Bates Mill

35 Canal St # A3 Lewiston

Franco-American Collection
Written By Franco-American Collection

Bates Mill : Canal St.

What you’re looking at now was a powerhouse of industry in Lewiston and a major draw for French-Canadian immigrants to this area. The Bates Mill was built in 1850, just downstream from the Lewiston Falls, which powered the mill. It was part of Benjamin Bates’ grand scheme for Lewiston. Bates was a well-to-do Massachusetts businessman who had made a fortune in wholesale and retail. He brought his fortune to Lewiston and created the Bates Manufacturing Company, causing the town to grow rapidly. Much of the money Benjamin Bates generated from the Bates Mill went into funding Bates College.

Bates Mill and other mills acquired by the company set the standard for how other textiles mills were run and operated. They produced bedspreads, which they became famous for, as well as clothing, blankets, seamless bags, “duck” used for Civil War tents, household goods, curtains, napkins, diapers and more.

French-Canadians from Quebec immigrated to Lewiston to work in this and other cotton and textile mills. When these mills first started in the 1830’s they relied on the labor force of local girls. When these women found better opportunities elsewhere in the 1850’s, they were replaced with Irish immigrants. When the Irish left the mill for better opportunities, the French-Canadians took their place. In New England textile mills such as Bates, skilled workers, such as mule spinners, were paid more than less skilled workers. Typically, these better paying positions were reserved for men, though some skilled female workers could earn similar rates of pay. Children were often employed as “doffers” or “spoolers”, replacing empty bobbins for spinners, or spooling thread onto bobbins. Before the 1870s, work days were typically 11 or 12 hours long. Because of this exhausting workday, throughout the 1840s mill workers fought to instate the 10-hour day, claiming, with proof, that prisoners on work details worked fewer hours than they did. However, the 10-hour day was not adopted nationally until 1874. The 8 hour work day and 40 hour week so familiar to us today weren’t common until the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

Despite the hard work and long hours, mill work was a worthy job, and thanks to word of mouth from friends and family, by 1873 French-Canadians were pouring into in Maine, and Lewiston-Auburn in particular. By the 1890s over 30% of Maine’s employed Canadian-born men, and 83% of employed Canadian-born women worked in textile mills. Once they came, they rarely left. Instead, they invested themselves in the local community.

As times changed so did the mill. They shifted from using wool to cotton to rayon over the decades. During WWII they produced nylon parachute cloth, camouflage, rayon uniform linings, jackets, sleeping bags, Navy summer uniform cloth, and more for the war effort. By the 1950’s Bates mill was an international name and the largest producer of woven bedspreads in the world.

The mill closed in 2001, but the finely crafted bedspreads it was best known for are still available thanks to the Maine Heritage Weavers, a group started in 2002 by former Bates president Fred Lebel, his daughter Linda Cloutier and other former Bates employees, many of whom were descendants of the first French-Canadians who immigrated here. They have an online store and a brick and mortar shop in Monmouth, ME. The original Bates mill buildings are now home to various commercial businesses and residential spaces.

Visit the Bates Mill Store!
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Franco-American Lewiston, ME: About Town

Bates Mill

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