An established piece of Maine history, the Worumbo Mill in Lisbon Falls, is now a broken and crumbling monument to Androscoggin County’s once-roaring industrial era and is being demolished as I write.
Worumbo Mill Postcard Lisbon Falls 1906. Wiki Commons
Photo by Brooke Nasser 2016.
Worumbo Mill, on the northern shore of the Androscoggin River, was founded by Lisbon businessmen, Edward Plummer and H.A. Tibbetts, and Bath resident, Oliver Moses. It was named in honor of Worumbo, a tribal chief of the Anasagunticook Indians, the original inhabitants of the area. Plummer and Tibbetts purchased territory on the river known as the “Barker Estate” in 1861, realizing its water-power potential situated as it was at the base of Ten Mile Falls. With an investment of $250,000, ground broke in 1864 and the factory began producing fine woolens in 1865.
Lisbon Falls was first dubbed Little River, then Ten Mile Falls, then Lisbon Falls and, though small in geographical space, became an industrial powerhouse. It had six sawmills at the turn of the 19th Century and by the early 1900s, woolen and cotton mills (Worumbo, Farwell, Farnsworth) were the town’s largest employers, earning Lisbon a preeminent spot globally as a textile manufacturing center.
Worumbo Mill 1882. Maine Memory Network.
By 1890, the mill employed 340 men and 110 women and the monthly payroll was $15,000. The force generated by the falls was estimated at 5,063 horsepower. From the Lisbon Town Register, Worumbo Mill reported producing: “Montevideo and Australian wools used in the manufacturing of beavers, kerseys, cloaks, full indigo, flannels, shetlands, chinchillas and flocconnee goods.” Flocconnee, translated from the French, is flocking, a process in textile manufacturing of adding natural fibers to to create a decorative and/or functional characteristic to a fabric.
Weave Room 1950 Mary Galgovitch (far left), worked in the Worumbo Mill weaving textiles from the age of 14 until 70 years old. The other three women in the weaving room of the Worumbo are unidentified. Maine Memory Network.
The triangular pin had a white border emblazoned with a capital “E” within a yellow wreath of oak and laurel leaves on a blue and red background. On the read was printed “ARMY” with “NAVY” in white lettering on the blue background.
Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. (03/09/1943 – 09/15/1945)
The original structure, and the largest part of the mill, featured a flat roof and two towers. In 1920 two concrete buildings — a dye house and a boiler house — were added to complete the mill complex as it looks today. Overhead walkways were built so employees could travel between buildings in the winter without braving the bitter cold outside. You may recognize the 1920s portion from the Stephen King Hulu series “11/22/63“ starring James Franco and Cherry Jones.
Oliver Moses II, son of the founder, served on the Board of Directors when his uncle died and built a ball park behind the mill. He also started a city league baseball team called the Lemons, which eventually became the semi-pro team, the Worumbo Indians.
Worumbo Baseball Stock. Maine Memory Network.
The Worumbo Indians won three state championships during the four years they played. Stand-out first baseman, Eddie Waitkus
, known as “The Natural” as a rookie, went on to an 11-year career in Major League Baseball until crazed fan Ruth Ann Steinhagen shot and killed him in Chicago. His story was immortalized in 1954 novel, “The Natural,”
written by Bernard Malamud and 1984 movie
by the same name starring Robert Redford and Glenn Close. The ball park stood until the 1950s when new owner J.P. Stevens converted it into a parking lot.
Oliver Moses III sold the mill in 1956 to J.P. Stevens and full-scale production lasted only nine more years. During this time, the textile industry was changing rapidly. Although productivity increased with newer and more efficient technologies, prices decreased. Worumbo’s location on the falls was no longer a competitive advantage with the development of new, inexpensive power sources. Competition from textile conglomerates in the South and clothing manufacturers in Europe and Asia simultaneously increased the costs of raw materials and reduced the market share. J.P. Stevens announced that the mill would close on Sept. 23, 1964, two months after another major employer in Lisbon, Farnsworth Mill, made its closing announcement. At this time, the Worumbo Mill was the largest employer in the town of Lisbon and the announcement was met with motivated resistance.
