Great Works, 1989 (photo by Wendy Pirsig)Great Works, 1989 

In July 1634, William Chadbourne, James Wall and John Goddard, three English carpenters under contract with Capt. John Mason's Laconia Company, arrived in present-day South Berwick, Maine, from England aboard the vessel "Pied Cow." Their contract called for them to build a saw mill and grist mill on on what was then called the Asbenbedick or Little Newichawannock River. (Source: The Chadbourne Family in America: A Genealogy, 1994, compiled by Elaine C. Bacon for The Chadbourne Family Association, and edited by Deborah L. Chadbourne).

    The sawmill they built, thought to be the first over-shot water-powered site in America, was located in the "Rocky Gorge" below today's Brattle Street bridge.

About 15 years later the first mill, fallen into disuse, passed to an English engineer named Richard Leader, who had directed the Saugus Iron Works in Massachusetts.  Leader acquired about 25 Scottish soldiers captured at the September, 1650, battle of Dunbar, Scotland, and put them to work on a gang of up to 20 saws.  The increased output inspired the name Great Works for the site and the river.  Local 17th century deeds (Patience Spencer) referred to the mill site on the steep falls as the "Great mill works."

The photo was taken in 1989 from the Brattle Street bridge in South Berwick above the Great Works River falls at Rocky Gorge. These buildings were built in the mid-1800s. The brick mill building at right was torn down in the 1990s.

1872 South Berwick map excerpt.


In the 19th century, the site was still called Great Works and was even served by a railroad station by that name.  Factories known as the Rocky Gorge Mill, the Newichawannock Mill and others processed wool and produced blankets.  These mills operated into the mid-1900s.  Electricity is still generated to this day.

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