In 1623 the first sawmill in the United States opened on the Piscataqua River near York, Maine. The sawmill was actually introduced before the town settled a year later. It was mainly built to export lumber to England since the colonies had an abundance of forest. England especially needed trees that could be transformed into masts for their largest warships – not a task for any average tree. Since England did not have suitable trees for the ships, they had to look elsewhere. In 1634, the first shipment of masts, from white pines, were sent to England.
That same year, 1634, the first water-powered sawmill was created near Berwick, Maine. According to the Ledyard Sawmill’s website, the following was the main method of early sawmills:
The thousands of sawmills in New England for about 200 years beginning in the 1630s used essentially a single technology—a wooden waterwheel with a crank connected by the ‘pitman’ arm to a wooden sash (frame) in which was mounted a straight saw blade. The reciprocating motion of the vertically mounted saw results in the characteristic straight “up and down” saw marks on boards and timbers cut on these sash-type saws.
As the years passed, many sawmills popped up around the area and, by 1840, New England was home to about 5,500 sawmills.
Maine: An Encyclopedia