The town made an extraordinary effort to save the mill, raising $110,000 in pledges for mortgage bonds, and on Jan. 14, 1965 the mill became the property of the Lisbon Weaving Company. Sadly, the company was short lived and the mill went into foreclosure two years later. In 1967, Herbert A. Miller, owner of Max Miller Industries, bought both Farnsworth Mill and Worumbo Mill. Camden yarns, a subsidiary company, produced various yarns, upholstery and drapery fabrics in Worumbo until the mill burned in 1987.
Over the years, the mill has survived a record number of economic and natural catastrophes. The natural ebbing and swollen of the Androscoggin River has caused massive flooding many times, the worst occurring in 1936 during winter when ice tore up the foundation and ripped apart the interior. The Androscoggin River experienced record flood levels that destroyed the iron bridge between Durham and Lisbon Falls.
A small building used by mill security is swamped by raging flood waters in Worumbo Flood 1936. Maine Memory Network.
Dye machines submerged in Worumbo Flood 1936. Maine Memory Network.
On April 6, 1901, a fire blazed through the structure. An article in the “Lisbon Enterprise” after the flames had been extinguished expressed an attitude of gratefulness that the mill had been spared, despite extensive damage to the town itself: “There is nothing so bad but could be worse, and even as we have daily gazed upon the ruins of our once pretty and prosperous village, we feel that in our case it might have been much worse.” In fact, the business and downtown area of the “village” was destroyed, but Worumbo Mill remained standing and was able to continue production. Employing about 600 Mainers at that time, it was a massive relief that the fire did not destroy one of the town’s major sources of industry and economy.
Lisbon Falls after the 1901 fire. Maine Memory Network.
The most famous catastrophe, however, occurred on July 23, 1987 when once again a fire ignited. At that time, the original portion of Worumbo Mill was over a hundred years old and production had slowed. Just under 75 people were then employed at the mill and all escaped unharmed. The main concern now was to prevent the fire from spreading to local businesses, residences and downtown Lisbon.
The fire completely destroyed the main structure, but the 1920s expansion was spared. All told, 283 firefighters responded to the blaze. Although the fire was contained in five hours, using 15,000 gallons of water per minute to do so (a total of 17.8 million gallons was used the first day) crews stayed for another 13 to extinguish the flames. The Yarmouth fire chief told the Sun Journal at the 25th anniversary memorial event that the fire department returned for 10 days straight to ensure that the fire did not re-ignite.
Looking at it today, despite its current state of disintegration, it is easy to imagine the simple, impressive beauty of Worumbo Mill in its youth. I find the structure deeply poetic, a reminder of where we’ve been as well as an insistent nudge toward the future. The land at the base of Ten Mile Falls is fertile and powerful. Once the mill is gone, the memories will remain and the land where it once stood will give birth to a new enterprise that will hopefully employ and nurture future generations of Mainers.
The famous “Worumbo Mill” sign is now broken. Photo by Brooke Nasser 2016.
Demo crews are on site. Photo by Brooke Nasser 2016.
A special thanks to Maine Memory Network for use of their extensive historical library. For additional information on Worumbo Mill and other points of interest in Maine, please visit their website.
For more information about historical photos, please follow the links below:
1. Worumbo Mill 1882
2. Weave Room 1950
3. Worumbo Baseball Stock Certificate
4. Lisbon Falls on April 6, 1901
5. Worumbo Flood 1936
6. Dye machine submerged, Worumbo Flood 1936
Plummer, Francis, Sr. Lisbon: The History of a Small Maine Town. Lewis ton, Maine: Twin City Printery, 1970.
Watkins, A., Greeley, B., & Theriault, K. (1987). The Birth, being and burning of Worumbo Mill. Norway, Me.: Printed by the Oxford Group.
NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES INVENTORY – NOMINATION FORM. (n.d.). Retrieved July 09, 2016, from http://focus.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NRHP/Text/73000235.pdf