In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Guilford, Maine

Where history meets the future

Early Manufacturing

By: Tom Goulette

From the earliest days when the first trees were felled, crude cabins erected and gardens started, Guilford residents have been noted for their industrious nature. This characteristic continues today, nearly 200 years later, as little Guilford is home to more jobs than any other town in Piscataquis County.

As the new village began to grow and more settlers arrived, simple subsistence living including home-grown produce and home-raised livestock, along with homemade building materials, no longer sufficed. Out of necessity, Industry in Guilford was born.

Hardwood Products Company

Following a variety of small, one man saw mills, one of the first manufacturers utilizing forest products on a large scale was Guilford Lumber Company, makers of box shooks (the sides of wooden boxes, popular in the days before corrugated boxes), doors, and dimension lumber. Barker Lumber and Box Co. was another such enterprise.

Guilford Lumber Company became Guilford Manufacturing Co., and in 1920 was purchased by Lloyd Cartwright, doing business as the Minto Toothpick and Specialty Company, a Saginaw Michigan concern that processed and sold mint flavored toothpicks, in order to be nearer a large source of white birch when their only supplier in Michigan discontinued operations.

Lumbering required transportation of the saw logs to the mill and the river was one of the main highways, the railroad being the other. River drives continued into the 1950’s and were not without perils.

It was dangerous work and during one flood, the boom chain that held logs broke, and the logs washed over the dam during high water, smashing nearly every window in the first two stories of both of the textile mills located on either side of the river.

They changed the name to Hardwood Products Co., and in 1950 moved their entire operation to Guilford where they soon expanded their product line to include tongue depressors, candy and ice cream sticks, meat skewers, wrapped ice cream spoons and many other items. Toothpicks were dropped from the line in 1956 as focus shifted to medical supply items.

In 1958, a devastating fire wiped out the entire production and warehousing facility, but the dedicated owners and their loyal employees immediately began building a new modern facility that was again operating by 1960. Most of the specialized machinery was built by company personnel on site as it was not available on the open market.

In 1978, a new office building was constructed, and in 1985 a subsidiary was initiated, Wood Chips, Inc., to utilize waste products and supply wood chips for energy for the plant as well as other factories. Also in that year a new 53,000 square foot modern facility for sterilization of cotton tipped applicators was erected, centralizing all the medical production. Foam tipped applicators under the trade name of PurSwab were added in 1990. A new machine shop was added in 1993, a larger warehouse in 1995, and the company continues to expand as a well established presence in the medical supply field. In 2002, they were named Maine Exporter of the Year.

Hardwood Products Company

Guilford of Maine

In 1824, the first dam across the Piscataquis River in Guilford was erected, and another sawmill built alongside it on the north side of the river by Robert Herring Jr. and S&J Morgan. It later changed hands a few times, Hobart & Harris Company were among its owners, until 1881 when it was sold to Piscataquis Woolen Company, owned by M.L. Hussey, H. Douglass, J. Pollock, D.R. Straw, Z.L. Turner, and F.B. Stevens. Years later, The Draper Corporation, utilizing part of the premises, installed sawmill equipment and manufactured bobbins for use in the textile industry on the spinning frames. This was the second textile mill in town.

The first was built on the south side of the river at Oak Street in 1865 to take advantage of the water power at that site. A long shaft running up the bank to the mill was connected to a waterwheel which supplied most of the power necessary. Known as Guilford Woolen Company, it was leased to William Appleyard in 1868 who later purchased it (1876) and leased it to the Piscataquis Woolen Co. mentioned above. In 1884, this mill was lost to fire, and in 1901, the facility on the north side which had recently been expanded, was severely damaged by a flood.

In 1904, the M.L. Hussey Woolen Co. constructed a new facility on the Appleyard site, south side of the river, with partners C.D. Shaw, F.B. Pease, and A.C. Houston. It was one of the best equipped mills in all of New England, producing cashmere and dress goods. This plant was enlarged and a floor added in 1907. The following year, the log jam and flood mentioned above occurred, sending two and a half million feet of logs through the windows and inundating the boilers in both mills.

In 1917, Herbert Gray of Old Town Woolen Company purchased the south side mill and continued to make improvements, becoming well known for their Moosehead Blanket line. In the flood April of 1923, water overflowed the concrete abutments, rushed around the side through the coal pits and burst through the windows, carrying tons of coal and gravel, packing the boiler room and dye house to a depth of three feet, and destroying dye tubs and other machinery with gravel and lighter stones.

In 1934, organizers attempted to establish a union at the mill. Tensions ran high on both sides of the issue and finally, the National Guard was called in to maintain peace until the matter could be quieted. Soon thereafter the mill went into receivership with Eastern Trust Company. In 1936, Willard Cummings assumed leadership at the trustees request and accomplished what many said could not be done. He added product lines, an outlet store, and new fibers, turning the company around and became a solvent manufacturing concern once again. In 1943, Mr. Cummings purchased controlling interest in Piscataquis Woolen on the north side, and Guilford Woolen Mills Company was created, combining the ownership into one firm. The Draper Mill relocated and built a facility on Water Street. Innovations included 94 modern automatic looms replacing 40 hand looms. In 1947 a sales agency was developed with an office in the Empire State Building in New York City to further market the ever increasing fabric offerings. In 1948, a ramp was built across the river to connect the two Guilford mill properties, and two other enterprises, Sangerville Woolen Co., and Carleton Mill were acquired.

