Take me to the river

An uncommon view of the mighty Saco River

When I was a boy I saw things much differently.  I perceived the world as it involved me, a selfish perspective that clouded reality.

I remember my days as a paper boy, delivering the Portland Press Herald along a route that stretched from my Franklin Street home in Saco, down through Maple Street and onto Pine Street in Biddeford, where I would deliver newspapers to businesses on Gooch Island and along Elm Street.

Those were the days long before the Maine Energy Recovery Company (MERC) started burning trash to generate electricity on the banks of the Saco River. Those were the days when Biddeford Textile and the Saco Tannery buildings were still bustling with hundreds of mill workers. Those were the days long  before MERC’s 244-foot concrete ventilation stack dominated the downtown landscape of the two cities.

Those were the days when we were proud to call it “Factory Island,” not “Saco Island.”

On Saturday mornings, I would linger on the bridge at the bottom of York Hill before heading to my great-grandmother’s home for my weekly indulgence of donuts, pizza and Saturday morning cartoons.

Those were the days.

I recall those autumn mornings that were no different than it was this morning, when the air was crisp and you needed a jacket to stave off the early morning damp. I would pause on that bridge, gazing over the river at the sprawling complex of brick mill buildings before me. Clouds of vapor would rise off the churning waters as the rising sun brought with it the promise of a new day.

Hopefully, the MERC waste to energy incinerator will soon be a thing of our past

As I sat there, lost in my childish musings, I imagined that one day I would be the richest man in the world. Then, I would own that entire complex of mill buildings on both sides of the river and renovate them to become one giant home that required hundreds of servants and housekeepers. I would keep my vast collection of gold bouillon high above where any thief could reach, perched atop one of the many smokestacks.

Finally, that cute blonde girl who sat next to me in history class would see the error of her ways. She would naturally fall in love with me, and marry me when we were old enough. Maybe when I was old enough to drive.

I never imagined anything different. This was my world. This is what I wanted, and there was no reason to think that it would not happen. No reason to think that those buildings would not become my own private complex. I was meant to be king of the world.

Today, I see things differently. That cute blonde girl missed the boat. I will remind her of that next weekend, during my 30th high school reunion. She will, no doubt, be overcome with grief. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

So it was this Saturday morning when I found myself once again at the bottom of York Hill, on the invisible line that separates two cities. Apparently, the sun kept rising, and it kept delivering the promise of a new day.

But this morning I was driving a Ford F-150, not a three-speed Huffy. I was not delivering newspapers, but I did get caught up in some splendid imagination during a site tour of the proposed River Walk that will one day lead pedestrians through a path along the river. It will be a path full of stunning visuals, replete with history and art.

We were a small group being led by Alix Hopkins. Her energy and enthusiasm for this project is contagious. Alix has worked in collaborative land conservation, communications and related fields for more than 30 years.  You can learn more about her on her web site.

They say that most New Yorkers have never been to the Statue of Liberty or to the top of the Empire State Building.

But I imagine the same is true for those of us who have lived in the Biddeford-Saco region for all our lives. The views along the River Walk are simply amazing, and it offers a powerful reminder of our community’s past, not to mention a unique perspective of  the river that keeps flowing regardless of how much it is ignored or taken for granted.

Those of us who live here often boast of our gorgeous beaches, our stunning coastline and the brilliant architecture that peppers our downtown. This section of the Saco River may be partially hidden, but its brute force is truly a sight to behold.

I can only imagine how the first settlers of Pepperellboro viewed the mighty Saco River, but thanks to Alix and dozens of volunteers and city leaders, we won’t have to settle for imagination much longer.

To learn more, go here 


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