Lewiston was a small village near a falls in the Androscoggin River in the early 1800s. In the mid 1800s industrialists turned Lewiston into a booming planned industrial community. The flow of Androscoggin river was diverted around the water fall and into a series of canals. The elevation drop of the water was thus distributed over a wide area. The canals were lined with textile and other mills that harnessed the power of water falling from the high canal to the parallel low canal. Further back from the canals, blocks of tenement housing were built. Behind those ran the main commercial street. The canals, mills, worker housing and main street were all laid out in nice neat parallel rows. The entire scheme was designed to maximize the productive efficiency of the mills for a minimum investment. This layout was more or less typical of the planned industrial cities built in the Northeast during the mid 1800s such as Lowel, Holyoke, Patterson and others.
In the 1950s the mills began closing. By 1970s Lewiston had lost almost all of it's industrial employers. After the mills closed Lewiston went through a painful readjustment period. Lewiston, unlike many other cities managed to survive the readjustment relatively intact. Lewiston has suffered relatively minor population loss and has recently gained population. Many of the original mill buildings are still intact and some have been successfully reproposed. As in many de-industrializing towns, the largest mill in town ended up becoming the property of the city due to lack of tax payment. It was effectively abandoned. Rather than have it torn down, the city preserved it and eventually sold it to a developer to be rehabilitated. A few other mills in Lewiston are still mostly empty but they are secured and being cared for at least in a minimal sense.
A lot of the high density 19th century mill worker housing survives in Lewiston as well. In spite of the anachronistic nature of the 4-5 story probably cramped tenements, they seem to be occupied and many have new windows, have recently been repainted and resided. I don't have many pictures of the mill worker housing here. I was impressed though at the substantial number of surviving buildings in Lewiston. These types of buildings were common all over New England in small and large industrial cities. Today, not many of them survive. I don't know why Lewiston as been been as successful as it has at preserving it's heritage and at surviving the almost complete realignment of it's economy. Lewiston is not near any major tourist attraction nor is it part of a large metropolitan area. There is no major University in Lewiston nor is there any other significant economic engine that was able to help replace the thousands of factory jobs lost in the 70s. Yet Lewiston has somehow survived and today seems to be in fairly good shape. It's definitely an interesting town to visit.
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