STOWELL MACGREGOR MILL
Prepared in 1991 by John Dudley
Newton Stanley Stowell was descended from a long line of New England stock. Samuel Stowell, b. 1620, came from England to Hingham, Mass. in 1647. The line continues through his son David (1660--), grandson John (1690-1762), and his great-grandson Benjamin (1730--), who settled in Paris, Maine. The line goes on with Benjamin's son, Elias, to David Porter Stowell who was father of N.S. Stowell. His mother was Sophonia Stanley, daughter of Isaac Newton Stanley, and a first cousin to the Stanley twins of the Stanley Steamer car fame. As a young man, N.S. moved from Paris to Dixfield, hometown of his maternal grandparents.
John MacGregor was from Scotland and worked there at the J&P Coats mill before coming to New Jersey to work in Newark at the spool making department of The Clark Thread Company. He felt it would be better business to make spools near the source of the raw material, white birch, so moved to Maine. In 1876, he opened a spool mill in South Lincoln.
N.S. Stowell and John MacGregor Corp. joined forces in 1932 and had a long and successful history. Stowell-MacGregor became a division of Coates and Clark, the world's leading thread manufacturer of Glasgow, Scotland. The company ceased to exist in 1980. The extensive land holdings of Newton Stowell continue to be owned by the Stowell family under the company name of United Timber located in Dixfield.
Several years prior to the opening of the Alexander operation, N.S. Stowell had acquired many acres of wild land near here to supply the mill. While much wood was cut on company lands, much was purchased from as far away as Wesley. The mill used 2400 cords a year and the company expected to operate only 4 or 5 years. It ran for over a decade.
The mill was designed by Edison ''Eddie'' Pineo of West Enfield, a forestry engineer and cruiser. It was one of at least 8 malls operated by Stowell-MacGregor during the late 30s and early 40s. Cooledge White came from Weld, Maine to be foreman.
The mill started sawing in 1933. Sawing season ran from mid-December to mid-May. It ran 6 days a week and sometime had three shifts. The men worked 9 hours days. It was powered by a diesel tractor motor that turned a shaft off which were belts, some 3 feet wide, to power the saws.
The job of cutting the birch bolts into square bars 52 inches long and up to one and one half inches square was done by strapper saws. The bars were then hauled to a ‘stickin’ field where they were stacked to dry. Most of these fields were near the mill, but one was at the Bohanon Place on the South Princeton Road. From the middle of July to October the bars were hauled, oldest first to spool milks which were at South Lincoln, Dover-Foxcroft, and Dixfield.
Laborers were paid 11 cents an hour the first season. The next year the wage was upped to 14 cents an hour, which was $1.26 for a 9-hour day. Floyd Hunnewell paid 20 cents each day for a ride to/from work and 35 cents for his dinner. That left 71 cents a day to keep his wife and children. Some days he walked and described the swamp between Cousins and Carlows as ‘the coldest place on earth.’ And working around the mill was ‘a cold old job’ with the northerly winds howling down Pocomoonshine Lake.
The dinners were prepared by Edith (Harriman) Crouse and were ‘the nicest dinners you ever see, steak, ham and eggs, cream cakes, and pies.’ Alice Perkins, Lou Perkins, and Edie Frost were some of the women who helped with cooking.
The mill had five yard horses that were kept in the hovel. Two hauled bars to the field, two hauled birch to the mill's slip-chain, and one pulled a scoop to move the sawdust from the end of pipe where it would pile up when the wind was out of the north.
The night crew used gasoline fueled double mantle lanterns, which gave great light but were dangerous when burning and had to be cooled before refilling.
THE COOK HOUSE - This part of the old building was moved by Orris Cousins to his yard where it has had many uses, including as a hen house. 1990 photo
Roads in Alexander were plowed after 1936. Stowell-MacGregor had a car with skis on front and half-tracks on back for traveling over the snow
Town Reports list a value of $6000 for
square bars and $1600 for birch logs in 1939. In 1940, square bars
were $7000 and logs were $1500. The tax assessed against the
Stowell-MacGregor Corp. that year was $1064.88, the largest in town.
The mill closed in 1946.
SOME WORKERS AND WHAT THEY DID
Member Arthur Perkins once observed that just about everyone in the area worked at Stowell-MacGregor at one time or another. Many workers, especially the sawyers, came from away, such as Milltown or Princeton and stayed all winter at the site. Following are some bits and pieces of a few of the local workers:
Percy Strout could saw 7 cords of tree length birch into 52-inch sticks in a day. This took place in the field behind the school at the Four Corners.
Leo ''Mutt'' Kneeland worked the second shift in the ''stickin ground'' with Floyd Hunnewell and Paul Dwelley.
