The village of Goodwins Mills shares its identity with the towns of Dayton and Lyman, and serves as the heart of the community. Small but memorable, it’s one of those places that you risk missing if you blink while driving through its short, rural thoroughfare. One feature, which I’ve always believed is its saving grace, is the Mill Pond that sits just northwest of the village center and drains in an easterly direction below the roadway along Route 35.
Named for the picturesque, green mill building that sits east of the road, the water cascades over a small dam that once powered a sawmill. An outlet of Swan Pond Brook, the stream travels down a rocky embankment, branches into several smaller cascades, then reforms into a single stream at its lowest spot, at which point it wanders out of sight in typical meandering brook fashion.
Seen from the road and the upper end near the mill house, the view is sweeping and panoramic as the valley opens to cradle the stream. From there, the dancing water disappears into the woods beyond on a journey that culminates at the Saco River at a point off South Street in Biddeford. From the lower area behind and below the mill house, the view is equally as breathtaking and could easily qualify as a calendar-page adornment. Below the falls, the water rushes and bubbles over and around rocks and mossy leaf-strewn fingers of turf, forming smaller and smaller falls and inlets as it wends its determined way downstream. In some areas, the stones have been worn to step-like configurations that give the illusion of a set of stairs over which the water flows ever downward.
During the spring, summer, and early fall months, both sides of the pond are popular fishing spots; and I’ve also seen people swimming in the mill-side waters and picnicking on the shore on hot summer days. There are small parking areas on both sides of the road, and countless photo opportunities for anyone with a camera handy. A rough trail that accesses the site from the Waterhouse Road is very steep and difficult to negotiate; but an easier entry can be found via the mill house parking lot to the right of the building. Less challenging, this trail provides picturesque views of the back of the millhouse from below, as well as the ancient water works.
Behind the mill house, one spies the remains of the former sawmill works, rusted and unused now, but still an integral part of its antique old-world charm. Built during the 1700s, the large gears and other parts are frozen now in time as the elements have done their work of wearing them to an iconic state reminiscent of a time when life moved as slowly as they did. It’s easy to imagine what it might all have looked like back then and to wonder what sound that ancient machinery made as the water rushing across it gave it life.
Farther down the slope behind the mill, years of erosion have left their mark, mainly in the form of yellow birch trees whose exposed roots have taken on new identities as branches sporting the same type of bark as do their counterparts higher up in the trees. The endless runoff washing the soil out from below and between the trees’ larger roots has given them the appearance of standing up on multiple legs that, in some instances, form almost grotesque patterns as they intertwine with those of other nearby trees.
The yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) is actually quite tolerant of wet areas such as that found along the steep bank behind the mill house. It can take the heavy rains of a Maine spring as well as the winter runoff, and has the capacity to literally rise above the excess water by allowing it to drain among its roots with no ill effects to the rest of the tree. Unlike its other birch cousins, yellow birch, also called curly birch, produces a distinctive bark that, over time, curls into papery-thin wisps to reveal a shiny golden-yellow inner bark. In the fall, the leaves of the yellow birch are a bright gold or lemon yellow, adding to the reasons behind its name.
At the base of one of those birches behind the old mill, the root system, exposed by years of extreme erosion, is so complex as to create a small squared opening through which other more recessed roots can be viewed. What an effect the water has on trees at even this most basic level, often washing away the very soil in which they live, forcing them to adapt and to develop new ways of remaining anchored in place in order to survive.
The site offers a visual lesson about the unleashed and unrestrained power of water rushing downhill, one that is capable of altering and reshaping landscapes and forcing some species to evolve in order to be able to withstand the onslaught. The unstoppable force that thunders over the Mill Pond Dam is the same that pulls the very substance from beneath the trees, creasing the topsoil, and creating spectacular sculptures in the process.