell, On June 9, 1762.

Pepperrellborough was incorporated as a town on August 23, 1775. Its name was changed to the ancient designation Saco.

While some suggest the name derives from the Sokokis Indians of the area, others believe it is of Indian origin meaning “the outlet.” However, Lawrence Bond notes that Estaban Gomez, an early explorer, called it Bahia de Saco or Bay of the Sack in 1525.

John Fairfield, Congressman, U.S. Senator, and Maine Governor, was born here in 1797.

Thornton Academy (2003)

Thornton Academy (2003)

Thornton Academy, Library (2003)

Thornton Academy Library

In 1811 Saco Academy was founded after 37 Saco citizens petition the Massachusetts legislature to establish an academy in Saco. Later renamed in honor of benefactor Dr. Thomas G. Thornton, the school was destroyed by a suspicious fire in 1848 and was not reopened until 1889.

Saco Museum (2003)

Saco Museum, a Partner with the Dyer Library (2003)

Dyer Library (2003)

Dyer Library (2003)

According to A Gazetteer of the State of Maine,

Lumbering was the early business of the place, and the raw material was here turned into all varieties of stuff; and a large business was carried on in it with the West Indies. In 1811 Joseph Calef and Thomas Cutts erected on Factory Island a rolling and slitting mill for iron, and eleven machines for making nails. A company, consisting mostly of Boston capitalists, began preparations for a cotton mill on Factory Island, cutting a canal through the solid rock to conduct the water power.

The mill burned in 1830 and was replaced by the York Manufacturing Company’s textile mill still flourishing in 1881.

The city charter of Saco was adopted on February 18, 1867. In 1883 it set off land to for the new town of Old Orchard, now Old Orchard Beach. Mayor of Saco and later U.S. Representative Peter Garland was a resident of the city.

Saco Station on AMTRAK's Downeaster (2013)

Saco Station on AMTRAK’s Downeaster (2013)

Goosefare Brook nature preserve is a 309-acre waterfront parcel purchased by the Nature Conservancy as an addition to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

One half of the Biddeford-Saco metropolitan area, the city has its own extensive beach and Ferry Beach State Park. It is one stop on AMTRAK’s Downeaster rail service. Occupying the east side of the Saco River as it enters Saco Bay, the city is the eleventh largest community in Maine.

Downstream above the Dam on the Saco River (2013)

Downstream above the Dam on the Saco River (2013)

Boston & Maine Railroad Bridge, River and Mill from A Gazetteer of the State of Maine, 1886

Boston & Maine Railroad Bridge, River and Mill on the Saco River from A Gazetteer of the State of Maine, 1886

Form of Government: Council-Mayor-Administrator.

Additional resources

Dyer Library and Saco Museum. http://www.dyerlibrarysacomuseum.org/

Fairfield, Roy P. New Compass Points: Twentieth Century Saco. Saco, Me. Bastille Books. c1988.

Fairfield, Roy P. Sands, Spindles, and Steeples: a History of Saco, Maine. Bowie, Md. Heritage Books. 2003.

First Book of Records of the Town of Pepperellborough Now the City of Saco. Printed by vote of the City Council, March 18, 1895. Portland, Me. Thurston Print. 1896.

*Maine. Historic Preservation Commission. Augusta, Me.   Text and black & white photos from National Register of Historic Places: http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/nrhp/text/xxxxxxxx.PDF and http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/nrhp/photos/xxxxxxxx.PDF

Deering, J. G., House: 82000793.PDF
Saco City Hall: 79000192.PDF
Saco Historic District: 98000594.PDF

Marriages Parish Notre Dame de Lourdes, 1928-1985, Saco, Maine. Compiled by The Franco-American Genealogical Society of York County, Me. with the cooperation of McArthur Library. Biddeford, Me. F.A.G.S.O.Y.C., 1986?

Owen, Daniel E. Old Times in Saco: a brief monograph on local events. Saco, Me. Biddeford Times. 1891.

Sutton, Katharine Augusta and Robert Francis Needham. Universalists at Ferry Beach: a History. Boston Universalist Pub. House. 1948.

Varney, George J. A Gazetteer of the State of Maine. 1886. pp.486-492.

National Register of Historic Places – Listings

Deering, J. G., House

[371 Main Street] Mr. Joseph Godfrey Deering, 1816-1892, was born in Waterboro. He ran a grocery store in Pepperrell Square in Saco. In 1866 he bought a sawmill on Spring’s Island in neighboring Biddeford and switched from the grocery business to the lumber business, in which he became enormously successful. Deering Lumber Company became one of the state’s largest producers of building supplies.

In 1869 Deering bought a brickyard and had plans made for this building using Indiana limestone for the outside trim and black walnut for the moldings and stair work. The house was completed in the fall of the same year.

With no public water in Saco at the time, a large tank was placed on the third floor and pumped full from a well in the yard. The house also claims to be the first to have running water and a toilet in York County.

Frank Cutter Deering, 1866-1939, son of Joseph Godfrey Deering, inherited the house in 1892. He remodeled the it and added to the rear of the building as the traffic increased on Main Street. The remodeling and additions were done by:John Calvin Stevens and John Howard Stevens in 1915; Joseph Stickney in 1920 and Bineford & Wardsworth 1929-1930.

