Lewiston is a city in Androscoggin County in Maine, and the second-largest city in the state. The population was 36,592 at the 2010 census. It is one of two principal cities of and included within the Lewiston-Auburn, Maine metropolitan New England city and town area and the Lewiston-Auburn, Maine Metropolitan Statistical Area, which as of 2006 census estimates has a combined population of 107,702. It is also part of the extended Portland-Lewiston-South Portland, Maine combined statistical area, which has a combined population 621,219 as of 2006 estimates.
A former industrial center, it is located in south-central Maine, at the falls of the Androscoggin River, across from Auburn. Lewiston and Auburn are often considered a single entity and referred to as Lewiston–Auburn, which is colloquially abbreviated as L-A or L/A, and have a combined population of 59,647 people. Together, Lewiston-Auburn is somewhat smaller than Maine's largest city, Portland (excluding its own suburbs). Lewiston is home to Bates College, the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, the University of Southern Maine's Lewiston-Auburn College, and two significant regional general hospitals: Central Maine Medical Center and Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center.
The Lewiston area was formerly inhabited by peoples of the Androscoggin (or Arosaguntacook) tribe. The Androscoggins were a tribe of the Abenaki nation. Facing annihilation from English attacks and epidemics of new infectious diseases, the Androscoggins started to emigrate to Quebec around 1669. The governor of New France allocated two seigneuries on the Saint Francis River which is now known as the Odanak Indian Reservation; and the second was founded near Bécancour and is called the Wolinak Indian Reservation.
A grant comprising the area of Lewiston was given to Moses Little and Jonathan Bagley, members of the Pejepscot Proprieters, on January 28, 1768 on the condition that fifty families lived in the area before June 1, 1774. Bagley and Little named the new town Lewistown. Paul Hildreth was the first man to settle in Lewiston in the fall of 1770. By 1795, Lewiston was officially incorporated as a town. At least four houses that have survived from this period are currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
King Avenue and Ralph Avenue were named after Ralph Luthor King, who owned the land located near the fairgrounds. Elliott Avenue was named after his wife, Grace O. Elliott, whose son eventually built the family home at 40 Wellman Street.
Industrial development period
Lewiston was a slow but steadily growing farm town throughout its early history. By the early-to-mid-19th century, however, as water power was being honed, Lewiston's location on the Androscoggin River would prove to make it a perfect location for emerging industry.
In 1809, Michael Little built a large wooden sawmill next to the falls. Burned in 1814 by an arsonist, it was later rebuilt. In 1836, local entrepreneurs — predominantly the Little family and friends — formed the Androscoggin Falls Dam, Lock & Canal Company:
"...for the purpose of erecting and constructing dams, locks, canals, mills, works, machines, and buildings on their own lands and also manufacturing cotton, wool, iron, steel, and paper in the towns of Lewiston, Minot, and Danville."
Later reorganized as the Lewiston Water Power Company, the sales of stock attracted Boston investors — including Thomas J. Hill, Lyman Nichols, George L. Ward, Alexander De Witt, and Benjamin E. Bates (namesake of the Bates Mill and Bates College) – who financed a canal system and several textile mills on the Androscoggin River. This began the transformation from a small farming town into a textile manufacturing center on the model of Lowell, Massachusetts. The Bates Mill remained the largest employer in Lewiston from the 1850s to the mid-late 20th century.
In 1853, the Grand Trunk Railway was built, connecting Maine to the St. Lawrence River, Montreal, and the Canadian Maritimes, and making Portland the winter port for Canadian trade. Subsequently, trains connected Quebec with Lewiston on a daily schedule. During the Civil War, the high demand for textiles helped Lewiston develop a strong industrial base. In 1860, a flood of French-Canadian immigration into Maine began, spawned by industrial work opportunities in Maine cities with water power from waterfalls. This brought a significant influx of Québécois millworkers that replaced the former Yankee millgirls. Lewiston's population boomed between 1840 to 1890 from 1,801 to 21,701. Canadiens settled in an area downtown that became known as Little Canada, and Lewiston's character has remained largely Franco-American ever since.
In 1855, The Maine State Seminary in Lewiston, now Bates College, was incorporated. During this time, in 1863, Lewiston was incorporated as a city. In 1872, St. Peter's church was built in Lewiston. This was the first French-Canadian national church in Maine. In 1880, Le Messager, a French language newspaper, began printing in Lewiston to serve its predominant ethnic population.
The local Kora Shrine was organized in 1891 and held its first meetings in a Masonic temple on Lisbon Street. This group would from 1908 to 1910 build the Kora Temple on Sabattus Street, the largest home of a fraternal organization in the state. Architect George M. Coombs designed this Moorish style structure.
City leaders decided to build a cathedral in which the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland could relocate. Construction of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul began in 1905 and ended in 1938, mostly funded through thousands of small donations from Lewiston residents. It is the largest Roman Catholic Church in Maine, and Lewiston's most prominent landmark. While the Diocese of Portland did not relocate to Lewiston, the church nevertheless became a basilica in 2004. It is one of the few American basilicas located outside of a major metropolitan area.
