Falmouth's historic gristmills recalled at Presumpscot Falls Park

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FALMOUTH — To be a self-sufficient settlement in the early days of American colonization, a community needed a gristmill to turn corn into flour or meal for baking.

Now the history of one of the town’s earliest gristmills is being celebrated with a new interpretive sign at Presumpscot Falls Park, on the banks of the river on Allen Avenue Extension.

The information included on the sign was researched by Howard Reiche, a former town councilor, with the help of his son, Ford.

Theo Holtwijk, Falmouth’s director of long-range planning and economic development, said Ford Reiche paid for the sign and worked closely with town staff on what should be included.

The sign was then designed by Montgomery Design in Portland and produced by Fossil Industries in Deer Park, New York.

Along with installing the new sign and a set of historic millstones, Holtwijk said the town provided a general cleanup of the park, which also serves as a trailhead for a system of trails along the river that are overseen by Portland Trails.

The first gristmill at the Lower Falls on the Presumpscot River was built by John Phillips in 1657, when there were only 20 settler families living in the area, according to the research conducted by the Reiche father-and-son team.

Another gristmill was then built at the falls in 1735 by Samuel Waldo and Thomas Westbrook, the interpretive sign says.

The millstones, also on display at the park, were unearthed in the 1890s when construction began on a hydroelectric dam built by the S.D. Warren paper company.

When the dam was removed in 2002, Howard Reiche, who worked as the mill manager for S.D. Warren, salvaged the millstones with the hope of someday showing them off.

Holtwijk said the goal of the new interpretive sign is “to convey to the public some of Falmouth’s mill history along the Presumpscot River. To let them, for a moment, step back in time.”

“The installation of the sign at this time is especially appropriate,” he added as Falmouth gets set to celebrate its 300th anniversary next year.

Holtwijk said it was Howard Reiche’s wish that the millstones be placed at Presumpscot Falls Park, “so people could appreciate two original artifacts from the mill era in close proximity to their operational locations.”

Holtwijk said both Reiche father and son are “avid history enthusiasts” with a particular interest in the bygone days along the lower Presumpscot.

In late July the town held a special ceremony at the park to officially unveil the sign and millstones. The event was also designed to give “recognition to the Reiches for their generous donation,” Holtwijk said.

He said the town also has plans to record and produce a short video that tells the story of the area’s history.

Holtwijk said donations for similar legacy projects would be welcome and anyone with ideas for interpretive signs at other sites around town should contact him at 699-5340.

“We would love to add similar signs to celebrate Falmouth’s history and special assets,” he said, “especially with its 300th anniversary coming up.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

This sign at Presumpscot Falls Park in Falmouth tells the story of the early gristmills that supported Colonial settlers.

Two millstones, on display at Presumpscot Falls Park in Falmouth, were unearthed from the riverbed in the 1890s.

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