The River and the Italians

Since water power was crucial for the operation of the mill, temporary dams were built to supply power until permanent dams could be constructed, providing ponds for log storage, a constant flow to the penstocks for grinding wood and producing electricity.

Soon a legal and legislative battle ensued over control of the Penobscot River, which had until then been under the auspices of the Penobscot Log Driving Company. As the river was important to Great Northern, not only for the transport of logs but for the generation of power, Gilbert felt that GNP needed to control the river, a fight that he was to win, albeit after a couple of troubling years that included several lawsuits against GNP, even from its founder, Charles Mullen, who was by then no longer with the company.

The first mill superintendent was John Decker, who came to Millinocket from Rumford Falls. He was succeeded by George Witham and, in turn, Ingleton Schenck and Joseph Nevins. Frank Bowler was recruited as a draftsman for the Great Northern; and in 1911, he became the company’s Chief Engineer.

Italian workers were imported to do much of the construction work, using a padrone system, in which contractors supplied the laborers from Europe for a price from which they turned a profit. At first, Marco Lavonia was the top padrone working for GNP in Millinocket, but Ferdinando Peluso later became better known in that position, prospering in this setting, operating a store on the east side of Millinocket, becoming a bank manager, and officer in the Chamber of Commerce.

© Michelle Anderson 2005-2014