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This week’s edition!

Celebrating Maine’s Bicentennial and Lewiston’s History

Guest Column

By Sen. Libby

This past weekend, we were finally able to celebrate Maine’s Bicentennial – our 200th birthday – with the parade right here in Lewiston and our sister city Auburn.

After all the hardships we have endured over the past year, it felt special to see our communities come out and celebrate our state and its unique history with such joy. The state of Maine and Lewiston have rich histories, and I can think of no place more fitting to have hosted this event than right here in town.

 The Bicentennial celebration gave me some time to reflect on our city’s history and fortunately there’s a detailed outline on Lewiston’s website provided by local historian, Douglas I. Hodgkin. I strongly encourage you to check it out, and thank Prof. Hodgkin for his dedicated work to the city of Lewiston and for providing a source of information for us to learn about our city’s story.

 Before diving into the details, it is important to recognize and acknowledge that Native Americans lived and belonged on this land far before any European settlers arrived. In fact, “Androscoggin,” the name of Lewiston’s river and county, is the contemporary word describing a Native American tribe that lived in New Hampshire, Maine and southern Quebec. The tribe was likely absorbed by neighboring tribes by the 18th century.

 The process for Maine to become a state had been underway for some time, but it wasn’t until July 26, 1819, that voters were first able to decide if they wanted to separate from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. After a successful vote, the district of Maine still had a few barriers between it and official statehood. Maine was tasked with drafting a state Constitution as well as awaiting additional approval from Congress. Finally, on March 15, 1820, as a result of the Maine-Missouri Compromise, Maine officially became the 23rd state of the United States.

 Maine celebrated its centennial celebration in Portland in 1920, which interestingly enough coincided with the pandemic of that time, the Spanish Flu. That celebration, similar to the one we had over the weekend, was full of parades and bands and also was joined by the state’s Governor, Carl Milliken.

 The history of Lewiston is often lesser-known. In the late 18th century, a Boston-based company known as the Pejepscot Proprietors were granted rights to land just east of the Androscoggin River. They eventually named this town, “Lewistown,” in an effort to honor a Boston merchant by the name of Job Lewis.

At the turn of the century, the town began to use water power in a variety of ways, most notably by building a dam made of timber. Most of the town originally settled on what is now the Auburn side of the river. Although much of the town was undeveloped, that all changed when several textile mills were built during the first half of the 19th century. As many know, these mills were a massive part of the local and state economy for years.

Many of the buildings are still up today and are being repurposed for new and creative uses.

Halfway through the 19th century, the population began to grow rapidly, doubling between 1850 and 1860. Because of the burst of population growth, Lewiston High School was founded in 1850 and moved to Main Street a few years later. Similarly, the Maine State Seminary was founded in 1855 and became Bates College in 1864.

 The city’s population leveled off in 1940 to the present and has remained around 40,000 residents. The surrounding areas have experienced more growth during those years, making Lewiston the hub that it is today. Understanding our city’s history helps paint a more complete picture of how it became a place that is in constant growth economically, culturally, and in social diversity.

Reviewing our history in light of the bicentennial gives us a moment to consider not just how we got here, but where we are headed. I, for one, couldn’t be more optimistic for the future of Lewiston, and couldn’t imagine a better place to call home.

Sen. Nate Libby (D-Lewiston) represents Maine Senate District 21, which comprises the City of Lewiston.

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