In 1950, Willard Cummings died and his son, H. King Cummings was elected president of the company. Many more improvements were made, seemingly annually to update machinery and enlarge the capacity over the following years. In 1954, the Willard Division in Eastport was purchased, and in 1958, the D.E. Cummings holdings in Newport was added for further diversity, and the entire collaboration was incorporated as Guilford Woolen Mills, Inc. to effectively unify marketing, research and sales.

In 1962, the process of bonding foam backing was developed opening new frontiers in the manufacturing process, they established a Five Year Leadership Plan, the name was changed to Guilford Industries, Inc., and they purchased a California firm to establish their presence in the carpeting business, They also acquired Johnson Woolen of Connecticut adding raw wool scouring and grading of fleece. By the mid-70’s, the apparel market had become unpredictable and they began developing drapery and upholstery fabrics as well. Office panel systems, constructed of cloth over metal frames were becoming popular at this time, and the newly developed flame retardant process developed at Guilford made them an instant industry leader. In 1979, Len Saulter came in as president and pushed for concentration in total office systems, making fabric for everything from panel cloth and drapery to ceiling treatments and vertical blinds.

In 1982, the company was sold to Thomas H. Lee Company who streamlined financial operations, acquired Hayward-Schuster Woolen Mills in East Douglas, Massachusetts, opened more outlet stores, upgraded equipment and then sold the whole business to Interface Flooring in 1986. The following year on April Fool’s Day, the most devastating flood in the town’s history occurred. The dye house was awash with debris and oil as two 10,000 gallon fuel tanks were breached and their contents spilled into the river and throughout the mill; machinery was ruined and buildings were severely damaged. Faithful employees and many other community members worked long and hard to clean up and regroup. In 1988, the name again changed, this time to Guilford of Maine, Inc. In 1989, new corporate offices were built on Oak Street and a new mill store and training office was opened on Elm Street. In 1996, the Leonard Saulter Facility was constructed on Water Street, the most modern yarn manufacturing facility of its time. The company acquired Intel and Toltec Fabrics and Interface Interior Fabrics, Inc. was formed. By 2000, they also added Interface Fabrics, Ltd of the United Kingdom, purchased Chatham, Inc., and Teknit, and again changed their name to Interface Fabrics Group. Following the events of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, and our country going to war in 2003, the global economy slowed considerably and the effects were felt at Interface. The company was sold in 2008 to Sun Capital Partners, an investment group, and reorganized as True Textiles, Inc.

Pride Manufacturing Company

A third major industry of which the town proudly boasted had a fifty year history here before moving on. Pride Manufacturing Co., situated on the banks of the Piscataquis River about a mile and a half downstream from the village, is the largest manufacturer of golf tees in the world. Pride Sales Agency was established in 1930 in Tampa, Florida by Fletcher Pride to manufacture wooden cigar tips for the Hav-a-Tampa Jewel Cigar.

He needed to move part of the business here to be closer to the source of the raw materials required, primarily white birch trees, and in 1956, purchased the Draper Mill, a modern sawmill designed to manufacture bobbins for use in the textile industry as noted in the textile business history above. Product lines were soon expanded to include toys, furniture parts, hobby and craft items, dowels of all sorts, and primarily, golf tees. In 1970 they purchased their largest competitor, Bullard Lumber Co., of Vermont and had increased their plant size sixfold and their employment tenfold. Their largest market was in the United States but they began to export throughout Europe, Canada, Japan and Australia.

The great flood of 1987 dealt a devastating blow to the operation, ruining tons of inventory other than finished goods, and damaging machinery and building alike as the water rose to levels of eight feet within the plant. Not defeated, however, they missed only three shipping days and quickly rallied, working non-stop for several weeks until full operations were resumed. In 1992 they purchased a vacant furniture plant in Burnham, Maine and built a new facility in Florence, Wisconsin. While at the top of their field, they sold to Bessemer Group, who operated the Guilford site a few more years and then consolidated their Maine functions as Pride Sports, Inc., to the Burnham plant. The vacated facility was sold in 2005 to the principals at Maine Wood Turnings who manufactured novelty items, wooden beads, furniture parts, and so on, but who also left town for good in 2009. Today the facility sits empty, a staunch reminder of the present economy.

Guilford, Maine, Celebrating 175 Years of Growth, 175th Anniversary Committee, 1991
Guilford 2000, Carl McKusick and Thomas Blake, 2000, Guilford of Maine's website; True Textiles, Inc, 2010
Hardwood Products Company: Celebrating 75 Years of Service, Company History Boolet, 1994
Town of Guilford meeting minutes and recordings, Volume 12, pp 115-122
personal interviews with Tom Blake and Linwood Flanders
Guilford Town Reports; 1966 to present