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Lincoln, Maine

A Town of Hearty, Resilient Souls

MacGregor's Spool Mill

Responses from four students in Mr. Koscuiszka's class can be viewed below:

Joey Karikala
"Research your topic and summarize the ‘who, what, when, and where’ in the form of a few paragraphs"

John MacGregor, Lincoln, 1898
John MacGregor, Lincoln, 1898
Lincoln Historical Society

In 1875, John MacGregor moved to Lincoln and started his own spool mill. The place used to be just a sawmill, but they added on to the building so that it could also manufacture wooden spools for winding thread and wire. The business really started on February 28, 1876, when the first carload of spools was shipped. The business was doing well until August 21, 1885 when the mill burned down, along with 2,000,000 feet of lumber. Luckily, they found a new location and the business started again on January 1, 1886. They used a lot of white birch wood from the local area and they used different machines that upgraded and changed over time.

John MacGregor was born in the Highlands of Scotland on May 2 ,1846. The first part of his life was mainly school and working in the “whip sawing” business. After he moved to America, he worked at the Clark Thread Company in Newark, New Jersey. In 1874, he bought a sawmill in South Lincoln that was built by James Emerson in 1871, and turned part of it into a spool mill. He bought a lot of his equipment for the mill from Newark in 1875. The mill was about 100 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 2 stories high. In the same building, the original sawmill was still in business.

About 75 people worked at the spool mill and they made about $2,500 monthly. As time went on, the machines and tools were upgraded and the company expanded for about 10 years, then it burned down. Even though it was a setback, they were able to keep the business going. MacGregor’s spool mill used about 128 million pieces of birch wood per year. The building had a safe that held 250-300 different types and sizes of spools that they made. Over the years of business, they bought more mills to cover more areas in Maine. Eventually, the Macgregor Spool Mills were the largest spool mill company in all of New England.

Various items from the MacGregor collection at the Lincoln Historical Society
Various items from the MacGregor collection at the Lincoln Historical Society

Courtney Shaw
“Create a statement and prove or disprove it with evidence from your research”

Statement: The MacGregor spool mill had a big effect on Lincoln

The mill itself was really two mills combined. In 1871, James C. Emerson built a small sawmill on the site of where the spool mill was to be. The sawmill engaged in sawing lumber for various reasons, one being sawing white birch for spool bars. These spool bars were sent to the Clark Thread Company of New Jersey to be threaded. In 1873-1875 a Scottish industrialist made visits to Lincoln on behalf of the Clark Thread Company. This soon gave him the idea to build. In 1875, John MacGregor built a spool mill onto the small sawmill in South Lincoln. This way, the company made more money by sending out production themselves. In 1886, it was officially administered as the John MacGregor Corporation.

So, in truth, the mill was two mills combined. It was only a sawmill until 1875, then it was built into both a sawmill and a spool mill, making a big impact on the economy of Lincoln. It brought in employment and brought in more profit to the community. With the mill came further industrialization to the area. This was certainly an important part in the beginning of Lincoln’s history.

Wyatt McCarthy
"How did the spool mill impact your life? Your future? Our future as a town?"

The spool mill being in South Lincoln impacted my life because it helped develop the town that I go to school in. Maybe if the spool mill didn’t draw in people to work there, there wouldn’t even be a school here or anything else.

This affected the future of the town because the ancestors of some of the people that live here now probably came from other places to work in the spool mill. While our ancestors were here, it helped the town develop. Also, the building could have been available for different businesses after the spool mill closed. This would have been convenient so a business wouldn’t have to build another building. They could have just move in their stuff and get started without having the down time of waiting for a building to be built. Another way it benefited the town is that it gave some people a job after the spool mill moved away. They would have had to clean it out and tear the old building down.

There are tons of ways that having the spool mill in town has benefited the community. Without it, it is possible that there wouldn’t be nearly as many people here and the town wouldn’t be as developed.

Transporting spool bars, Lincoln, 1916
Transporting spool bars, Lincoln, 1916
Lincoln Historical Society

Colleen McMoarn
"Imagine you are a resident of Lincoln during the era of MacGregor's spool mill. Reference your research topic and what you know about this era to write a journal or diary entry pretending to be a person from back then."

