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Western Maine Foothills Region

Hugh J. Chisholm, Sr.

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Hugh J. Chisholm, Sr.: His Ideas; His Actions; His Philanthropies
By Jane Welch Peterson & David Gawtry

Hugh J. Chisholm, Rumford, ca. 1920
Hugh J. Chisholm, Rumford, ca. 1920

Item Contributed by
Greater Rumford Area Historical Society

Hugh J. Chisholm was born in in Chippewa, Ontario to Scottish immigrant Alexander Chisholm and former Mary Margaret Phelan of Chippewa, Ontario. He was the fifth of ten children, and when his father died on May 24, 1859, Hugh was forced to help provide for the family. He ultimately sold newspapers on the Grand Trunk Railroad System. He formed a partnership with his brother, in 1861, to publish papers for this system. During this time, he became friends with another newsboy about his age, Thomas A. Edison, the inventor; this friendship lasted throughout their lives.

Chisholm bought out his brother’s interest in the business in 1872; relocated from New York to Portland, ME., and married Henrietta Mason of Portland. After traveling frequently throughout Maine’s wilderness, and established the Somerset Fiber Company in Fairfield, ME. When it burned down, he established the Umbagog Pulp Company and became President and principal stockholder of that company in Livermore Falls, ME. (McKenna)

It was not until 1882 that he visited Rumford in a sleigh, on a cold winter’s day. He saw the potential of a commercial venture when he viewed the power and grandeur of the Rumford Falls. He realized that unless he could own and control the riparian rights above and around the Falls, his plans for dams, canal, mills, a power company, and a water district could not be finalized. He sought the assistance of a well-known, profitable, and well-liked local farmer outside of Rumford Center, Waldo Pettengill, to act as his agent to procure 1400 acres of land. It would take 8 years to complete all the transactions, and allow Chisholm to pursue his construction and manufacturing plans for creating a paper mill.

Hugh J. Chisholm Jr., ca. 1912
Hugh J. Chisholm Jr., ca. 1912

Item Contributed by
Greater Rumford Area Historical Society

Chisholm’s taming of the Androscoggin River, through construction of a dam at the head of the Falls; digging a canal to channel waters and pulpwood to the mills’ interior; and a lower dam to form a large holding basin at the base of the Falls, was the beginning of his influence in the Town’s development.

Chisholm created the following companies in the Rumford region: Rumford Falls Paper Company Rumford Falls Sulfite Company, Rumford Falls Publishing Company, Rumford Falls Boom Company, Rumford Falls Light and Water Company, Rumford Falls Woolen Company, Rumford Falls Realty Company, and, finally, Oxford Paper Company (which was to become a family business, run by his son, Hugh J. Chisholm, Jr. and grandson, William H. Chisholm until it merged with Ethyl Corporation on August 1, 1967).