Industrial decline period
After World War I, profits from the textile industry in New England mill towns such as Lewiston, Biddeford, Manchester, New Hampshire, Waterbury, Connecticut, and Fall River, Haverhill, Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts began to decline. Businesses began moving to the South due to lower costs of power from more modern technologies (Lewiston's water wheel technology gave way to hydroelectricity, cheaper transportation (as most cotton and materials came from the South), and cheaper labor.
Starting in the late 1950s, many of Lewiston's textile mills began closing. This gradually led to a run-down and abandoned downtown area. Chain stores previously located downtown—Woolworth's, W. T. Grant, S. S. Kresge, JC Penney and Sears Roebuck—shut their doors or moved to malls on the outskirts of Lewiston or Auburn. The city's flagship department store, the four-story B. Peck & Co., closed after more than a century in business in 1982. As businesses and jobs began to leave the city, people followed. The population stopped increasing at its previous rate and began to slowly decline after 1970, then at a greater rate in the 1990s.
Economic diversification and renaissance
Following a difficult economic period in the 1980s that saw high unemployment and downtown stagnation, several key events have led to a period of economic and cultural renaissance, including the transformation of the historic Bates Mill Complex. Because the city took over the complex in 1992 after back taxes went unpaid, years of taxpayer frustration in the city's need to maintain the behemoth led to two referenda (one non-binding vote, the other binding). Voters soundly supported the need to pursue redevelopment by maintaining the property and selling it to private developers. In 2001, the city sold three mill buildings to local developers. Platz Associates, then in 2003, sold the Bates Mill Complex, with the exception of Mill 5 and a small support building. For the next four years, a number of business enterprises flourished after Platz redeveloped the mill building. The Bates Mill complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in December, 2010.
In May 2004, the city of Lewiston announced a plan for urban renewal near its downtown area. The plan is to demolish several blocks of 19th-century millworker housing, lay new streets with updated infrastructure, construct more owner-occupied, lower-density housing, and build a boulevard through one neighborhood using federal Community Development Block Grant funds provided over a period of ten years. Many residents of the affected neighborhoods felt that the plan was initially announced with very little input from them. They formed a neighborhood group called "The Visible Community", which has since been actively involved in the planning process, which has resulted in cooperation between neighbors and city officials to redesign Kennedy Park, including input on the location of new basketball courts, and feedback regarding creation of the largest all-concrete skate park in Maine.
Downtown is now home to a new headquarters for Oxford Networks, along with a $20 million upgrade in local fiber-optics, a new auto parts store, a campus for Andover College, the headquarters for Northeast Bank, a parking garage, and the newly renovated Maine Supply Co. building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That facility is now called the Business Service Center at Key Bank Plaza, and is home to the local Chamber of Commerce, the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council, and an innovative arrangement with a number of business service providers.
The area's renaissance has gained local, regional, and national recognition. In 2002 and again in 2006, the L-A area led the state in economic development activity, according to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development's list of business investments and expansions. In a 2006 KPMG International study measuring the cost of locating and maintaining a business, Lewiston ranked first among the New England communities analyzed, and finished 24th out of 49 U.S. communities analyzed.
Lewiston also earned a 2007 All-America City Award designation by the National Civic League. The national competition "recognizes communities whose residents work together to identify and tackle community-wide challenges and achieve measurable, uncommon results." Only 10 cities are selected as All-America Cities each year. Lewiston was the first Maine city to earn the distinction since Auburn in 1967.
Somali and Bantu migration
In 1999, at the urging of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the United States government began preparations to resettle an estimated 12,000 refugees from the Bantu minority ethnic group in Somalia to select cities throughout the United States. Most of the early arrivals in the United States settled in Clarkston, Georgia, a city adjacent to Atlanta. However, they were mostly assigned to low rent, poverty-stricken inner city areas, so many began to look to resettle elsewhere in the U.S.
Word soon spread that Lewiston had a low crime rate, good schools and cheap housing. Somalis subsequently began a secondary migration from other states to the former mill town, and after 2005, many Bantus followed suit.
In October 2002, then-Mayor Laurier T. Raymond wrote an open letter addressed to leaders of the Somali community, predicting a negative impact on the city's social services and requesting that they discourage further relocation to Lewiston. The letter angered some persons and prompted some community leaders and residents to speak out against the mayor, drawing national attention. Demonstrations were held in Lewiston, both by those who supported the immigrants' presence and those who opposed it.
In January 2003, a small white supremacist group from Illinois demonstrated in Lewiston in support of what they believed the mayor meant, prompting a simultaneous counter-demonstration at Bates College and the organization of the "Many and One Coalition". The mayor was out of state on the day of the rallies, while governor John Baldacci and other officials attended.
In August 2010, the Lewiston Sun Journal reported that Somali entrepreneurs had helped reinvigorate downtown Lewiston by opening dozens of shops in previously closed storefronts. Amicable relations were also reported by the local merchants of French-Canadian descent and the Somali storekeepers.