Saco, in York County, was granted in 1630, to Thomas Lewis and Richard Bonython, by the Plymouth Company, though the latter had, in 1622, granted nearly the whole territory between this and the Kennebec River, to Mason and Gorges. The tract granted to Lewis and Bonython, extended four miles along the sea in a straight line, and back into the country eight miles. The limits, as surveyed by the commissioners appointed by Massachusetts, in 1659, commenced at the mouth of Little River and run on a north-west line, leaving about 3,000 acres in Scarborough that belonged to the original patent. This grant was also over-lapped by the “Plough Patent,” issued the same year. The settlement on this grant with that on the other side of the river was known as Winter Harbor. In 1653, it was organized as Saco, and in 1659, began to be represented in General Court. In 1719, it was incorporated as Biddeford, being the fourth town in Maine; in 1762 it received a separate incorporation, with all the rights of a town except that of sending a representative to the General Assembly. This incorporation was under the name of Pepperellborough, in honor of Sir William Pepperell, then recently deceased, who had been a large proprietor. In 1805, by act of Legislature, its name was changed to Saco; and in 1867 it became a city. The first mayor was Joseph Hobson. The name, Saco, is of Indian origin. The river separates the city from Biddeford on the south-west, Scarborough bounds it on the north-east, on the west and north-west is Buxton, and Old Orchard Beach forms its junction with the sea on the east. The area is about 17,500 acres. For many years the habitations were located near the sea, at Old Orchard Beach and toward the mouth of the river. Richard Vines was the founder of the settlements in this vicinity, having himself wintered at the mouth of the river, in 1616-17. Among the early inhabitants were Scammans, Edgecombs, Townsends, Youngs, Sharps, Banks, Sands, and Googins. There were a considerable number of respectable Scotch immigrants from the northern part of Ireland, who came over about 1718, and after. Captain Scamman and persons employed at the mill, with their families, were all that were settled about the falls until 1731. In 1680, Benjamin Blackman purchased 100 acres of land including the mill privileges on the east side of the Saco Falls, and built a sawmill.
During the year 1675, the first year of the first Indian war, Major Phillips on the Biddeford side of the river was attacked, and successfully defended. About the same time, the house of John Bonython, in Saco, was burned, but the family had escaped. The settlers about the falls soon retired to near the mouth of the river, and all the mills and houses above were destroyed by the Indians. Captain Wincoln, and others of Piscataqua, coming soon after to aid their neighbors of the Saco, were discovered by some of the Indians, and fired upon. Informed of the approach of the English, about 150 savages rushed out of the woods toward them, as they landed on the beach near Winter Harbor. During the skirmish, Wincoln and his men found protection behind a pile of shingle-bolts; and, with this advantage, they soon drove their assailants from the ground, inflicting upon them a considerable loss. Eleven of the inhabitants of Winter Harbor set out to aid their friends, whose presence and danger had been announced by the firing; but a body of Indians lay in ambush on their road, and shot them all down at a single discharge. In 1676, the house of Thomas Rogers, near Goosefare, was burned. In 1688, during the second war, some of the Indians on the river having uttered alarming threats, sixteen of those who had been most active in the recent war, were seized and taken to Boston, but without averting the threatened war. In April 1689, the savages commenced hostilities, and the family of Humphrey Scamman and others were carried into captivity. Most of the men were absent from the fort when the alarm was given there, and the women immediately arrayed themselves in male apparel, and stalked about the fort, thus deceiving the skulking savages until the men got in from their work. Again from 1702 to 1710, Indian hostilities prevailed. About 1713, the inhabitants began to return to their homes; and the settlement prospered until 1723, when another Indian war broke out, lasting three years. There were at this time besides Fort Mary, fourteen garrisons along the river from the shore to the falls, most of them being in Saco. One of the captives during the first summer of this war was Mary, daughter of Captain Humphrey Scammon, a girl eight or nine years of age. Pleased with her brightness the governor of Canada took her into his family, and educated her carefully in the Roman Catholic faith. She finally married a French gentleman of Quebec, of good estate, resisting all solicitations to return to her native place.