Excerpts from the journal of fictional character Betsy Mire

Year of 1875
A wonderful man swept into the town tonight. I was helping Mama at the hotel, serving guests, when the door blew open. A huge man filled the doorway and his voice was a bellow, but yet a kind one. He filled the lobby with tales of his life in Scotland. His accent was, at first, hard to understand but you still were swept away in his stories. After his dinner he stood up and made a life-saving announcement! He was to build a spool mill on the same site as the little sawmill, already a major employer. With the help of the spool mill, no man should be without a job. The men that filled the room; the homeless, the jobless, the unfortunate, crowded around the stranger, filled with hope and curiosity. Later, when we had reached home and Papa had been told of the amazing tale, we had a small celebration and “Thanked God,” for we had been put to hard times recently. John MacGregor was a name that was constantly remembered.

Aug. 21, 1885
The mill is burning!! It supposedly started up just after lunchtime, but was only just discovered! No one knows how the blaze started, but now the livelihood of many men of this town is going up into flames, and everyone who can throw a bucket is crowding around the burning timber. Water and more help is coming, but I do not think it will be enough. I must leave and hurry, for I, too, am to help stifle the blaze.

The mill is dead, burned to the ground, at least mostly. Thankfully we got there soon enough to save the woods and some of the lumber, but still... the mill is burned. John MacGregor gave us an uplifting speech, that the mill will be rebuilt and in the meantime we should all help each other along. We are all hoping, with all our hearts, that Mr. MacGregor agrees to rebuild the mill.

Spool Mill, South Lincoln, ca. 1880
Spool Mill, South Lincoln, ca. 1880
Lincoln Historical Society

Jan. 1, 1886
Joy of all joys, the mill is rebuilt! And on the day of the New Year, how perfect! This morning, the streets were filled with men on their way to the mill, on their first day of work since that awful fire. It was almost like a parade, with people laughing and smiling, thankful for the steady job to begin. Many of us followed the workers to the mill and there was John MacGregor, smiling at the door, holding an envelope for each man. Inside was money, a generous contribution from wonderful John MacGregor. I told my mother I would someday marry Mr. MacGregor and she laughed for quite some time. “Good gracious, child! He’s an old man compared to you!” she chuckled. I told her that I would then marry someone like him, someone kind, considerate, and friendly.

This February we are going to have a celebration in honor of John MacGregor for the company is now to be called the John MacGregor Company.

March 21, 1909
Today is a sad day. John MacGregor has died. Even though I am older and less of a silly girl, I still have kept this journal, much to the hilarity of my older sister. Mr. MacGregor’s funeral will be a week from today and I will be going with my mother. My father is too weak to leave his bed, but he told me to send his regards to John MacGregor, his friends and family. The sky is dark and clouded, in perfect imitation of our moods, as our employer and dear friend is dead.

There is much speculation about what will happen to the spool mill. Some think that the next highest in command will take over; others think that Mr. Clark will buy back the mill. Overall, that we worry that the mill will be closed forever.

Oct. 18, 1918
At the insisting of my aging mother, my new husband, and my “wise” sister this will be my last entry, but I found the need to report the relief that is in everybody’s heart. Clark Campbell has bought the mill back! He has promised everyone that their jobs will continue and that the mill will prosper as it always has. Many a head is bowed to God in thanks for the job that will continue to put food on their tables. Clark has also promised that, in tribute to John MacGregor, the company shall remain the John MacGregor Company. Forever we will remember that amazing man who boosted our spirits in time of doubt, stayed by us in thick and thin, and imprinted a memory upon this town.

Works Cited

Fellows, Dana W. "Industrial: The John MacGregor Corporation." History of the Town of Lincoln Penobscot County MAINE; 1822-1928. Lewiston, Maine: Dingley, Incorporation.

Kimball, Marion Reed. “Chronicle Man Enroute.” The Mattanawcook Observer Vol. 1. No. 5. April 1983, pp. 190.

Lincoln Historical Society. “A Brief History of Our Town.” Welcome to Lincoln. Lincoln Historical Society. Web. 2010. < /History/town_history.htm>.

“MacGregor’s Spool Mills.” Lincoln Historical Society, White Binder ed. Vol. Various Articles. Lincoln: Lincoln Historical Society, 2006. 69-70. Print. Lincoln History.

Town of Lincoln .”A Brief History of the Town.” Lincoln, Maine. (25 March 2010).

W. G. E. "Up-River Weekly News: South Lincoln." Ed. Alan H. Hawkins. The Mattanawcook Observer, Volume 2 Number 1 Oct. 1983: 20. Print.