Preserve America Community:
Biddeford, Maine, (population 21,594) was settled in 1630 by John Oldham and Richard Vines, who were given a land grant by the Plymouth Company. Vines was a physician who had spent the winter of 1616-17 in the area while investigating a plague among the native population. English settlers named the area Saco, a contraction of the name of the river then known as Sawcotuck. By 1653 the town was incorporated, but in 1688, during King Philip's War, Saco was destroyed by Indians. It was rebuilt and renamed Biddeford in 1719, after Bideford, England.
Located in southern Maine, the land in and around Biddeford was unsuitable for agriculture, so shipbuilding, lumbering, and fishing became the town's major industries. In the 1830s, Samuel Batchelder was the first to recognize the industrial potential of the river, and he organized the Saco Water Power Company in 1837. As capital flowed into the area, Biddeford grew and was incorporated as a city in 1855.
From the late 1800s through the early part of the next century, Biddeford remained a productive mill city where thousands of immigrants seeking work came to establish themselves and their families. Failure to diversify, however, along with the loss of mills to southern competitors, forced the city to reevaluate its resources and establish new guidelines for development.
Recently, the Biddeford Historical Society (BHS) created the Museum in the Streets Project, a bilingual walking tour of downtown Biddeford's historically significant buildings. Completed in 2007, it drew attention to the downtown area and the city's heritage, prompting further preservation projects, and increased community involvement. Working in tandem with the City of Biddeford, the BHS launched the Mill District Master Plan. Completed in 2009, the plan provided for the redevelopment of the city's mill complex while retaining the historic quality of the properties.
Biddeford is a Main Street Maine Community, and its Main Street Program, the Heart of Biddeford (HOB), has been functioning since 2004. HOB, in partnership with the city, the business community, property owners, and residents, fosters economic development and improves the downtown by supporting existing businesses, attracting new business, promoting the downtown through events and working to beautify Biddeford's historic urban core.
The city has a rich Franco-American history and culture, which it continues to celebrate. The annual La Kermese Festival, begun in 1983, is the largest such festival in Maine. The four-day event features French singers, dancers, and comedians, as well as heritage-based events, participants in period costumes, and education about the city's French Canadian roots.
For more information
City of Biddeford: http://www.biddefordmaine.org/
Heart of Biddeford: http://www.heartofbiddeford.org/
Updated August 5, 2010