Several citizens of Saco were in the Louisburg expedition under Pepperell, among whom were Deacon Benjamin Haley, Benjamin Scamman, Nathaniel Scamman, Andrew Stackpole, Roger Smith, Jonathan Smith, Haven Tarbox, and Benjamin Mason. The names of those in the continental army during the Revolution, are as follows: John Googins, killed at Hubbardston, Stphen Sawyer, John Hooper, Abiel Beette, Nicholas Davis, Jonathan Norton, Daniel Bryant, James Scamman, John Tucker, John Runnels, John Ridlon, Ebenezer Evans, John and William Carll, Levi, Richard, Zachariah and Elias Foss, John Duren, Anthony and William Starbird, William Berry, James Evans, Samuel Sebastian, Joseph Norton, Major Stephen Bryant, Josiah Davis, Joseph Richards, Ephraim Ridlon, Stephen Goodins, Thomas Means, Solomon Hopkins, James Edgecomb, and Solomon Libby. The following Saco men were in the compny of Captain John Elden, of Buxton, in 1776, doing good service at Dorchester Heights, namely: Lieutenant Samuel Scamman (afterward deacon), Jerathuel Bryant, John Muchmore, Daniel Field, David Clark, Abner Sawyer, Joseph Norton, Andrew Patterson, David Sawyer, Jr., James Edgecomb, Robert Bond, Daniel Field, Jr., Abraham Patterson, Moses Ayer, John and Hezekiah Young, Joseph Patterson, William P. Moody, Samuel Dennet, John Scamman and Samuel Lowell. Colonel James Scamman led a regiment to Cambridge early in 1775, which served about a year.
Richard Bonython, the pioneer and one of Gorges' councilors, is notable as a faithful and just man, even entering a complaint against his own son John for using threatening language to the excellent Mr. Vines. John bore a different character, being violent and quarrelsome. He seems not to have gained the confidence of the better or larger portion of his townsmen; yet when Massachusetts extended her jurisdiction over Maine, he led the opposition gaining the sobriquet of “Sagamore of Saco.” The following couplet is said to have been inscribed upon his tombstone, probably not by his relatives: “Here lies Bonython, Sagamore of Saco, He lived a rogue, and died a knave and went to Hobbomocko”
Yet, he was not without his good traits. In opposing Massachusetts he was vindicating the rights of Gorges; and he generously presented the town with 20 acres of upland for the minister. Robert Patterson removed his family into the place in 1729, settling at Rendezvous Point, and was active in the service of the town. He and his descendants are noted for their longevity. Colonel Thomas Cutts, a descendant of a highly respectable family of Kittery, came to Saco about 1758, and commenced trade with a capital of $100. Though he had failed in Kittery in his first business venture, in Saco he developed “an immense aptitude for business,” and soon enlarged his capital, and embarked in extensive enterprises. In 1759 he bought a share of Indian or Factory Island, as a place of business, and built a small house and store on the south-west end. He, later, engaged in shipbuilding and navigation, and for some years previous to the breaking out of the Revolution had a very profitable and extensive timber trade with the West Indies. Having become owner of nearly the whole of the island, he removed, in 1782, to an elegant house on the upper end, where he passed the remainder of his days, which ended in 1821. His real estate was appraised at nearly $100,000.
