Many people are fascinated by feats of engineering. That’s why on any evening you can find an assortment of cable and satellite television programs about how they did this or that. They show us “Modern Marvels” that celebrate today’s technology and they speculate on how the ancients managed to build the pyramids or Stonehenge.

Over some 200 years, the Androscoggin River has been witness to a legacy of mills from Lewiston’s massive brick textile mills to modern paper mills. We have many stories of the engineers and workers who planned and dug canals, erected dams and built textile and papermaking empires.

In the earliest days of settlement along the Androscoggin, it was development of sawmills and grist mills that harnessed the water’s power. There’s an old account of what East Livermore’s forefathers went through to build their first mills, and it puts a very personal face on the effort. The story is told by Harris Garcelon in a history section of an Androscoggin County Atlas published in 1873.

He said the first mills in town were built in 1791 by Elijah Livermore, earliest settler of the west side of the river. The site was the 14-foot drop of the falls where a ledge extended “several rods into the river from its eastern bank.” There were enough workers in the vicinity to finish building the early grist mill and sawmill in about a month, but getting the indispensable iron machinery to the site was another story.

The crank for the sawmill (presumably, the gears for transmission of power from a water wheel) came from England. It weighed only 211 pounds but it was unwieldy in shape, and there were no roads at that time for its direct transport to East Livermore.

Garcelon said: “It was brought from Gardiner on the Penobscot (obviously an error; it should have said Kennebec) by way of Pondtown – now Winthrop – to Wayne and then Littleboro (Leeds).

“The roads were rough, but recently surveyed, and obstructed by fallen trees and logs and crossed by unbridged streams,” Garcelon wrote. “A dray was constructed, one end of the straps fastened by straps to the saddle of the horse, the other rested upon the ground.” The crank was placed on a platform on the “dray” – a cart with detachable sides.

At Wayne Pond (now named Androscoggin Lake), the crank was transferred to a log canoe, and “to insure against loss in case on an upset, a line with a buoy was attached,” Garcelon said.

“Of this craft and cargo, one Elijah Stevens took command, aided in its navigation by two men as crew. They crossed the pond and followed down the outlet called Dead River some five or six miles to its entrance into the Androscoggin, then upriver about 10 miles to the foot of the rapids some 60 rods below the falls.

“From this point to the mill where it was to be used lay a low sunken swamp difficult to cross,” the account continued.

“Stevens, resolute and athletic, proposed to his companions to raise the crooked thing upon his shoulder and steady it, and he would carry it through.

“He bore it across the swamp, up the brow of the hill and cast it down where wanted, much to the joy of the owner and workmen,” Garcelon said.

The history also noted that when the mills were built and ready to run, the locals held a jubilee.

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