In 1831, New Hampshire native Samuel Hale gathered investors to purchase the water rights at Quamphegan Falls at the head of navigation on the Piscataqua/Salmon Falls Rivers, ten miles up from Portsmouth. The 275-foot dam with its 19-foot pitch held promise for water-powered machinery of the industrial revolution. Within a few years, the Portsmouth Manufacturing Company's four-story brick textile mill was built on the Maine side of the river, along with a Greek Revival-style corporate office, the Counting House.
Processing cotton produced with slave labor from Southern plantations, brought north by sailing ships and carried upriver by gundalow, hundreds of South Berwick mill hands toiled at 7000 spindles. By 1868 the factory handled 1300 bales of cotton annually to produce 2 million yards of sheeting per year.
Downstairs, the Counting House provided office space for the company's agent and paymaster and their staffs. Samuel Hale was mill agent until 1869, when he was succeeded by his son Frances. Grandson Samuel Hale ran the corporation through the 1880s until the mill's closure in 1893.
Today the Counting House, a two story brick building, is a regional treasure containing one of northern New England's last textile mill ballrooms on the second floor. Years ago the mill entertained dancers each autumn when gas lamps were illuminated for a "Lighting Up Ball." When the Old Berwick Historical Society was formed in 1962, members restored many features of this historical community gathering space. The historical society now hosts events and workshops in the ballroom for history enthusiasts of all ages.
The first floor, that once provided office space for the Company's Agent and Paymaster, currently contains the Counting House Museum and Old Berwick Historical Society archives.