Russell Perkins, Pliney Frost and Floyd Hunnewell in sticking field
Otis Carlow cut and piled birch for $3.00 a cord.
Ralph McArthur was a teamster.
Bob Thistlewood tied edgings.
Fletcher Perkins worked around the mill when he was seventeen.
Jim Crouse ran the slip-chain, which took the 52-inch bolts into the mill. Sometimes the wood was close and so the job was really easy. Sometimes he had to roll the wood.
Orris Cousins drove the Holt Caterpillar tractor and set of sleds from Lincoln in December 1933. It was a nonstop 65-hour trip with no cab. He used the tractor to haul sleds of bars to the Bohanon Place, and to fetch supplies from Woodland.
Hazen Strout worked around the snap-race.
Mel Hunnewell had a crew, cut on the Big Goodhue, and hauled by team out by Charles Carlow’s.
Floyd Hunnewell worked in the stickin field, both days and nights and in the mill at times.
Harold Cousins was the millwright and night boss.
Ronald Cousins, Wayne Dwelley and Orris Cousins were sawyers.
The mill - photo from Lloyd Blaney
Raymond Flood hauled bars to South Lincoln. His son Bernard Flood helped him load.
Ray Luce was the woods scaler and cruiser.
Willis Hall of Machias was the mill yard scaler.
Marshall, Bion, and Don McLellan of South Princeton stuck bars.
Wayne Dwelley worked the night shift and often walked from his home on Pleasant Lake.
Fannie Dwelley, Alice Perkins and Marian Cousins worked as cooks.
Roy Carlow worked at the mill along with Lyman Strout, Buster Holmes, and brothers Harvard and Paul Dwelley.
Harold Pottle hauled spool bars to South Lincoln.
Lawrence and Darrell Frost, Lewis Carlow Elbridge McArthur of Alexander, and Hiram Simmons of South Princeton were some of the many others who worked for Stowell-MacGregor.
A number of local people burned the birch edgings. They ‘gummed up the chimneys something awful, and they'd burn out 3 or 4 times a winter.’
Coolidge White and white birch bolts
Elwood Perkins and Paul Dwelley in the sticking field
A-CHS member sent 1937 newspaper clipping that she found in her mother's (Stella Gower Cousins) scrapbook.
Special dispatch to The Press Herald: Alexander, March 1937
40 000 to 50,000 spool stocks are turned out each week by the little
mill on the shore of Pocomoonshine Lake. The mill, operated by the
Stowell-MacGregor Corporation, employs approximately 20 men under the
supervision of Coolidge White. During the winter months, the only
season the mill runs, it brings a weekly payroll of $400 into this
community of 310. This figure is apart from the woods crew, operating
under contract, which is almost the same size as the factory crew.
Roland Perkins taking off spool bars
sawmill cuts the lengths of white birch into predetermined sizes of
small square lengths of wood, which later are turned at other plants
into spools. Isolated from power lines, the plant is operated by a
102 horse-power Diesel engine which drives two conveyers and four
the late snow this year forced the plant to lie idle for five weeks
when it usually is operating, the same amount of work will be turned
out this year as in other years. The crew may be doubled to
accomplish this, which will be of even greater help to residents of
this community. Lack of snow has given employment to many truck
owner-operators and their helpers, transporting the eight-foot
lengths of birch log over the ice of Mud Lake and Pocomoonshine Lake
to the mill.”
People who supplied information for this article were: Dexter M. Stowell of Bethel, ME, Ralph Howard of Dixfield, ME, Lloyd and Mazie Blaney of Princeton, Orris Cousins, Ruth Dwelley, Foster Carlow and many others who gave important bits of help. Many memories are from a conversation with Floyd Hunnewell at his home on November 6, 1982. The Stowell family history came in part from Genealogical and Family History of the State of Maine, by George T. Little, 1909.
FLETCHER PERKINS MEMORY – 70 years later
One spring after cutting birch was over and the mill was starting up, Coolidge White asked Fletcher if he’d like a job in the mill. There were three saws in the mill that turned the 50-inch round birch into spool bars of various sizes. Each saw had a place beside it where slabs and edgings were collected. Fletcher’s job was to keep these places cleaned out, taking the waste wood outside and tying up into bundles that were piled on a scoot.
Ralph McArthur hauled off the scoots. The bundles were sold to locals for firewood. This wood burned hot and being birch caused a share of chimney fires around the area. Fletcher had an extra job; at noon and for an hour after the saws stopped, he would pickup all the white birch bark around the mill. The boss knew that it was a great fire hazard. Fletcher remembers that with the extra work, his pay was the same as the sawyers’ pay, $20.50 per six-day week.