One person’s hero can often be another person’s villain. The passage of time and changes in place and perspective often alter the way we cast our role models.

The Androscoggin River at Rumford was central to the legacy of two men with very different journeys through our river valley’s history. Those men were Hugh J. Chisholm and Edmund S. Muskie.

Chisholm was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1847. He was 13 when his father died, and after a year of digging potatoes he became a “news butcher,” the name given young boys who hawked newspapers and snacks on trains of the Grand Trunk System. He befriended another boy who was selling papers, Thomas Alva Edison, and they remained friends through life, with Chisholm going on to become a giant of industry and Edison to be a world-renowned inventor.

According to “Evolution of a Valley,” a book by Page Helm Jones, Chisholm was fascinated by the experiments young Edison carried out in a baggage car, and Edison was impressed by Chisholm’s business acumen. Chisholm and a younger brother teamed up and acquired the news distribution franchise on the trains. It was the beginning of an illustrious career in railroading, banking, electric light and power, and Maine’s pulp and paper industry.

Eventually, Chisholm brought together 17 pulp and paper mills in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Canada to form International Paper Co., the largest paper company in the world.

Chisholm was widely considered to be the most powerful man of his time in the American pulp and paper industry.

Among his many accomplishments was founding Oxford Paper Co. at Rumford, now NewPage, and that mill’s construction and operation led to the growth of the community from about 900 people to 10 times that number in a few years, and it brought problems similar to gold rush boom towns.

Chisholm saw the need to provide housing for construction and mill workers.

He had a vision that became Strathglass Park, a planned community of beautiful brick homes named for Strathglass Carries in Scotland where his father was born.

In 1902, construction began. With Scottish influence in their design, there were soon 51 two-family duplexes, four single-family houses and nine apartment buildings. By 1904 the project had produced 186 dwelling units.

Those buildings, which were hailed as a national model for planned communities, are in need of repair and restoration today, but they are a significant part of Rumford’s past.

Half a century after Chisholm’s successes, Edmund S. Muskie became nationally known as Mr. Clean through his political successes in spearheading clean air and water legislation. Those accomplishments are acclaimed today, but any effort to weaken or strengthen those laws still leads to intense debate.

A native of Rumford, Muskie was the son of Polish immigrant Stephen Marciszewski, an itinerant tailor who shortened and “Americanized” his name when he arrived at Ellis Island. Ed Muskie was born in 1914, three years after his parents had come to Rumford, and he spent many hours fishing and sitting beside the Androscoggin. It already was becoming polluted, and swimming was off-limits, except for surreptitious dips by youngsters when adults were not looking.

Those early years must have had a profound effect on the boy who grew to become a governor of Maine, a U.S. senator and chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Water Pollution. He was a candidate for vice president on the 1968 Democratic ticket with Hubert Humphrey and secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter.

Some might say that Chisholm’s mills nearly destroyed a mighty river, and others could claim that Muskie focused environmental sensibilities that saved the Androscoggin. Those views may shift back and forth among area residents where work in a mill means bread on the table. Another company founded by Chisholm, the Otis Mill in Jay, will be shut down soon by its current owner, Wausau Papers.

Both Chisholm and Muskie played key roles in the Androscoggin River valley’s evolution, but many people have differing opinions about their influence.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and native of Auburn. He may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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