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Western Maine Foothills Region

Rumford

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A Brief History of Rumford, Maine

Text by Jane Welch Peterson, Nghia Ha, and Dave Gawtry
Images provided by Rumford Area Historical Society

Jonathan Keyes Log Cabin, Rumford Corner
Jonathan Keyes Log Cabin, Rumford Corner

Item Contributed by
Greater Rumford Area Historical Society

The Town of Rumford owes its settlement, financial growth, and social development to its location on the Androscoggin River, and its tributaries of the Ellis River on the west, the Swift River on the east, and the Concord River on the south. These rivers provided the opportunities for small mills to produce lumber and shingles, shovel handles, grains from the grist mills, cheese and starch making facilities, and wool carding products.

Rumford (first known as New Pennacook Township) was visited by the Anasagunticook Indians for the purposes of fishing salmon at the “Great Falls.” There is little evidence that there was any permanent settlement in this area, but rather up river at Bethel and down river at Canton. Two of the last remaining tribal members were Molly Ockett, who died and is buried in Andover, and Metalluc, who subsequently resided and died in Stewartstown, New Hampshire.

Grist and saw mills on the Upper Falls, Rumford, ca. 1895
Grist and saw mills on the Upper Falls, Rumford, ca. 1895

Item Contributed by
Greater Rumford Area Historical Society

The township of New Pennacook was created as the result of a Massachusetts grant in 1779 to Timothy Walker, Jr., and his associates, to settle a land controversy in Concord, New Hampshire. The first settlers to the region were Jonathan Keyes and his sons, Ebenezer and Francis, who came from Massachusetts in June, 1782. Other settlers soon followed, with surnames including Stevens, Virgin, Abbott, Kimball, Rolfe, Farnum, and Lufkin. Many of their descendants remain in the River Valley at this time.

The Town of Rumford was incorporated by act of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1800, at which time the name of New Pennacook was changed to “Rumford,” although the residents of the township had requested the name of "China." No reason was given for the substitution of the name Rumford. Some felt it had some relationship with Count Rumford, but this has no substantiation in fact; rather, it may be related to the town of Rumford in England, from which some settlers’ ancestors had come.

Robert Nisbet, Rumford, ca. 1905
Robert Nisbet, Rumford, ca. 1905

Item Contributed by
Greater Rumford Area Historical Society

Until 1882, when Hugh J. Chisholm, a paper-producing entrepreneur of the time, first came to Rumford’s Falls on a cold winter day, the region was largely an agrarian society. The farming region existed above the Falls, especially in the East Rumford area. For 10 years after Chisholm’s first visit to the area the region remained a farming community. During those years he engaged the most well-to-do farmer of the area, Waldo Pettengill of Rumford Center, as his business agent to procure the riparian rights along the Androscoggin River above and below the Rumford Falls.

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

Item Contributed by
Greater Rumford Area Historical Society

The forward thinking Hugh J. Chisholm was responsible for investing in several businesses to develop the Town of Rumford. These included the building of the Rumford Falls Light and Water Company, which subdivided into the subsequent Rumford/Mexico Water District (with its Mt. Zircon Reservoir); the International Paper Company; the Rumford Falls Sulphite Company; the Continental Paper Bag Company; and finally, the Oxford Paper Company.

Workers from Europe, especially Poland, Lithuania, Italy, Scotland, Ireland, England, came to build the dams, canals, brick structures, and other buildings on the Island, and manage the mills. Their arrival increased the need for low-cost, reliable housing, which Mr. Chisholm addressed in his plans for a model town, expressed in a letter to Charles A. Mixer, resident engineer with the Rumford Falls Power Company. The culmination of Chisholm’s awareness of housing needs was the construction of Strathglass Park, a series of brick, duplex homes for the workers.

The Chisholm influences spanned the years from 1882 under Hugh J. Chisholm; his son Hugh J. Chisholm II, and grandson, William H Chisholm until the sale of the Oxford Paper Company to the Ethyl Corporation in 1966. The Oxford Story published in 1958 by the Oxford Paper Company is a detailed story of the Chisholm family and the growth of the company.

Pride in the community grew with its prosperity and diversity. Many residents felt strongly about their town, as Ethel West, a resident of South Rumford whose home was on the bank of the Mt. Zircon Stream, expressed in her poem “A Town in Maine”.