In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Surry by the Bay

Spectacular Landscape, Spirited People

Sawmills of Cunningham Ridge

Text by Bryan McLellan
Images contributed by Wilbur and Marjorie Saunders through the Surry Historical Society

From the coveted tall pine for ships' masts to the coastal cedar for shingles, Maine's forest land has been the source of the raw materials that has provided the livelihood for her residents. The town of Surry was no exception, with many families supporting themselves off the timber from its lands.

Sawmill, Surry, ca. 1903
Sawmill, Surry, ca. 1903
Surry Historical Society

Hollis E. Saunders (b. 1/18/1847) learned the mill trade working at Henry Dunbar's mill at the foot of Toddy Pond in Orland, where the state boat landing is now located. In the 1880s he settled on Cunningham Ridge in Surry with his wife, Mary E. Cunningham.

His first sawmill was on Toddy Pond at the mouth of Sandy Brook. It was a small steam powered mill with a round rotary saw. The carriage, which moved the lumber along the saw, was short and referred to by locals as a "snap-dragon."

Around 1906 Hollis bought a steam engine from the Blue Hill Inn. The engine was no longer needed to power the building's lights due to electricity becoming available from Ellsworth. Hollis moved the steam engine through the woods to Surry and used it to run another larger mill atop Cunningham Ridge. This saw mill remained in operation until before World War II. Over the years it produced lumber, barrel staves, and fish boxes. Its products were sold locally and loaded on ships for use in other ports.

Processing lumber, Surry, ca. 1903
Processing lumber, Surry, ca. 1903
Surry Historical Society

Parts of the mill were used to build another mill in Surry that belonged to Harvey Saunders. Other parts, such as the boiler, were sold as scrap metal. The steam engine still rests in the woods at the former mill location alongside the old mill wells.

Around 1970, Hollis's grandson, Wilbur A. Saunders, bought a sawmill from another man in Surry. With the help of his friend and cousin, Fred Torrey, they set up the sawmill on Cunningham Ridge using timbers that Fred hauled down from Newport. The mill came with a six-cylinder Plymouth engine and they used the mill to cut lumber to build a shed over it. Due to the sub-par performance of the engine, they upgraded the mill to run on a Chrysler Industrial engine. Wilbur also retrofitted the planer from his grandfather's steam sawmill to run on a Briggs and Stratton engine, and added a shingle machine which he powered with a Ford 8N tractor.

Wilbur's sawmill has not been run in decades, but along with the family's wood lots, it remains an important and representative part of Surry history.


LeVine, Sarah (editor), Toddy Pond, Hancock County, Maine, A History, 2005.

Personal interview with Wilbur Saunders, February 2012.

Maine Register, State Year-book and Legislative Manual. No. 34 - June
1903 (copyright 1903)

The City of Ellsworth Register, with Surry and Blue Hill - 1908