Nobleboro History Revisited: Electric Power Development and Harry Hagar Sr.

Harry Hagar Sr., right, a longtime CMP employee, shows Dr. George Dow one of the logbooks once kept at the Damariscotta Mills power station. Hagar made the final entry on March 19, 1965 when ownership and management passed to Laurence J. Keddy. (Photo courtesy Nobleboro Historical Society)

In a recent column, we reported on the progress made from 1905 to 1925 in bringing electricity to our homes in Nobleboro. The Lincoln County Power Co.’s local electrical facilities had been sold in December 1923 to Central Maine Power Co. This change in ownership made available the urgently needed capital to replace the Damariscotta Mills generating facilities which had been destroyed when the Leatherboard factory burnt down in 1921.

CMP moved quickly to build a new power plant at Les Mills on the West Stream, continuing to use hydropower. The new station was basically the same as the existing factory.

Bristol Mills station was also in operation for some time. Hydropower was used for additional electrical capacity, depending on demand or availability of water supply. However, by 1977 this secondary station had been abandoned and the water was used as a local swimming pool.

In 1928, CMP increased its water capacity to generate electricity at Damariscotta Mills by raising the height of the dam by four feet. This was an increase of about six feet to ten feet. A note in an old logbook covering the period from 1948 to 1957 stated: “Full Lake at Damariscotta Mills is 9 feet 3 inches; and at Bristol Mills (Pemaquid) is 6 feet, five inches. It is reported that following the raising of the dam, some land around Damariscotta Lake was flooded, with lawsuits for damages by the landowners.

By 1965, Central Maine Power Co. had adopted a policy of offloading its small water-fired power plants to other operators, under a power purchase agreement from the new owners. Therefore, on March 29, 1965, CMP sold the Damariscotta Mills Power Plant to Damariscotta Manufacturing Co., with Lawrence J. Keddy as president and principal owner. Mr. Keddy has also acquired power stations in Greenville, Pittsfield, Salmon Falls near Berwick and South Windham. His headquarters were at the latter station.

Employment at the Damariscotta Mills plant utilized the services of three employees during CMP’s early years of management. Each man worked an eight-hour shift, for round-the-clock supervision. Several old logbooks, kept at the factory, listing detailed daily operations as well as weather, are in the possession of Harry Hagar, Sr. ., of Damariscotta Mills, whose home is in Newcastle. These books cover the periods from May 1928 to July 1932; July 1932 to September 1935; and from June 1948 to January 1957. Hagar began working at the station in 1934, replacing Frank Ames who retired. Hagar hauled stones for the cement plant, drove a team of horses for Emile Hall. The other two workers, overseeing plant operations, were George Weston, Sr. and Frank Coro. They alternated each week on the three schedules. The first shift was from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., the second from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. and the third from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Over the next few years, some shifts were eliminated by placing the plant on a semi-automatic basis. The last entry in the abridged logbooks kept in 1964-65 was made by Hagar during the night shift of March 19, 1965, when CMP ceased management of the station.

Under Keddy’s ownership, the plant was put into full automatic operation, complete with routine checks by Nelson C. Hancock of the Nobleboro Center. Hancock also operated the dam’s upstream gates to regulate the flow of water to the generator, to control the water level in Damariscotta Lake, and to provide optimum conditions in Locke (or Sacred) Creek for the ascent of alewife in spring to spawn in lake above and for descent of young alewife from lake to salt water in late summer and fall.

Of historical interest is an assessment of hydroelectric potential in the Damariscotta Mills area that was made before the construction of the Leatherboard mill in 1906. Harold M. Castner, a nephew of Herman Castner, reported that a group of businessmen in Salem, Mass., offered to buy the water rights and related properties for $100,000 if a study proved that 1,000 horses could be developed daily throughout the year. Measures were also taken in nearby lakes and ponds, but the daily water flow was 300 horsepower short in July and August, and the proposal collapsed. It had been proposed, if the project had been successful, to electrify the Maine Central Railroad from Bath to Rockland. Subsequently, the Salem Group purchased the Damariscotta Mills hydroelectric property for $25,000 and erected the Leatherboard Mill.

The plant, now (1977) owned by the. Damariscotta Manufacturing Co. pays taxes in both cities. The full 1977 valuation for Nobleboro (after adjusting for a 50% valuation) would be $43,400, and for Newcastle in 1976 (adjusted for an 80% valuation) would be $69,500. Additionally, the full power line valuation for Central Maine Power would be $320,000 for Nobleboro and $589,825 for Newcastle. Clearly, our local electrical installations bring our towns far more tax revenue than that provided by the kerosene lamps and lanterns used in the early 1900s.

Central Maine Power, the current source of our electricity, has had an excellent record for providing competent and timely service to its customers. The company also employs a number of local people. CMP’s 38% stake in the modern Maine Yankee nuclear plant in Wiscasset has helped keep electricity costs lower than other central and northern Maine power companies.

(As a historian of the town of Nobleboro, George Dow contributed over 760 articles to “The Lincoln County News”. These articles, adapted by Laurie McBurnie, are reprinted under the auspices of the Nobleboro Historical Society. Comments or requests regarding the repetition of a particular topic can be directed to [email protected])

Sara H. Byrd