Biddeford is a principal city of the Portland-South Portland-Biddeford Metropolitan Statistical Area.
The Sokokis tribe of Abenaki Indians once hunted and fished in the area. The first European to reside here was physician Richard Vine in the winter of 1616-1617 at Winter Harbor, as he called Biddeford Pool. In 1630, the Plymouth Company granted the land south of the River Swanckadocke (as the Saco River was then known) to Dr. Vines and John Oldham. In 1653, the town included both sides of the river, and was incorporated by the Massachusetts General Court as Saco.
Roger Spencer was granted the right in 1653 to build the first sawmill. Lumber and fish became the community's chief exports. In 1659, Major William Phillips of Boston became a proprietor, and constructed a garrison and mill at the falls. During King Philip's War in 1675, the town was attacked by Indians. Settlers withdrew to Winter Harbor for safety, and their homes and mills upriver at the falls were burned. In 1693, a stone fort was built a short distance below the falls, but it was captured by the Indians in 1703, when 11 colonists were killed and 24 taken captive to Canada. In 1708, Fort Mary was built near the entrance to Biddeford Pool. The town was reorganized in 1718 as Biddeford, after Bideford, a town in Devon, England from which some settlers had emigrated. After the Fall of Quebec in 1759, hostilities with the Indians ceased.
In 1762, the land northeast of the river was set off as Pepperellborough, which in 1805 would be renamed Saco. The first bridge to Saco was built in 1767. The river divides into two falls that drop 40 feet, providing water power for mills. Factories were established to make boots and shoes. The developing mill town also had granite quarries and brickyards, in addition to lumber and grain mills. Major textile manufacturing facilities were constructed along the riverbanks, including the Laconia Company in 1845, and the Pepperell Company in 1850. Biddeford was incorporated as a city in 1855.
The mills attracted waves of immigrants, including the Irish, Albanians and French-Canadians from the province of Quebec. At one time the textile mills employed as many as 12,000 people, but as happened elsewhere in New England, the industry entered a long period of decline. Today, only one textile company, WestPoint Home, remains in the city. The last log drive down the Saco River was in 1943, with the last log sawn in 1948. Biddeford's name is engraved near the top level of the The Pilgrim Monument, in Provincetown, Massachusetts, along with the names of some of the oldest cities and towns in New England.
Anchoring Biddeford's historic downtown are McArthur Library and the City Theater for the Performing Arts.
Biddeford is one of Maine's fastest-growing commercial centers, due to its close proximity to Seacoast New Hampshire and Northern Massachusetts. In recent years, strip-malls have developed along the State Route 111 corridor. In late 2006, a 500,000-square-foot shopping center known as The Shops at Biddeford Crossing opened, with 20 stores and 5 restaurants.
Recent interest in revitalizing the downtown area has brought new life to the old mills. The North Dam Mill is one example of this movement offering retail stores, art studios, cultural events and upscale housing.
The municipality has three post offices within its borders, with ZIP codes of 04005, 04006 and 04007.
Biddeford was the eastern terminus of the now-defunct New England Interstate Route 11, which ended in Manchester, Vermont. State Route 111, which travels through Biddeford's main commercial corridor, is now numbered in Old Route 11's place.
The city has almost 15 miles of frontage along the Saco River, and an Atlantic coastline on which the seaside neighborhoods of Hills Beach, Biddeford Pool, Fortunes Rocks and Granite Point are located. Biddeford includes Wood Island Light, a lighthouse located about a mile offshore from Biddeford Pool.
The city is crossed by Interstate 95, U. S. Route 1, and state routes 5, 9, 111 and 208. It is bordered by Saco to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the towns of Dayton and Lyman to the west, and the towns of Kennebunkport and Arundel to the south. The Little River forms a portion of the border between Biddeford and the Goose Rocks neighborhood of Kennebunkport, in Biddeford's most southerly region (Granite Point). East Point, located on the peninsula of Biddeford Pool, is the easternmost point in York County. While Maine (as a whole) is politically and colloquially known as part of Northern New England, Biddeford's geography technically places it more in line with Central New England.
Timber Island, the most southerly point in the City of Biddeford, lies in Goosefare Bay at the mouth of the Little River, and is accessible at low tide from Goose Rocks Beach. The island is preserved under a conservation easement; the owners allow daylight visits by the public. Currently, there is talk that the land trust which owns Timber Island and Timber Point, shall be selling the property to the U.S. government at a reduced price, thereby securing for conservation one of the largest parcels of undeveloped land in South Coast Maine.
Distances from Biddeford to regional cities:
As of the census of 2000, there were 20,942 people, 8,636 households, and 5,259 families residing in the city. The population density was 697.8 people per square mile (269.4/km²). There were 9,631 housing units at an average density of 320.9/sq mi (123.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 96.65% White, 0.64% African American, 0.40% Native American, 0.99% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.18% from other races, and 1.12% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.65% of the population.
There were 7,636 households out of which 28.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.4% were married couples living together, 12.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.1% were non-families. 29.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.32 and the average family size was 2.88.
In the city the population was spread out with 22.1% under the age of 18, 11.1% from 18 to 24, 29.5% from 25 to 44, 21.8% from 45 to 64, and 15.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 88.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $37,164 and the median income for a family was $44,109. Males had a median income of $32,008 versus $24,715 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,214. About 8.6% of families and 13.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.8% of those under age 18 and 10.3% of those age 65 or over. As of 2004, the median home price was $190,000.