Dr. Samuel White, Esq. (for he was a magistrate as well as a physician), settled in Saco about 1750. Dr. Thomas G. Thornton, who came in 1791, married a daughter of Colonel Cutts, and then engaged in merchandizing. He was appointed United States Marshal of Maine in 1803, and discharged the duties of that office until his death in 1824. Dr. Richard Cutts Shannon was for some time a surgeon in the navy, but resigned and settled in Saco in 1800. During a period of nearly twenty-eight years following, he was the principal physician of the town, and at the time of his death, in 1828, was deacon of the first church. The first regular attorney here was Hon. Cyrus King. He had previously been private secretary to his brother Rufus, while ambassador to England, and was admitted to the bar in 1797, and commenced practice here. In 1812 he was chosen to represent York County in the thirteenth Congress. In 1815, he was appointed majorgeneral of the militia, and died suddenly in 1817. Joseph Bartlett came to Saco about 1803, practicing law with success for several years. He was State senator in 1804. He built a singular but rather elegant house near the site of the old Ferry house. But he was an eccentric genius, as his “Aphorisms” declare. He first removed to Berwick, then became a wanderer. John Fairfield was reporter of law decisions in 1832; representative to the 24th and 25th Congress, from 1835 to 1838; governor of the State in 1839, 1841 and 1842; National senator from 1843 to 1847. Ether Shepley, on his admission to the bar, about 1814, came to Saco and commenced practice. After filling various offices with honor, he was elected National senator in 1833; in 1836 he was appointed judge of the Supreme Court, and chief justice in 1848. In 1855, he retired from the bench; and in 1856 he was chosen sole commissioner to revise the public laws. He received his honorary degree of L.L.D. from Dartmouth College, and was thirty-three years trustee of Bowdoin College. The following citizens of Saco of more recent date have attained to distinguished public position: --J.F. Hartwell was State secretary in 1845; Seth Scamman was president of the State senate in 1858; Rufus P. Tapley was, in 1865, appointed associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court; Edwin B. Smith was speaker of the Maine House in 1871, and is now assistant attorneygeneral of the United States; and Wilbur F. Lunt is United States district attorney 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. For the year ending September 30, 1827, 21,000,000 feet had been sawn, the greater part for the home trade. In 1811 Josiah 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. In 1829 their mill of 1,200 spindles and 300 looms commenced running, employing 400 persons; but in 1830 it was destroyed by a fire. The location is now occupied by the York Manufacturing Company. This company has five mills, and operates about 42,800 spindles and 980 looms, employing some 1,200 hands, and turning out nearly 6,000,000 yards of cotton goods annually. There are now four saw-mills, manufacturing long and short-lumber and box-shooks, three planning and moulding-mills, three door, sash and blind factories, several carriage factories, a tannery, bleachery, and also a belting, boot and shoe, loom-harness, soap, and other factories. The York National and the Saco National banks, in this city, each has a capital of $100,000. The Saco and Riddeford Savings Institution held, November 1, 1880, in deposits and accrued profits $1,214,899.82. Saco Savings Bank held at the same date $172,838.99. William S. Noyes publishes here the York County Independent, a family journal, and the State Democrat, a political sheet,both excellent of their kind. The village of Saco, especially along the river road, presents many tokens of an early and prosperous period in the large, old mansions with ample yards, and other appearances of homely comfort with elegance. But the notable feature of Saco is its noble beach [Old Orchard Beach], nearly nine miles in length, and affording a drive-way hundreds of feet wide, with the deep blue ocean booming on one side and lines of imposing hotels, and pretty cottages on the other. Near the hotels is a beautiful forest-park of 30 acres, with pleasant paths, arbors and rustic adornments. About two miles distant, on Foxwell's Brook, is a picturesque waterfall, 60 feet in height.
The face of the country is little varied by hills, and is somewhat swampy in the middle of the town, shoreward of which is quite an extent of pine plain. In this vicinity the soil is a fine sandy loam; in the interior the surface is more uneven and the soil more gravelly, and the hard woods flourish.
Saco has churches of the Congregationalists, Baptists, Episcopals, Unitarians, and Christians, two of the Free Baptists, and two of the Methodists; some of the edifices being quite elegant. The schools in the village are graded, from primary to high. The entire number of schoolhouses in the city is sixteen; and the school property is valued at $18,125. The valuation of estates in 1870 was $3,116,374. In 1880 it was $3,408,533. The population at the same date was 5,755. In 1880 it was 6,395. See Biddeford.
- George J. Varney, A Gazetteer of the State of Maine (Boston: B.B. Russell, 1886), 486-492.