Once Upon a Berlin Time: Up The River

By Poof Tardiff

Hello fellow Berlinites. As I write my stories about Berlin’s past, I try hard to imagine what it looked like and what took place in this busy industrial city and beyond over 100 years ago. I also try to imagine what it took to keep this city operating and all the work that was done upstream back then to deliver the products via the Androscoggin River.

While dabbling in 1903, I found a great article written by a man named Sumner F. Claflin, called “Up the River.” I would like to share some of this article with my readers who have traveled north of Berlin and seen the remnants of the old logging that was done in the Androscoggin Valley.

Back in the very early 1900s, few of the citizens of Berlin had ever been beyond the line of blue hills that skirted the valley of the endless Androscoggin River to the north. The little French, Norwegian, Irish and other Americans that saw great teams with four, six and even eight horses rattling out of Berlin Mills northward in early winter, loaded with big, raw bone, young, giants of the axe or tons of supplies for the winter camp, of course, had a fantastic idea of what a woodsman’s life must have been like.

The thing that interested these people most, was the coming of the river men in the spring, when the Androscoggin River was swollen by the slow melting snows of the forest and the roar thereof in the wild gorges of its channel through the midst of the “Paper City” sounding in their ears night and day. When these men came, the citizens flocked to the rocky shores and watched with fascination that dangerous job of putting the millions of feet of lumber through the falls in Berlin.

Scarcely a spring would pass that the Berlin Falls did not claim a victim. The work was fascinating to these brave spirits because it was perilous and the young Americans mentioned, dreamed of nothing grander than the wild, real life of the woods and the river. Of course, many of them revised their ideas later in life and settled down to the humdrum life of a barber’s assistant, a clerk or a tender in one of the great paper mills or sawmills here whose wheels were turned by the river.

This writer went up the river about 40 miles above Berlin back in June of 1903, and was in Lincoln and the Magalloway Plantations where some of the loggers spent their winters. He said this was as far as permanent population extended back then and there was one stretch of six miles along with another stretch of 13 miles on the road without any inhabitants at all except the loggers in winter.

Beyond Wilson Mills, the guide boards, which were placed one mile apart, stated that it was 55 more miles to the “Chain of Ponds,” which was the headwaters for the Androscoggin River watershed. This was an area where much logging took place and all of the logs were sent down through the series of lakes and eventually to the Androscoggin River onward to Berlin and beyond.

There was nothing but forest on the far side, but one knew that Parmacheenee, Richardson and the Rangeley Lakes were in that beyond. The Aziscohos Falls before the dam and the “Camp in the Meadows” conjured up dreams of frontier spirit. When the bold fishermen, who came in large numbers, were questioned about Middle Dam or Upper Dam and Umbagog, and how long they had been coming here, they didn’t know as they had come just yesterday.

They came from far and near, but if they met in these wilds, loggers in the winter or fishermen in the summer they became neighbors at once. They told stories and cracked jokes around a blazing campfire or, more likely, the smoking smudge (many flies). If they told a story, the “motto” was to tell a good one and if they couldn’t, they were tenderfoots.

Mr. Claflin penetrated the valleys that had many brooks and streams along with innumerable ponds and lake-lets where the coy trout, the swift pickerel, horned pout and eels, all of which were good eating, were also plentiful.

It was with a feeling of genuine pleasure that Mr. Claflin had met up with Mr. Howard Dyer, who had two strong horses and a wagon fitted to carry a boat, near Mollidgewok Falls in the Thirteen Mile Woods. Dyer was headed southbound and so was Claflin. He liked company and so did Claflin. It was especially good because Dyer advises that Claflin only had “shanks mare” (his own legs).

Mentioned in the article was the Dummer Ferry, which use to operate just below Thirteen Mile Woods and Bay View Hill going from East Dummer to Dummer. Also mentioned, was Sessions Pond, near Seven Islands, and the great fishing in this area. Another great spot back then was a place called Governor Jordan’s Pond, known today as Millsfield Pond. The one-time New Hampshire Governor loved fishing this pretty spot and I would venture a bet that the fishing in this pond was pretty good back then.

Claflin also spoke of a brook, so smooth that only in two places was it necessary to put a boat over the rapids. He also said it was at least seven miles long. There was said to be no better fishing along the river than at the mouth of this brook. I can think of only two brooks on the east side of the Androscoggin in the Thirteen Mile Woods that would provide enough room to travel by boat. That was either Mollidgewok Brook or Bog Brook.

Stories about catching 10 to 15 pound baskets of speckled beauties and three baskets in three hours were mentioned. Mr. Dyer said that he caught nine pounds in a few minutes at one time. I don’t think there were any limits or even wardens back then.

The writer also talked about the great fishing to be had at the Diamond streams and ponds that were up the Magalloway. A clear stream that came down from the mighty natural gateway in the mountains known as Dixville Notch also yielded many a string of trout. These streams were also used in the springtime to send the thousands of cords of wood to the Androscoggin River and onward to Berlin’s mills.

Back then, it was almost certain that if Berlin wanted to retain its share of the local trade that was coming from Colebrook through Errol and on to Maine, they would have to hurry up and run the much-talked-about railroad into this section. Such a railroad would follow the Androscoggin River practically all of the way from this city and there would be no heavy grades to overcome. One great handicap in getting into the upper settlements was a tremendous elevation known as Errol Hill.

As we all know, the railroad never left Berlin and headed up the east side of the Androscoggin River. The Blanchard Twitchell logging railroad went into Success and to Grafton, Maine, but that was it except for other logging railroads. What a great country this must have been to see in those years and how interesting it must have been to watch those great river men risking their lives working on the logs. And how about the great hunting and fishing to be had “Up the River” in these early days.

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10 10 17 Poof Logging camp dinnerLogging camp dinner


10 10 17 Poof Millsfield PondMillsfield Pond

10 10 17 Poof Governor JordonGovernor Jordon


10 10 17 Poof Logpiles at sawmill 1913 1Log piles at sawmill 1913