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History of Lewiston, Maine

Lewiston is situated on the east bank of the Androscoggin River, opposite its twin city of Auburn, about 35 miles north of Portland. In 1768 a Boston Company known as the Pejepscot Proprietors granted land for a settlement to be called Lewiston on the east side of the Androscoggin River at Twenty-Mile Falls. The recipients were Jonathan Bagley and Moses Little of Newbury, Massachusetts. Settlement began two years later when Paul Hildreth and his family arrived. Hildreth's log cabin was a short distance below the falls and he established a ferry service nearby. Other families followed. By 1790, Lewiston was home to 532 persons. Lewiston was incorporated as a town on February 18, 1795. Water power was harnessed by a timber dam by 1808-1809 and a canal was built. The town grew to 1,549 inhabitants by 1830. The first bridge was built in 1823. Although there were mills by the falls, the present downtown Lewiston was still occupied by a farm, a few dwellings, and a school house. As early as 1836, efforts were made to build dams, canals, and mills, but capital was lacking. Boston investors later made the developments possible. Each of the 1850 and 1860 census counts showed a doubling of the size of Lewiston. The DeWitt Hotel was built around 1854 and the Maine Seminary, later Bates College was established in 1855. After being chartered as a city in 1861, the city prospered during the Civil War, as the demand for textiles was high and steady. Lewiston's first mayor, Jacob Barker Ham, took office in 1863. Subsequent mayors went on to higher office. William P. Frye went to Congress and served as President pro tem of the U.S. Senate, twice being next in line for the presidency due to vacancies in the office of Vice President. Alonzo Garcelon, mayor in 1871, became governor of Maine in 1879. Another mayor-turned-congressman was Daniel McGillicuddy. An impressive city building was constructed in 1873. The current Lewiston City Hall replaced it after a fire in 1890. The Music Hall was built in 1877, with the aim of being "the best opera house east of Boston." It was renovated between 1999 and 2003 to house the Lewiston District courthouse. A spur from Lewiston by the Canadian National Railway introduced competition to the Maine Central Railroad and freight rates dropped. Starting in the 1870s, the Grand Trunk Station became the arrival point for thousands of French Canadians. Many settled in the area between Lisbon Street and the river, in blocks built by the mills or in an area called "Little Canada." By 1880, the population had risen to 19,083, a tenfold increase in 40 years. The oldest Roman Catholic church in Lewiston is St. Joseph's Church, built on Main Street between 1863 and 1867. The first parochial school was established in 1882. The first teachers were Sisters of Charity until replaced by the Ladies of Sion in 1892. St. Peter's Church served the French parish, was replaced by Saints Peter and Paul Church, built 1905-1938. St. Dominic's High School was founded in 1941 in the clubhouse of L'Association St. Dominique. Lewiston High School opened in 1850 and moved into a brick building on Main Street in 1859. A fire company was started in 1849. The Grey Nuns organized the first hospital, St. Mary's, which was dedicated in 1889. ^Central Maine General Hospital^ was established in 1891 with thirty beds in two houses on Main Street. Due to increased competitions from textile concerns in the South and overseas, the textile industry in Lewiston has gradually declined. A variety of new industries have grownup to replace it. The Geiger Brothers, publishers of The Farmer's Almanac, brought their printing business to Lewiston in 1955. The population has remained around 40,000 for the past half century.