Mr. Joseph Godfrey Deering, and Miss Annie Kathering Deering, children of Frank Cutter Deering, inherited the house in 1939. In 1955 they remodeled the house for library use and gave it to the Dyer Library Association, It has been used as a library ever since. The house is the finest of its style in the city and outstanding in the context of the entire state.*

First Parish Congregational Church, 12 Beach Street

Grant Family House, 72 Grant Road

Jacobs Houses and Store, 9-17 Elm Street

Saco City Hall

[300 Main Street] In the mid-19th century, the town of Saco had become an important industrial center. From 1830 to 1860, the population of Saco had doubled. For years residents held their town meetings in the old meetinghouse on the commons. Then they moved to the vestry of the Congregational Church. As the number of citizens sharply increased, the need for a larger town hall became evident. The new city hall was completed in 1855. Thomas Hill was the architect and carpenter, and two local masons, Abraham and Barnabus Cutter, did the brick work. Besides being an impressive transitional Greek Revival-Italianate style building, the Saco City Hall reflects the growth and progress of this important Industrial center in the mid-19th century.* [See photo above.]

Saco High School (old), Spring Street

Saco Historic District

[roughly bounded by Elm, North, Beach, and Main Streets] This Historic District acknowledges the rich architectural and social heritage that makes the Saco Valley distinctive and important to the broader understanding of the history and culture of Maine. The District covers a wide area and encompasses an impressive variety of architectural styles, reflecting the unusually complex social structure that evolved in the city over more than two hundred years. The District covers a broad spectrum of social history and includes some of the most important examples of architecture in southern Maine, including commercial and civic buildings. Residential structures reflect most major trends in American architecture from the late 18th to the mid-20th centuries.

Main Street in the Historic District (2003)

Main Street in the Historic District (2003)

To understand fully the importance of the District, one must first consider the complex history of property ownership and development that led to the uniquely rich complement of architectural styles and types. Perhaps as important as any building individually is the group as a whole, and the ordered and well-documented way in which the neighborhoods on the eastern side of the Saco River developed.

[Other properties, shown above, include the J. G. Deering House and Saco City Hall]

Though the history of European settlement in the Saco Valley predates the Pilgrim era, the rich and colorful history of Saco in the 17th century has little to do with understanding modern Saco. The first and farthest-reaching event in the development of Saco was the Pepperrell purchase of James Gibbins’ third division of the original Lewis and Bonython patent in 1716. All of the proposed Historic District lies within this land purchase.Young William Pepperrell’s purchase covered 5,000 acres and included timber privileges for an additional 4,500 acres. Pepperrell immediately subdivided his land, not into house lots, but in broad swatches perpendicular to the river. These were sold to Nathaniel Weare, millwright, and Humphrey Scamman, Mariner, not for settlement, but for the most expeditious removal of the land’s timber resources. The division that has the greatest implications for the Historic District is that along what is now Main Street, with Pepperrell retaining the area east of the road, including the mill privilege below the falls. Weare bought the area north of the road, and Scamman bought the area above that, roughly to the line of Scamman and Union Streets. Next above Scamman’s lot was Pepperrell’s so-called Great Lot.

This Historic District acknowledges the rich architectural and social heritage that makes the Saco Valley distinctive and important to the broader understanding of the history and culture of Maine. The District covers a wide area and encompasses an impressive variety of architectural styles, reflecting the unusually complex social structure that evolved in the city over more than two hundred years. The District covers a broad spectrum of social history and includes some of the most important examples of architecture in southern Maine, including commercial and civic buildings. Residential structures reflect most major trends in American architecture from the late 18th to the mid-20th centuries.

Saco Historic District Residential Area (1995)

Saco Historic District Residential Area (1995)

To understand fully the importance of the District, one must first consider the complex history of property ownership and development that led to the uniquely rich complement of architectural styles and types. Perhaps as important as any building individually is the group as a whole, and the ordered and well-documented way in which the neighborhoods on the eastern side of the Saco River developed.

Though the history of European settlement in the Saco Valley predates the Pilgrim era, the rich and colorful history of Saco in the 17th century has little to do with understanding modern Saco. The first and farthest-reaching event in the development of Saco was the Pepperrell purchase of James Gibbins’ third division of the original Lewis and Bonython patent in 1716. All of the proposed Historic District lies within this land purchase.Young William Pepperrell’s purchase covered 5,000 acres and included timber privileges for an additional 4,500 acres. Pepperrell immediately subdivided his land, not into house lots, but in broad swatches perpendicular to the river. These were sold to Nathaniel Weare, millwright, and Humphrey Scamman, Mariner, not for settlement, but for the most expeditious removal of the land’s timber resources. The division that has the greatest implications for the Historic District is that along what is now Main Street, with Pepperrell retaining the area east of the road, including the mill privilege below the falls. Weare bought the area north of the road, and Scamman bought the area above that, roughly to the line of Scamman and Union Streets. Next above Scamman’s lot was Pepperrell’s so-called Great Lot.*  [1995 photo by Russell Wright]

Seavey, A. B., House, 90 Temple Street

Thatcher-Goodale House, 121 North Street

Way General Store, 93 Buxton Road

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