2017-04-14 / Community

A Window on the Past

Remembering the mill at Mill Creek
By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo
South Portland Historical Society


This circa 1900 photos shows the old grist mill building atop the dam at Mill Creek. The mill had already been abandoned at this point, but it was an interesting piece of local history. (Photo from the Woodbury collection, South Portland Historical Society.) This circa 1900 photos shows the old grist mill building atop the dam at Mill Creek. The mill had already been abandoned at this point, but it was an interesting piece of local history. (Photo from the Woodbury collection, South Portland Historical Society.) I often wish that I had checked the tide charts before planning a shopping trip to Hannaford. If you head there at low tide and park along the fence at the right side of the parking lot, you have a great chance to view history. There, at low tide, are the remnants of the old stone dam that crossed that creek (known by many names – Mill Creek, Lawrence’s Creek, Meadow Brook, Trout Brook, or Sawyer’s Brook). As far back as the early 1700s, there was a mill on that creek. In 1973, Martin’s Foods and Hannaford Bros. paid for a professional researcher to prepare a thorough history of the mill site. The report was completed and filed with our historical society in 1974, and provides as much detail as we’ve ever seen on this interesting location in South Portland.

Around 1727, Benjamin York and John Sawyer built the first mill on this spot. It was a tidal mill, making use of the tides coming in and out of the cove. In the journal of the Rev. Thomas Smith, he wrote the following passage in 1727: “Last month, Mr. Sawyer and York came here and finished their grist mill, which every way answered their expectation. The people, before this, sent their corn to B. to be ground. A saw mill was also built upon the same stream.”

John Sawyer was a busy man in those early days of our community. In 1719, he had become the first operator of a ferry between (what would become known as) Ferry Village and the peninsula across the river. The ferry would later become known as the “Cape ferry” but in 1719. The whole area here was all part of the town of Falmouth (this side of the Fore River wouldn’t become Cape Elizabeth until 1765).

Sawyer would operate the mill with Benjamin York from 1727 to 1738, when York sold his share in the business to Stephen Randall. The mill business was then a partnership between John Sawyer and Stephen Randall from 1738 to 1755, when Sawyer sold his interest to his son, Joseph. Throughout the next century, the mill changed hands numerous times. Early records are scant and so give us only limited information on owners of the property. In the early 1800s, it had become known as Emery’s Mill. Sometime between 1845 and 1848, the mill was destroyed by fire and a new mill appears to have been constructed sometime between 1852 and 1858. It appears that the last operation of the mill might have been in 1887.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of South Portland Historical Society.

Return to top